Building up a list of old-fashioned, favourite recipes

15 August 2016
When I was growing up we rarely went out to eat. I remember dad taking a saucepan to the local newly opened Chinese restaurant once. The saucepan was filled with Chinese food to be brought home to eat. That would have been in the mid-50s; there were no take away containers in those days. I also remember one exciting day in the 1950s when mum took Tricia and I "to town" (the city of Sydney) to look at the department store Christmas windows and, for the first time, we had lunch at a restaurant. There weren't many restaurants around then but this one was called Cahills Family Restaurant and I think it was in the Strand Arcade. I forget what Tricia and mum had but I ordered spaghetti Bolognese, which I thought was extremely sophisticated. That was the first time I had pasta. Australia was still living in the meat and three veg era then. Back then you could eat at bistros, cafes and milk bars. Most country pubs had food, many city ones didn't but if you wanted really good food everyone knew where to go, you ate at home.

 Chicken casserole.
Meat pie.

We grew up in a time when meat and left overs played a big part in contemporary cooking. Fish was often served on Friday and we were able to tell what day it was by what was on the dinner plate. Cook books were unusual then. Many cooks wrote down their own recipes, had a scrapbook of recipes cut from magazines and pasted into a book or they may have had one cook book which would have been a CWA or church recipe book. Most people cooked meals they'd grown up eating and had been taught to cook as a child. That was the experience in our family so when I was learning to cook, I modified my mother or father's cooking and added things like spaghetti bolognese along the way.

I had an email from a reader recently asking for help with old fashioned recipes. This lady is about my age, has collected over 1000 cook books but feels overloaded and has trouble sorting the information. She and her husband like old style meals and don't like 'new' ingredients. I think she came to the right place because although I do cook the occasional new style meal and experiment with new ingredients, the older I get the more I rely on the foods I grew up with. I like the familiarity of them; they're my comfort foods.

 Satay chicken
 Potato salad
 Quiche in filo pastry
 Rissoles (meat balls) in herb gravy and vegetables

The following list is made up of the meals I make over and over again. Occasionally there will be a stir fry or a new recipe to try and more frequently lately, there are vegetarian meals. Even when we do eat meat, it's far less than we used to eat. We've probably reduced our meat intake by about 50 percent to what it was 10 years ago. What I do focus on in my cooking is to serve real food as fresh as possible. The ingredients are nutritious and thrifty, are often home grown and sit well in our low income lifestyle. You'll often notice ingredients such as potatoes/sweet potatoes in my cooking. I make no apologies for that. We are a family with German, Irish, Swedish, English heritage and potatoes feature in all those cuisines. I hope when you select your list of frequently cooks meals it will reflect your family heritage too. Food traditions link us to our culture and reinforce a feeling of being connected and loved. It's one of the many complex roles food plays in our lives.

  • Shepherd's pie from left over lamb roast
  • Lamb curry from left over lamb roast or lamb neck chops
  • Cottage pie with minced beef and mashed potato topping (sweet potato or pumpkin topping)
  • Corned beef and colcannon
  • Corned beef hash
  • Salmon with potato salad
  • Swedish meatballs, potato salad and fresh pickled cucumbers
  • Pea/lentil soup
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Beef, barley and bone marrow soup
  • Beef casserole and herb dumplings
  • Lasagne
  • Quiche
  • Spinach pie with filo pastry
  • Sausage rolls
  • Boiled egg salad
  • Canned salmon salad
  • Tuna loaf
  • Fish cakes
  • Cabbage rolls
  • Potato pancakes (Kartoffel Puffer)
  • Pork sausages with onion gravy and vegetables
  • Roast lamb, chicken or pork
  • Rissoles, red cabbage and potatoes
  • Pork chops, cabbage and potatoes
  • Meatloaf
Australia meal recipes - allrecipes

I use the following cook books but you'll find recipes for most of my list items online. Just steer clear of any sites that have recipes with processed, pre-made sauces and spice mixes. Try and cook from scratch and modify the recipes to suit your own tastes.

My favourite book is The Country Table which I bought two copies of a couple of years ago. One for Sunny and one for me. Sunny asked me for Australian recipes so she could cook our favourite foods. The Country Table is full of wonderful recipes that have been part of Australian dinner tables for many years.

The Country Table Published 2009 by ACP ISBN 978-1-74245-155-8

My go-to book for new cakes and slices is the Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook. It can be purchased in many newsagents and book shops.

I also like The Thrifty Kitchen written by Suzanne and Kate Gibbs. They are Margaret Fulton's daughter and grand daughter.  It was published in 2009  - ISBN 978 1 921 38207 9.

Another favourite is the Country Women's Association mammoth book, Classics. Published in 2011 - ISBN 978 0 143 56614 4 With over 400 recipes on 881 pages it has a comprehensive index, conversion charts and sections on Soups, Snacks and Starts, Mains, Dessert, Baking and Preserves.

I'll humbly add my own books - Down to Earth and The Simple Home too. Both contain some of my frequently used recipes.

If you have room or money for only one book, I'd go for either The Country Table or Classics. Both would serve you well for many years.

In my next post I'll share a couple of my own recipes and write more about seasonal foods as well as the groups of foods and drinks we generally serve from a well established home kitchen.  See you then. In the meantime, what are your old-fashioned favourites?


  1. It's funny but I recognise most of those meals from my childhood too, and most of which I still cook to this day. But I'm a lot younger than you, so those meals persisted for at least another generation. It must have been the generation that came after me where things went pear shaped and convenience food became the new cuisine. Or maybe I'm just an old fashioned girl, who holds on stead fast to the better days.

  2. Tonight I will be making Cornmeat Fritters, using up the meat from the Silverside I cooked for dinner last night. It will be simple fair of Fritters and boiled vegies. I follow the recipe my Mum always made, a couple of eggs beaten together with some flour and then thinned a little with some water to make a simple batter. Then add finely diced onion and diced meat. Stir together and cook a heaped spoonful in a fry pan with a little oil. The kids love these, they are not as fussed on the Silverside on its own. LOL Hopefully that gives another recipe for someone to try. Cheers, Deb p.s. I usually just keep adding flour to the eggs until it forms a stiff paste, then thin it with a little water until you reach a consistency like batter. One onion is usually enough and as much of the left over meat as you like. The meat and onion should be well coated by the batter and hold together well when cooked. If you have a large quantity of meat you can do extra eggs and flour. It is an easy recipe to expand or reduce as needed.

  3. I own the cookbook that was my grandmothers (mother's mother) back in 1954. It is in very poor shape, but still legible, and I use it for a few recipes. Mostly I learned to cook from my Father's mother who lived near us. And she was a pinch of this and a dab of that - taste test often - kind of cook. Like you we are eating much less meat and sugar as we age, and seldom eat out - maybe once a month. It's a fine life and we hope to enjoy it for some time to come!

  4. Snap ! I have every one of those recipe books !!! Savoury Chops, Curried sausages, Mock Fish and Bubble and Squeak are dishes I grew up with in the 50's / 60s that I still cook

  5. I loved this post so much I read it twice. I have a couple of old cook books where steps and all kinds are missed out, temperatures are simply "hot" or "moderate" and it's presumed the cook already has a certain understanding of cooking. It's facinating really when we look at the cooking industry today. What a huge shift. We eat simple meals here too. Corned beef, fried cabbage with bacon and fennel with mash and white sauce is an all round favorite. :)


  6. I had to smile at your eating out memories....sounds similar to my years growing up in New Zealand. Sometimes Dad took us out to eat at the country town 8 miles away and it was fish and chips or if just would be tinned spaghetti or baked beans served on toast at the dairy. Peeling potatoes was an every day preparation for I live in Hawaii where rice is the local favorite and my main starch is cooked breadfruit picked from the two trees behind my house. Breadfruit is way easier to grow than potatoes but easily replaces it. Makes wonderful potato salad, chips or hash browns as well as just boiled or baked.

    1. How interesting! I loved reading about your breadfruit, Stellamarina. I'm going to see if I can buy one at the market next week.

    2. If you are looking for more info on breadfruit, is a good web site.

  7. I actually learned to cook as an adult by watching my mother-in-law! No measuring, just a little of this and that and tasting along the way. She's in a different part of the country now, and I'm very grateful I had the chance to learn from her in those earlier years! So because of that I tend to cook a lot of Asian food and don't refer often to cookbooks unless for baking purposes. My kids often prefer rice with meat and veggies or pho (vietnamese soup) rather than the more typical American kid fare of pizza and hamburgers ;)

  8. I love cookbooks, especially old ones. One of my projects recently was to contact the family members and ask them for their favorite recipes(if they had them) or meals from grandmas etc.(both sides of the family) I found all of the recipes with various older family members and put together a family cookbook with a little genealogical info on each person with a featured recipe. My mother loved it and the daughters in law each want one - which makes for a very easy Christmas gift in a decorated three ring binder! Keeping the old food traditions alive is awesome!!

  9. Next time you do corned beef in the slow cooker try this. Instead or using water, cloves, onions, bay leaves etc etc, just simply fill with ginger beer to the same liquid level you normally would - nothing more. You will be impressed I promise.

  10. well i'm ashamed to say i don't remember any of my grandmother or mothers cooking, nor do i remember much from the home i was brought up in, i do however remember eating the best stews but from who or where, no idea.
    these days i detest cabbage, eat heaps of sweet potato & cook very simply with the occasional soup or stew thrown in.
    love the look of your cook books
    thanx for sharing

  11. I love my Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices and my Country Women's Classics too Rhonda. I also love my More with Less Mennonites Cookbook and a well used and loved British & Foreign Bible Society Cookbook. All good wholesome recipes we grew up with are just the best. Your photos are making me hungry.....yum yum. I don't think we ate out growing up as that would have been too expensive. When older I remember going to the cafeteria at maybe Myers? But our exciting shop food was fish n chips on camping holidays.

    Taking a saucepan to the Chinese is pretty funny, very eco friendly.

  12. The WW Country Table is my favourite cookbook! I love it.
    The WW Cakes and Slices cookbook brings back memories of my childhood. It has been on my wish list for awhile now. Thanks for reminding me - have just bought a second hand copy off Ebay.
    What I love about the WW cookbooks is that they are very homestyle cooking, not showy or filled with ridiculous ingredients that you need to go out and buy in order to make a recipe.

  13. I don't remember my mother having any specific cookbooks, but I do have the recipes she used for the more iconic foods that she made. My mother-in-law had recipes written in composition books, and my sister-in-law created a loose-leaf notebook for me one year as a gift, which the recipes we remembered her making from those notebooks.

    My mother did have a set of "Time-Life Foods of the World" which was a fabulous set of books with separate recipe books for each one - about 24 of each. I don't recall her cooking from them, but I read them, and they were great. I got those when she moved to smaller digs, but at some point we had boxed them up to move to another place in the house, and my husband stashed them in the basement. Then he gave them away with some other books (by mistake) - he's still in the doghouse over that.

    I have a lot of cookbooks, but the most-used are "The Fanny Farmer Cookbook", the Betty Crocker cookbook with the red cover, and "The Redbook Cookbook" - all of those about 40 years old. Fanny is now a faded brown, Betty has lost her spine, Redbook is faded. As our daughter graduated from college, one of our friends asked me what she needed/wanted as she moved out. I suggested a cookbook, and she bought her the Betty Crocker new version in the looseleaf binder. I made some casual comment about losing pages, and the friend then put reinforcements on each page before she gave it to her! Before she moved out, she and we used a number of the recipes, all with great success.

    1. I think the best cookbooks are the really old, and not so old, cookbooks. I like Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker, but I have a 1945 Watkins Cookbook and a 1955 US Government cooking pamphlet (? 96 pages) which has all the nutritional information and recipes you will ever need. Of course, we have to remember that now we can't use uncooked eggs in a recipe that isn't cooked and some ingredients are hard to find now, but in general, if you want inexpensive basic cooking, older cookbooks are the way to go.

  14. Tuna mornay! As cooked by my grandma and mum, and I make it exactly the same with one addition: a packet of spelt pasta twists. It goes further and is more filling for our growing boys! I love reading your posts, it makes me feel more content on a very modest income in a fairly well-to-do suburban area.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your favorites! I will pin them for my fall and winter meals when the temps are cooler and I use my stove again.

  16. Some of my best cooking comes from old Women's Weekly magazines my mum passed on to me. Mum is from Serbia and Dad is from lebanon so regular meals were Chicken schnitzel and Lebanese mince pizza. But on very hot Summer days my mum would makes an Australian Cold plate of ham and canned salad like corn, beans and beetroot with ice-berg lettuce. For us that was exotic!

  17. First time commenter here....Hi Rhonda! I love your blog! I've read all of your posts from when you first started. You are a very sweet lady. :) I'm from Indiana in the USA. Growing up we ate a lot of homemade chicken and noodles. Mom would roll out the dough, slice the noodles by hand, and leave them drying on the counter all day. I still love to sneak a piece of the raw dough!

  18. I'm Southern (in the US) and my go-to food is grits -- specifically cheesy grits. Now, I realize this might be an acquired taste, but it is my favorite when I feel down and out or sick... Add a little hot sauce and extra butter and they are wonderful! My favorite cookbooks are local -- one is "Beth Tartan's CookBook". She wrote a recipe column for the local paper, so most of her food is Moravian in nature and the other is the local church cookbook! So much goodness in one place! My other favorite is the Betty Crocker cookbook dated from my birth year (1950s) that Mother found for me at an antique store. The pictures are nearly as wonderful as the recipes!

  19. Rhonda, I could be very happy eating from your list of favorites because I grew up eating many of the same things. My Mom loved to cook and collected many cookbooks and recipes over the years. I learned to cook by watching her and still remember the first dinner I made for my family when I was around 9 - meatloaf, baked potatoes and carrots (and I made that same meal for my Mom just a few weeks ago). My Mom cooked from scratch and I still try to do that as much as possible. My small cookbook collection seems to be half practical, i.e., I actually cook from them (church cookbooks and the Farm Journal's Country cookbook) and half impractical, i.e., I like to read them, but have never cooked from them (Julia Child's The French Chef). I really love and would recommend two books of essays that were written by novelist Laurie Colwin: Home Cooking (A Writer in the Kitchen) and More Home Cooking (A Writer Returns to the Kitchen). It is hard to describe them, so I'll quote from the cover: "As much memoir as cookbook and as much about eating as cooking." The family recipe that will always be with me is for my great-aunt Elizabeth's shortbread, which she sent to my Dad each Christmas. I have the recipe but I can't make it taste like hers, and neither could my Aunts or my Mom. We always speculated that she had some secret method or ingredient, and I still have not given up hope that one day I will figure it out! Beth in MN

  20. Dear Rhonda,
    I tried your egg custard recipe on a whim and it is now in regular rotation in our house! My daughters really love it and it never lasts. Whenever eggs go on sale, I always make it. I also make spinach pie in phyllo (Ina Garten's recipe somewhat modified). It is my go-to dish for all potlucks and get-togethers. When I was growing up we had spaghetti on Wednesdays and fish on Fridays. With my daughters we also have "Taco Tuesdays" which are sometimes made with ground turkey or chicken and sometimes with chickpeas.
    Now I'm hungry!

  21. Those meatballs look mighty good, Rhonda! I hope you include the recipe for those in your upcoming post. :)

  22. I have always loved cook cook from and to just read. Some of them of them ended up only having one or two recipes that I used regularly but I kept them all untill we sold up to live on the road and couldn't keep them anymore. I loved them all so much that I took photos if them as my keepsake, But, I still have my grandmothers cookbook which I love because it was hers. It would be over 80 years old now. I also have some hand written recipes that my Dad wrote.

  23. Rhonda I have enjoyed sharing your thoughts on traditional food from our childhood. And having a peek at your favourite cook books. When I was a young married woman in England the Be-Ro flour company put out the Be-Ro cook book (lots of flour featured in that one!) And the margarine people put out the Stork cook book (plenty of margarine featured!) I cringe when I think about it now.

  24. Rhonda, me again. I used to keep my recipes in a scrap book in the early days. The last few years I print my favourite recipes and slip them into a loose leaf folder. I find I go to those recipes constantly, and most of them are about how to cook my harvest from the allotment - and preserving jams, chutneys etc to preserve the harvest. Lots given to me by my gardening and pickling friends.

  25. HI Rhonda
    I would greatly appreciate your Tuna Loaf recipe.
    With Thanks
    Jan on the Sunny Coast

  26. Great post. I love cookbooks. You've shared a great collection.
    Was hoping I'd see a Chicken and Dumplins recipe!

  27. Thank you for your list. Mealtimes have become a depressing part of my existence. I have written of my woes before and now they are multiplying. Hopefully I can find some meals that will meet my mother's likes and ease the way a bit. The latest complaints are that foods are too sweet (I think it is the onions), too tomatoey, the protein source is not to someone's liking etc.

  28. Lovely. Just lovely. Makes my mouth water

  29. I appreciate your recipe lIst and books but you also brought back the memory my bestie and I share - thinking we were all grown up when her Mum took us to Cahills. We went to 2, both downstairs, one in Pitt the other in Park street.

  30. Rhonda, your trip to town with lunch at Cahill's could have described our family! It was such a treat to go into "town". Even though I am only 66, I can remember having our milk delivered by horse and cart right in Chatswood (Sydney). The baker and the butcher also delivered by horse and cart. We lived with my maternal grandparents and there were always aunties and uncles popping in for a cuppa. Our heritage is Irish/Scottish/Swedish and I am married to a German man. Our meals reflect all of our combined family heritages, and as my husband says, we lives like the proverbial kings. My Scottish background also makes living frugally a normal process. ☺️ Thank you for this lovely post.

  31. We rarely went out to eat when I was very young in the mid-1950s, but when we did, it was a grand affair. We usually went out when my father had a business associate in town. (Maybe once a year) I remember eating lobster on those few outings. Can you imagine taking children out for a business dinner now? Poor behavior wasn't even an option.
    Anyway, my favorite cookbooks are the Southern Living Annual Recipes cookbooks. I have them all the way back to the 1970s. They have everything you could ever want to know about Southern US food. There's no place like home!

  32. Thank you Rhonda for answering my query I think it sounds like quite a few of us had similar memories of food and the times we lived in. I will be trying some of your recipes from your books all of which I have. I remember once when I was young we had a meal at the cafeteria at Coles and I thought it so grand. The food was very different to that you get now.I really enjoyed this post and have been reading all your previous posts from 2007 onwards. This post has helped me sort and I think I should add a list to my home makers binder. Thanks again from Judi

  33. I grew up in Los Angeles, CA. I wasn't taught to cook, and when I got married I started experimenting and discovered that I loved it. However, it was the early 90's and I learned to cook from Martha Stewart and the Food Network. After all of these years I am trying to cook more frugally. And wouldn't you know it... the frugal meals are the ones my family loves the most! Learning to rein yourself in and not buy anything that strikes your fancy at the market is the beginning is real cooking, in my opinion.

  34. Growing up in NZ the two cookbooks I remember mum using the most were Aunt Daisy's Cookbook with Household Hints, and the Edmonds Cookery Book. So many childhood memories of salivating over the pictures and recipes...

  35. I always read your posts as there is always something interesting to read.
    I look to your list of recipes hoping to find it expanding but alas
    no. So will look forward to some of your recipes. Everything look delicious and I have come to the conclusion that simpler is the way to go.
    If I find a recipe with ingredients going on and on I just seem to lose interest and while I cook from scratch I am no master chef.

  36. Your post today has inspired me to make some simple meat and 3 veges..for some strange reason i cannot cook simple meals. Being Asian I make meals that take hours to prepare but then again they are very tasty so I am not complaining hahaha

    1. With a name such as Larsen, maybe you'd enjoy the Swedish meatballs. They're easy to make and you can choose whatever vegetables you want to serve with them.

  37. I'm a bit younger than you Rhonda but I remember those meals too and once I hit highschool I was cooking them. Mum went back to work and I would come home to a note on the table telling me what to make. I also remember coming home to the brown paper wrapped meat order in the fridge, the butcher would deliver it when no-one was home and put it in the fridge for us. No the door wasn't locked.
    I still mostly feed my family those meals with the addition of pasta. When I was a kid the only pasta we ever had was macaroni cold with milk and sugar for dessert. I still sneak some like that when I'm able.

  38. I too am a 50's child and going out was so rare I can only remember one instance - vaguely. My mother was a plain but good cook. To this day I shake my head when I realise she never used an onion and garlic was just unheard of.
    My favourite basic cook books are the CWA cookbook and the PWMU cook book as well as the WW Cooking class cookbook and 2 WW Dinner party cook books. I also have a 1950 edition of the English, Good Housekeeping which is a ripper.
    My mother had a hand written book full of her recipes and cuttings which I still have.
    When my children left home, I made up "The Mummy's Cookbook" for each of them. It contains all our family recipes that we regularly use and handy hints for the kitchen, cleaning, first aid, all sorts of odds and ends. I did it as a Word document and printed it out and put it into a plastic pocket binder book so I can add to it. They tell me that they are invaluable. It is also a good way to keep/share family recipes.

    1. Hi Trudy, I did the same thing as a gift for my daughters for theur 21st birthdays and they are still using them

  39. Rhonda, is your recipe for quiche in phillo dough posted anywhere? Several ladies are coming to eat lunch with me earley in September and that looks just delicious. Blessings, Carolyn in Florida

    1. Hi Carolyn, I hope you and the ladies enjoy it.

  40. We´ve just eaten breakfast but your recipes and photos are making me hungry Rhonda. There´s nothing like those good old traditional meals. Living in Sweden and coming originally from Scotland I can only eat my favourite traditional dish when we visit Scotland - cullen sink! You´ve mabye never heard of it. It´s a thick fish soup with the main ingredients being smoked haddock and potatoes. You just can´t get smoked haddock here unfortunately.
    When it comes to cookbooks. I had a huge cleanout a few years back and got rid of dozens of them. One I will never part with is Encyclopedea of European Cooking from 1962. This was a wedding present from my then mother-in-law. She laughed as she gave it to me saying she was sure I´d end up serving frozen meals like everyone else - herself included. I was 21 then and remember so clearly thinking "Never". Now I´ll soon be 75 and I´ve stuck to my food philosophy - home cooked food seasoned with love.

    Best wishes to you and Hanno

    1. Hello Ramona dear. I have heard of cullen sink, mainly because my mother's maiden name was Cullen. I've never eaten it though. Warm wishes to you and your family. xx

    2. Hmmmm fingers moving too fast over the keyboards. Cullen skink is the name of this traditional Scottish dish...Sorry

  41. I just cannot put into words how much I have enjoyed reading this post, and all the comments. Brings back so many similar memories, I am not going to even mention my own experiences of eating in the 50's because it would be a word perfect duplication of Rhonda's post!
    Having just posted on the forum that a list of perennial favourite recipes wouldn't work for me, now that I have seen this, I am having a rethink :-)

  42. I have the Thrifty Kitchen cookbook, too. This is by far my most used cookbook of all that I own, and I own a few. Suzanne Gibbs has also written two cookbooks for Pressure Cookers. Owning a pressure cooker, and using these books has really been a blessing in my kitchen.

  43. I too recognise much of your list from my own childhood and mine was twenty years after yours! We used to have quite a bit of Italian inspired food when my mum could find the ingredients, she had spent two years living with a family in Italy in her late teens, early twenties. I stopped eating meaning completely about twenty years ago as I really don't like it. Much of what I cook today bears little resemblance to what I ate as a child because of that but I still make every meal from scratch!

  44. Thank you so much for leading me to the quiche in filo dough recipe. It is printed out and ready to go. I know that the ladies will enjoy this. Have a happy day. Carolyn in Florida



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