Sunday, 10 January 2016

A 1950s cookbook and vintage embroidery transfers

'Coq au fruit', Mr Robot calls this one...
Look what my lovely friends Naomi and Zoe sent me in the post! They know my tastes very well. I had a card through the door this week telling me a parcel was waiting for me at the post office (I have to collect large items on Saturday mornings). 'What is it?' I thought, 'I haven't bought anything online lately.'

The parcel - and it was a whopper, there was no way the postie would have got it through the letter box - contained a 1959 cookbook and a huge stack of embroidery transfers.


The cookbook is called Fun With Food: Planned Menus for All Occasions and is by Nella Whitfield. I'm not entirely sure who it was aimed at, but I suspect it has its roots in the 1950s-60s notion of 'having the boss over for dinner'. The fact that this is divided not by ingredient but into menus suggests to me that it would have been a godsend to some poor woman whose husband has decided feeding his boss would be a fast track to promotion, and she's got no idea how to plan a menu. It is divided by meals first - Breakfasts, Luncheons, Dinners, High Teas and Suppers, and Special Occasions, then into menus within those sections. And I was very pleased to see 'high tea' used correctly - a decent late afternoon/early evening savoury hot meal, not a tarted-up afternoon tea.

By modern standards the individual dishes are simple, but Mr Robot commented on the amount of exotic fruits like bananas and oranges that were used, still luxuries in people's minds less than a decade after the end of rationing. He was very taken with the fruit erections creations at the top of this page. There are some odd things like 'Jamaican Fish Gratin' (fish with bananas!), but mostly it looks pretty edible, and clearly aimed to impress with things like green peppers and lobster among the ingredients. That's the promotion in the bag, Hapless Housewife.
Lamb... and pineapple. Okaaaay... 
Anyhow, we thought it would be fun to have our own 'Back in Time For Dinner' moment at some point and cook a menu out of the book - there will be photos!

The embroidery transfers fall broadly into two main groups, 1930s and 1950s. When I had time to think over Christmas, one of the things that really occurred to me was how much I wanted to do embroidery but never had time. Well, I made time, and now I have even more vintage transfers to choose from. I have a feeling they may have belonged to Naomi's mum/Zoe's nan, as I have some of her knitting notions among my treasures. They definitely all have a particular feel, with lots of florals, and it's really nice that some of them have already been used, so if I make those it'll be all the more special.
I REALLY want to make some cushions now!
The more deco-styled designs are my favourites, but there are some really interesting other transfers two. A couple are intended to go with clothes patterns; one is labelled 'left sleeve, 'left front', 'right sleeve' and 'right front', while the other says 'Embroidery for Butterick pattern 8045'. I looked the Butterick one up and it's a baby coat and cap.

Then there's a whole set of London-themed designs. The poodles and the romantic pictures of castles make me wonder if these are from the early 1950s - poodles were fashionable, and the country got a bit caught up in the notion of being 'New Elizabethans' under their lovely young Queen. What do you think?

Anyway, what with those, and more paid work from a magazine I'd wanted to write for, and some GOOD family news that I will share when things are more definite (but I will be knitting for it, hint hint - NO I'M NOT PREGNANT) 2016 is already looking better than 2015. Keep it up, 2016, you're on a roll...

22 comments :

  1. What an amazing idea for a dinner party, to do your own Back In Time for Dinner! We have so many old recipe books and leaflets, it wouldn't be hard. Well, hard on today's palate perhaps... Lovely to have surprises from friends! x

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    1. The basic ingredients are all there, I just think I'd use more herbs and spices nowadays. Sometimes those old recipes are surprisingly good. (Still not sure about fish and banana though.)

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  2. The candle salad is best arranged with a cherry at the top and some sort of custard poured over it as the er...wax. Can you imagine anyone, even in the 50's bringing that to the table? I see it in old cookery books routinely, but I can't imagine anyone serving it.

    I will look forward to your Back in Time for Dinner, and seeing what you are knitting and embroidering.

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    1. It's got to be a post-rationing thing. There's so much imported fruit in that book! The 'sunshine sauce' recommended with the fruit candles is indeed a custardy sort of thing, only without sugar.

      One way it does seem to differ from American books I've seen of the same period is the lack of Things in Jelly, for which I am profoundly grateful. We Brits may be notoriously bad cooks, but peas in lime jelly wasn't ours! ;-)

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  3. Banana with fish actually tastes nice!

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    1. If I give it a go and it's horrid, I shall blame you ;-)

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  4. I really, really want to learn how to embroider, especially after seeing The Closet Historian's pieces she does but it terrifies me. I'll be very impressed if you do any. The 1930s transfers are just gorgeous and I can just imagine them in yellow, orange and blue. You lucky thing!

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    1. Embroidery's not difficult as long as you're meticulous - which you are. I started with simple stitches like stem stitch, just doing outlines, and progressed from there.

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  5. OOOhhh I love the first set of transfers they are fab.

    I'm looking forward to seeing you test some of those recipes!

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    1. Some of them do actually look quite nice, the puddings in particular. I'm looking forward to trying them. I'll leave the sheeps' tongues, though!

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  6. Gems, darling.. these are gems!
    I always loved embroidery, but I opt for sewing, simply because it's a bit faster to get results; and wear them, too. :)

    M.

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    1. I can't use a sewing machine, so embroidery is all I'm good for. :-) It is a fun way to make mass-market things more individual, though.

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  7. What a lucky girl. It looks like a gem of a book. Xx

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    1. It's really lovely. A lot of the recipes do look rather good.

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  8. That sounds wonderful! I cook with vintage recipes (be they straight out of the book/family recipe box or modified for any number of reasons) quite often, but don't do a completely vintage meal all that often. It's fun though and really does give you an even greater appreciation for the tastes (quite literally) and likes of folks a few decades ago.

    Happy cooking!

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. The nice thing is how simple the recipes are - of course, that means making sure I use really good-quality ingredients. As with clothes, the less there are, the more apparent the quality becomes.

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    2. Extremely true! This point was reinforced all the more for me when I married an Italian chap, hailing, as he does, from a culture where a few (at most) simple, incredible ingredients are often the focal point of a whole meal.

      Many hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

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  9. Cookery books like yours are a joy to read and browse through - although I don't do much cooking on the elaborate scale like some of those recipes that you find in them.

    I bet you're feeling very creative too after receiving all those transfers.

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    1. Yeah, and I'm going to make time to use them! I'll be blogging perhaps slightly less frequently this year, focussing on quality rather than quantity - and quality of life too, making sure I settle down and actually do the things I want to, rather than racing around being distracted by the latest thing.

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  10. The cookery book sounds great and I am looking forward to seeing the meal that you cook. I like it when they are divided into menus, it gives a real sense of what a dinner party at the time may have been like. I have those London transfers, they are definitely from the '50's and I think that they might even be Norman Hartnell though I need to dig mine out to be sure.

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    1. Ooh, really? I doubt I'll do his patterns justice; after seeing some dresses he made for the Queen in the 50s I've been a massive fan of Hartnell and feel it's a shame he's slipped from so many people's minds. He may have worked with silhouettes made fashionable by more innovative designers, but he really was the king of embellishment.

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  11. Those transfers look fab, I'm definitely getting back into my embroidery this year, have qite a few ideas I want to experiment with.

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