The past is a foreign kitchen

Sheep's head and sausage

Recently The Australian held a contest to find the worst recipes. This search was inspired by food columnist John Lethlean after he discovered a recipe for lamb salad soufflé with lime jelly crystals and mayonnaise in the 1971 New Zealand Women’s Weekly Cookbook. To make the soufflé, “First, you dissolve your jelly crystals, lime or lemon; then you stir in vinegar, mayo, salt and pepper. Beat, chill and then whip. Fold in your leftover lamb, cooked peas, grated onion, chopped mint.” Mr. Lethlean then challenged readers to find even worse recipes on their own bookshelves.

The entries were entertaining, if not appetizing. Recipes for moose liver soup, beaver paws cooked in water and vinegar, guinea pigs smashed between steel plates, fish and spaghetti casserole, and lamb tail pie were plucked from what one can only assume to be dusty, seldom-used cookbooks. Lyn Smyth of Port Elliot, South Australia, provided the winning entry, Milk Mixtures and Nursery Recipes, which offers instructions for treats like scraped beef balls and scalloped calves brains.

Eat Your Books asked Lyn about her winning tome. Here is Lyn’s reply:

When John Lethlean (journalist with The Australian) asked for examples of awful recipes from readers’ bookshelves, I delved into my “collection” of aging recipe books. My pristine copy of Milk Mixtures and Nursery Recipes printed by the Mothers and Babies Health Association, Adelaide, South Australia, from 1966 caught my eye. This was the year my first daughter was born, and as we lived on a farm, we travelled 20 kilometres over rough dirt roads, to attend the (travelling) Mothers and Babies Health Clinic in a local town, where a “sister” checked our babies fortnightly, to make sure they were putting on weight and progressing satisfactorily in every way – to put our minds at rest!  I was given the Milk Mixtures book as a guide to learn what food was acceptable (and nutritious?) for the baby.  Although being a new mother and wanting  of course to do everything “right” in bringing up my child, I just couldn’t quite bring myself to try the enclosed recipes e.g. “Gruel, Scraped Beef Balls, Scalloped Calves Brains, Bone Marrow, Fricassee of Tripe/Rabbit/Brains and Beetroot Soup” – to list a few of the delicious sounding meals!! Needless to say, that is why my copy is still in pristine condition!!

Lyn won a fantastic prize for her entry: a subscription to Eat Your Books. While I have old cookbooks with colorful recipes gracing my shelves, I don’t think I can top Lyn’s entry. And if you can, I’m not sure I want to hear about it.

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  • warner  on  February 23, 2014


    My mother's recipe for spaghetti in tomato sauce started with 'first boil the spaghetti 30 minutes by the clock'

    and involved a bottle of Hunt's Ketchup.

  • sir_ken_g  on  February 24, 2014

    And Milk Mixtures" is not indexed! 🙁

  • manycookbooks  on  February 24, 2014

    I loved this! As part of my cookbook collection, I have a lot of books from the 1940's, 50's and 60's and some of them have the most dreadful recipes with unusual and unappetizing combinations. One of these days, I may even try to make one or two, just to see if they taste as bad as they look in the photos! What WERE they thinking, is the only question I can think of!

  • boardingace  on  February 28, 2014

    Love it! And how we judge recipes of the past is so dependent on what is trendy in cooking in the present! It's certainly incredibly entertaining to look at the photos, that's for sure!

    If you enjoy a good laugh, I have to recommend these blogs:

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