Book Club Tuesday: The Penlee Recipe Book

So if you’ve been following Shipshape Eatworthy, you know that Tuesday is my day! This week I’ll be reviewing a vegetarian cookbook that is 100 YEARS OLD! That’s right! Exactly what I said — The Penlee Recipe Book (or at least my particular edition) was published in 1916. The other exceptional thing to note is that I’ll be giving my impressions of this book without actually having tried any of the recipes — so no Instagram photos or link throughs to flashy websites — and you’ll come to hear how I came by this remarkable book in a pretty unremarkable way.

The first part of this story begins in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) about 14 years ago. At the time I was still a grad student and my then boyfriend (now husband) was a vegetarian. Since vegetarianism was so new to me I was really keen to learn more (although not keen enough to change my diet — that still took another 8 years).

My choice activity for procrastinating away an afternoon was to walk up to the Bank Street Antique Market  and comb through the booths treasure hunting (at the time I was nuts for Beauceware — a type of vintage Quebec Art Pottery. Also, FYI: in case you’re curious the market is still there!). One afternoon while looking through some books I came across this gem — an (almost) antique vegetarian cookbook. I bought it as a gift. I think I liked it more than my husband but that’s o.k. because I have had it in my cookbook library ever since.

At the time I really thought this book was miraculous because in my mind vegetarianism started in the 1960s with Hippies that lived in communes. (This is ridiculous! I know! It was only later that I would come to discover that vegetarianism and the vegetarian movement was much older than that and had a full and rich history). In all fairness, at the time I was not a vegetarian and, well, growing up in Alberta (where cattle is king) I never knew any vegetarians. What a difference a decade makes!

Nowadays when most vegetarian (or even vegan) cookbooks boast around 100 – 150 recipes, The Penlee Recipe Book contains almost 500 recipes ranging from soups and savouries to stews, puddings, desserts, and even drinks. Many of the recipes can be even considered vegan. I keep eyeing the Barley-Water Lemonade recipe — maybe this will be the time I actually test a few recipes out of this book! At the end of the book, the author Annie Barnett even provides sample menus. From what I gather, Penlee was a place in Devonshire (U.K.) run by Barnett. One could “let cottages” — the setting sounds idyllic “overlooking Start Bay & Blackpool Valley” — and I think these menus mirror actual menus used by Barnett at her cottages. The breakfast menu, for example, doesn’t sound that much different than some of the breakfasts I see daily on Instagram — porridge, stewed prunes, baked apples, ground nuts, toast, scones, coffee, tea, etc. The food sounds reasonably delicious and quiet economical. At that time I’m sure more (most even) people ate “local” so all of the ingredients are fairly familiar. Nothing too exotic.

As an example, I’ve taken a photo of a couple typical recipes found in the book. These recipes are two variations on a Lentil Stew. I’ve chosen these recipes because 2016 is the International Year of Pulses and if you’ve taken the Pulse Pledge (I have!) then you may be interested and keen to give a century-old recipe a try. Neither recipe look too difficult so I’m thinking I might give one a try this week (incidentally, if anyone does try one hashtag it #penleese so I can see it). Both sound very hearty and I’m finding that with recipe testing I don’t mind the lack of pictures. It really is a mind-test to come up with a visualization of the dish and then execute it. It’s not like there are tonnes of IG pictures to go by either. Exciting if you ask me! Style it the way you’d like — imagine the possibilities!

Even though in her preface she encourages those beginning in vegetarianism or those already vegetarian to use her cookbook, some of the “Press Opinions” (at the front of the book) encourage anyone to give her cookbook a try: Manchester Courier. – “This excellent little manual will be found useful even to those who don’t exclude meat from their diet, and will offer new ideas on savouries and supper dishes.” Although if you look at the photo below of “Interesting Pamphets” you’ll see that behind these recipes is a true wish for those interested in vegetarianism to move towards a more ethical and humane treatment of animals. Looking at the list, what is noteworthy to me, is the first entry “For the Love of Animals” by John Galsworthy. A Nobel Prize Winning writer, Galsworthy in addition to his books and plays, wrote much about various social causes — animal rights being just one (His name caught my eye because I am a huge fan of the Forsyte Saga). 

One of the reasons for this particular review this week, is that recently some of our friends had a discussion of the vegetarian movement in Britain over lunch. Originally the topic was vegetarian cookbooks (right up my alley!) and when I mentioned this cookbook an interesting discussion began about early 20th Century vegetarianism. After a quick Google search and Wiki read when I got home, I came to learn that the Vegetarian Society (a registered charity in Britain) came to be in the late 1840s and whose membership included George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, and a few McCartneys just a name a few. If you visit the website there is lots of great information regarding vegetarism — and after having a glance it made me think of how The Penlee Recipe Book was designed. Lots of information and directions for those wishing to get further information. The age-old question of “what did people do before the Internet?” was answered. (Just for interest sake, I’ve included a photo of the advertisement at the back of the book for the “Vegetarian Home for Destitute Children” in Liverpool. It existed until the early 1980s. )

Since this cookbook is fairly obscure, I started to wonder what vegetarian/vegan cookbooks would be around in 100 years? I’ll be very optimistic and think that the future is not as bleak as science is projecting. As I write, I’m sitting here thinking of what cookbooks I would keep and pass-down (I have a few belonging to my grandmother that are very special). One thing I’m willing to take bets on is that plant-based diets will still be around for the next century.

(Totally curious about what cookbooks have staying power — if you have a title(s) in mind, put it in the comments! Would love to see what others think!)

** Due to unforeseen circumstances, blogs images prior to 2018 were deleted. Some images were recovered or replaced, some were not. Please accept my apologies if the text refers to an image that is no longer present.**

4 thoughts on “Book Club Tuesday: The Penlee Recipe Book

  1. I have a copy of this cookbook, it is a family one, covered in brown paper and stained throughout. I believe mine is from 1913. From what I can gather of the family history the owners were vegetarians, conciencious objectors and Quakers. I’ve often thought that many of today’s vegetarians would never think that their choice was a huge movement in Britain so long ago.

    I collect cookbooks and also have my great grandmothers wedding cookbook from 1853. Given the size of our wineglasses these days, I’ve always wanted to try the trifle with “6 wineglasses full of wine”. More like tipsy cake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so cool that you have your great-grandmother’s cookbook! What a treasure! The baking recipes must be pre-baking powder. I bet there are some great (and interesting recipes!) Thanks for sharing 🙂


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