My first book finished this year.

(Yes I did begin it the end of last year but hey! I’m done now and I’m counting it.)

Happy New Year everyone. I won’t even mention our previous year. I know how everyone feels about it. Moving forward….

I just finished listening to almost 20 hours of a travel book by Alastair Humphreys. It is described as:

At the age of 24, Alastair Humphreys set off to try to cycle round the world. By the time he arrived back home, four years later, he had ridden 46,000 miles (74.000kms). across five continents on a budget of just £7,000. 

From frozen Siberia tundra to the jungles of central Africa, Alastair recounts his extraordinary adventures in two parts – Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine – brought together in audiobook for the first time. 

Alastair lives in the U.K. He had finished university, had a young woman he loved but he was restless. He didn’t want an office job though he had very lucrative offers with secure employment guaranteed. He decided to take his 7000 pounds and ride around the world. It was the summer of 2001. He had no mobile phone, gps or any of the other technology we use so readily these days. His plan was to go from the UK to Europe, eastward through Iran, Afghanistan, to Asia, Japan, Australia, South America, the United States. He planned on being away for four years.

However, after he started out 9/11 happened in the U.S.A. and once he arrived in Turkey he was advised to not go through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Instead he went to northern Africa, beginning in Egypt and south to Cape Town, South Africa along the western African coast. From there he went to Patagonia in South America and rode north to Alaska. He then rode through Japan, Russia and westward back to Europe.

He lived on bread and jam and spent next to nothing. This is his story of hardship, severe loneliness (lots of tears), contrasting poverty and wealth, beauty and ugliness in the surrounding areas. He learned a lot and realised how privileged his life was. I’m glad I listened to the audible version as I find first person travel books the most enjoyable in this format.

It took me awhile to warm to him. The first couple of hours he carried on ad nauseum about his crying jags, missing his girlfriend, how out of shape he was, how he didn’t know why he was doing this. He hated it, he wanted to go home.

I almost gave up but still had about 17 hours to go. As I couldn’t sleep one night I set the timer on audible for 30 minutes hoping I would fall asleep. Once he took the focus off his emotional needs and began realising where he was and how much he was enjoying himself, in spite of his reservations it picked up.

To get from one continent to another he bummed rides on yachts and container ships. He was very tenacious and embraced the people no matter where he was. Some of the accommodation he stayed in made my hair curl. Filth, overflowing squat toilets, bedbugs. He rode across Siberia in the winter in deep snow. I don’t know how he managed it but he did. He had friends that flew in to various places and rode with him in certain places and then they would leave.

I have read a lot of travel writing and I think this must be the most arduous trip I have been on vicariously with anyone. But he did it. He finished when everyone said he wouldn’t. I won’t say anymore than that.

He was a good narrator and I really enjoyed his descriptions of the families he stayed with, the places he slept, ate and visited. Little snippets of history popped up here and there but not enough to make me yawn. I don’t read travel writing for extensive history. Instead I want to hear about the day to day logistics of what one does, eats and who they meet. This did not let me down.

It is the closest I can get at the moment of travelling myself.

Now going into 2021 I think I’ve had enough travel writing for awhile. This book wore me out and I’m looking foward to getting into some other books and activities. More on that soon.

I have been reading other books, mainly dipping in and out of several but more on that another time.

All the best for 2021 and I look forward to seeing what everyone gets up to this year with their books,challenges, lives. Stay well and maybe we’ll all get back to normal before too long.

Always the optimist !!

Boxing Day 2020-Bookish Cooking

Well Christmas day is truly over here in Tasmania until next year. I have spent the morning having a couple of boiled eggs, toast and watching an old series of The Great British Bake Off. I haven’t seen all of them so nice to watch them and the old ones I have seen my memory is such I don’t remember who won so it is all new again.

Today they were featuring recipes from the Victorian Era. Series 5 or 6, can’t remember. They did a quick historical segment on Mrs Beeton and her cookbooks from the 1800s (of which she only ever cooked one recipe) that has been in print for more than 150 years. Evidently (which I did not know) she was brought into her husband’s publishing arena as a new 21 year old bride and was asked to do a column. She could not bake but she did publish a column on how to make a particular type of cake (sponge I think) and she forgot the flour so of course it was a flop. She did print a recipe of hers, the one and only accordng to Mrs Beeton’s biographer on this program, called Mrs Beeton’s Useful Soup for Benevolent Times. Recipe here. Evidently she was very good at editing so instead of creating recipes she researched old recipes she could find previously to her lifetime and published them. A quite resourceful woman it seems.

That got me thinking about an old cookbook my aunt gave me years ago before she died. It was a cookbook she got from her mother (my father’s mother) and it actually belonged to my mother’s grandmother (my great grandmother). There are recipes in it handwritten in the margins and inside covers from both paternal and maternal grandmothers. The book is a first edition published in 1913. It is called Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Mrs. Elizabeth O. Hiller. The price was $1.00 US and was marketed by the Cottelene company. Cottolene was a shortening or lard substitute.

Mrs. Hiller actually has a Wikipedia page and it states, Elizabeth O. Hiller (circa 1856 – August 14, 1941) was a prominent early twentieth-century American author of cookbooks and a professor of culinary arts. You can see all of her published books here.

The introduction of the book states: “Years ago nothing but butter or lard were used for shortening and frying: today the visible supply of these two products is insufficient to supply the demand, taking into consideration the amount of butter required for table use. Furthermore, as the demand increased it out grew the supply of butter and lard, with the result that prices were materially advanced; and, incidentally, the quality has been lowered. Naturally, under such conditions scores of substitutes have been offered as shortening and frying mediums- some meritorious, but mostly inferior” (introduction, 1913).

Grandma Schavey’s Prune Cake
This recipe is on the back cover of the book. I notice all writing was in pencil and the books is covered in stains so was obviously used a lot.

It continues on, discussing the merits of this product. Americans now use the vegetable shortening Crisco quite a bit while baking or frying. When I moved to Australia in 1988, I had a difficult time not having access to Crisco as Americans regularly used. Southern Fried Chicken is ONLY excellent when fried in Crisco which is a vegetable shortening with the more solid consistency of lard. It is also used to rub onto baking pans of cakes and pies so the batter doesn’t stick. Everyone here seems to use a baking paper. I was not used to that. They also used a slab of butter or margarine to grease their pans.

Michigan is a big corn growing state. This recipe from the Detroit newspaper for Corn Oysters was tucked into the book. 1925.

Anyway- I digress. I don’t have many items from my grandmothers, both of whom I loved dearly and I never knew my great grandmother. I do treasure this book though I am unlikely to ever cook one of these full recipes for Sunday dinner as they are loaded with lard (or Cottolene) and salt, and the recipes are pages long. I thought I would share this today in view of holiday spirit and a coming new year. I could do a Julie and Julia project such as was the film when a character named Julie spends one year cooking her way through Julia Child’s French Cookbook. This also gives me a way here to document this lovely old book in our current times. I do love looking through it and perhaps could try one or two vegetable dishes or cakes or pies. (By the way I now have a small can of Crisco I get from USA Foods.com in Melbourne and I also have baking paper).

I had to share this advertisement. It is on the reverse side of the Corn Oyster recipe. Love the hair on the child.

I will caption the photos of what this book contains and share a couple of the hum drum Sunday dinner menus with you. Such a gift it was from my aunt (my father’s sister.) Everyone now is gone on both sides of the family so it is even more valuable for nostalgic perusing.

This 21 st birthday card from my maternal grandmother to my mother was also tucked into the book. The year would have been 1947, about two months before my mother married my father.
This is the note inside the birthday card for my mother, Sally.

I hope you have enjoyed this little historical journey into a small part of my family history. I think for 2021 I will make an effort to cook and share some of the recipes with you.

Read on for a list of a couple of the Sunday menus. Remember, these recipes are just for a non-event Sunday, not a special occasion or holiday. (So much work!!!). I picked a couple of menus at random.

NB: As this book was published in 1913, before WWI and the great depression of the 1930s, people must have been quite well off if there were to cook these menus or they had staff to do it. Families were bigger in those days than they are now and the resources used to go into these meals must have been many. I think members in my family back then would have simply picked and chosen what they wanted to cook individually as I might do in 2021 to carry on a tradition.

WINTER

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SPRING

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SUMMER

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AUTUMN

WOW! I’m stuffed !

A Bit of Ruth Park- Australian Writer

ruth park
D’Arcy Niland and Ruth Park

My first book of 2020 is from an Australian female writer of the past, Ruth Park. The book is A Fence Around the Cuckoo, her autobiography of the first 25 years of her life. The remaining years are in a sequel entitled Fishing in the Styx, which I own but have not yet read. Bill Holloway of the AustralianLegend blog is hosting an Australian Women’s Writer week in January (here). I won’t have time to read a lot of the Gen 3 AWWs by mid January but this book qualifies.

Ruth Park was born in New Zealand in 1917 and died in 2010 at the age of 93. Part I of her biography details her first 25 years living in the north island of New Zealand with her large extended family in poverty during the war and depression years. She moved to Sydney in her early 20s where she remained the rest of her life.

She always knew from a very young age she wanted to write. Her parents struggled to ever meet her expectations because of their poverty. Her mother was one of six girls and a couple of brothers raised by Ruth’s grandmother and grandfather. They feature a lot in this story and I enjoyed hearing about their life of squabbles and affection.  Ruth lived with a couple of them from time to time when things got too bad.

Screenshot 2
1992 first published

Ruth didn’t have any access to books at all until she was in her teens. Books weren’t available and neither was paper upon which to write. She talks of one of her uncles bringing home some forms from his office job, that were blank on the back and she thought it was Christmas. She coveted the paper and wrote every chance she got. If the desire to write is genetic she certainly had the gene for it. Her desire was strong.

The book details the type of work her parents and grandparents did, the description of the homes she lived in. Her father had done pretty good until the depression came, he couldn’t work and they lost their home after declaring bankruptcy. The ensuing years were very tough. It wasn’t until WWII when things began to pick up a bit.

I enjoyed hearing about her mother’s seamstress skills and her relationships with her sisters.

Ruth was greatly influenced by one of the nuns where she attended primary school at St. Benedicts.  The nun spent a great deal of time with her perfecting her writing skills, working her harder than the other students as she saw Ruth’s potential. As Ruth approached high school age the Sister helped her get a full scholarship for the rest of her school years.  I felt excited for her at that point, but sadly the family had to move away due to their financial situation and Ruth never got to take it up. I really felt for her.  She was still trying to find books to read without success. Her mother was supportive and wanted her to continue her education but was unable to help her.

Eventually Ruth got a job for the Star newspaper in Auckland, writing in the children’s section. At that time there were sections in newspapers for children of several pages which Ruth loved in her own childhood, if she could get her hands on a paper. During her time at the Star she realises how lowly paid female copy writers were compared to male writers. Most males didn’t believe there was any place for a woman on a newspaper. She was groundbreaking on that front eventually becoming a journalist.

She also met a man from Sydney who worked for newspapers there and they began an uncomfortable pen pal relationship. I say uncomfortable as she thought him a bit arrogant and he was keener to be with her than her with him. Her upbringing was very sheltered and she was also quite an independent child and wanted to remain so because of her own goals in life.

Eventually she moves to Sydney when she is 22 years old as she is offered work on a newspaper there. She learned that women were paid the same as men in copy editing and there were more opportunities.  Her relationship with her pen pal D’Arcy Niland, also a writer, developed more and they married not long after she arrived in Sydney.

I found the book interesting as I saw another side of New Zealand indigenous life, the depression years of the 1930s as well as life during the two world wars. I admired her tenacity and independence in staying focused on her goals throughout her young life. Nothing distracted her mentally. The circumstances ruling her life then were so tough.

As far as autobiographies go I really enjoyed this one. I’d like to read more of her books of which she wrote many during her lifetime.

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I also began the diaries mentioned in the last post as it’s the first of January.  I opened my own diary and loved seeing all the blank pages waiting to be filled. What will this year be like?

I thought as I read these diaries during the year I’ll add excerpts that I enjoy from different periods of time into some posts.

From A Traveller’s Year: “…in the knowledge that no one pines for me anywhere on earth, that there is no place where I am being missed or expected. To know that is to be free and unencumbered, a nomad in the great desert of life where I shall never be anything but an outsider”  Isabelle Eberhardt, Diary. 1900. 

I’d like to know more of Isabelle’s life. Until next time…..Screenshot 1

The Cherry Picker’s Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert

Olllie
14 week old Ollie after a day of chasing bubbles in the yard and attending Puppy Play School.

The past three months or so have been so incredibly busy I have called a complete strike from now until the new year.  I’m calling a halt to all events that aren’t absolutely necessary. We are enjoying spending time with Little Ollie and I want to devote the upcoming summer months to training him.

As he has afternoon naps each day, I have been able to get some reading in. The first book I have just finished is the wonderful story The Cherry Picker’s Daughter. This memoir begins in her childhood and goes up until her later life. She writes of her family history that is tragic and her childhood growing up with such a large extended family. The story waivers between tragedy and joy and it is a tribute to Mummy, the older sister of her father who is incarcerated for killing her mother when she was only three months old. This is her family’s story and  she was adamant it would be told.  The day after she was satisfied the manuscript of this book was finally ready for publication she passed away.

From the back cover of the book:

“This is the story of Kerry Reed-Gilbert, daughter of Kevin Gilbert, famous Aboriginal activist, writer, painter and actor. Told in the child’s voice and in the vernacular of her Mob, she speaks of love and loss, of dispossession and repeated dislocation. Kerry’s account highlights the impact of life as an Aboriginal state ward living under the terror of the Protection Laws. Despite this, she paints a picture of hard work and determination, with family unity giving them the strength and dignity to continue. 

Her father’s sister; whom she always called ‘Mummy’ raised his two children along with hers and others within the extended family. The book is a tribute to this truly remarkable woman; their tower of strength, love and selflessness. 

cherry pickerA tribute to the late Kerry Reed-Gilbert given by Melissa Lucashenko at the launch of Aunt Kerry’s memoir, The Cherry Picker’s Daughter at the Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane on 16b September, 2019 can be read here for much better information than I could give this wonderful woman justice.(read here)

I am going to the launch of this book at Fuller’s Bookshop in Hobart tomorrow evening by Jim Everett-puralia meenamatta.  I am really looking forward to it.

I could never do this book credit by trying to review it so I will leave you with what is here and the link to her memorial. I will say I couldn’t put it down. It’s a grim yet uplifting history of this Aboriginal family and yet again it is one of many stories that bluejumperpeople need to be told. I hope it is widely read.