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The Australian National University

This Month in History: Lessons in Cookery - September 1897

On September 20, 1897, the last in a series of cooking classes was held at the Brisbane School of Arts. That afternoon participants in the class were regaled with an advanced lesson in ‘Ice Cream and Confectionery’. Their instructor, Harriet Wicken, was one of the leading lights in the Domestic Science movement in Australia. She arrived in Australia in 1886 from London where she had trained at the prestigious Kensington School of Cookery. In 1889 she was appointed as teacher of cookery and instructor of domestic economy at the Sydney Technical College. Here she would play an instrumental role in the training of cookery and domestic economy instructors who would then go on to teach these courses in schools throughout the Australian colonies. Wicken was the author of numerous cookbooks including the best selling Kingswood Cookery Book and she also compiled the recipe section for Phillip Muskett's 1892 landmark book The Art of Eating in Australia.

Assisting in this series of classes was Wicken’s protégée Amy Schauer, a recent graduate of the Sydney Technical College. This was the beginning of a long career for Schauer who would continue working as a Domestic Science instructor in Queensland until 1937. During this period she would write a number of cookbooks that would be used as set texts for cookery classes throughout the state. In 1919 Schauer was appointed as Supervisor of Cookery at the Brisbane Technical College in charge of all aspects of cookery education. She is also credited, apocryphally I might add, for inventing one of the nation's culinary landmarks, the lamington. Her best know work, The Schauer Cookery Book first published in 1909, would continue to be in print into the twenty-first century.

These two women played an important role in the teaching of Domestic Science in Australia. Both in their cookbooks and in their teaching methods Wicken and Schauer sought to impart a rational and scientific approach to cookery, the hallmark of Domestic Science instruction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. While they are no longer household names in Australia the echoes of their voices are still heard in the works of modern culinary reformers such as Stephanie Alexander and her Kitchen Garden Project in public schools across the nation.

Blake Singley is a current PhD student with the School of History. His thesis topic is The Imagined Pudding: Australian Identity and Its Representation in Culinary Texts

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