In Praise of Pigs

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The pig is an animal that has been used as a symbol by many cultures, as well as inspiring writers and artists. (See entries on Wikipedia for a good survey of the cultural and religious associations and the pig in popular culture). Sometimes it is used to depict human failings; at others it represents wisdom and good fortune. Pigs also can be just plain entertaining. Now we have entered the Chinese Year of the Pig I thought I would share my small collection and some random thoughts on the subject.

Undomesticated pigs can be fierce and dangerous beasts. Since ancient times representations of wild boar have displayed this ferocity with great imagination. Take for example this illustration from our dilapidated copy Oliver Goldsmith’s A History of the Earth and Animated Nature, Vol. I 1868. The various species of wild pigs from different regions of the world are put together to create a scene that could only exist on paper or in your nightmares.

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I’m sure that the British illustrator Paul Hogarth was channeling this wildness in his cover illustration for the 1960s edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That is one threatening pig.

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In contrast illustrations of domestic pigs seem much more benign although they can still display a lot of character. In our 1883 copy of the Universal Self Instructoris an entry on how to keep hogs with an accompanying picture. The artist gives you the impression that these two hogs would have been stubborn personalities with minds of their own. They look immovable.

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The pig form may be bulky bit it can lend itself to delicate and small artifacts. For example I have a tiny glass pig that I bought in a shop in the US, as well as a tiny pig pin, something that will be fun to wear this year.

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Pigs can be wonderfully amusing creatures and have inspired cartoonists like Walt Disney in his 1933 animation of The Three Little Pigsand the Loony Tunes character of Porky Pig. Here are a couple of comical pigs. The pink one is a vintage bath salts holder and the other was found at an op shop.

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There are many charming images of pigs in children’s books. In our 1901 edition of Country Favourites there are some delightful illustrations of pigs for the story Pat and the pigs by Winifred Fenn. The story is about a very naughty boy who steals cherries and releases the pigs in his charge to eat the flowers in an old ladies garden. Of course, like all moralizing tales of this era he eventually sees the error his ways and apologizes. The likeable and good-natured looking pigs seem oblivious to the fact they are involved in dirty deeds.

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A piggy bank is the quintessential money box with so many creative variations. Countless generations have saved their change in one. When my sister and I were children our grandmother would give us the contents of her vintage hand painted, ceramic piggy bank. Unfortunately this lovely bank was accidentally given to charity.

I was always horrified by the thought of smashing a beautiful piggy bank to get at the contents when there was no bottom opening. I would rather use a knife to loosen the change while holding it upside down. I still have a reproduction of a depression era glass piggy bank and it is easy to shake out the contents. Many financial companies give away piggy banks as promotional gifts and that is the origin of the jovial plastic purple one below.

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Because the pig is one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac it is popular in Asian countries as a symbol of luck, wisdom and good fortune. A Japanese friend gave me a wooden lucky charm from her local temple, painted with the image of Ebisu (one of the seven gods of happiness) riding a white pig, which I treasure. The gorgeous Korean brass pig was found at a local op shop.

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Pigs are great animals to doodle and I did this drawing a long time ago just for the fun of it.

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Pig objects make an interesting collection and have all kinds of different meanings around the world.  Although sometimes symbolising wild nature, pigs are also revered as intelligent and benevolent animals and can inspire us in our creative endeavours.

Happy Year of the Pig!

Kat

Because it is just so delightful and amusing, here is Walt Disney’s animation of The Three Little Pigs.

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Happy 2019

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It’s a lovely sunny New Year’s Eve in Melbourne. It’s around 25 degrees Celsius and it is a perfect day when much of Australia is experiencing a heatwave. I don’t want to linger on the computer too long and miss it.

I just want to wish everyone out there a very Happy and Creative New Year and best wishes for 2019.

Kat

Here is one of the best celebratory songs to get you in the mood for a party or just to make you feel good.

Creative Festive Decorations

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There are so many options for being creative and making your own sustainable and recycled decorations. Using what you can find around your home and garden, as well as previous years’ decorations, stimulates the imagination while saving money and the environment.

This year I decided to do my own take on the popular ladder tree because we had a vintage ladder that an unknown tradesman had left behind and never returned to collect. It is a wonderfully distressed white-painted ladder and all it needed was a clean with mild detergent.  I have seen some beautiful ladder Christmas trees with glass balls hanging down from the inside. Obviously the owners did not have crazy dogs, who could run underneath and smash the balls to pieces.  Because we do have such mad creatures, I wrapped white cord around the outside of the ladder to discourage our two dogs from walking through.  I could hang the decorations from this cord.

I looked through our old decorations and choose silver and white ones and to add more colour found some stars woven from synthetic ribbon left over from a craft project at our local community centre. A pile of these was put out for anyone to take so Ellie and I took a few. Stapled on crochet thread made ties to attach them to the ladder. On the steps I placed some small decorative gift boxes that I had saved, as well as a small tin bucket as a candle holder. Some fun mask earrings also make interesting ornaments. On the top of the ladder a chrome candle hanger was great for displaying a silver star.

Ladder trees are easy to create. Ours was virtually free and I could reuse many of our old ornaments and at the same time find a use for some craft items. As I have been really busy lately, it was very quick to put together and I did not need to run around and buy a lot of new decorations. Most people have a ladder of some sort. Even modern aluminum ones can be made to look great with lights and simple ornaments so they needn’t cost a fortune.

Craft items can be used in a different way to create interesting ornaments. For a table decoration I found a simple round vase and inserted a long colourful cord that I had made by pin knitting with some crochet cotton yarn. On top of the cord I rested a star decoration to create a simple and unique table centrepiece for the festive season. All it took was a bit of imagination.

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The natural world can provide quick and easy trees. Last year our main tree was created from a dead camellia. This year I wanted to keep it simple in the front room so I used three dead branches that I had stored in the roof to make a small tree for the bay window sill. These were placed in a hand-painted vase.  I decided to use mainly red and gold decorations from our collection which goes more with the summer aspect of our festive season in the southern hemisphere.

Many of the ornaments are recycled items. Some are in fact key rings like the red resin hearts, which were gifts from previous Christmas bonbons. It’s good to recycle plastic items. The small gold flowers are from a broken vintage bracelet. The ribbon around the base of the tree was from gift wrapping and the cherry cluster is a brooch. Ribbons are always good to keep for decorating your tree. Any interesting and attractive object can be used as a decoration.

Festive decorating need not be an expensive and stressful exercise. It can be fun and creative, even when you have little time. Just limit yourself to some main decorative items, recycle and use what you have in an interesting way and don’t be afraid to do something different.

Wishing everyone a wonderful festive season where ever you may be and a very happy new year.

Kat

Here’s a photo of a glorious December sunset taken from my studio window.

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What’s it About Rabbits?

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Many in Australia are about to celebrate Easter with its symbols of renewal in the form of eggs distributed by the Easter Bunny, which may have originated with the Moon Hare, associated with the German Celtic goddess Eostre (or Ostara) who bestowed eggs at spring festivals. As always the spring theme seems in opposition to our autumn weather with the days gradually cooling down and the chill starting to set in, especially at night. Still people persist with the symbols of spring and look forward to decorating real eggs or eating chocolate ones. Chocolate rabbits are also very popular, as are representations of this furry animal, which I find quite ironic, as it is one of Australia’s worst introduced pests, which many have tried to eradicate from the landscape to no avail. So why are rabbits still so popular here?

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Easter Bunny Postcard 1907 (Image Wikimedia.org)

Because of the damage this creature has done to the Australian environment there have been attempts to replace the Easter Bunny with the beguiling native Bilby, a marsupial bandicoot that has big ears, a long tail and hops. Unfortunately the bilby is endangered and is not as prolific as the rabbit, which competes for burrows and food. There is an extensive breeding program and these animals are being reintroduced back into the desert regions where they normally live. You can find delicious chocolate bilbys as gifts, which help to support these programs.

It will take a lot to replace the Easter Bunny with a Bilby. The rabbit is a spring fertility symbol because it is so prolific and has managed to survive no matter what humans throw at it. For centuries cooked rabbit has prevented people from dying of starvation during lean times. Also you can keep rabbits as pets while the bilby is a protected species and can only be kept by qualified wildlife carers. The bilby is very sweet but rabbits have the cuddly pet factor on their side. While the rabbit might not be great for the bilby, chocolate does not discriminate and you can enjoy both versions at this time of year.

Rabbits are cute. It is hard to resist their allure and toys and figures of rabbits are popular to collect. Ellie and I have a small fun collection of rabbits that can be put with eggs or as alternative decorations. I decorated a small dead tree, appropriate for autumn, with some wooden hanging rabbits and have placed this in our front hall.

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We have some quaint vintage textile rabbits that look good in a basket. Two are handmade, one knitted and the other made from felt.

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One of the world’s most famous literary rabbits, who existed long before the infamous Marlon Bundo, came in a little bag. It is nice to see his illustration in 3D form.

Small rabbit figurines are good to collect as they take up little space and are made from all kinds of materials. Here are some glass, china and pewter examples.

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Rabbits are also used to decorate eggs. A Chinese babushka style egg displays a rabbit family and there is an empty innermost compartment where you can place a chocolate egg to surprise the recipient.

The rabbit is one of the Chinese Zodiac animals, popular in Asian countries and adopted by many other communities. We have a small collection of Japanese rabbits. There is a vintage 60s flower power papier-mâché money box in the shape of a rabbit; three beautiful textile rabbits wearing kimonos and a tiny pair of wooden rabbits inside a shrine-like structure which is a good luck symbol for marriage.

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Rabbits have endured as a fertility symbol and are popular for so many reasons. While they may not be wonderful out in there in the Australian bush and it is a good idea to support the bilby, rabbits do make cute pets. They have inspired stories and other creative arts and crafts. Let’s face it, rabbits make you smile and that’s a good enough reason for having them around.

Kat

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season no matter what you celebrate at this time of year. I’m having a couple of weeks off blogging to recharge the creative batteries, so see you later in April.

The following song by Australian Indie band, Boy & Bear is called Rabbit Song. It doesn’t have much to do with rabbits, but the song is a delight and the video is wonderfully creative.

 

 

In Blogger Limbo

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I’m sure many of you know the feeling. You start writing for your blog and everything you do just doesn’t seem to work. You start again, write a few paragraphs and then scrap the idea. Then pick some photos from your library or download some from Pixabay only to dump them in the trash. I’ve had one of those weeks in blogger limbo. Often it is something unrelated to your creative work that is causing the problem and you need to deal with this before it becomes a major creative block.

In my case I realized what was wrong. I’ve been pushing myself lately with creative papermaking and other things and have not let myself have enough chill out time since our mother died. You should never underestimate the impact of a death of a close family member. It is said that the death of a parent is one of the most traumatic events in anyone’s life. In my case I suddenly feel anxious, really tired and lose the ability to focus on one thing.

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The weather has not helped because it has been hot and windy and there have been some terrible bushfires in our state, which are very unsettling. On Saturday night we could smell the smoke of the fires, which is always unpleasant as it makes you think of all those at risk. Yesterday extreme winds shook our house and there were gusts of up to 96 kilometres per hour, the kind that brings trees down. The side fence was violently rocking and in danger of blowing over. There is still a vacant block next door (who knows what’s happening there) with no structures to slow the wind. Ellie braced the fence with some old metal pipes to prevent it from collapsing. It seemed to work.

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All this has added to my feelings of unease and have been finding it difficult to think creatively. It is depressing to get bogged down with a creative work and just go through the motions when you are not really sparking. Not wanting to wallow in gloom, as this is not productive or uplifting, I have started reading fiction books and watching some decent television series and films. My song writing has also suffered lately so I’ve been playing some favourite songs on my ukulele and learning new ones until I get some inspiration. Music can elevate your mood and allows you to let go of your emotions.

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Probably the most important thing is to talk to people when you are feeling down and not bottle everything up. By this I don’t mean unleashing all your troubles on your friends, but just talking about things that matter to each other. You often find that they also want a sympathetic ear as well and usually you end up laughing with them. Through all the difficulties of losing mum, Ellie and I have kept getting together with our local ukulele group and this has kept us sane.

It is great to socialize and get out with others but you also need moments of solitude and relaxation to recharge the batteries. I find that pulling up weeds and doing a something in the garden makes me feel better. There is also nothing like a good cup of tea or coffee and a comfy chair while you read a book to escape from your worries.

Animals can make a world of difference as well. My dog always knows when I’m feeling sad and will get on my lap and lick me. Dogs will also tell you that it is time for some action and won’t let you wallow. It is hard not to smile when a Fox Terrier is pulling at you pant legs and trying to get you to play with him. My sister’s dog will jump on you lap and start barking at you until you give her what she wants.

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There are times when you need to look after yourself, especially when you’ve experienced a traumatic event. If you don’t feel like being creative all the time, it is ok and perfectly normal to want a break. I know that my ideas will flow freely again so I’m not going to put all kinds of pressure on myself.

Last night after the wind had died there was the sound of a cricket from somewhere in the kitchen. It was soothing after so much noise from the wind. When life becomes difficult we all need some restorative peace and time to heal.

Kat

(Unless specified theartistschild.com, photos are from pixabay.com)

Here’s a beautiful and classic song from the sixties, Catch the Wind,  by Donovan, performed as a duet with Crystal Gayle in 1981. Perfect as we go into Autumn in Australia.

Peppers, Paper and a Peculiar Sunset

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Why is it when you are all fired up to do something creative a situation arises that gets in the way? Yesterday I had planned to do some writing for this blog when our washing machine decided to overflow from the top as well as developing a leak underneath, probably from one of the hoses. Much of the day was wasted with moving the steel bench and it’s contents out of the laundry so that we could get behind the machine to see if it was fixable then trying to find a repair person.

We could not get anyone to come before next Thursday. A plumber had told us to hang onto this older machine for as long as possible because it was very sturdy and he said that with many new models, you were lucky if they lasted 5 years so we want to have it repaired if possible.

As the dirty clothes will pile up, what could we do until then? Luckily Ellie found that we could do our washing if the machine was partially filled and set to the final rinse and spin cycles. This took ages because the leaking water had to be mopped up all the time. After all the things that had been drenched by the overflowing machine had dried out, it all had to be put back into the laundry. Luckily it was a day of 35°C which was great for drying things but not wonderful for staying cool in a crisis. Sometimes life gives you hot Chile peppers like the lethal ones in our garden.

Modern technology can be trying at times but it would be much more time-consuming to do the washing by hand. There was nothing we could do to prevent this annoyance, so I had to accept the fact that it was necessary to focus on the task in hand rather than to do what of had planned. On top of this I could feel the onset of a sore throat (probably from the heat) so decided to have a relaxing evening and not to stress.

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On a more productive subject, the papermaking has been going well. We have found that mixing colourful bits of cotton fabric, which has been put through the washing machine and the blender, then mixed with the paper pulp, creates lovely decorative sheets. Below are some examples of Ellie’s work.

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If you put some pieces of thread on the surface of the paper after it has been couched onto the wet cloth, press and dry it, then iron the sheet under a damp cloth, when you peel off the thread it will leave an embossed effect.

Putting loosely shredded cotton onto the paper while it is still in the mould will create surface decoration that is pressed in when the paper is couched onto the wet cloth. Here are some of Ellie’s.

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In Australia it is now autumn and we have been having some beautiful sunsets. I photographed one of these from the studio last week and once I downloaded the photo onto the computer I noticed something that was not there when I looked out the window. There seemed to be a large UFO hovering in the sky with another one in the distance. How could this be?

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Then I realized that the lights have been on in the studio when I took the photo and were reflected in the window. It was just a trick of the light.

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Seeing is not always believing.

Kat

Here is a fun song, UFO, from Australian band Sneaky Sound System from ten years ago. It still sounds great.

Distractions and Culinary Delights

You know the feeling. You start doing something and you find yourself going off of a totally different tangent that leads into different but fascinating territory. This week I was looking for a favorite recipe (flourless chocolate cake) that my mother used to make and found myself looking at an old cookery book that has been in the family for generations. Now I’m not really a cook, Ellie being the one who inherited that creative ability, but I like to eat and am fascinated by unusual dishes of the past and this old book took me on quite a journey.

Cookery For Every Household by Florence B Jack was published in the UK in 1914 just before WWI completely changed the world. It is a reflection of the previous Victorian and Edwardian way of life, where many people still had maids and cooks to do a lot of the domestic duties. Some of the elaborate recipes are heavily influenced by French cuisine and reflect the old style of entertaining of the wealthy. Our copy at same stage lost its original cover and was rebound in red. The book has over 3,000 recipes and is quite a tome. The book is full of line drawings to illustrate the recipes and as well as basic cooking, there are some culinary dishes that seem quite strange by todays standards.

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It is also amazing that cooks could produce such complicated cuisine with gas rings, simple stoves and equipment.

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Here are some illustrations of the latest technology of the time: The electric stove.

I had to laugh at the mention of low electricity rates. Some things were better back in the early 20th century.

Ingenious contraptions were designed to make cooking easier. The Hutchings’ Patent Cooker was a tall steamer which could hold an entire meal to be cooked all at the same time. Imagine having this towering on your stove. I suppose it was the microwave or Thermomix of its day. Great for the busy housewife.

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In complete contrast, the basic meat safe was still in use for storing perishables. This hanging example was very common in Australia to stop ants and other creepy crawlies from getting at the leg of lamb for the Sunday roast.

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Improvisation was encouraged if you did not have the right equipment. If you did not have one of these for straining soup.

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You could do this.

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The book contains recipes based on ingredients that are no longer common in modern books. Take for example Fried Smelts. It made me wonder about the smell. Apparently it is a small fish, which smells like a cut cucumber and should be eaten as soon as possible. Yeah it probably smelt if left too long.

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Another unusual dish is Salsifis. These are a root vegetable similar to a parsnip and are either black or white. Taste wise these resemble asparagus. In America they are called Oyster plant because they were thought to taste similar. The drawing of the dish shows that the pureed salsifis were placed in scallop shells to look like seafood complete with lemon segment bow ties.

I noticed that many of the recipes followed a similar line. No food should look like its original form. For instance Stuffed and Baked Cod resembles a pair of eyes. I don’t think that this is any better than having a fish on your plate looking at you. Quite odd.

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Vegetables were presented so that there was no sign of any leaf. With Dressed Spinach the cooked leaves were put through a sieve, then butter and seasoning was added and the dish was decorated with triangular croutons of fried bread and segments of hardboiled egg. Anyone who had an aversion to spinach would never know that this plant was on the plate. Maybe not such a bad idea after all.

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There seem to be a lot of recipes where the food is dressed. Dressed Crab is another example. It involved the complete dissection of the crab then a mixture of the flesh and mayonnaise was put back into the shell with some claws on top to remind the diners that they were eating what was once a crab. No struggling with a naked crab.

Prawns (shrimp) got a similar treatment. In the Prawn Salad it looks like the two garnishes are dancing in a sea of prawn flesh, lettuce and sliced radishes, a reminder of their origin.

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Meat dishes also seemed to disguise the form of the original animal. The traditional Game Pie with its raised pastry case contains a variety of bird meat. The illustrated example is decorated with the feet of birds in the top hole that seems to be saying “let me out of here.” Not very appetizing.

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There seemed to be an obsession with molding things into cylinders or cones so that they became architectural structures like the following example.

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In those days cooking leftovers was a whole art form in itself. These dishes were not merely an afterthought. Here are a couple of extraordinary recipes.

Proper table linen was as elaborate as the food. There were a myriad of ways to fold napkins. Although the bishop’s Mitre seems a bit sober for a jolly night of feasting. Maybe that was the intention to avoid excess.

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To me it is the elaborately decorated desserts of this period that are incredible and make my mouth water. You may not have lived in a castle but you could eat a Castle Pudding (I think it must be a smear of pudding on the page).

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Nothing defines the period like Jellies. Great wobbly mountains of Jelly. The following recipe for Coffee Jelly could still be made today and would certainly liven up a party.

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The name of this dessert says it all. Tipsy Cake is an elaborate form of the classic Trifle. Layers of sponge cake, custard, strawberry or raspberry jam doused with a cup of sherry and decorated with cream and toasted almonds. Yum.

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For those with delusions of grandeur there is always the Princess Cake with it’s pink royal icing.

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Invalid cookery is where things take a down turn. No wonderful desserts if you were sick. It was a drab world of steamed food, soup and broth. The following advice in the book tells the sorry tale.

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Many of the more elaborate recipes found in this book are the type that nowadays would be made by chefs and are not the sort of food you would have everyday, although there are hundreds for normal meals for the ordinary housewife to feed her family.

I think that old cookery books from the past can still inspire and provide useful information for those interested in creative culinary skills. They also tell a story of the lives of our ancestors and the kind of society in which they lived. You often learn something new when you get distracted.

Kat