woman holding up an open cookery book

Fika Off

Long before Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson or even Fanny Craddock there was Aunt Kate. What do you mean you haven’t heard of her? Well, in all fairness neither had we. In fact, she was probably the creation of John Leng and Co Limited but by using the homely name it helped give the impression that their collection of recipes was traditional and family orientated.  

A bit of internet digging pinpoints Aunt Kate to the early years of the 20th century with the firm advertising her second cookery book in 1910. It appears that the recipes were regularly updated over the years, with our copy of the book possibly being one of the last editions to be published. Ours appears to date from the 1960s but many of the illustrations and photographs have clearly been lifted from 1950s and 1930s editions rather than revising the whole book. Aunt Kate’s cookery tips can also be found in large compilations of household guidance from the period and it seems that the brand was a familiar household name.

All very well, but it doesn’t explain why a copy of ‘Aunt Kate’s New Cookery Book’ (circa 1960) should have found its way into the office at the Coffin Works. Was Joyce Green knocking up birthday cakes for the employees? Had it been an unwanted gift that had never made its way to her home? Was Dolly busy baking biscuits for the afternoon tea run?  Or were the staff of Newman’s doing a Fika Off way back when? It’s unlikely we will ever discover how, and why, the recipe book came to be part of the Newman Brother’s archive but it doesn’t stop us having a bit of fun with it regardless.

Produced in around 1960, the book covers sections such as soups, fish, bacon and ham, quick snacks, hot and cold puddings, biscuits and pastries.  A quick glance through the pages shows how much culinary tastes have changed over the years. Let us say that the American Layer Pancakes which is made with Heinz tinned spaghetti and suet and topped with fanned gherkins isn’t going to be gracing our dinner table any time soon. Want to make your dish more appealing 1960s’ style?  Set in in a mould, cover it in whipped cream and stick a cherry on the top. (And no it doesn’t matter if it’s a savoury dish, the rules still apply!)  

Products and ingredients commonly used in the mid-century are now relegated to the history books…. or tins of pet food.  (Although since having written this I’ve seen an article about new uses for aspic jelly so it looks like it might be about to make a comeback!?)  Product placement appears to have been rife and many of the recipes call for specific brands of flour, margarine or baking powder. Given they appear to have been made by a variety of manufacturers it seems unlikely that the recipe book is affiliated to a particular manufacturer (as in the case of the long lasting Be-ro Cook Book) but possibly each brand paid to be included a certain number of times.  

The fact that people (by which it was mainly assumed to be women) were expected to allocate more time to cooking back then is evident by the fact that no timings (save for the actual cooking time) are given for the recipes. In a world where everything is done at breakneck speed, we’ve become used to the fact that recipes tell us exactly how long the preparation, cooking and setting/decorating time will take. (How long will it be before they also start telling us how long it will take for us to eat it, I wonder?) 

Whilst cooking might have been the sole responsibility of the women, the eating of the food was very seen as a communal event. “There’s nothing like a nice big family cake – a cut-and-cut-again cake. And how useful to have one always ready in the cake tin, ready for the unexpected guest.”  There’s no escaping the causal sexism of the day though, as although the lemon meringue pie is advertised as “everyone’s favourite” the Apple Pie with ‘Cheese Apples’ is “one specially for the menfolk!”

Fortunately Fika has no such inherent sexism and menfolk, womenfolk and all the folk in the middle can all enjoy apple pie with ‘cheese apples’.  To find out whether we actually do or not you will have to follow our adventures.

Click here to listen to our Fika spotlight podcast talking about the first offering provided by our very own, Chris! 

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