When Michael Roach first took over The Book Cellar in Tasmania’s Campbell Town, he never thought a cookbook written in 1930 would be a bestseller.
- A best-selling Tasmanian cookbook written in 1930 is now proving to be a hit abroad
- Several copies have been sold to America during COVID-19 lockdowns
- The Country Women’s Association says more people are cooking at home and being drawn to older and easier recipes
His book store, almost hidden off the typically bustling Midland Highway, is located underground in the convict cellars of heritage property Foxhunters Return, an 1830’s-era coaching inn.
Pride of place in the store’s entry, surrounded by original sandstone walls, sits the bestsellers list, one of which is Alice Irvine’s Central Cookery Book.
“Since the coronavirus shutdowns, it’s been our most popular book,” Michael said.
It’s now in its 16th edition and is a cooking staple for many Tasmanian households.
“It’s very well known in the Tasmanian community”, said Mr Roach.
“A lot of parents have sent their children off with a copy when they leave home and I think that tradition has continued and pushed forward a bit during the crisis because people are returning to the basics.”
It’s also recently gained an appetite internationally.
“What makes it interesting is this book has no pictures, it’s very basic, it’s a starter cookbook.
“Some of the recipes include how to boil an egg, how to do the most basic things that the big cookbooks just don’t touch.
“It’s not uncommon for people to buy several copies at once and send them off to grandchildren and that sort of thing.”
During the 1970s, it was a key text in Tasmanian classrooms.
Ena Ritney has been teaching home economics in Launceston for 17 years and has fond memories of using the book at home as a child.
“I grew up with the Central Cookery Book, it was one of the very few recipe books we had at home: being a Dutch migrant, recipe books were scarce,” she said.
“It was the one I used at school while studying and it has become a favourite of mine over the years.
“I can probably recall 20 recipes from the book off the top of my head that I still use.
“The simplicity chocolate cake, for example, was always a wonderful, easy-to-make chocolate cake because it was a melt-and-mix method and not many are a melt-and-mix method nowadays.”
Janelle Scott has worked alongside Ena for almost a decade at Launceston Church Grammar School and has similar memories of using the cookbook.
“It’s been a great, trusted recipe book, all of the recipes have been tested, which is really good to know. I still use the book as a reference in my classes,” she said.
“It’s almost 90 years old and it’s still a Tasmanian classic.”
Janelle said one reason for its continued popularity over the years is people referring back to it to find an old recipe their grandparents or relatives used to make.
“If people have memories of certain meals they ate when they were younger, for example, this book would probably be a good starting point to find out how it was made,” she said.
According to the Department of Education, the Central Cookery Book has been updated since it was first published by a group of Tasmanian teachers.
The Department said it’s no longer a set text in classrooms but is referred to along with a range of other books and online resources.
Adriana Taylor, from the Country Women’s Association, said it’s understandable people are reaching for easy and familiar recipes during the pandemic.
“There’s a level of comfort in home cooking, using fresh produce from your garden and making a meal to share with your family or friends is really special,” she said.
“I hope people will have a lot more confidence in themselves once COVID-19 ends, in being able to get an easy meal ready quickly and easily and also just things like breakfasts, anyone can really do smashed avocado on toast.”
“Now people will be able to make decent pasta and pasta sauces. I hope people will continue to cook at home.”
Mother-of-two Casandra Sheehan is one of many Tasmanians who’ve been spending more time cooking.
“I used to bake before this period but we’ve definitely been doing more recently,” she said.
“My daughter wanted to make a Boston bun like the bakery, so we did a Boston bun, we’ve done bread, home-made pizza bases, things for the kids’ lunches: muffins, cakes, a lot of experimenting. It’s been fun, the kids love it!”
“I think everyone should give it a go, you get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I do still call mum and ask ‘how do you do such-and-such?’, but that’s all part of it.”
Meet Alice Irvine, the woman behind the Central
Alice Christina Irvine was born in the mining town of Mathinna in 1879.
According to records from the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women, she was educated at Mangana State School and began her career as a teacher at Mathinna State School in 1897.
In 1906, Alice attended the Melbourne Training College as a cookery student and in 1926 attended the Emily MacPherson College of Domestic Economy in Melbourne.
Upon her return to Tasmania, Alice started writing a text for cookery education.
First published around 1930, the Central Cookery Book was intended for use in Tasmanian domestic science classes.
It’s now become one of the most published and widely utilised texts in Tasmania.
Miss Irvine died in November 1940 from cancer.
She was inducted into the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women in 2009 for services to Education and Training.