Kiwi culinary history from Aunt Daisy to Hudson and Halls

Inspired by a trip to see Hudson and Halls Live! at Hannah Playhouse, history curator Katie Cooper decided to find out more about Hudson and Halls, and other key figures in New Zealand’s culinary history.

Using various communication platforms to demonstrate their craft, these individuals combined skill and charm to inform, empower, and entertain their audiences, shaping the way that generations of kiwis cooked.

History curators Claire Regnault, Kirstie Ross, Lynette Townsend and Katie Cooper pose with Kip Chapman and Chris Parker, the actors who played Hudson and Halls. 2016.

History curators Claire Regnault, Kirstie Ross, Lynette Townsend and Katie Cooper pose with Kip Chapman and Chris Parker, the actors who played Hudson and Halls. 2016.

Travelling Teachers

The first professional cooking demonstrators in New Zealand were graduates of British training schools: women who used their practical cookery skills to gain their independence and forge successful careers as teachers. From the 1870s, these demonstrators toured the country delivering cookery lessons in local halls and school classrooms, catering to women of all ages.

Scottish-born demonstrator Elizabeth Brown Miller was not formally trained in cooking, but her acquired skill and enthusiasm made her an influential teacher. She taught regular classes in Dunedin from 1890, and spent each summer travelling and delivering lectures.

Her standard syllabus was comprised of twelve lessons, including making and clarifying soup, cooking vegetables, making pastry and cakes, and meat dishes. In 1898 the Timaru Herald reported on one of these classes, writing that Miller did her work ‘deftly, without haste, and also without waste labour, and this alone must be a useful lesson.’ (1)

Demonstrating New Technologies

Before she became a full-time teacher, Miller was employed by H.E. Shacklock Ltd to demonstrate the use of their kitchen ranges to potential customers. Many appliance companies adopted this strategy, and displays of new technologies often attracted large crowds.

Cooking demonstration at Turnbull and Jones, circa 1940, Wellington, by Ken Niven, Gordon H. Burt Ltd. Te Papa (C.002326)

Cooking demonstration at Turnbull and Jones, circa 1940, Wellington, by Ken Niven, Gordon H. Burt Ltd. Te Papa (C.002326)

Una Carter began as a demonstrator for the Wellington Gas Company in 1913, and her classes were such a success that she went on to establish her own cooking school in Willis Street. Carter’s cookery book, first published in 1918, was revised and reprinted in the 1920s and ran to at least 10 editions.

Book, ’Una Carter’s Famous National Cookery Book’, 1920s, New Zealand, by Una Carter. Gift of Andrea Hill, 2009. Te Papa (GH012804)

Book, ’Una Carter’s Famous National Cookery Book’, 1920s, New Zealand, by Una Carter. Gift of Andrea Hill, 2009. Te Papa (GH012804)

On the Radio

The establishment of state-operated commercial radio in 1936 led to a rise in radio personalities, and Aunt Daisy (Maud Basham) was one of the most beloved. On air until 1963, Aunt Daisy provided tips for common household problems, shared useful recipes, and advertised new products. Her devoted listeners were encouraged to submit their own ideas and questions, forming links in what she called her ‘Daisy Chain.’

Aunt Daisy, also known as Maud Ruby Basham. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: 1/2-046733-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23043179

Aunt Daisy, also known as Maud Ruby Basham. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: 1/2-046733-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23043179

Ngā Taonga has archived one of Daisy’s shows, recorded on the 16th of February 1950, preserving her cheery, bustling on-air personality.

In the recording, Daisy begins with her customary greeting, ‘Good morning everybody, good morning everybody,’ then proceeds to give various recipes and recommendations. She ends with hints for scone-making, and a joke: ‘Why is a hot scone like a moth? Because it’s the grub that makes the butter fly.’

Magazines

Building on the popularity of her radio show, Aunt Daisy also compiled cookery pages for magazines such as the New Zealand Women’s Weekly, and these publications thus formed another link in the chain. As historian Raelene Inglis found in her study of culinary knowledge transmission, magazines provided a dynamic forum for the exchange of ideas, and connected cooks across the country.

Magazine food editors also became well-known personalities, and perhaps the most influential was Tui Flower, editor of the Women’s Weekly cookery pages from 1965 to 1984. The recipes developed in Flower’s infamous test kitchen displayed a wide variety of culinary influences, and she encouraged kiwi cooks to incorporate international dishes into their bill of fare.

T.V. Chefs

Television came to New Zealand in 1960, and one of the first locally-produced programmes was a cooking show fronted by Englishman Graham Kerr. Dapper and urbane, Kerr ‘arrived in New Zealand like a culinary Samuel Marsden, a missionary of cooking.’ (2)

Graham Kerr, photographed in 1966. Nelson Photo News, 10 December 1966. CC BY_NC_ND licence. Friends of the Nelson Library. http://photonews.org.nz/nelson/issue/NPN74_19661210/t1-body-d27.html

Graham Kerr, photographed in 1966. Nelson Photo News, 10 December 1966. CC BY_NC_ND licence. Friends of the Nelson Library.

He introduced his viewers to new ingredients and modern recipes, although he may have isolated some with his forthright opinions on colonial entertaining. In 1961, for example, he wrote that he disliked those ‘eternal lovers … the pav and the sav’ and intended ‘to make a pavlova cake with a saveloy base which would cure people of both for good.’ (3)

Watch a 1966 taping of the Graham Kerr show

Alison Holst, a regular feature on New Zealand T.V. screens from 1965, offered slightly milder fare, demonstrating recipes that were better suited to family meals than dinner parties. Trained as a Home Science demonstrator, Holst taught ‘everyday’ cooking that was relatively simple and quick to prepare, and over the course of her fifty-year career sold more than four million cookbooks.

 

Alison Holst prepares a pork dish at an event organised by the Nelson District Pig Producers Council, Nelson Photo News, July 22, 1967. CC BY_NC_ND licence. Friends of the Nelson Library. http://photonews.org.nz/nelson/issue/NPN81_19670722/t1-body-d12.html

Alison Holst prepares a pork dish at an event organised by the Nelson District Pig Producers Council, Nelson Photo News, 22 July 1967. CC BY_NC_ND licence. Friends of the Nelson Library.

Watch a clip from a 1984 taping of Alison Holst Cooks

Hudson and Halls

Hudson and Halls premiered in 1976, and viewers quickly came to love the larger-than-life hosts and their frenetic cooking style.

Remembered for their bickering and banter, Peter Hudson and David Halls were perhaps more accomplished as entertainers than as chefs, but they nevertheless published three popular cookbooks and their show was on air for more than a decade.

Watch a 1982 taping of Hudson and Halls

While their programme was unlike anything that had come before, Hudson and Halls were part of a long legacy of culinary demonstrators.

A survey of these cooking personalities reveals not only how New Zealander’s meals changed over the twentieth century, but also how technology developed, and with it, the means of communicating and sharing information.

Footnotes

(1) ‘Cookery Lectures,’ Timaru Herald, 28 October 1898.

(2) David Veart, First Catch your Weka: A Story of New Zealand Cooking (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2008), 236.

(3) Interview with Graham Kerr, The Listener (September, 1961), quoted on the NZ on Screen website.

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