“The Weekly Times Pioneer Recipe Competition was launched in 1972. . . and it was an immediate success. Housewives have sent in thousands of recipes, handed down to them by mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and this book is a selection of the prize-winning dishes from the competition.”
So begins The Pioneer Cookbook, a gift to the Foundation from Australian member Joy Stone Bendigo. The recipes therein epitomize the diets of English-speaking and European countries right up to the Second World War: plenty of meat, organ meats and broth, but also tons of sugar.
One contributor, a Mrs. T.B. Long, accompanied her recipes with a letter of recollection: “I grew up in a district peopled by children and grandchildren of the original settlers. Half the houses still cooked in colonial or camp ovens. Iron saucepans and oval boilers were commonplace. Women made the bread, the butter, jams and pickles. Meat was killed, fresh meat was roasted and the rest was pickled and boiled. The diet seemed to be cold meat, bread, potatoes and any vegetables available. Puddings were jam and custard tarts, apple pies, roly poly, milk custard puddings. . . boiled fruit puddings in cloths, and steamed puddings with jam or golden syrup in bottom of basin.” The colonial housewives made their own butter and cooked in clarified beef or mutton drippings. One recipe contributor recalled how her grandmother boasted that everything on her table was home-produced except the sugar, flour, pepper, salt, tea, coffee and kerosene.
RECIPES FEATURING OFFAL
The ninety-six-page book starts with soups and broth, including Lamb’s Head Soup, Sheep’s Head Broth, Kangaroo Tail Soup and Scotch Broth, which calls for two pounds of “scrag and neck of mutton” or two shanks of mutton. The Bacon Soup looked interesting so I gave it a try—it was easy and delicious.
Between the Soup and Meat chapters, we find a grab-bag collection called Snacks, which includes recipes containing potatoes, cheese, eggs, sausages and—most importantly—organ meats (see recipes).
A popular dish in both Australia and New Zealand is Lamb’s Fry, served on the day the farmer butchered a lamb. Technically, Lamb’s Fry is lamb offal freshly plucked from the butchered lamb—such as the testicles, liver, sweetbreads, heart, kidneys, and sometimes the brain and abdominal fat—or some combination of these. In Australia and New Zealand, lamb’s fry refers specifically to the liver and sometimes the kidneys. The farmer then covered the meaty carcass with a cloth bag and let it hang overnight. The shoulder roast or leg, baked with cut-up vegetables in the pan, was served for Sunday dinner. Leftover meat provided meals in the form of curry, shepherd’s pie, hash and cold meat during the ensuing week.
The Lamb’s Fry recipe in The Pioneer Cookbook features kidney cut into strips, dredged in flour, cooked quickly in butter and served in a sauce containing mushrooms, stock and sherry—a true gourmet dish from the camp oven!
An intriguing Kidney Pudding calls for minced kidneys with suet, mixed with breadcrumbs, parsley, beaten egg, milk and seasonings, steamed in a greased dish and served with a “rich, brown gravy.” A great way to make offal taste good!
Brain Potato Pie mixes chopped sheep’s brains with white sauce, egg, parsley and mashed potatoes, topped with seasonings and grated cheese, and baked in a casserole.
Lamb and mutton are the main ingredients in the Meat Dishes chapter, with several recipes for leftover cold meat, such as Savory Meat Dish, which makes a cheese-topped casserole of diced cold meat. Leftover pork and mutton feature in a two-page chapter called Pies—all of them meat pies.
Salads were rare in the Outback—the book devotes just one page to raw vegetables, dressed in salad dressing or mayonnaise in which butter, not vegetable oil—serves as the fat.
THE SUGAR DELUGE
After salads we get three pages of rabbit recipes. . . and then the deluge: almost fifty pages of puddings, tarts, cakes, biscuits (cookies), jellies, jams and candies. At least these contained natural fats such as butter and tallow. Settlers’ Birthday Cake calls for two cups of meat drippings creamed with two cups sugar, to which is added six eggs (or one emu egg), flour, milk, seasonings and currants.
The pickle and chutney recipes are also loaded with sugar, the practice of lacto-fermentation long forgotten. Ditto for the beverages, including one of the strangest recipes I have ever encountered: Parsnip Wine. If anyone has the courage to try this recipe, we’d like to hear about the results.
Take 15 pounds of sliced parsnips and boil until quite soft in five gallons of water. Squeeze the liquor well out of them, run it through a sieve and add three pounds [!] of coarse lump sugar to every gallon liquor. Boil the whole for three-quarters of an hour. When it is nearly cold add a little yeast on toast. Let it remain in a tub for 10days, stirring it from the bottom every day. Then put it into a cask for a year. As it works over, fill it up every day.
The Pioneer Cookbook contains vintage ads for Pears Soap, Lee & Perrins Sauce, Bird’s Custard Powder, something called “malted, farinaceous food for infants and invalids” (could that be sprouted flour?) and Benger’s Self-Digestive Food, a powder for mixing with warm milk, described as “an entirely new article of diet for infants, invalids, dyspeptics and all of weak digestion.”
The Internet provides us with a description of this entirely new article of diet.1 “Benger’s Food was a commercial food powder to be mixed with milk that was popular in the first half of the 1900s. It was a bit more scientific than Ovaltine, however, as it was made with ‘wheat-flour and an extract containing the digestive ferments of the pancreatic juice.’ The digestive enzymes, when added to milk and heated, would start to break down the starches in the wheat into sugar and pre-digest the milk. The drink was allowed to sit for anywhere before 5-45 minutes before consumption, depending on the need of the patient. While earlier medicines based on digestive enzymes were available, this was the first popular product that treated them as a dietary supplement that anyone could purchase and use.” The product disappeared around 1960.1
There are also two ads for cocoa, and both tout something called “homeopathic cocoa.” Was this a homeopathic remedy made of cocoa, or some special way of preparing cocoa powder? The ads do not make this clear. I could find no Internet information on this one.
THE DISPLACING FOODS OF MODERN COMMERCE
When Weston Price visited Australia in 1936, he wrote, “I have seldom, if ever, found whites suffering so tragically from evidence of physical degeneration as expressed in tooth decay and change in facial form, as are the whites of eastern Australia.”2 However, a 1950s photograph of school children from the Outback indicates that these descendants of pioneer families still retained fairly good facial structure.
University of California endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, author of the new book Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine,3 stated in a 2009 presentation (titled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”): “Weston Price, perhaps the most famous of all dentists. . . said that sugar was the primary driver of chronic oral disease, whether it be periodontitis or dental caries.”4
Commentators from the medical profession often sum up the work of Dr. Price in this way. But this is only half of Dr. Price’s message. As Price himself stated, “Our difficulty is that we are adding too much white flour and sugar and do not get enough of the foods that carry the minerals and vitamins [emphasis added].”5 Throughout the nineteenth century and possibly until at least the mid-twentieth century, the Australians of the Outback consumed nutrient-dense foods like organ meats, animal fats and eggs; and even in the 1950s, most country households had a house cow and drank raw milk.
Sugar in the diet is never good, but it’s when sugar and other processed foods completely displace the nutrient-dense foods of our ancestors that we get into real trouble!
One lamb’s fry (see note)
1 large onion, sliced
4 level tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon chili sauce (could be Tabasco sauce)
1 cup stock
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ cup sour cream
Note: The recipe instructions indicate that in this recipe, “lamb’s fry” means kidneys, but the recipe would work equally well for liver.
- Remove skins from the lamb’s fry and cut the meat into half-inch strips. Coat in flour.
- Brown onion in melted butter, add lamb’s fry and brown.
- Add mushrooms and saute until limp.
- Add chili sauce, stock and sherry. Simmer gently for five minutes.
- Thicken if necessary with extra seasoned flour. Season to taste.
- Serve sprinkled with parsley and top with sour cream. Garnish with lemon wedges.
4 sheep kidneys
1 ounce suet
2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1 cup milk
- Skin the kidneys and mince them finely with the suet.
- Mix with breadcrumbs, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper, beaten egg and milk, and pour into a greased basin.
- Steam for 1 1/2 hours and serve with a rich brown gravy.
BRAIN POTATO PIE
2 sets sheep’s brains
1 1/2 cups white sauce
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
4 cups mashed potatoes
- Beat egg and mix into potatoes. Line a casserole with the potatoes.
- Chop brains and mix them with the white sauce. Pour this into the casserole with the chopped parsley.
- Cover with more potatoes.
- Sprinkle with salt, pepper and grated cheese and bake at 350° for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Half pound bacon pieces
2 pints chicken stock
1 medium carrot, grated
1 medium onion, cut up
1 medium beet, grated
Half pint (1 cup) cream
- Put all ingredients into a saucepan.
- Boil for 1 1/2 hours.
SAVORY MEAT DISH
2 cups cold meat, cut up
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or onion
1 tablespoon green tops of shallot or onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup cooked vegetables
3 cups milk
1 cup shredded tasty cheese
1 cup crustless cubes of bread [cooked in] butter
- Mix together breadcrumbs, shallot or onion, parsley and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the bottom of a greased casserole dish with the breadcrumb mixture, then add the diced meat.
- Beat eggs lightly and pour in milk. Season with salt, pepper and green shallot tops.
- Pour egg mixture over top of meat, then strew bread cubes on top.
- Sprinkle with grated cheese and dust with cayenne.
- Stand casserole in a dish of water and bake for about 45 minutes in a moderately cool oven (around 300°F). Serve with peas and mashed potatoes.
- Benger’s Food. https://www.everything2.com/title/Benger%25E2%2580%2599s+Food.
- Price WA. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th edition. La Mesa, CA: The Price- Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Inc., p. 171.
- Lustig RH. Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine. Harper Wave, 2021.
- Lustig RH. “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” University of California Television, 05/26/2009. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM.
- Dr. Weston A. Price Movietone. https://www.westonaprice.org/about-us/dr-weston-a-price-movietone/.