Flora Pell and Our Cookery Book

While my maternal grandmother had Lucy Drake’s cookbook, my paternal grandmother had Flora Pell’s.

Drake and Pell were contemporaries, and trained together as cookery instructors. They were part of the first crop of locally qualified Victorian instructors trained under Annie Fawcett Story.

Story had come from New South Wales, commissioned by the Victorian Government on the eve of the 20th century to set up Victoria’s first cookery school. Story started by training a batch of teachers, who were in 1900 despatched by the Education Department out to brand new cookery training centres around the state.

At least four of Story’s graduates went on to publish cookery books of their own. I don’t think it’s too much to argue that this one small class went on to influence decades of home cooking in Victoria.

Pell was a career educator and shaped domestic arts teaching in Victoria. She started at the Gordon College in Geelong after she qualified in 1900. By 1915 she was the Headmistress of the Collingwood Domestic Arts School and then in 1924 became Victorian Inspectress of Domestic Arts Centres.

In 1916 Pell published her first cookbook, Our Cookery Book. It was the unofficial handbook of cookery students and Victorian women for years and and remained in print well into the 1950s.

But this status got Pell into trouble on at least two fronts. The Education Department wasn’t happy about an employee publishing a book that could be set as a text book. She also later ran afoul of the very powerful Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, who campaigned against Pell’s use of alcohol in some recipes. According to Alison Wishart, all of this contributed to a difficult relationship with her employers and her early retirement.

My 22nd edition (1949) copy of Our Cookery Book

My grandmother’s Pell cookbook was one of her later ones, Tested Cookery Dishes and Valuable Home Hints, complete with local Geelong advertising.

Flora Pell and Lucy Drake were among the first women to make careers out of cookery in Victoria. With the same early training, they went on to create generations of cooks in the state.

Having a Maggie or a Stephanie cookbook on our shelves might influence our Australian cooking identities now, but perhaps having a Flora or Lucy was the early 20th century equivalent.


Alison Wishart, The turbulent history of Our Cookery BookProvenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 9, 2010. ISSN 1832-2522. accessed 2 September 2022.

Sheila Tilse, Story, Ann Fawcett (1846–1911), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 4 September 2022.

The Broadford Courier and Reedy Creek Times (Broadford, Vic. : 1893 – 1916) 12 April 1900: 2. Web. 3 Sep 2022 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5923570>

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