Cookery for the ‘Middle Classes’!

Sorting my book collection is rather like painting the Forth Road Bridge – it’s a task that never ends! OK, so it’s rather more interesting than the paint job and sometimes, as happened last week, I come across a gem of a cookery book I didn’t even know I had!

I can only guess that this ancient coverless book was one of my Mother’s. It has the wonderful title of: ‘Miss Tuxford’s Cookery for the Middle Classes’. Can you imagine how a title like that would go down in 2018?!

Miss Hester Tuxford M.C.A first published this book in 1925 and several updated editions followed. In the edition I have (dated 1933, I think) she tells us proudly in the preface that the book has so far sold upwards of 200,000 copies – which is a very impressive figure indeed! I haven’t been able to find out any more about Hester Tuxford online, which is a shame, as I rather like the sound of her. She lived in ‘Westwood’, Tattershall in Lincolnshire, but that’s as much as I know.

Offal: Awful!

The book itself is fascinating as a piece of social history. Compare this to a contemporary cookery book and it is hard to believe that only about 90 years have passed since Miss Tuxford was writing her recipes. It seems much longer…

Back then, meat was a staple of all meals – and almost every part of the animal was consumed – from offal, to head to feet! The number of recipes featuring tripe is quite terrifying, including options to stew it, fry it, put it in a pie or make a tripe ragout. Equally, the range of meat eaten would make most of us excuse ourselves from the dining table pretty rapidly – including rabbit, pigeon and rook. Rook pie, anyone?

Miss Tuxford manages only a small section on vegetables and, from the outset, she makes it clear that they need to be treated with caution. She writes:

Green vegetables should always be cooked with the lid off the pan to allow all poisonous gases to escape that are generated whilst cooking. A little salt and a small piece of soda should be added to the boiling water before placing in the green vegetables. All vegetables should be well soaked in salt water for an hour before cooking.’

The section on puddings and sweets is extensive and includes such gems as Puzzle Pudding, Honeymoon Cheesecakes and Canary Pudding. Fortunately, the latter refers to a yellow lemon sauce rather than poor little baked birds as in the Rook Pie! There are no less than five roly-poly recipes and many more substantial puddings, most of which involve a large amount of lard and margarine.

It’s all very well for us to marvel at this stodgy fare but between the wars, life was pretty spartan. Central heating was a luxury and domestic appliances were not that commonplace, nor was car ownership, so calorie-rich meals were essential for warmth and physical energy. Most vegetables were what you managed to grow yourself and many would have been root vegetables. None of the exotic fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today were around, such as avocados, butternut squash and blueberries. Britain was a much greyer place.

Reading Miss Tuxford’s book certainly made me reflect on how fortunate we are today with the food and comfort that most of us enjoy. If you come across a copy of this book, or any others from that era, it really is absolutely fascinating reading…

10 replies
  1. James Lynes says:

    What a lovely read and story Joanna. I have a large collection of old cookery books pre 1930 that I inherited from my late great Aunt. I’ve also got my Great Grandma’s hand writing recipe book that she wrote after doing a Cordon Bleu cookery course.
    As you say every part of the animal was used. I have a recipe for boiled sheep’s head soup. Won’t dare try at as I’m vegetarian but I don’t mind cooking meat for others.
    I think you should do another cookery book Joanna 😊

    James x

  2. Sylvie Ashton says:

    It sounds wonderful Joanna, my mouth was watering at the sound of ‘Rook Pie’.. NOT!.. Lol What a wonderful reflection of the times back then. My own mother had 4 older siblings she never met or knew because they all died of hunger in the 1920’s, so no wonder everyone tucked into puddings and fatty meals. I’m so glad we are here now and not back then. Thanks for sharing. Hugs xx

    • Joanna Sheen says:

      Life was tough then Sylvie, how dreadful for your mother to lose her siblings like that. Unimaginable today. Joanna

  3. Pearl Farrier says:

    So many strange recipes, how can you choose? By the availability of the main ingredient no doubt – or how appealing they are to you anyway, as any recipe. It is lovely to look at ‘old’ books to see how much the authors thought was essential, at that time anyway. I have some old do it yourself books from my husbands Uncle and there is whole world of pain in there! Good luck with you recipes.

  4. janet says:

    Whatever was in Puzzle Pudding??? I love the names of some of them. Maybe you could try one of the less stodgy ones to put in the newsletter??

    • Joanna Sheen says:

      Interesting idea Janet! The ingredients for Puzzle Pudding are flour, raspberry jam, beef suet, milk and carbonate of soda… and it is served with a white sauce. Hmmm…!! Joanna

  5. Annie Banham says:

    I came across a copy of this in Gloucester for £1! I was tickled by the title, but also interested as grandmother was a confectioner and baker in the 1930s. I have all her handwritten recipes, all with frugal lists of ingredients. So pleased to find your blog post, as there is little to be found online about he book and its author. Thank you!


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