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cookery

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The year 1914 brought with it the devastation of World War I, and the beginning of widespread food shortages and hikes in food prices. The expatriate community in Malaya was not spared either, but one woman’s passion for cooking – documented in a compilation of 420 recipes – helped numerous expatriate women in the region prepare flavourful meals for their families on their shoestring budgets. The National Library Board wins hearts (and minds) around the world with its SG50 Gift of Books initiative. Amelia Tan has the details. First published in 1920, the book, titled The “Mem’s” Own Cookery Book: 420 Tried and Economical Recipes for Malaya, was written by Mrs W. E. Kinsey, the wife of British expatriate William Edward Kinsey. Her recipes were based on local ingredients, and came with notes on prices and where the ingredients could be bought more cheaply. This made the book a lifesaver for hapless foreign mems – the term used by…

In the days before eating at a hawker centre became so commonplace, housewives in Singapore would routinely whip up freshly cooked meals for their families. No good kitchen would be complete without condiments such as sambal belachan (a fiery concoction of chilli and shrimp paste) and tau cheo (fermented bean paste). Yet until the 1950s, cookbooks featuring homespun Asian recipes just did not exist. Recipes were generally passed down orally from mother to daughter and most took the form of hastily scribbled notes that only its owner could make out. Most cookbooks in Malaya and Singapore were written by expatriates for their own community. Publications such as The “Mem’s” Own Cookery Book (1929, 3rd edition) and Y.W.C.A. International Cookery Book of Malaya (1935) – both available at the National Library – typically focused on how to create European dishes using local ingredients, interspersed with Malayan translations of English food names and the nutritional information of indigenous ingredients. Into this vacuum stepped Ellice Handy, née Ellice Zuberbuhler, a Eurasian and the first Singaporean principal of Methodist Girls’ School (MGS).…