Bulawayo Cooking

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
Mrs Taylor
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.

18 comments

  1. . . . ‘time and place distant from where we are’ . . . perhaps not . . . my parents were WWII refugees from Europe into a then very Anglo-Saxon Australia – oh, we had difficulties into fitting in and that largely food-wise from Northern Europe . . . I grew up on mulligatawny soup and kedgeree, whether I loved them or not 🙂 ! And when I first married I really believed Keen;s Madras Curry Powder was the ‘real thing’ 🙂 ! . . . ‘fascinates and repulses’ . . . I can assure you that applies more for me than you: but, oh please, do make bobotie and many other dishes from a now bygone era – they are absolutely delightful . . . .

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    • I do like bobotie and have actually made it before, just not this particular recipe which reads like a slightly spicy shepherd’s pie with a mashed potato topping. I still use curry powders for some things and believe it has its uses. However, I also feel it is important to get a good brand whose spice mix you enjoy unlike any of the cheaper ones you get off the shelf in the supermarket.

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    • Sandra – I saw this and have phoned two of my gfs in whose homes to this day I often eat S African and Rhodesian food altho; they also came from Europe. We have no access to this particular book but, the general consensus seems largely to be ‘no’ especially as far as the old ‘warhorses’ ;like bobotie, Cape Curry, Boerewors, Melktert etc are concerned . . . . well, I still make kedgeree for breakfast (if I do 🙂 !) in the same way as I did when I was 19 . . . 🙂 ! They also oft still use ‘curry powder’ tho’ that is such big ‘no-no’ at this day and age . . . . . .

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      • Eha – the reprint paperback book is available through Amazon, and probably other on-line bookstores, and is very inexpensive. It may even be available from a local library. It is fun, but not something I would generally cook from.

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    • Hi Sandra, I’m always curious about historic recipes, but often when I make them, they range from digestible to disgusting. I think one of the problems is with the recipe writing – such as leaving instructions out that were understood at the time and didn’t need to be mentioned. Plus those imprecise measurements! Also, I realise that tastes may have changed between then and now. I will try that “babotee” and maybe a few others – at least those that feel right when you read them where you can imagine the flavours. Cook with caution!

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  2. I ride to the defence of curry powder! It has a taste and a smell that is hard to capture but is the only thing, imho, that makes a real kedgeree (not the mushy creamy kind of the London hotel kitchen) and gives Coronation chicken a rather lovely slightly coffee-flavoured edge. There are certain old Italian recipes for pasta dishes involving prawns that use it and I love it. Yes, combinations of spices are great with ‘proper’ curries, but why not a smidge of curry powder too to set it off to a good start? Fennel seeds, cinnamon, nigella seeds and so on tend to find their way into my curries as well. Yum. When I cooked over an open fire in Swaziland for up to 24, I did make a few of the South African classics including a waterblommetje bredie involving a tin of the blommetjes. How did I do it? Not really sure! I have a cookery book put out by a South African oven manufacturer that is great. But rarely used. I always bring back curry powder from Zambia (or the airport in Kenya if all else fails) as it is the best.
    I guess this puts me outside the pale of you real foodies now.

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    • I have no objection to curry powder. Some brands, however, are better than others. I suspect your Zambia/Kenya curry powder is probably wonderful and better than anything you can get off the shelf in the UK. I love Coronation chicken and make it with Bolst curry powder which is what my mother-in-law recommend many many years ago now. My kedgeree is different and only uses paprika, Dijon mustard and loads of chopped chives for flavourings – and the rice is not that goopy stuff. However, I have no objection to kedgeree made with curry powder. Definitely, curry powders (the good stuff) has its uses.

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  3. Such a thought provoking post of a bygone era. Those old recipe books are often more enlightening than a history book. I was fortunate enough to find one of my grandfather’s old cookery books (he was a cook in the British army WW1 then Australian army, WW2). I doubt that the government would look too kindly if I started roasting animals that are now protected species!

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    • It is true that old cookbooks can give you an insight on past times that traditional history books can. Your grandfather’s old cook book sounds very interesting. They must have had to be inventive to feed troupes. Do you know where he was stationed in WWI? I was just at a conference last month in Thessaloniki about the WWI Macedonian front and there was a very interesting paper on the infrastructure needed to feed the soldiers. I still recall an image he showed of a series of make shift bread ovens set up in camp.

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      • A lot of British war records were lost during the Blitz in WW2. I believe he served in France. Then Egypt in WW2. I’d imagine the food would have been pretty stodgy by today’s standards.

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  4. how fascinating. i adore old books like these. one of my faves is Mrs Charles Darwin’s cookbook. I guess the wives were bored, so got stuck in to things like this to fill in their time. i love bobotie too. a great little recipe. cheers sherry

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