My mother’s cookbook

When my mother Livia came to Australia in 1950, she was 22 and recently married. She and my father came here on a sponsored migration program, together with thousands of other migrants in search of a better life, having survived the difficulties of living in the northeast corner of Italy in the aftermath of World War 2.

She and my father arrived at Station Pier in Port Melbourne and were quickly whisked away to the migrant camp in Bonegilla. One of her strongest memories of the start of her new life in Australia was the food – it was simply terrible! Dripping was used for cooking, you purchased olive oil at a chemist shop (for medicinal purposes of course!), coffee was a syrup that you diluted and wine was called “plonk” and clearly just for those with drinking problems! They found comfort in spending time with Italian friends – some met in Italy or on the journey to Melbourne and others met here in Australia. They got together often to celebrate their new found home.

Mamma needed a cookbook to help her to develop her cooking skills. She was not yet comfortable reading English and probably could not find a cookbook written in Italian in Melbourne in 1950. So when her brother, Fidenzio migrated to Australia in 1952, she asked him to bring her a cookbook. The book he brought with him on the ship, published in 1948 is called Il tesoretto della cucina Italiana – literally meaning “the little treasure of Italian cooking”. She still has this much loved and much worn book.

The book has about 600 pages and has 1,700 recipes which are “practical, cost-effective and tasty for family cooking”. Mamma let me borrow her treasured cookbook today and I could not wait to leaf through it.

There are recipes for almost everything in dedicated chapters – condiments, sauces, antipasti, soups, fried foods, eggs etc. There are sections on how to roll a polpettone, how to make puff pastry with diagrams; 60 pages of fish recipes including 14 recipes with baccala’, 14 rabbit recipes and 17 pages on how to use kitchen left-overs – it is an incredible compendium of italian cooking.

My mother says that this book taught her how to cook and gave her the knowledge to make her the cook she is today. I look forward to sharing some of these fantastic recipes on my blog over the coming months (probably years!).

18 comments on “My mother’s cookbook

  1. Fabulous Paola. Inherited cookbooks are a joy, they’re always full of things you remember having as a kid.
    I have two, my trusty and well stained copy of La scienza in cuccina e l’Arte di mangiar benne by Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911) that was my mother’s favourite (she got it from my father’s mother, a bit of a hint there, maybe). I also have one by Ada Boni (1881-1973) called Italian Regional Cooking. It’s a wonderful book, full of authentic recipes, each beatifully presented in typically rustic regional settings. I highly recommend it if you ever see a copy around.
    ciao
    Albert

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  2. wow I wish I had access to such a recipe book the close I come to this is a 1980 Margaret Fulton’s Cookbook which is also an asset ! I also love the pics you posted of your mum and dad and friends. I look forward to reading the many recipes you post from the book. Regards, Amira

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    • Grazie Amira, I do feel lucky having the book. I need to be very careful with the book though, it is not in great condition. Lucky for mobile phones – I will take photos of the recipe u am cooking and then use that!

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  3. Great stuff Paola. It looks very similar to one my mother has called ‘Cucina Triestina’ (1948). The pages are very well-worn and unfortunately the cover is all but gone, but it frequently gets an airing when we both want to look up a recipe we haven’t made for a while.

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  4. My grandparents arrived at Port Melbourne and were whisked away to Bonegilla too. You know it’s now a migration museum? We are planning a family roadtrip in the summer.

    Yes the food would have been awful upon arrival, although Yiayia remembers her first banana and ice cream!

    She loves remarking how all the places my sister and I have lived in (Brunswick, Carlton, St Kilda, Coburg etc) “Ahh! We wanted to get out of there now you can’t wait to get in!”

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    • You made me laugh Fiona about what your Yiayia would say about the inner city – my parents would say the same. “Why do you want to live in an old house in Fitzroy when you can live in a new one in Doncaster?!”

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      • Haha my dad doesn’t understand why I prefer Brunswick over Balwyn!
        Quarter acre in Donnie, hanging out at the Shoppo bus stop – living the immigrant dream! 🙂

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  5. I have the very same book that my Grandmother gave to my Mother when she left Italy in 1951 to come and live in England. It is well-used and my husband has carefully rebound it.. My Mother was a wonderful cook who made the most wonderful tortellini and Raviole filled with chestnut puree as well as many other dishes. The book is very precious to me as I know yours is.

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    • How lovely to hear from you Anna and isn’t it amazing about the cookbook? It is so precious – during the post war era when no-one had many possessions, they chose to buy this book. I recently bought a second hand copy on Amazon – it is a smaller book, from the 1960s but in very good condition, as I did not want to risk ruining my mother’s copy.

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