Gingin pioneer’s collection of recipes features in new cookbook

Gingin pioneer’s collection of recipes features in new cookbook

A BOOK which features the story of a Gingin woman, who harnessed a lifetime’s collection of recipes almost 100 years ago to raise money for charity, has been short-listed for an international award.

Myra Edgar lived on Strathalbyn, near Gingin, with her husband, Alexander, a leading pastoralist who bred prize-winning cattle and sheep.

One of her favourite pastimes was exchanging recipes with family and friends, building up a substantial collection over 40 years.

It became the basis of two cookbooks published in the 1920s to raise money for the Braille and Advancement Society for the Blind of Western Australia.

Author Liz Harfull tells the long-forgotten tale as part of her latest book, Tried Tested and True, which celebrates Australian community cookbooks and the volunteers who compiled them.

The collection of illustrated stories and revised classic recipes has been short-listed for a 2019 Gourmand Award, due to be announced in Macau on July 4.

Described by their Paris-based organisers as the food culture equivalent of the Olympics, the annual Gourmand Awards honour the best food and wine books, magazines, digital content and publishers from around the world.

As part of her extensive research, Liz reviewed close to 1000 different community cookbooks, visiting public and private collections, op shops and second-hand book stores across the country. She eventually selected about 60 to feature, including Myra’s Strathalbyn Cookery Book, which was released in two volumes, in 1921 and 1925.

“My focus was cookbooks produced to raise money for worthy causes, covering a period of about 100 years, starting in the 1890s,” Liz said.

“Many of them were humble publications, but they came with a promise. People knew the recipes would be reliable because they were usually donated by home cooks with a reputation for excellence.

“In the case of the Strathalbyn cookbooks, they were the work of a single woman, so I was keen to find out more about her.”

Liz discovered that Myra came from a prosperous Fremantle shipping mercantile family, the Batemans. The ninth of 13 children, she was 28 years old when she married Alex in 1890, and moved to the extreme isolation of De Grey station, in the Pilbara, which her husband managed.

“She found her years at De Grey a great struggle, and not just because of the isolation, the distance from her family and the stark contrast to her life in Fremantle,” she said.

“She also had to cope with losing her first babies, who were twins. One was stillborn and the other died from extreme heat when he was only six months old.”

The Edgars left De Grey in the late 1890s, and purchased the Gingin property. Alex built a large stone house on the side of a hill, where Myra focussed on raising their children, and running the household.

“According to family members, she loved to bake and make preserves, even though the Edgars employed a cook,” she said.

“The recipes in her cookbooks certainly reflect this interest, as well as the trend in those years for what we now call nose to tail dining, so using every part of an animal, including the offal.

“And there are more than a few recipes using kangaroo too, no doubt a necessity from her time in the Outback.”