In October we took in a series of cookery scrapbooks beautifully compiled by Ann Sargent from the 1950s to 1980s. They are cram-full of cuttings containing recipes and cookery advice from magazines and newspapers. Some of the recipes are snipped out from the boxes of food stuffs or advertisements. They give the manufacturers’ recommendations of how to use products such as flour, margarine and cheese.
One of my favourite creations is the ingenious Hickory Dickory Dock cake topped with mice made out of halved pears with whiskers made of angelica and currant eyes. Ann had wide ranging culinary interests as her cuttings cover topics such as preparing game and fish and cooking French, Greek and Indian food. Her scrapbooks are an invaluable record of the types of food and meals eaten by families in the mid-twentieth century.
We have also received an addition to our Liddle archives. Father and son Harry and John Downs served in the First and Second World Wars respectively. Harry Downs was in the Connaught Rangers nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Own’. As one of the 5th (Service) Battalion he served in Salonika, Egypt and the Western Front. Harry’s collection includes a photograph of the Connaught Rangers, his cap and buttons and brass souvenirs.
Harry’s son, John Downs had a fascinating career in the army during World War Two and beyond. Serving with the 86th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery he saw action in Normandy. In October 1944 he took part in the liberation of the Dutch town ‘s-Hertogenbosch in ‘Operation Pheasant’. After the war John continued his career in the forces working for the Intelligence Corp in Bad Driberg from 1946-47.
‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands was an important strategic point for the allies. By 1944 the town had been occupied by the Nazis for 4 years. Its successful liberation was led by the 53rd Welsh Division with the support of 86th Anti-Tank Regiment. In later life John attended thanksgiving reunions hosted by the citizens of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and his collection contains related archives.
During the war John may have been billeted in Gompel, Belgium with Denise Mayeur’s family, as his archives include letters and postcards from Denise who signs herself ‘votre amie belge’. Writing in 1944-45 she frequently asks for more letters from John, suggesting Denise may have been keener on the correspondence than he was! John’s collection also contains military documents, maps, badges and further letters.
We worked with two co-curators on this exhibition, the food historians Peter Brears and Eileen White. Together they have huge experience of writing and talking about recipes, cooks and food preparation both generally and in a Leeds setting.
Beginning around a year ago, we had a series of enjoyable meetings where we mulled over the main themes of the exhibition. We considered whether to take a simple chronological approach to the books from our Cookery Collection or maybe to follow particular recipes through time. We decided to explore collecting, that is cooks collecting recipes; individuals and their collections of cookery books; the Library’s collections.
As an introduction to the exhibition we decided to show books connected to some of the individuals behind our collections such as Blanche Legat Leigh, John Hodgkin, Alfred Chaston Chapman, and our former library colleague Anne Wilson.
We also realised that the extent of our collections allowed us to explore the broad development of cookery books. We were able to display early printed editions of classical texts; some examples from our many editions of Mrs Beeton and Hannah Glasse; and a copy of the first English cookery book published outside London.
To the delight of our co-curators, Peter and Eileen, we had three copies of the works of the 16th century Papal chef Bartolomeo Scappi to choose from. Scappi was the private chef of Pope Pius V. His ‘Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi‘ originally published in 1570 was the first cookbook to include extensive explanatory images. Judging by the image below servants in the kitchen needed strength in addition to culinary skills.
Planning for the exhibition was an enjoyable experience which has given us the chance to widen access to our collections. Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to explore the broad range of recipes, social history, illustrations and individuals in our extensive Cookery Collection.
The University of Leeds Cookery Collection was established in 1939 by a donation from Blanche Legat Leigh. The exhibition explores how recipes have been compiled and collected and how attitudes to food have changed over time. In books spanning an incredible seven centuries you can see a first edition of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, wonderfully illustrated Renaissance texts, and warnings on the ‘Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards’.
Professor Viv Jones, Head of the University of Leeds Cultural Institute opened the evening. We found out about the fantastic events and opportunities facilitated by the Institute who work with staff, students and cultural partners. Eileen White, a co-curator of the exhibition, delighted the audience with some snippets of strange and usual recipes. Flamingo tongue anyone?
University House Chefs Phil Tostevin and Robert Hargreaves prepared a mini banquet inspired by some of the recipes on display. A French onion soup, hearty beef stew and lemon posset were all enjoyed by our hungry guests. Guests then crowded around the display cases eager to find their own inspiration!
The annual Lantern Festival is one of the highlights of the Chinese calendar with feasting and celebrations. We’re taking the opportunity to look at Chinese cookery books in our Cookery Collection.
On 11th February it was Yuanxiao Festival known as the Lantern Festival. Traditionally people release ‘tiandeng’ — sky lanterns, view decorated lanterns through the night, attend dancing and singing performances and eat ‘yuanxiao’ or ‘tangyuan’. It is the first full moon of the New Year, the day representing completion, perfection and a good day. It marks the last day of the Lunar Chinese New Year.
Just like China’s other traditional holidays, the Lantern Festival has its own special dish – ‘yuanxiao’, or sweet dumpling soup. Amongst our Cookery Collection can be found the book ‘Zhongguo xiao chi‘ (1981). An image from the book is shown. Page 77 informs us that: yuanxiao, also called ‘yuanzi’, ‘tangyuan’or ‘tuanzi’, existed during the Kaiyuan period (713-741 AD) of the Tang Dynasty, and: “家制米圆相饷，即呼之为元宵” which can be translated as: the rice ball made at home for a treat is called yuanxiao.
The filling is usually composed of different kinds of fruit kernels and sugar. Although the sweet dumplings differ in name and recipe from the North and South, they are always made with glutinous rice flour for the outside. The sweet dumplings are rounded and white, as this represents the moon on the night, and the wish and anticipation of family unity. The name ‘tangyuan’ is more common in the South while the older name ‘yuanxiao’ is used in the North.
The Chinese lunar calendar has twenty four terms. ‘The festive food of China‘ (1991) features special meals prepared and eaten to celebrate the different terms. ‘China’s food: A photographic journey‘ (1986) formerly belonged to the food journalist Michael Bateman. It is part of our extensive printed Bateman Collection. The book is packed with stunning images of Chinese food. Some photographs show the beauty of raw ingredients such as vegetables and grains. They include intricate carvings of vegetables and fruit suitable for a grand banquet.