Christmas puddings: when age-old customs meet decimal currency

In April 1966, Miss Una Clarkson, Miss Barbara Lynch and Mrs Strachan conducted experiments on a set of six Christmas puddings.

Half were steamed, and the other half were boiled. Following an age-old tradition, the three cooks carefully inserted in silver sixpences into the pudding mix before cooking. However, in a modern twist, they also cooked in several of the (then) very new 2 and 5 cent pieces. Then they waited for a few months before cutting the puddings open. Why?

The answer is all about Australia’s change to decimal coins that had occurred earlier that same year. Here’s an excerpt from a press relase that was put out by the Mint a few months after Messes Clarkson’s, Lynch’s and Strachan’s meticulous experiment.

‘The Christmas pudding making season is almost with us, and another age-old custom is being threatened. Before long there will be no silver coins suitable for putting in Christmas puddings. Next year almost all the old threepenny pieces will be out of circulation, and the cooking of coins in Christmas pudding will become a quaint old custom of the past.’

The press release goes on to explain that that the new 5 and 10 cent coins are not silver (apparently a metal which is safe to cook in puddings), but in fact cupro-nickel, an alloy which might turn green if cooked in pudding and impart a slightly metallic flavour. The 1 and 2 cents pieces, which were nearly entirely copper, could result in stronger corrosion.

coins cooked in Christmas puddings

The results of an experiment carefully documented. All coins were cooked in puddings, and they were then left for one, two or three months to see how both the coins and puddings were affected. NAA: A571, 1966/2616

While it’s unclear whether the concern was for the cake, the coins or even the people eating the results, the author of the press release does take the opportunity to point out, ‘The practice of cooking coins in puddings has, of course, never been very desirable from a hygienic point of view’.

The research work had been commissioned by the Decimal Currency Board, and carried out by the Copper and Brass Information Centre – who knew an organisation with such a magnificent title existed?

Once the Centre had done the research work, they were keen to let everyone know – they were suggesting that they should tell women’s magazines and hotel associations. The Royal Australian Mint to put out their press release, but the Treasurer of the day, William McMahon, didn’t feel it was necessary for him to comment on such a domestic issue!

The hard work of Misses Clarkson, Lynch and Strachan is carefully documented in a file in the National Archives. They even included the recipe of the pudding that they used, along with some handy hints on how to get the best (coin-free) results for that special meal.

Recipe for family Christmas pudding
1/2 lb butter
1/2 lb sugar
5 eggs
2 level tblspn treacle
1 lb sultanas
2 lb raisins (chopped)
4 oz candied peel (chopped)
1/2 lb soft stale breadcrumbs
4 oz plain flour
1/4 level tsp salt
1 level  tsp nutmeg
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp bi-carb of soda
2 tblspn brandy

1. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
2.Add treacle, beat again.
3. Fold in the fruits and breadcrumbs
4. Sift flour with salt, spices and bi-carb of soda and stir into moisture.
5. Add brandy, mix well.
6. Put pudding in a scalded and well-floured pudding cloth; tie securely leaving a little room for pudding to swell.
7. Immerse in fast boiling water, lower heat and boil gently for at least six hours.
8. When cooked, remove from water and hang pudding so that the cloth will dry out around the tie fairly quickly. Tie by four corners to clothesline or legs of an upturned chair or sto0l if weather does not permit hanging on clothesline.

Storage: Hang in a cool place where air will circulate freely around pudding. Reheat for 2 hours on day of serving. Serves 12.

Merry Christmas – enjoy the season of fabulous food!

Posted in 1960s, New South Wales, recipe, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Paul Koonin, Russion spy, doctor or soy bean expert?

Earlier this week I did a radio interview about the subject of one of my favourite blog entries, Paul Koonin.

Paul Koonin was an interesting character, who over his life earned a living as a photographer, a dentist, a naturopath, a ‘drugless physician’, and ‘former Director of Medical Research, University of Kharkov’. He gained notoriety as a womaniser, a social activist and a bolshevik – he was deported from South Africa and then publicly disowned by the Australian Communist Party.

He originally came to my attention as the author of ‘Soybeans; the wonder food’. Was he a nutter, or did he lead the way in 20th century alternative medicine?

You can hear my radio interview here, and can you can read my original blog entry here. I’d be interested to hear your opinions on him, or if you’ve come across him in any of your own research.

Posted in 1910s, 1930, 1930s, New South Wales, nutrition, Tasmania, Victoria | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Grocery shops were different then…

Where exactly was the Hayes and Russell grocery store? Do you know?

Hayes and Russell's store - located somewhere in Kingston, ACT

Hayes and Russell's store - located somewhere in Kingston, ACT

Looking at these National Archives’ photos of the interior of the Hayes and Russell grocery store, I realise that grocery shopping in Canberra’s 1920s and 30s would have been an exotic experience for me. As a modern-day shopper, I’m used to the vast spaces, impersonally bright lights and endless aisles of Coles and Woolworths. Certainly none of my usual grocery stores offer me a seat while a grocery assistant puts together my order, as obviously happened in Hayes and Russell’s store.

interior of the store

Shopping here must have been a social experience - you could sit and chat to other customers while your order was compiled. NAA: A3560, 1631

It seems from these photos that Hayes and Russell offered their customers a whole range of tinned and bottled groceries, as well as kitchen and glass ware. The light shining down through the clerestory windows falls on beautiful wooden fixtures – the counters, display shelves and chairs. The classic display of pyramids of tins are a real feature. Many modern boutique stores try extremely hard to recreate this sort of look.

But not big modern grocery stores. For a start, big modern grocery stores demand air-conditioning and refrigeration. Lots of refrigeration. Somehow I don’t think refrigeration was a major feature of Haye’s and Russell’s.

interior of store

Hayes and Russell's store must have had its own unique smell as you walked through the door. Kids would have been able to wander the floor, looking at but unable to touch any of the items carefully displayed. Would there have been treats for them? Bags of mixed lollies, perhaps? NAA: A3560, 1635

So where was the store? According to the title of one the photos taken, it was located on the corner of Kennedy and Eyre Streets, in Kingston ACT. If this was the case, it was in a building away from the main Kingston shops, and it no longer exists. That corner has nothing on it now – save some fences that indicate that new buildings are going to spring up in the near future.

If you know where the shop is – go and visit the fabulous website Discovering Mildenhall’s Canberra. In fact, you should visit the site even if you don’t know the the shop’s location.

On the website, you can see over 7000 photos taken of the early days of Canberra. Better than that though, you the opportunity to locate and map where they were taken. You can also ‘rephotograph’ those sites , and load your own images to the website. Have a look and a play. It’s a rather interesting way of rediscovering our modern city, seeing it through the lens of these old photographs.

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Biscuits for morning tea

This week, a work colleague will be leaving us for six months to embark on a very exiting project in Queensland. So obviously we have to have a special morning tea for her send-off! Time to start baking…

I found these recipes for some lovely old-fashioned biscuits in the National Archives’ collection – they’re quick to make (ideal, because I have to cook them after the kids go to bed) and they’re yummy.

morning tea in 1938

These elegant women partaking of morning tea in this 1938 photo could easily have been eating biscuits made from the recipes on this page. Or would it have been more lady-like just to have a cup of tea? NAA: M10, 2/143

Honey Cakes
1 tablespoon butter, 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup of honey, 1 cup self-raising flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, nuts or chopped fruit may be added if liked. Put in basin one by one and stir slowly til thoroughly mixed. Drop teaspoons [of the mixture] on a large buttered tin and bake for about ten minutes.

(note: I added a tsp of cinnamon to the ingredients. I set the oven at 200 deg. C. I also felt very virtuous because I was cooking with homegrown honey and eggs. Yay!)

Jam Drops
2 cupfuls of flour, 1/2 teaspoon bi carb soda, 1 tsp cream of tartar, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cupful butter, 2 eggs. Add the eggs, well beaten, then add the flour. Make into little balls, put a hole in the centre, put jam therein and bake for 15 minutes in a quick oven.

(note: I’ve interpreted a quick oven to be 200 deg. C)

Ginger Nuts
10 oz flour, 4 oz lard, 4 oz sugar, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1/2 tsp bicarb soda, 3 tablespoons golden syrup. Beat the lard and sugar to a cream, add the syrup, flour, ginger and the soda dissolved in a little water. Mix and work all up into a stiff dough, adding more flour if necessary. Divide into pieces the size of a nut, and bake in well-buttered tins in a quick oven.

(note: I’ve interpreted a quick oven to be 200 deg. C)

Princess Mary Biscuits
1 lb flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 8 oz butter, 4 oz castor sugar, 1 egg. Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg well beaten. Slowly mix in flour and salt until quite smooth. Add a few drops of water if needed. Roll out paste. Cut into small rounds. Put into greased tin. Bake ten minutes in a cool oven. When cool, put together with jam or jelly.

(note: I’ve interpreted a cool oven to be 160 deg. C)

These recipes are all from a cook book called The Everyday and Everyway Recipe Book. Published by a Melbournian called Thomas James Holmes, sales from the book were intended to raise money for returned soldiers still in hospital. The book was published in 1925, seven years after the end of the Great War. It’s sobering to think about the men and women who required such long-term care.

War veterans in the Anzac Hostel

A ward for the totally and permanently incapacitated in an Anzac Hostel, 1919 NAA: A7342, Album 1

Holmes published a few books during the 1920s. He submitted them for copyright, which is why his books are in the Archives’ collection. Three were cook books, and one was a general knowledge book, but the book he submitted for copyright in 1924 is my favourite. Titled Revelations: Mental Telepathy,Thought Transference, Mind Reading, Second Sight, Hypnotism etc, it seems to be a radical shift from his other books!

Hmmmmm… the Honey Cakes are just out of the oven and three of them have disappeared already. I’m going to have to hide them if I want to take any to work!

Posted in 1920s, copyight collection, recipe, Victoria | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When dinner is a royal occassion

There must be something about the Queen that inspires the people to eat food. Special food, mind you – the sort that goes by the name ‘banquet’ and is accompanied by a souvenir menu. What is it about this woman that makes people – in particular the social elite – fall over themselves to attend a dinner event?

This may be destined to remain a mystery, but I’m prepared to bet serious money when it was announced that Queen Elizabeth will visit Australia this coming October for CHOGM, certain people immediately started planning how to get themselves invited to the main dinner event. They can be fully confident that there will be one.

A horse-drawn carriage adorns the Coronation Banquet menu from June 1953.

A horse-drawn carriage adorns the Coronation Banquet menu from June 1953. NAA: A462, 821/1/119

These dinners don’t always require the Queen to actually attend. Back when Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, acting Prime Minister Sir Arthur Fadden wanted to do something special in far-away Canberra to mark her Coronation.

While I haven’t viewed the file that outlines the cost of the dinner itself, a National Archives’ file on the souvenir menu discloses that a special menu for the Coronation Banquet held at Parliament House dinner was printed in Melbourne at the cost of 325 pounds – an expenditure the acting Prime Minister had to have approved by Governor General Sir William Slim.

Sir Arthur Fadden may not have had the capacity to approve the expenditure, but he was able to approve the food (and maybe even more importantly) the booze served at the banquet. Food started with ‘Royal Consume’, then continued for another 5 courses before finishing with Chocolate Liqueurs and Coffee. The booze listed alongside is equally generous. Canberra’s politicians and social elite must have rolled away from the table after consuming so much in the name of the new Queen and her Empire!

This page shows how an earlier banquet menu was adapted to create the Coronation banquet menu

This page shows how an earlier banquet menu was adapted to create the Coronation banquet menu NAA: A462, 821/1/119

If you’re interested in menus, you might like this project from the New York Public Library to get help from the online public to transcribe their menu collection.

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Take vitamins and stop wetting the bed!

Could vitamins really stop bedwetting? Cure baldness? Rheumatoid arthritis? Extend your life to 125? According to a series of booklets held in the National Archives, vitamins could achieve all these things and much, much more.

The discovery of vitamins, and just how crucial they were to our well-being, opened up a whole world of health marketing in the 20th century that still exists today. Vitamins were cheap to produce; they could be sold without prescription; they could be marketed to the health conscious; and they could be added to anything.

Winn Vitamin lollies

Lollies with added vitamins could be marketed to health-conscious parents. Here's an advertisement from 1946, advertising 'Vitabies' with Vitamin B, and Nougat Mints with Vitamin C. NAA: A5522, M92

For instance, the National Archives has series of files that date from WWII that show that the Army was adding vitamins to chocolate as well as the general rations for its troops.

There are many books about the virtues of vitamins in the National Archives’ copyright collection, but the ones I particularly like were from a Sydney company called Vitamin Supplies Pty Ltd – written and sold in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The Archives has about 30 of their booklets.

The series was titled ‘Science of Life’. They were slightly repetitive, but the message was clear. Diet and nutrition was everything.

But Vitamins Supplies could help! By changing your eating habits and then supplementing your new diet with about 20 shillings’ worth of vitamins a week, you could live to 125 years old – on the way overcoming:

  • rheumatism and arthritis
  • high blood pressure
  • baldness
  • ‘women’s troubles’
  • plain looks
  • child ailments such as bedwetting
  • liver ailments
  • migrane
  • heart ailments
  • poor eyesight
  • kidney and bladder troubles
  • enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • goitre
  • anaemia
  • weight problems (whether over or under_
  • varicose veins
  • ulcers; and much much more

All the books used the quote: ‘Man does not die, he kills himself’. According to them, good nutrition and vitamin supplements made longevity a matter of choice.

1950s Australian family

EVERY aspect of family life could be improved with a more wholesome diet supplemented with vitamins. NAA: A12111, 1/1958/22/4

The books emphasized the need for a good diet as well as vitamins – perhaps different to modern claims that vitamins can prop up a poor diet. But would people today necessarily agree with their version of a good diet? With some points yes, but perhaps not others.

The following is quote from the booklet ‘Healthy Old Age’

Eight secrets of good health
The secret of good health is sound nutrition, the principles of which are as follows:
1. Sound nutrition consists of vital foods. Thus, all the dead, stodgy, non-vital foods must be cut out. These are: white bread, white flour products (biscuits and pastry), pies, and sugar. Cut out all re-cooked foods, pickled (embalmed) meats, fried foods, confectionery, sausage meats, jam and flaked breakfast foods.
2. Reduce meat to once a day at most.
3. Cut down on starch foods. If you are not doing hard work, two or three slices of bread are ample. White bread, refined porridge meals, cakes and pastry are stodgy and constipating.
4. Substitute wheatgerm for porridge. Wheatgerm contains some 15 minerals … Wheatgerm is a wonder-food that everybody should take from childhood to old age.
5. Have a salad daily and three or four pieces of fruit, thus getting further essential minerals.
6. Have some cheese and milk daily, thus making sure of calcium thus making sure of calcium for bone structure and nerve relaxation. The nerves cannot relax in the absence of calcium.
7. Have the juice of two oranges or a lemon or grapefruit daily. Failing which, take three 50 milligram vitamin C tablets.
8. Take one vitamin A capsule, one B1 tablet (10mg), one B complex tablet, one vitamin C tablet (50mg), and one 10, 20 or 50 milligram vitamin E tablet or capsule after each meal, as a routine daily health practice of maintaining first class health.

It is interesting that the booklets make absolutely no mention of giving up smoking – a very popular past-time in those days!

Each particular ailment came with its own set of instructions. For instance, the book about curing arthritis encouraged sufferers to give up coffee and tea, stop drinking with meals, and to stop eating incompatible food combinations.

And just in case you are interested, the book on Child Ailments recommended that to stop bedwetting you should give the offender vitamin E, B complex and 2 calcium tablets.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, copyight collection, nutrition | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now that there’s a Sunbeam Mixmaster in your life…

I bought one of these from a flea market when I was a student. It was very old, extraordinarily hefty, and the engine would start smoking on occasion. But I had to own it because it was a design classic.

Sunbeam Mixmaster

The Sunbeam Mixmaster promised a stylish house as well as good food. Irresistible combination! NAA: A1336, 46789

I was a design student at the time, and I had my priorities sorted. I was also in no financial position to be able to afford an Alessi juicer, which probably have been my first choice of household appliances. Finally the Mixmaster’s engine died and I couldn’t use it anymore. 20 years later I only own the bowl.

But the Sunbeam Mixmaster was never about the bowl. It was about owning a stylish household accessory that you could justify spending a month’s wage on, on the grounds that it would make you into a much better housewife.

Cooper Engineering, the Sydney company that started manufacturing the Mixmaster in Australia in 1948, put out several helpful little booklets that told you how to care for you Mixmaster, and copies of these now reside in the National Archives. These booklets had a whole lot of helpful recipes amongst the pages of this sort of sales spiel:

‘Women who own the Mixmaster tell us the more they use it the more helpful it becomes, and the more they enjoy it. They say that scarcely a week passes but what they find some new way to make cooking, baking and getting the meals easier and better.’

Such happiness! The booklet suggested that the appliance should be kept out on the kitchen bench rather than in a cupboard:

‘…you should keep it readily accessible. Keep it where it is convenient to use at a moment’s notice at all times. in this way you will use it for every meal, every day and save yourself yourself more time and and arm-work.’

The booklet stops short of saying that by creating your own Sunbeam kitchen display, all your friends will see your Mixmaster, and might be inspired to buy one for themselves!

Sunbeam records that they sold 725,000 Mixmasters to Australian households between 1948 and 1958.

The Sunbeam home

Sunbeam didn't just sell household appliances - they offered a fabulously modern lifestyle. Is it just me, or does this house actually resemble a Mixmaster? NAA: A1336, 46789

So what sort of recipes did the booklets feature? In keeping with the idea that the Mixmaster was an indispensable kitchen item, the recipes covered all types of food imaginable.

Here’s a selection of my favourites:

Divinity Fudge
Fudge…. mmmmmmm…..

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 cup walnut meats
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, to 265 degrees F, or until a little of the mixture dropped in cold water forms a hard ball. If any sugar crystals form on the side of the pan, remove them with a wet piece of cheese cloth wound around the tines of a kitchen fork. Remove the syrup from the heat and gradually pour over the egg whites, beaten stiff but not dry, in a small bowl of Mixmaster No. 8 speed, beating constantly while adding the syrup. Turn to No. 5 speed and continue beating until mixture begins to thicken, add nutmeats and vanilla and pour into a 8×8″ greased or oiled pan. When cold cut into squares.

Marshmallow Ice Cream
Must try this one – will let you know when I do

20 marshmallows
1 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream

Melt marshmallows in milk in top of double boiler. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool. When mixture begins to thicken, fold in the cream which has been whipped in large bowl of Mixmaster at No. 8 speed. Turn into Tray of automatic refrigerator and freeze to a mush with control at coldest setting. Remove, turn into large bowl of Mixmaster which has been chilled in refrigerator and beat for 2 mins at No. 4 speed. Return to tray and finish freezing. Serves 6-8.

Prune Whip
Included because I like the name. Can’t imagine actually making it. Note the appetizing use of the word ‘congeal’ in this recipe.

1 1/2 cup water or prune juice
1 pkt lemon jelly crystals
1 cup pitted prunes
1 egg white

Dissolve lemon flavoured gelatin dessert in 1 cup of hot water or prune juice, following manufacturer’s directions and stir until dissolved. Add remaining 1/2 cup cold water or juice and set aside in a cool place to congeal. Beat egg white in small bowl of Mixmaster until stiff at No. 8 speed. Put prunes in large bowl and beat on No. 3 until very fine. Add gelatin which has been chilled until partially set and whip until light and fluffy on No. 4 speed. Then add beaten egg white and mix just enough to fold into prune mixture. Chill thoroughly. Serve with whipped cream.

Sunbeam booklet cover

Sunbeam booklet cover. Who would even dare to imagine their kitchen without a Sunbeam Mixmaster? NAA: A1336, 46789

The two pages for mashed vegetables I didn’t bother reading.

And do I own a fully functioning design classic Sunbeam Mixmaster now? Well, no. But I don’t own an Alessi juicer, either. In fact, I seem to prefer doing things the manual way in the kitchen – I have old style wind-the-handles beaters, and my juicer is a very low-tech plastic thing. However, my coffee maker is a whole other story… Priorities, it seems, do change…

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, copyight collection, New South Wales, recipe, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment