Vintage guides to home bliss

Kitchen goddesses have been passing on their secrets for almost 300 years, writes Deedee Cuddihy

Kitchen Goddesses

Callendar House, Falkirk

until October 28

tel 01324 503770

igella Lawson may be the domestic goddess who springs to mind for most of us, but an exhibition at Callendar House museum in Falkirk shows such women have been around for centuries.

Kitchen Goddesses uses a perfect mix of words and objects, such as the splendid Carron Capri electric cooker ("for those who can afford, and want, the best"), to celebrate the women who have influenced our attitudes to food, cookery and style in the kitchen since Georgian times.

The Kitchen Goddesses story, researched by the museum curator, Emma Roodhouse, is presented in bite-size chunks under witty headings such as The Rebellious Goddess, The Make Do and Mend Goddess and The Goddess of Pleasure and Leisure.

Examples of how advertisers have tried to appeal to them include magazine publicity for the then newly-launched electric hostess trolleys, described as "gifts for an entertaining woman". "Once you've been given an Ekco Hostess Trolley, you'll enjoy your dinner parties much more," it was claimed.

During the Second World War, cookery and housework were seen as "central to winning the struggle" against Hitler. But even the most patriotic homemaker must have felt her feminist hackles rise when confronted by some of the information issued by the Ministry of Food.

One comic book-style leaflet shows a father and daughter protesting about the mushy cabbage served up. "Surely it needn't taste like this?" says dad.

To which his wife, not surprisingly, replies: "If I'm such a bad cook, why don't you do the job yourself?" Help is at hand, however, in the form of a government recipe for cooking greens lightly to keep in the vitamins.

"You're the cleverest wife anyone every had," declares a now happy husband.

Ms Roodhouse believes Eliza Smith can claim the title of original Kitchen Goddess for her book The Compleat Housewife, published in 1727.

Nine years later, the earliest known Scottish recipe book written by a woman was published: Mrs McLintock's Receipts for Cookery.

Eliza Acton is credited with being the first person to separate ingredients, quantity and method, in Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in 1845, thereby devising the way we read recipes today. Acton was a struggling poet when a friend suggested she write a cookery book instead.

The forerunner of today's celebrity kitchen goddesses was Agnes B. Marshall who, in the late 1880s, had a business empire in London that included a cookery school, a kitchenware shop and a mail order company. She wrote books, brought out a range of foods and her public cookery demonstrations attracted huge audiences and glowing reviews.

As early as the 1770s, Susanna MacIver, author of How to Keep Your Kitchen in Order, was running a cookery school in Edinburgh and had opened a shop selling cakes, jams and chutneys.

A School of Cookery and Domestic Economy was established in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1875. The campaign for the Glasgow school was spearheaded by a suffragette, Grace Paterson, and in the Edinburgh school's early years, public cookery demonstrations attracted up to 700 people.

By 1890, domestic science was part of the school timetable and by the 1950s had reached its zenith, according to a fascinating and remarkably professional silent film, made in 1951 by staff at Albert Secondary in Springburn "to show how domestic science is being taught in Glasgow schools". These kitchen goddesses in-the-making received instruction in every aspect of housewifery, including laundry work, baby craft and nursing.

Visitors to the exhibition can take a humorous kitchen goddessgod quiz, try their hand at fancy napkin folding and post their own favourite recipes on the notice board. The events programme includes ice-cream making in the Georgian kitchen on Wednesday afternoons.

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