Cooking for John Craven and BBC Countryfile – historic WI recipes you may want to try today

Brains and pineapple recipe, anyone?!

In September 16th 1915 the first ever Women’s Institute opened its doors in the Welsh village with the longest and most unpronounceable name in the British Isles, which challenge the WI neatly side-stepped by christening it Llanfairpwl WI. It came into being after a visit to give a lecture by the redoubtable Madge Watt, who had arrived in the country from Canada where she had been instrumental in setting up the movement in Canada, where it originated. And members still meet there on the 3rd Tuesday of the month.

The WI CookbookTo celebrate the centenary this coming week BBC Countryfile have been filming in Sussex at the site of the first English WI at Singleton situated in the South Downs outside Chichester. A couple of weeks ago I drove across Sussex to meet up with John Craven in the village hall of the next village, East Dean, to cook for him a few of recipes, taken from the pages of the WI’s own magazine Home & Country, that didn’t make it into the pages of my book, The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years.

This celebratory book was conceived as a recipe book first and foremost, though it also neatly tells the history of the organisation’s development, so the recipes I selected for inclusion in its pages were those I thought told a story but which modern palates would find enjoyable (with a few tweaks for 21st century sensibilities!).

John bravely agreed to taste some old WI recipes that summed up the period they were written in but which we might not feel so ready to try today! Having seen the programme, you still might want to try the recipes at home – if so here they are…

Recipe 1 – Meat Loaf Creamed (H&C July 1930)


Bring raw meat cut into small lumps to a nice state of tenderness by dropping the lumps in boiling water and stewing them so slowly that one can only just hear the water slowly bubbling in the closed pot.

Keep the water for jelly or soup.

NB Cut up remains of cold meat will do.

Put the meat through the mincer with its solid attachment or pound it with any left over vegetables or potato puree; mix it with one beaten egg to the half pound: moisten it to a thick paste with milk, cream or broth. Pour it into a well-buttered mould lined with breadcrumbs, or nearly ripe tomato and hard-boiled egg, and give it half an hour in a moderate oven. It should turn out when cold, and slice like a very light cake.”

The recipe is taken from a feature from H&C which appeared in July 1930 entitled Tennis Supper Dishes. The writer, one H. Pearl Adam, announces: ‘Not even the servant problem can excuse the monotony of the usual tennis supper… O far too often cold meat and salad!’  Following the WI’s aim to avoid waste, I made it for John using leftover roast lamb and the vegetables I had cooked to go with it, parnsips, potatoes, broccoli and carrots.

I had about 500g of meat and added about 350g of vegetables, whizzing them up together in my food processor then adding the egg and about 150 – 200ml of milk and a couple of tablespoons of cream. I seasoned the mixture well and baked it in a 1lb/500g loaf tin at 180C fan oven 160C gas mark 4. Then I left it to cool and chilled it. To serve I turned it out and decorated it withe sliced tomatoes and hard boiled egg for John and I to try!

Recipe 2 – Potato Rock Cakes (H&C 1940)

Potato rock cakes

…are to be recommended. The ingredients needed are six ounces if cooked potatoes, four ounces of flour, two ounces of ground rice, a teaspoonful of baking powder, one and a half ounces of fat, a pinch of salt, three ounces of either currants or sultanas, milk for mixing. Boil the potatoes in their skins; then peel and mash them at once and let them cool. Rub the fat into the flour, mix in the potatoes and the other dry ingredients, and add enough milk to bind all together. Knead until smooth and put in small rough heaps on a greased baking sheet. Bake for about twenty minutes. The grated rind of half a lemon gives a delicious flavour to this mixture but in these days when lemons are expensive a little spice may be used instead, if a spicy flavour is liked’.

This recipe appears in a feature in the early days of rationing called Good Things for Tea – with less Fat and Sugar’. WI members were advised that despite the need to economise ‘the making of many good and nourishing cakes and breads is still possible. The simple recipes that follow pad out sparse newly rationed ingredients with ingredients that were readily available such as the mashed potato used here, cold leftover porridge (used in a scone recipe) and breadcrumbs.

I used dripping for the fat for my buns as it would have been a favourite choice for housewives in 1940, saved from cooking meat and sitting ready to hand in a jar on the cold shelf in the larder.

I made twelve rock buns from the mixture and cooked them at 200c  fan oven 180C gas mark 6 for the 20 minutes. They don’t brown as much as a traditional recipe there is no egg or butter. I thought they were very good!

And last but not least…

Recipe 3 – Brains and pineapple (H&C Nov 1957)

1 lb calves brains
1 small tin pineapple pieces

Fritter for Batter (sic)
4 oz flour
Big pinch of salt
1 teasp oil
White of 1 egg

Marinade for Brains
2 tablesp. best vinegar
2 tablesp. olive oil
1 teasp. chopped parsley
Salt, pepper

Soak the brains for 3 or 4 hours changing the water so as to take away the blood. Take off the skin. Put them in a saucepan with enough tepid water to cover them, a teaspoonful of salt and a tablespoonful of vinegar. Poach for 15 minutes, i.e. cook at just under boiling point. Take out and drain, then cover with the marinade for an hour. Turn out the pineapple and drain it (use the juice for a sauce or jelly). Drain the brains also and put both the pineapple and brains in the batter. Fry in spoonfuls in deep fat.”

This recipe appeared in a feature on Entertaining with Offal which also included recipes for Baked Stuffed Sheeps Hearts and Veal Kidneys baked with Crumbs. Very WI at a time when cooking to impress your guests was part of the 50s housewife’s aim, as magazines and the new medium of TV gave her ideas on how and what to cook for her guests.

Here is a snippet of what I wrote on the late 50s fashion for entertaining in my book Back in Time for Dinner that accompanied the TV series of the same name:

Book signing at Shipbourne farmer's market

“The late 1950s was also the age of the dinner party. Hosting a successful one was an admirable way for a wife to impress her husband’s work colleagues or, even more importantly, the boss – or should that be the boss’s wife? Magazines and newspapers of the time were filled with advice on every aspect of throwing the perfect party. And this was competitive – the house, the table, the food and, of course, the wife, all had to look the part.”

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About marygwynn

Food writer, mum, traveller, dog walker. Author
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3 Responses to Cooking for John Craven and BBC Countryfile – historic WI recipes you may want to try today

  1. Consuelo says:

    Very shocked to see you on country file last night and almost simultaneously your new WI book came in on an Amazon email. The marketing gurus are hard at work. Well done! The book must have been a lot of research and very hard work. Huge congratulations. The meatloaf sounds delicious and worth a try not sure about brains!
    Would love to catch up over coffee one day x

  2. marygwynn says:

    The brains were not that awful, just dull but both the rock cakes and meat load were really worth cooking again! Coffee sounds good! x

  3. The new cookbook looks great, I must get it, and I just watched Back in time for dinner on YouTube (I don’t think it screened here in Australia). We all loved the show, and the kids thought the 80s and 90s hilarious- a bit like that brains and pineapple recipe!

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