Although it was long thought that Australia’s first cookbook was The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the Many, as well as the Upper Ten Thousand by Edward Abbott, a group of food history researchers have discovered evidence of an earlier publication. Titled The Housewife’s Guide; or an Economical and Domestic Art of Cookery, it may well be the earliest cookbook published in Australia.
Historian Paul Van Reyk found an 1843 advertisement in the Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser which listed the contents of the cookbook in detail. His colleagues Jacqui Newling and Alison Vincent compared this with the text of an earlier English cookbook of the same name, showing that the book had been significantly modified for its Australian edition. The original book, by a Mrs Irwin, had been published in 1830.
The modifications included the omission of fish varieties not to be had in southern waters and the inclusion of snapper, the omission of recipes for English game such as hare, partridge and pheasant and the inclusion of a chapter on salt meats. Some native ingredients are mentioned, including “native currants” and maidenhair fern.
The advertisement claimed the book to be “The only work of its kind published in the colony”, supporting the claim that it was our earliest cookbook. The book was available from the Parramatta Printing Office and from “all respectable stationers in the colony”. It was priced at one shilling (10 cents).
However, while it was published in New South Wales and had some uniquely Australian content, it seems the book was essentially an English one, with some additions and modifications. Edward Abbott’s book, although it certainly borrowed recipes from various other sources, was a distinctively Australian compilation.
Sadly, while copies of the Abbott book are extant and a sesquicentenary facsimile edition was produced in 2004, no copies of the 1843 cookbook have yet been found.