Earlier issues: Old cookbooks reveal glimpses of early 20th century life


Historian Fiona McKergow finds food for thought in the Te Manawa Museum’s collection of recipes.

Palmerston North’s restaurants will come under scrutiny when a group of foodies gather for a Food History Symposium at the Te Manawa Museum in the New Year.

With findings from historical cookbooks likely to spark a heated debate on March 19-22, I went backstage at Te Manawa to take a look at one recent donation like this and quickly became engrossed in its details. delicious – and sometimes unpleasant. .

Cindy Lilburn, registrar of Te Manawa, explained that the museum has a collection of 67 historical cookbooks. They span a century, from a manuscript example compiled in 1874 to a printed volume published by Botanical Meats in 1978.

An edition of Mrs. Beeton’s cookbook was one of the founding elements in the creation of the museum 50 years ago. Things are different now – any cookbook given today must have a strong connection to Manawatū.

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May Garner lived on Featherston Street, Palmerston North, with her parents, Frank William and Elizabeth Garner (née Pearse), who are pictured at the house on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1921.

ManawatÅ «Legacy

May Garner lived on Featherston Street, Palmerston North, with her parents, Frank William and Elizabeth Garner (née Pearse), who are pictured at the house on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1921.

Te Manawa’s most recently acquired cookbook was compiled by May Meredith Garner, one of Palmerston North’s businesswomen at the turn of the 20th century.

May Garner was born in Napier in 1881 to Elizabeth Pearse and her husband Frank William Garner. She died in Palmerston North in 1977 at the age of 95.

She left the Napier District School at the age of 13 and helped her mother with the laundry. Her father worked as an accountant. She moved to Palmerston North with her family in 1906.

Garners - "The store that blew up Broadway!" - was renovated and extended to Main Street in 1960.

ManawatÅ «Legacy

Garners – “The store that blew up Broadway!” – was renovated and extended to Main Street in 1960.

Most women of May’s generation expected to marry. Family participation in choosing a spouse was not uncommon.

May is said to have had a romance as a young woman, but her Anglican family opposed her Catholic suitor and the connection ended.

May’s entry into the drapery business was aided by her family. His older brother, Frank Garner, was a haberdasher and draper. He had opened The Kash on The Square in May 1905, proudly describing it as “the cheapest store in town”.

Other family members were involved in expanding the Palmerston North drapery business. Leo Collinson, Frank’s brother-in-law, had opened Collinson & Cunninghame, the ‘Cash Drapers’, with John Cunninghame the year before.

An excerpt from May Garner's cookbook.

Te Manawa Museum

An excerpt from May Garner’s cookbook.

Another brother, Henry Garner, had opened Garner Bros., a drapery store in The Square, in April 1906.

Dissolution sales for The Kash and Garner Bros. took place in July 1907 as a prelude to more stable trading under the Garner & Garner name. May and her older sister Hilda Garner joined their brothers in the family business.

the Manawat standard offers rare insight into May’s opportunities as a businesswoman. From her pages we know that she took a fashion buying trip to England, Europe and the United States with Catherine Matthewson, chief buyer of Collinson & Cunninghame, in 1930.

On the other hand, a rich portrait of May’s domestic life is available through her cookbook.

So what can historical cookbooks reveal? For foodies, they are a primary source of information on the transmission of culinary knowledge within families, communities, nations and empires.

They cannot tell researchers everything they would like to know about food preparation and consumption in the past. This is simply because many meals then – and today – do not require recipes.

Handwritten cookbooks were an important household asset for many women and often fell apart with heavy use. The great recipes were passed on through the networks of family and friends as they are today.

May Garner's nephew, Keith Garner, left, keeps a culinary tradition alive as he slices a three-tiered cake made to celebrate the 1,500th week of Garner's radio request session on 2ZA in April 1974.

ManawatÅ «Legacy

May Garner’s nephew Keith Garner, left, keeps a culinary tradition alive as he slices a three-tiered cake made to celebrate the 1500th week of Garner’s radio request session on 2ZA in April 1974.

May’s cookbook is dumb-sized, with black fabric and leather binding. It operates at 140 high density handwritten pages.

It is not dated, but pasted material, such as newspaper clippings, suggests it was drafted in the second half of May’s very long life. There are around 500 recipes.

The recipes are primarily for baked goods, including cakes, cookies, and puddings, with savory dishes intermixed. A randomly selected page contains these recipes: healthy breads, minced beef, Dolly Varden cake, sponge lily, boiled gingerbread, coconut cake, tripe and lentil roll and faux maple syrup.

We know May was a fun month and there are many recipes that express this quality. The first recipe she wrote in pencil in her book was a Christmas cake, and her instructions are worth repeating for their conversational tone:

Christmas cake

½ 1b butter ½ sugar. Cream with a wooden spoon. Now beat 4 eggs, add them very gradually to creamed butter, beating all the time with a wooden spoon, then add 1 teaspoon of mixed vanilla, lemon and almond essences, & cup of wine or brandy, then beat well and add any fruit like, then 2 cups of flour in which you have a teaspoon of grated nutmeg & a good teaspoon of baking powder.

Other recipes point to a daily sustenance, although this hypothesis is tested when the reader turns the page to find instructions for Tripe Custard. Tripe (stomach wall of any ruminant) are cut into squares and covered with a mixture of eggs and milk, to which the cook must add “ a very small grater of nutmeg or onion powder with a pinch of salt and a hint of pepper ” before cooking.

A view of Broadway Avenue showing Garner's department store, left, in 1950.

FA level / Provided

A view of Broadway Avenue showing Garner’s department store, left, in 1950.

Much like Ms. Beeton, May tended not to attribute the proceeds she collected. There are exceptions, like Rose Brown’s Sponge and Delia’s Batter.

May’s handwriting becomes very familiar as you turn the pages, but sometimes there’s the looping hand of someone else making a contribution.

The cookbook highlights the domestic aspects of May’s adult life. Many women are remembered in the context of their families rather than for their contribution to business.

As we browse through the pages of May Garner’s cookbook, we should also keep in mind her less visible role in the Palmerston North drapery trade in the early 20th century.

For more on the Food History Symposium, see www.aristologist.com


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