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Recipe Book

Georgia Kerby, Curator Exhibitions

Recipes are passed down over time between parents and children, communities and friends. The way they are adapted and edited during this process hints at the current trends and tastes. Most recipes are replaced over time by fresher counterparts and new food trends. I bet there are few Victorian era recipes which pop up in your weekly cooking. Despite the perchance for new tastes, ingredients and reinventions the tried and true tricks from Nana’s past are worth keeping. That’s why recipe books are commonly produced as fundraisers or community pamphlets to allow people to share their favourite tools from years of practice.


One such object in Whangarei Museum’s Collection is a recipe book put together by housewives of Whangarei area. The front reads “Recipe Book, A compilation of some Favourite Recipes by Members of the Whangarei & District Housewives’ Assn. together with some Handy Hints. Along with the needle books from last weeks’ article, this booklet was also recently donated by Chris McEvoy.

Inside the front cover, a poem lies in welcome to the reader-
‘“Deeds, Not Words,” the Housewives say,
And so they toil from day to day
To cook and bake, mend, clean, make-do,
Willing to share their lore with you.
Their aim- to help all womankind
For good of all, and maybe fund
The answers to our troubled lot
In joint endeavour for the pot!”

These words sum up the general feeling of unity and daily struggle in Whangarei’s housewives. While the book itself is not dated, the sentiments felt speak of the economic struggles during the post war years of the 1950s to 60s. R.D.P. the Honourable Editor sums up the sisterhood’s aim nicely “…and remind you that other housewives have the same problem in caring for a family- never enough time and always the same headache of ‘what can I give them for a change?’”.

Whangarei Museum also houses several minute books and notes from the Housewives’ Association. Founded in 1955, Whangarei’s group was one of many Housewives’ Associations around the country, forming the Federation of New Zealand Housewives. Housewives’ groups have a longer history, with Unions being active since the Twenties and Associations being active since the Thirties. The national Federation combined a powerful force of women acting on workforce, domestic, political and consumer concerns until. Whangarei’s first president Ethel Sands also became the national president in 1963. Two years following, Whangarei hosted the eight national conference of the Federation of New Zealand Housewives.

Once a month members of Whangarei’s Housewives’ Association could be found in the Y.M.C.A. Hall hosting a general meeting. Topics for discussion during the 1960s included the unfair pricing of low quality rice by retailers, sour sausages, raffles, cost of wool, driving license age and other topics relating to the interest of the National Association. Together the Federation of New Zealand Housewives submitted proposals to Parliament regularly on items that largely impact our everyday living, such as new Milk Acts, drops in the contents of match boxes, quantities stated on the outside of plastic containers, fishing profit margins between fishers and sellers, quality of nylon stockings and in general the rising cost of living. A particular mention in the 1965 national meeting minutes reflects the concerns of the times, and asks “That the Government be urged to insert a clause in the insurance policy which would cover any damage caused by Nuclear Testing, Explosions, or the Fall-out”.

Both the minutes and recipe book of the Whangarei and District Housewives’ Association hold fascinating albeit subtle insights into the lives and daily concerns of women at home during the 1950s and 60s. The feelings of Whangarei’s women and their desire to effect changes in their communities were so strong that our Association was the last one active in New Zealand until March 1978 when their methods were being taken over by the new generation.

A last nod to the delight of our 1950s recipe book and the women who came together to share their knowledge, this one’s good for when you’re out of eggs:
“Dutch Wonda Cake
1 large cup water
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 dessert spoon soda
2 small cups sugar
1 teaspoon each spice and cinnamon
1 lb. [500g] dates
Method: Boil all together (except flour and soda) for 10 minutes. When cold add sifted flour, etc. Bake 1 hour in moderate oven.”

Enjoy!