Before Margaret Fulton or Stephanie Alexander, who did Australian home cooks look to? I had assumed it was English experts and cookbooks – until I started looking through both my grandmothers’ cookbooks.
I discovered that, as home cooks starting out in the 30s and 40s, they relied on local experts. And really quite local – books written by women who had taught in nearby towns, whose recipes and classes they would have read about in their local newspapers, and in some cases who they probably even heard on the radio.
It turns out, well before we had Stephanie, Victoria had a strong tradition of locally grown and respected cookery personalities, starting around the turn of last century, when cookery became a ‘science’ and teaching it became a profession. They included Flora Pell, Lily Fowler, and Lucy Drake.
Lucy Drake’s is the cookbook my mum and aunt remember their mother using most.
A woman of ‘strong personality and great ability’, Lucy Drake trained with the Education Department and then at the National Training School of Cookery in South Kensington, London. She was one of a family of respectable Melbourne Eastern Suburbs professionals – Drake’s brothers included a doctor, a solicitor and a senior Victorian public servant.
While with the Education Department in the early 1900s, Drake taught at Wangaratta, set up a brand new cookery school in Beechworth, and did stints in various other Victorian towns including Warrnambool and Ballarat. Her training was highly practical and well respected. In most of these towns, it included running a regular public lunch service for a small charge, giving pupils real experience in front of house and kitchen work. She also regularly offered night classes for housewives to keep up with the demand for cookery training.
In 1913, Drake took up the job of cookery teacher at Melbourne’s Swinburne Technical College. This is where she published her first cookery book, as a textbook for Swinburne students in 1915. As best as I can tell this evolved into ‘Miss Drake’s Home Cookery’, which by 1920 was being advertised to the general public. Drake also produced textbooks on confectionery making and cookery for children, invalids and convalescents, and stove management.
Lucy Drake didn’t live to see the full impact of her cookbooks – she died suddenly in 1923. Another book, her ‘Everylady’s Cookbook’ was published posthumously, created from a compendium Drake had been compiling of recipes she had published in the Everylady’s journal.
The extended Drake family ensured Lucy Drake’s reputation lived on. Drake’s niece Dorothy Giles had been her assistant at Swinburne, and took over Lucy’s teaching role there. Giles went on to establish a very reputable cookery teaching career in her own right. Giles was also the keeper of the Lucy Drake cook book ‘brand’, updating and publishing editions of ‘The original and only’ Miss Drake’s Home Cookery well into the 1950s. The advertising in the 1940s edition pictured above suggest that, Lucy’s solicitor brother also supported the the cause.
I’d guess that’s this would be close to the edition my grandmother would’ve had as a young married mother in the 1940s.
By the time my grandmother was using cooking from her recipes, Lucy Drake was long gone. Interesting that the ‘Miss Drake’ brand outlasted the cook herself by 30 years.