The Bulawayo Cookery Book and Household Guide
by Mrs N. Chataway
Bulawayo: Philpott and Collins 1909
London: Jeppestown Press: 2006 (reprint)
Normally this book would never have come across my radar as it is far from my usual Mediterranean haunts. However… you never know where your research takes you. A good while ago now, I ran across the unfamiliar name of N. Chataway somewhere in a publication on Aegean archaeology, providing expert opinion in an appendix on the analysis of material from an excavation which I vaguely recall was on metallurgy. Finding out who this N. Chataway seemed pressing at the time, but obviously it didn’t stick in my mind. What did stick was the discovery – during my googling – of the little colonial cookbook compiled in 1909 by the wife of Norman Chataway. You can tell where my priorities lie.
Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia – at least at the time that this book was published. The helpful introduction by the editor of the Jeppestown Press indicates that it was originally compiled by Mrs Norman Chataway (Louise to her friends) in order to raise funds to complete the construction of the Anglican Church in Bulawayo. Many women (and some men who dominate the chapter Veldt Cooking) contributed recipes and household tips. Interestingly, the original advertisements are included in the reprint. These are for hotels, laundries, newsagents, tailors, drapers; shops selling stationary, habadashery, hardware, agricultural equipment, furniture, saddlery, books, musical instruments. Food purveyors included butchers, bakers, confectioners, wholesalers of dry goods, dairy and fruit sellers, and traders of wines, spirits & beers. They provide a picture of the colonial town of Bulawayo at the turn of the 20th century.
But mostly the book is all about colonial cooking. Although the modern reprint bills it as Zimbabwe’s first household guide, it is not a Zimbabwe cookbook with local and traditional African dishes. Most of the recipes are adaptations of stodgy English or, at best, something that would come out of Mrs Beeton. It starts with hors d’oeuvres, continues through typical first plate items such as soup or fish, then onto entrees with a special section on joints. This is followed by the chapter Sweets and Puddings with the largest number of contributions. It is dominated by junkets, cornflour or sago puddings, jellies, rice & bread puddings, trifles & steamed puddings. There are also chapters dealing with breakfast & luncheon dishes, bread, cakes & biscuits, pickles & preserves, beverages, and confectionary. Specialist sections on invalid food as well as cooking while camping in the wild Veldt are tacked on at the end before the general household tips that are primarily about cleaning and how to deal with stains or pests.
However, and this is a big HOWEVER, The Bulawayo Cookery Book is an example of how people in foreign places try to replicate food from home. They adapt to local conditions and available ingredients – few eggs are used since they were expensive, and tinned fish used primarily since Bulawayo was far from the coast. Local terms for ingredients are often found: mealie (sweetcorn), naartje (clementine), konfyt (confit), and Boer meal (roughly ground flour). Examples in the book also adapt local recipes. The introduction of the reprint points out Mrs Glanville’s Babotee, or as she calls it, “a nice way of doing up cold meat” is actually a variation on the South African bobotie. Mrs Crake’s Tomato and Mutton Stew – livened with onions and chilies – is typical of another South African stew known as a bredie.
Among the entries for such things as celery soup, salmon loaf and soufflés, there are curry based dishes endemic to many British colonial environments. These include Mulligatawny Soup, Curried Puffs (a savoury pastry filled with curry), and Kedgeree. Also typical, these “curries” often use generic curry powder. Even Mrs Norman Cataway’s own Hot Weather Entree has all the ingredients of a curry although the spiced poultry (using curry powder) is very finely minced and when cooled whipped cream folded in. It is served cold straight from the ice box in paper cones and sprinkled with chopped pistachios – like a savoury curry ice cream cone. This recipe fascinates and repulses me in equal measures. In many ways these spice-based “curry” recipes reminds me of a blog post I wrote several years ago – Colonial Curry: 1950s style – about my Mother-in-law’s experience in a colonial environment in Singapore in the early 1950s.
The last “recipe” in the book is meant as an amusing conclusion. As you can read below, it is slightly smug and superior in tone and very dated from a time when most middle class people had housekeepers, particularly those in colonial situations.
To Make a Housekeeper
Take equal quantities of economy, industry, regularity and cleanliness. Let them boil moderately together in an old-fashioned vessel called a conscience. When cool add a little spirit of authority and good humour to your taste. Cleanse your vessel well before you put in the ingredients, and dip the cover in a little essence of watchfulness, which will prevent them from separating. If not clear put in a few grains of resolution, which will make it bright. It will be fit for use in two or three years, and will keep a long time and be better for age. Be very careful in following the directions of this recipe and it will never fail.
I had fun reading this little book, taking it with a pinch of salt. Not everything is meant to be replicated like Mrs Cataway’s Hot Weather Entree or advice followed like Mrs Taylor’s To Make a Housekeeper, but I may try one or two recipes like Mrs Glanville’s Babotee. The book reflects a time and place distant from where we are today, an interesting insight into the 1909 colonial world of Southern Rhodesia.
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The Bulawayo Cookery Book also features in a post by Chynthia Bertelsen in her blog, Gherkins and Tomatoes.