European settlers brought existing recipes with them to New Zealand, in the form of published cookbooks or handwritten volumes, or simply in their heads. The most common British cookbooks in 19th-century New Zealand were the various volumes written by Isabella Beeton – ‘Mrs Beeton’, as she was commonly called. Most cookbooks were written by women.
New Zealand cookbooks
The first known recipes printed and distributed in book form in New Zealand were compiled by Mary Ann Martin in Auckland in 1869. Recipes appeared in The illustrated bee manual (1881) and Brett’s colonists guide (1883). New Zealand’s first known proper cookbook was published in Napier in 1887 – Fanny Murdoch’s eccentrically titled Dainties; or how to please our lords & masters.
In the early 1900s new cookbooks appeared with recipes that took account of local conditions and the need for lighter fare in New Zealand’s temperate climate. Earlier books had replicated the heavier British dishes suitable for colder weather. New Zealanders ate more mutton, lamb and game, and above all they wanted recipes for cakes and biscuits.
Many of these cookbooks were community fundraising publications, often produced by churches and charitable groups. The first community cookbook was the Coronation cookery book, published by the Hāwera Presbyterian church in 1902.
Sure to rise
The famed Edmonds cookbook first appeared as a 50-page booklet of recipes in 1908. A free copy was sent, unsolicited, to every couple who announced their engagement in the newspaper – and to housewives who applied for one in writing. From 1955 the cover featured an image of the Edmonds factory in Christchurch with its distinctive sun rays and ‘sure to rise’ slogan. By the 2000s more than 3 million copies had been sold, making it New Zealand’s best-selling book.
Businesses and manufacturers also published cookbooks – the most famous and enduring of these was the Edmonds ‘sure to rise’ cookery book, first published as a giveaway by the Edmonds baking-products company in 1908.
By the 1920s commercial cookbooks predominated over community publications.
After the Second World War the number of published cookbooks increased, and they began to show a wider variety of culinary influences, reflecting the tastes of men and women who had served abroad during the war. Knowledge about American foods was transmitted via radio, particularly through the long-standing radio show of Aunt Daisy (Maud Basham). Increased use of New Zealand ingredients such as kūmara (sweet potato) and seafood was evident in cookbook recipes.
Chinese restaurants became more common in the 1950s, and New Zealanders made their first forays into Chinese cooking at home, using Nancye King’s 1958 cookbook 50 Chinese dishes for New Zealand. In 1963 Madeleine Hammond published A taste of France: French cuisine for New Zealanders, which contained sophisticated recipes clearly aimed at the giver of dinner parties.
Lack of evidence
As more cookbooks were published after the Second World War, the book collections of domestic cooks grew. Before this, people typically had one or two cookbooks. Staining and wear and tear allowed historians to see which recipes were cooked the most. When people have more cookbooks they tend to have a more diverse repertoire and the pages are less soiled and worn, making the food historian’s detective work much harder.
By the mid-1980s international cuisines, particularly Asian ones, had found their way into community cookbooks. Local, seasonal and sometimes organic ingredients were a feature of cookbooks published in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Newspapers and magazines
From the 1860s newspapers regularly published recipes. Recipes also appeared in farming, gardening and women’s magazines. Specialised cooking magazines increasingly appeared from the 1980s, the most notable being Cuisine, first published in 1987.
With the advent of television in the 1960s came the rise of the celebrity chef on cooking shows. The first of these was Englishman Graham Kerr, a showman brimming with confidence and enthusiasm and thus well suited to the new medium. His first show aired in 1961 and he went on to become a well-known television chef in Canada and the United States.
Celebrity chefs have a lot of influence on the cooking and food-shopping habits of television viewers. After one of Des Britten’s shows featured eggplant, this vegetable quickly sold out at the Wellington produce markets.
Seeking a cook with a more sober approach, television producers headhunted Alison Holst, a lecturer in home science at the University of Otago. She first appeared on screen in 1965 and her homely style struck a chord with viewers. Chef Des Britten appeared on the screen in the 1970s, and dynamic couple Peter Hudson and David Halls were on air from 1976 to 1986. By the early 2000s cooking shows were ubiquitous on television, including shows such as MasterChef New Zealand, where New Zealanders competed at cooking.