Recently I tried my mother’s 1949 spiced meatloaf recipe. It’s a good example of home cooking of that era. I used her old mechanical meat mincer to produce the mince for the meatloaf. The mincer worked perfectly, and the meatloaf was a great success. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that my mother Evelyn won a consolation prize of £1 (equivalent to approximately $57 today) for this recipe in 1949 (The Australian Women’s Weekly, 12 March 1949, p. 50). 
It got me reminiscing and wondering: How did my mother cook in the late 1940s and 1950s? What appliances and utensils did she use? What foods did she prepare? How does home cooking in the late 1940s and 1950s (post-World War II Australia) compare with that of today?
To answer these questions, I’ve drawn on Evelyn’s life story, my recollections of my mother’s cooking in the 1950s, a 1949 recipe book, historical data, and my own experience of home cooking.
NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. References are numbered and noted throughout the text by brackets: [X].
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Home cooking in post-war Australia: Setting the scene
I have vivid childhood memories of my mother at work in the kitchen.
In my mind’s eye I can see her, apron on, at the stove, the sink, the kitchen table. Spread out on the table are all the ingredients, bowls, trays, and utensils she has collected for the job in hand. The kitchen table is my mother’s workbench. (There are no benches as I have in my kitchen today.)
Our family’s sizable kitchen comprised a central table and six chairs, a stove recess containing a small early-model electric stove (second-hand, I suspect), an electric refrigerator, a waist-height timber cupboard with a single stainless steel sink, and two other storage cupboards – one waist-height, the other a kitchen dresser, about 6 foot (2 metres) high and 6 foot wide.
Unlike my kitchen today, my mother’s post-war kitchen had no microwave and no dishwasher. There was no exhaust fan over the stove, only a small window high-up at the rear of the stove recess. There was no pantry and, in comparison with my kitchen, not much storage space. Everything had to be stored in the three cupboards. I realize now that my mother had considerably fewer items in her kitchen than I do in mine!
I was born in the early 1950s, my brother 5 years earlier.
At the time Australia was experiencing a post-World War II boon. Wartime shortages and rationing of clothing and essential foodstuffs (tea, sugar, butter, and meat) were over or coming to an end.  Rationing of sugar ended in July 1947 and meat in June 1948. Rationing of butter and tea continued until June 1950 and July 1950, respectively. Wartime rationing also included rice, as the following report in Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin (October 27, 1950) indicates :
I’m sure home cooks in the late 1940s and early 1950s revelled in the knowledge that basic foodstuffs were not only readily available, but also plentiful. Nevertheless, war-time rationing had taught homemakers to be prudent and resourceful. My mother Evelyn is a good example.
Evelyn was always on the lookout for bargains and she shopped wisely. My parents were not well-off, so my mother bought just enough for the family’s needs and no more. She purchased our family’s groceries at one of the grocery stores in the city, bought our meat from the local butcher and fruit and vegetables from a hawker. There were no supermarkets in Rockhampton at the time. She bought our bread fresh from a bakery (we had home deliveries five or six days a week) and a milkman delivered our family’s milk supplies directly from the milk factory.
After World War II, most Australian families scrimped and saved and dreamt of having a home of their own. In the 1950s, the rate of home ownership in Australia increased from just above 50 per cent at the start of the decade to just above 70 per cent at the end of the decade.  It was a remarkable time of growth and rebuilding.
My parents were eligible for a war service home loan (my father spent 5½ years in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force during World War II), which enabled them to purchase their first home. They moved in just months before I was born. This modest low-set late 1940s timber and fibrolite dwelling became our family home for the next 20 years.
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Home cooking = Women’s work
In post-World War II Australia, typically, women stayed at home and performed “home duties”, which included cooking, while men “went out to work”. These gender roles were well-established in Australian society and still practised in most families.
My mother was one of the exceptions. She went out to work.
Evelyn assisted my father run the family business. While my brother and I were young, she worked in the business on a part-time basis. When I started primary school, she worked five days a week, during school hours. It was a good arrangement. My mother was always there for me when I came home from school.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, working women like Evelyn were still expected to manage the household and do the cooking. For most Australian families, home cooking was still the norm. Apart from fish and chips, there were no take-aways and families (like mine) never “ate out”. At a time when housework was much more labour-intensive and time-consuming than it is today, I’m amazed how well my mother juggled her home duties and her work outside the home.
I’ve written previously about Evelyn’s love of cooking and culinary skills in Pasta Bake (and Family Traditions) (February 18, 2016) and Kentish Cake and Slice of History (May 21, 2016). My mother loved to cook, and she was good at it. She didn’t regard cooking as a chore. It was a creative outlet for her.
Despite her busy schedule, Evelyn made time to teach me and my brother the basics of home cooking.
My mother wanted both of her children – regardless of gender – to become competent home cooks. In this she broke with tradition. I must have been 5 or 6 when Evelyn allowed me to perform simple tasks such as sifting, stirring, grating, and peeling. At the same time, my brother had progressed to more advanced cookery skills.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, when I was still at primary school, Evelyn gave me more responsibility for meal preparation. To begin, she gave me the task of preparing and cooking the vegetables to accompany various meat dishes. Next, she let me put in the oven and slow-cook a casserole she had prepared the night before. Finally, she allowed me to cook a whole meal, such as baked fish and mashed potatoes.
By the time I took cookery lessons in Grade 8 “Home Science” at secondary school in the mid-1960s, I think I had acquired all the basic skills necessary for successful home cooking.
I have my mother to thank for this. Evelyn was a great organizer, she was willing to delegate, she gave clear instructions and, most importantly, she trusted me (and my brother).
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The late 1940s & 1950s kitchen
As their new home was supplied with electricity, my parents purchased several electrical appliances for the kitchen and laundry. I’ve written previously about the laundry appliances they purchased, in How did people wash and iron in the 1950s? (September 30, 2018). For the kitchen, they acquired a small early-model electric stove, refrigerator, toaster, and jug.
My mother’s first electric stove was probably a late 1930s model. I don’t recall what brand it was, but it was blue, and looked like the one in the picture below. The unit stood on four legs and comprised a small oven and three or four heavy, plain circular hotplates. The oven and hotplates were provided with three different heat settings (HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW).
Despite having learnt to cook on a wood combustion stove, Evelyn readily adapted to cooking with electricity. I guess this is not surprising, given her culinary skills and experience.
One cookery book Evelyn purchased early in her married life, which she used for more than four decades, is the All-Electric Cookery Book (Fourth edition). It was compiled by Mrs V F McKenzie, Director of The Electrical Association for Women (Aust.), specifically for women cooks to use the “magic gift of electricity” safely, confidently, and economically. 
The book’s introductory section, “All Electrical Guide”, focuses on oven cooking, pressure cooking and simple dinners. It also covers hot water use, general electrical hints (with an emphasis on safety), information about electrical appliances and hints for economy when cooking with electricity.
The hints for economy are worth reproducing here. There are ten in all. They call for efficiency and energy conservation on the part of home cooks.  Perhaps we could take note of these hints and apply the principles to our home cooking practices in 2020.
- When using the oven, do all the cooking in the oven – meat, vegetables, sweets, and an extra pudding or entrée.
- When using the hotplate, try to cook the whole meal on the hotplate, keeping several saucepans simmering at once.
- Remember that when you are using two hotplates, twice as much electricity is being used.
- Use your hot water system to obtain hot water for cooking purposes – or an electric jug or electric kettle. It you have not any of these available, use a large saucepan on the quick-boiling plate, with the switch on High.
- Use the quick-boiling plate for all purposes except where very slow simmering is necessary. Turn switch to Low when the food reaches cooking temperature, and Off when cooking is completed.
- If vegetables are to be cooked in the oven, use a very little boiling water in the casserole with them. If a hotplate is in use, it is a good plan to bring the vegetables to steaming point and then place them in the casserole. Then they cook more quickly, and do not reduce the heat of the oven when placed inside.
- Several vegetables can be cooked in the same vessel, either on the hotplate of in the oven.
- Use the STORED HEAT in the oven, or hotplates, to the utmost extent.
- See that your switches are turned OFF when cooking is completed and be very watchful while top and bottom elements are on High, pre-heating the oven. On no account must the oven temperature be allowed to pass 600 degrees [Fahrenheit] (equivalent to approximately 300 degrees Celsius).
- Use a pressure cooker for as many meals as possible.
I’m sure my mother took note of these hints. Like many Australian families struggling to make ends meet in the post-war years, my parents tried to keep their electricity use to a minimum. This included prudent use of the electric stove.
As recommended in the All Electric Cookery Book, Evelyn conserved electricity by cooking complete dinners of meat, vegetables, and puddings in the oven, and using the hotplates as little as possible. For a roast meal, she baked the meat and vegetables in one large oven pan. At the same time, she cooked a baked pudding like apple pie, lemon delicious, rice pudding or baked custard. She used the hotplates only to boil or steam the green vegetables and, when the meat was cooked, make gravy using the juices in the oven pan.
The hub of the house
In the late 1940s and 1950s, family life revolved around food, and the kitchen was the hub of the house.
At mealtimes, our family always ate together, at the kitchen table. My mother served the food, and my father, brother and I showed our appreciation by happily consuming whatever she had prepared. There were no complaints, no leftovers. (In those days, children were expected to eat everything put on our plates.)
Our family always began the day with a hearty breakfast. During the winter months, Evelyn cooked rolled oats (“porridge”) as our cereal. She used to soak the rolled oats in water overnight, so they would cook quicker the following morning. There were no “quick oats” in those days. At other times of the year, our cereal comprised one or two Weetbix or a bowl of cornflakes with milk and sugar. However, winter or summer, breakfast always included something cooked – eggs (fried, poached, boiled or scrambled) with a slice of buttered toast and any one or combination of the following: bacon, sausages, lamb’s fry, tomatoes or baked beans.
On weekdays, the evening meal (which we called “tea”) usually consisted of meat and three vegetables, and a simple dessert. The meat was typically beef or mutton (lamb was not common), cooked according to its cut: grilled, braised, fried, slow-cooked (a stew or casserole), made into a pie (such as steak-and-kidney pie), or minced and made into rissoles or a meatloaf. Other meat dishes included beef sausages with onions and gravy, crumbed brains with bacon, corned meat with white sauce, crumbed or baked fish.
For dessert (“pudding”), my mother served blanc mange with tinned or stewed fruit and jelly, rice pudding and prunes, or a steamed pudding and boiled custard. For more about our family’s puddings, read Fail-Me-Never Steamed Pudding (August 3, 2016).
The best meal of the week was Sunday lunch.
Mum spent the whole morning in the kitchen preparing it for us. It was a substantial two-course meal. The first course consisted of roast chicken, beef, or mutton, with gravy, baked potatoes and pumpkin, and a green vegetable. For the second course, mum served apple pie and custard, a luscious layered orange jelly pie or fruit salad and ice cream (all homemade).
A roast chicken was a real treat in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Chicken meat was not readily available, as it is today. You couldn’t buy a frozen chicken or a cooked one for that matter. It wasn’t until 1959 that Australian farmers started to breed chickens for their meat.  Prior to that time, if you wanted a chicken for the table, you took one from your chicken pen, or bought one and took it home, killed it, plucked its feathers and gutted it. During the mid to late 1950s, my father (an auctioneer) conducted weekly poultry auctions in Rockhampton. That is why our family was treated to roast chicken so often – my father bought a chicken and brought it home. He would kill it, but my mother would do the rest!
One of my favourite times of the week was Saturday morning, when my mother did the week’s baking.
Because Evelyn worked outside the home Monday to Friday, she did most, if not all, of her baking at the weekend. Early on Saturdays, after hanging out the washing, Evelyn set to work in the kitchen. She baked jam drops, Anzac biscuits, Kentish cake, ginger cake or pumpkin scones, filling our family’s cake and biscuit tins with enough homemade goodies to last the following week.
Home cooking in post-war Australia: The utensils
My mother’s cooking utensils in the late 1940s and 1950s were made of aluminium, enamel, tin, or Pyrex.
On the stove’s solid hotplates Evelyn used saucepans and frying pans made of medium weight aluminium, with flat, even bases, and Bakelite handles. Aluminium is an excellent distributor of heat, so they gave quick results. Evelyn’s oven utensils included containers and trays made of aluminium or tin (for baking cakes, biscuits, and slices) and dishes made of enamel or Pyrex (for cooking casseroles, pies, and baked puddings).
I possess a number of Evelyn’s original cooking utensils, all of which I still use today. They include: aluminium cake baking tins, patty cake trays, steamer basins with lids, and vegetable steamer baskets; Pyrex and enamel oven dishes; a carving fork and tablespoon used for cooking. These items were certainly made to last!
Evelyn’s most useful and versatile home cooking aid was definitely her pressure cooker.
Notably, the pressure cooker was promoted as a must-have piece of equipment for the up-to-date home cook of the late 1940s and 1950s. According to Mrs V F McKenzie, writing in the All-Electric Cookery Book, p. 21 :
Experiments have proved that pressure cooking is economical in many ways – in reducing the quantity of electricity used in cooking, in making the cheaper cuts of meat as palatable as the more expensive cuts, in conserving food values, avoiding waste, and in saving time.
Evelyn’s pressure cooker, like the one illustrated, was made of heavy aluminium. The hotplates of her stove supplied the slow, even heat essential for successful pressure cooking. In it Evelyn cooked corned beef or chicken, stews (such as ox tail or steak and kidney), vegetables, soups (using beef, ham or chicken bones, lentils, and vegetables), and steamed puddings, to name a few.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, my mother did all her cooking using a small oven, the hotplates of an early model electric stove and a small number of home cooking utensils.
Unlike most home cooks today, she didn’t have a microwave oven or electric frypan, wok, slow cooker, or rice cooker. Given the quality and quantity of the food Evelyn produced using a stove alone, I doubt that any of these “extras” would have made much difference.
Our family owned an electric refrigerator, a single-door unit, small in comparison with ‘fridges today. At the top of the unit, there was a small freezer compartment. Unlike our freezers, which are self-defrosting, freezers in early model refrigerators used to ice over and had to be defrosted regularly, preferably once a week. I know because I often helped my mother defrost the freezer compartment of our ‘fridge.
I note that my mother’s All-Electric Cookery Book includes a section entitled “Salads, Refrigerator Dishes, Etc.”. It features recipes for ices, cooked ice creams, mousses, cold fruit drinks, junkets, blanc mange, custards, flummery, and cream desserts. For most of these recipes, one needed a refrigerator.
For many years, Evelyn made our family’s ice cream.
My mother’s homemade ice cream was delicious, rich, and creamy. But it took some time to prepare and, unfortunately, it didn’t last long! Perhaps Evelyn used the following recipe, one of three ice cream recipes in the All-Electric Cookery Book. I clearly remember her beating the mixture twice, once before placing it in the freezer, and a second time after the mixture had nearly set. (Licking the beaters was a real treat!)
Ice Cream (2)
½ pint junket, 1 cup castor sugar, ½ pint cream, essence.
Set the junket, whip the cream slightly and add the junket, sugar, and essence; beat well, and pour into freezing tray.
When beginning to set around the edge, tip into basin and beat, once more return to freezing tray, and leave until set.
I’ve recently learnt that not all families in post-war Australia owned a refrigerator. Some families still used ice chests to keep perishable food fresh. However, by 1955, 77% of all households in Brisbane, 83% in Sydney and 67% in Melbourne owned a refrigerator. By the mid-1960s, most Australian families owned a refrigerator. 
Home cooking in post-war Australia: Other appliances
Besides an electric stove and refrigerator, our family’s other kitchen appliances included an electric toaster and electric jug.
We owned a toaster like the one pictured below. It was chrome-plated with metal flaps on either side that opened out, exposing the heating element. It was not the most modern of toasters at the time, but it was extremely efficient. You had to lower the flaps and turn the bread over so it could cook on the other side. Of course, you had to watch it closely, so it didn’t burn. (I well remember several burnt offerings!)
Our electric jug was just like the one depicted in the Hotpoint advertisement below.  It was cream-coloured, ceramic, with a black Bakelite lid and replaceable heating element inside. Unlike many appliances we buy today, this one was made to last. If the element broke, it could be replaced, and the jug was still useable. The electric jug, along with several other Hotpoint products, was new in the mid to late 1940s.
Note how the various products are promoted in the advertisement.
The commentary is clearly directed at women, enticing them with the offer of “freer, happier living”. The Hotpoint appliances are supposedly efficient, economical, and stylish. They are dubbed “Servants” and “tireless, thrifty employees”, promising to make the woman of the home a “home-manager” instead of a “home-slave”.
My mother didn’t need the latest electrical appliances to make her a great home-manager.
She managed our home, and kitchen, perfectly well with the tools she already possessed. Indeed, most of her kitchen appliances, or tools, were neither electric nor new.
Evelyn didn’t have an electric frypan, although they came on the market in the mid-1950s.  She had no deep fryer. She grilled, braised, or fried food in a frying pan on the stove hotplate. Evelyn didn’t own a food processor, blender or mixmaster. She beat cake mixtures manually with a spoon and used a hand-operated Propert swift-whip beater-mixer for tasks such as beating egg whites and whipping cream.
The meat mincer
One useful mechanical tool in my mother’s post-war kitchen was an Australian-made POPE meat mincer. This industrial type hand-operated mincer (which I’ve inherited) is made of cast iron. It’s very heavy. It has a rounded feeder cup at the top and side opening at the base of the cup. A winder handle rotates a screw-like mechanism, which moves the meat sideways to a blade plate (cutter) at the side opening. A hole plate is installed next to the blade plate. The smaller the holes in the hole plate, the finer the mince produced. The mince is released through the holes in the hole plate. There is a clamp below the main structure which permits the hand driven mincer to be securely fastened to a table or benchtop. The grip of the handle is made from wood.
Evelyn used this apparatus during the late 1940s and 1950s to make mince from fresh beef or (sometimes) cold leftover roast beef, chicken, or mutton. She used the fresh beef mince to make Aberdeen sausage, savoury mince, rissoles, or a meatloaf. As for the cooked meat mince, Evelyn used it in pies, pasties, jellied meats, soups and for sandwich fillings.
You may like to try my mother’s Aberdeen sausage recipe.
I found a hand-written version of it (see below) in a cut-and-paste book of recipes Evelyn compiled in her later years. Clearly, Evelyn used this recipe over and over throughout her long life. It was one of her favourites. I’ve tried the recipe, and I can recommend it to you.
My mother’s 1949 spiced meatloaf
Recently I tried my mother’s 1949 spiced meatloaf recipe. I used the old mechanical meat mincer to produce the mince for the meatloaf. In fact, the recipe required the topside or bladebone steak and ham or bacon to be put through the mincer twice, which I did.
The old meat mincer still works perfectly. It may be out of place in my 21st century kitchen, a relic of a bygone era, but for me it’s a prized possession. It reminds me of my childhood, my mother, and her wonderful home-cooked food.
Here’s an updated version of Evelyn’s 1949 spiced meatloaf recipe, in a familiar format. I hope you feel inspired to give it a go!
750 g topside or bladebone steak (or mince)
250 g ham or bacon
2 cups soft white (or wholegrain) breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1¼ cups milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- If using a mincer, put steak and ham or bacon through the mincer twice. If using purchased mince and ham or bacon, finely cut the ham or bacon and add it to the mince.
- Add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and mustard to the meat and mix well.
- Beat eggs, add milk. Pour into bread and meat mixture and combine thoroughly.
- Grease bottom and sides of a large loaf tin.
- Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Coat the sides and base of the greased loaf tin.
- Press the meat mixture firmly into tin. Sprinkle top with the remainder of the sugar-spice mix.
- Cover with a piece of baking paper.
- Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit – lower if you use a fan-forced oven) for approximately 1¼ hours.
- Slice and serve hot with jacket potatoes, a green vegetable and carrot rings, or cold with a crisp, green salad.
Source: Evelyn Proposch
- Savory recipe wins —10 in our popular contest (1949, March 12). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 50. Retrieved August 11, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52259293
- Rationing of food and clothing in the Second World War. (2017). Australian War Memorial. (Website). Online: Retrieved on 7 May 2020.
- SHOPPERS RUSH FOR RICE (1950, October 27). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56961977
- Yates, J. (2008). Affordability and access to home ownership: past, present and future?, AHURI Research Paper No. NRV3-10, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne. Online: Retrieved on 7 May 2020.
- McKenzie, F V. & Association for Electrical Development. (1949). All-Electric Cookery Book. Fourth Edition. Associated General Publications Pty Ltd: Sydney, NSW.
- 1959 First Australian meat chicken breed. Australian Food History Timeline. (Website). Online: Retrieved on 23 May 2020.
- McKenzie, F V. & Association for Electrical Development. (1949). All-Electric Cookery Book. Fourth Edition. Associated General Publications Pty Ltd: Sydney, NSW.
- Smith, C. (2005). Domestic Refrigeration & Refrigerators in Museums Victoria Collection. Online: Retrieved on 7 May 2020.
- Advertising (1947, May 10). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 2. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55466389
- 1955 New Sunbeam appliances. Australian Food History Timeline. (Website). Online: Retrieved on 23 May 2020.