Oh, it's you.

You caught me reading my Frances Thompson, the first cookbook published by the Women's Weekly in 1940, a staple of many kitchens since 1933.

Jaci hicken intro Womens Weekly cookbooks

Jaci Hicken, reading her Frances Thompson, the first cookbook published by the Women's Weekly.

The Women's Weekly and the recipes they have published have shaped many kitchens around Australia. They took off in popularity in the 1970s when the Women's Weekly started publishing easy, accessible A4 cookbooks with reliable recipes that you could pick up at newsagents or with the weekly shop at the supermarket.

My favourite may not be an easy, accessible cookbook, but it is the Australian Women's Weekly cookbook printed in 1970.

Jaci Hicken with the 1970 womens weekly cookbook

Jaci Hicken reading her copy of the 1970 Women's Weekly cookbook.

I really rely on the chapter on pavlovas

Lauren Samuelsson, a PhD candidate from the University of Wollongong looked at ways the Australian Women's Weekly has influenced Australian food culture between the 1930s and the 1980s.

Lauren saumelsson talk about womens weekly cookbooks 2

Laren Samuelsson, a PhD candidate, University of Wollongong.

“That what the weekly really did was take was take ideas and turn them into something that ordinary women could go, Oh, yeah, I can get on board with that,” Lauren said.

“Because they had this place where they were just like you said, then like they're reliable. If they tell you to make something in this way, nine out of 10 times, it's probably going to work and the one time that it didn't, it's probably your own fault,” she said.

You know, like you didn't follow something. They had this sort of, I guess what the public liked, a real sense of trust in the magazine. And so if the weekly said, you know, you should try making things this way than they would.”

“If they said, you know, Pavlova is Australia's favourite dessert, then people were like, Oh, well, Pavlova is Australia's favourite dessert.”

“They just had a sense of authority that a lot of other publications didn't, didn't have.”

Turns out Pavlova is Australia's favourite dessert if only a Christmas time.

pavlova is Australias favourite dessert if only at Christmas time

Pavlova is Australia's favourite Christmas dessert

What do we cook from the Australian women's weekly cookbooks? Is it cakes or something else?

I asked the members of the Jacican cook Facebook group what they cook and they cook:

  • · pastries.
  • · Asturian style Greek lamb, only in the Women's Weekly you'd have lamb from two different countries.
  • · Chocolate brownies,
  • · Cheesecake stuff strawberries,
  • · Buttered parsley rice,
  • · Chocolate pudding,
  • · Orange cake with orange icing,
  • · Smoked salmon scramble,
  • · Rhubarb, and coconut cake,
  • · Orange chocolate chip cake,
  • · Vegetable and red lentil soup,
  • · Moist coconut cake and
  • · Minestrone

From that very short collection of data, it seems like a 50/50 split to me, between sweet stuff, and meals.

“Because the thing with cookbooks and magazines with recipes in them is that they tell you what people want to cook, not necessarily what they do cook so is what they think they should be doing, not necessarily what they are,” Lauren Samuelsson said.

“It is really hard to tell. One way that I've sort of gotten around that and sort of coming to the conclusions of what people were cooking was actually looking at the recipes that were shared by readers. The ones that were sent in by real people, and not just the cookery editors, because that was them sharing a recipe that's worked for them,” Lauren said.

“Cookbooks are really great because you open them up and it's always going to open up on the page where someone's spent a lot of time like cooking from that particular recipe,” she said.

“There's like swatches of batter on the page, or whatever they write in the margins, to sort of telling you what they thought of the recipe or who they're going to cook it for. Those sorts of things sort of connect us to the people who were actually using these recipes and what they were actually making food knowledge is shared between people.”

“And I think one of the things that I sort of talked about is how food culture is really a product of communication. Like it is communication because food is one way that we communicate with our loved ones as well. You show love through food.”

We all show our love through food. I'm showing my love for you by baking this classic Pavlova.

Jaci hicken whips egg whites for her pavlova

Jaci Hicken shows her love by baking you pavlova

I don't know who my Frances Thompson belongs to. But they've left me little stories of their life with notes written and pencils, recipes they've collected from magazines, and newspapers glued to the pages.

france thompson cookbook 1

Frances Thompson cookbook with handwritten  notes

france thompson cookbook 2

A clipping found in the Frances Thompson cookbook from a 1951 Women's Weekly


But in Australia, cooking from the Australian Women's Weekly has been more than that.

For many women, it's been part of their identity, who they aspire to be.

“There was definitely an element of aspiration, in this performing a particular sort of middle-class identity in the kitchen. The pictures where it's like a woman perfectly dressed with their hair and makeup done standing over a stove looking absolutely glamorous,” Lauren Samuelsson said.

“A view of especially femininity like this is what women should look like and this is how women should behave,” Lauren said.

 Well, I hope on behaving incorrectly!

Now would you like a piece of Pavlova?

jaci hicken offers the viewer a piece of pavlova

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