Christmas bells

We all become a bit nostalgic around Christmas, especially when it comes to food. On of my favourite photos is of my  mother making Kiss biscuits with her grandchildren back in the 19980s. Katey and Graeme now have children of their own.

Making the Christmas biscuits

I think only one person was working!

And who could forget White Christmas slice?   Or the decorated   ‘shape’ biscuits.  We always  had bells, trees and stars.

White Christmas slice

Every year!

Christmas biscuits.

How we loved these.










I think the White Christmas  recipe was from the Women’s Weekly.  Kiss biscuits and the standard dough for   ‘shapes’ appeared  in  virtually every cookbook going.

One autumn I gathered cherry laurel berries  (Prunus laurocerasus) from around my Blue Mountains  village of Blackheath with the intention of making jam. The laurel is a classified as weed here, so I was also  reducing the chance of bower birds and king parrots distributing cherry pips throughout the National Park. However, the only recipe I could find for laurel jam was in an  old Tasmanian CWA Cookery Book.

Laurel Jan 001


Country Womens' Association Cookcook

Country Women’s Association Cookbook; my mother’s bible!

I was born and raised in  Tasmania  during the 1950’s, and  this book fills me with  nostalgia. On the back page is an advertisement for Duck River Butter; ‘If you’re not  buying Duck River Butter isn’t it about time you started.’  There is no question mark… this was more command than suggestion. My dairy farmer father would have  approved as he supplied cream to that very  factory.  The dairy industry in general received great  coverage; on the inside cover is the following;

THE  NEW  7-DAY MILK DIET – FOR A SURE, SAFE SLIM. Planned for you by the well known British Nutritionist Dr. John Clyde.. WRITE  TO  The Milk Board, 119 Sandy Bay Road, SANDY BAY,  TASMANIA. Diet charts will be posted.

I have often been tempted to write and ask if they still have any.

For many years my mother cooked on a Lux fuel stove. We kids used to roast chestnuts on the top, ruining the black leaded surface!   Miraculously,  Mum could estimate the temperature simply by putting her hand near the oven door. We were so excited when Dad bought a Whirlpool electric stove, but then the kitchen was freezing…. so we had to buy a kerosene heater.

Old Lux fuel stove.

Old Lux fuel stove.

It was my older brother who bought my mother a Sunbeam mixmaster in the late 1950s, fulfilling a childhood promise. Goodness me, the number of sponge cakes that must have been whipped up in it over the next 30 odd years.

Sunbeam mixmaster

Spotted in an antiques shop. I was tempted to buy it.

After  making a tree-change to the Blue Mountains from Sydney the CWA cookbook  became my  standby, especially in winter when cooking is such a comforting activity. Inside are my mothers old favourites;  Chocolate Simplicity Cake, Coffee Sponge, Raspberry Shortbread, Swiss Roll and  my father’s favourite;  Date and Walnut Cake;


5oz  Butter

5 oz sugar

10 oz  Self-raising flour

2 oz walnuts

2 eggs

¼ pint of milk

5 oz chopped dates.

METHOD – Cream butter and sugar, add the well beaten eggs gradually. Fold in sifted flour alternately with milk. Add dates and chopped  walnuts. Bake in a greased ring tin (8”) in moderate oven for 40 minutes. When cold, ice  top and sides with butter icing and decorate with chopped walnuts.

Childhood party treats are here too; Cream Lilies, Butterfly Cakes, White Christmas and Rapidly Made Toffee For Children.  We always made  toffee when Mum and Dad were out, despite orders not to. We hid the often disastrous results, but a sticky kitchen floor was a giveaway!

Oh how I loved Butterfly cakes!

Oh how I loved Butterfly cakes!

My birthday cake always came from the same book; a sponge sandwich filled with raspberry jam and topped with pink icing and coconut.  I had once said it was my favourite and never had the heart to tell Mum  I had gone off it. Mind you, I would have been happy with a large pikelet as long as it had birthday candles and my name piped in Mum’s  wobbly hand.

The meat and vegetable sections were not of much interest to a farmer’s wife; Mum didn’t need to be told how to roast potatoes or make kangaroo patties. However, I buy  kangaroo mince and wild rabbits at Katoomba, and find the old recipes very handy.

Despite being compiled in 1970, the list of  Hints to Young Housewives begins rather patronizingly with;  Start the day  happily by getting up in good time and ends  with REMEMBER – Stew boiled is stew spoiled. There is also an impressive list of general household hints. Thank God Mum had no occasion to look up; Boils – Certain Cure (root of garlic and rum), or Bee Stings (a poultice of raw onion) but I have a vague memory of her falling back on  Burnt Saucepans- to clean, and To treat Chilblains – seldom needed twice ( a paste of whiting and water).

My only  regret is that, unlike my mother’s original copy,  my  edition does not include the name and township of each contributor.  Somehow Mum knew that a  pavlova recipe supplied by Mrs D. Revell of Flowerdale would not fail. And in the unlikely event that  it did, she could have dropped Mrs Revell an acerbic little note.


A second, slimmer recipe book  accompanied me when I left Tasmania for New South Wales; The Commonsense Cookery Book. It was used in my high school domestic science class, which is why the memories it stirs are  uncomfortable.

For some now forgotten reason, I did not have a regulation white apron of my own and wore the cast-off of my much taller sister. It reached my ankles and had ROBYN   embroidered in red across the bodice. I suspect it was  confusion over my identity  that resulted in teachers blaming me for cooking disasters I did not commit.   Admittedly my cream puffs became fireballs when I forgot the  preheat control on an antiquated oven,  but I certainly did not kill my yeast while making Bath Buns, as Mrs McMahon seemed to think. Nor were my Rum Babas anywhere near as bad as Irene Corbett’s.  However, my final report card read.  ‘Has a good grasp of theory. Should be a credit student, but cannot cook.’    Talk about blunt! In retrospect there is a clue to my failure in the title of the  recipe book. I simply  did not have any common sense.

Ulverstone HIgh, scene of my cookery failure.

Ulverstone HIgh, scene of my cookery failure.

My nephew  Rick once  rang and asked if I could send him the recipe for his grandmother’s Chocolate Simplicity Cake. I was delighted that, as a ‘new-age’ man, he intended to bake it himself rather than hand it on to his partner.


3 dessertspoons butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup S.R. flour

2 level tablespoons cocoa

2 eggs

½ cup milk

Few drops vanilla essence

METHOD – Sift flour, sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Break eggs on top. Melt butter (do not boil), add vanilla and beat all together for 3 minutes. Bake in a moderate oven for 35 minutes. Ice top with chocolate icing, decorate with crushed walnuts, or split cake and fill with whipped cream.

This too was baked in a ring tin.

UPDATE – I finally found mum’s recipe for easy chocolate date slice.

1 cup plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

60g butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Combine flour, cocoa,  coconut, dates, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Melt butter, golden syrup and vanilla essence. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Press into a greased and floured tray. Bake in moderate oven for 20-30 minutes. Cut into slices while still warm then let them cool in the tray.  So delicious.

Note that the above recipe includes Golden Syrup; no  Australian home should be without it, although today’s  plastic container   isn’t quite the same as the original tin.  Is there a more comforting winter pudding than  old fashioned Golden Syrup Dumplings?  I don’t think so! And so simple.



1 cup self-raising flour

60g butter

1 egg

1-2 tablespoons milk


30g  butter

1 cup caster sugar

4 tablespoons golden syrup

Juice of a small lemon


Sift flour, then rub in butter until mixture resembles  breadcrumbs. Beat egg with a little milk and add to mixture. Combine to form a soft dough, then shape into small balls…about golf ball  size.


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan  with a cup of water and  slowly bring to the boil. Add the dumplings and simmer for 20 minutes.  Serve with lots of cream.

Come to think of it, those dumplings look a bit like miniature Christmas puds. Just add a sprig of holly.

Golden syrup dumplings










  1. I’m afraid I cannot offer one. Despite our family name of Baker, my mum was not a good one. She was a good COOK, but not a good baker of cakes. If she baked a ‘Sponge’ it would look like two rather large digestive biscuits with the filling often deeper than the barely risen cake. They filled a hungry spot though, so us kids never complained. It was only in later years that we teased her about her baking (or rather lack of)skills.

  2. I have a wonderful old recipe book called Homepride Cookery Book by Catherine Ives. It cost four shillings and sixpence.Itis an old English book and was given to me by my late Mother in Law. Home Pride is a brand of Flour in the UK. As well as some wonderful recipes I love reading the Household Hints.
    Here is a tiny sample:
    To keep lemons fresh put them in a bowl of cold water and change the water frequently.Or pack them in silver sand, the lemons must not touch one another and must be completely covered by the sand to keep the air out.
    To keep meat fresh in hot weather before it is to be cooked wash it over with weak vinegar & water and then spread small pieces of onion over it.
    To keep cheese free from Mildew place a lump of sugar on the cheese, the sugar absorbs the moisture.
    To keep milk fresh add a pinch of bicarbonate soda to each pint of milk.
    Instead of whipped cream peel a banana , scrape it and slice it thinly , add the white of an egg and beat until stiff.

    • Pauline

      Wow, these are amazing Yvonne. I can’t wait to try the banana whipped cream one. It sounds really good! I don’t know what silver sand could be re the eggs though. I remember mum preserving a bucket of eggs in something or other (vinegar?) Don’t remember us eating them though, so maybe it was a big disaster. The sugar on the cheese sounds logical even to my non-sciencey brain.

  3. Sugar sand is a very soft pure fine type of sand almost like a silt It can turn into quick sand if wet.

  4. A great post, but where is the chocolate in your Mum’s Easy Chocolate Date Slice recipe, above? Was the slice iced in chocolate?

    • Pauline

      Now that is a VERY good question, Linda. Thank you. It was supposed to have a tablespoon of cocoa. Mum didn’t ice hers, it was just something she made in a hurry for farm lunch baskets etc. I suppose you could add chocolate icing though.

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