A manuscript cookbook from Meroogal

Cooking was an integral part of the rhythm of life for the family at Meroogal, near Nowra on the south coast of New South Wales.

The family were avid entertainers, hosting ‘at home’ tea parties each month for family and friends, and took great pride in their homegrown produce and homemade treats. Among the many cookery books in the family’s collection are several notebooks containing handwritten recipes.

To give you an idea of the books’ contents, we have digitised a repurposed ledger-book which appears to have been compiled by Helen Macgregor, who lived at Meroogal in the early 1900s, for other family members as a keepsake. It contains family favourites and specialties, many of them accredited to those whose recipes they originally were. Some pages have been edited over time, with tips, comments and adjustments added by the original author or subsequent generations.

With the help of our talented team of Eat your history volunteers the text has been transcribed and the recipes have been tested to see how well they stand the test of time.

You’ll forgive us for not lauding the use of dripping in cakes, for example, but it is interesting to see the need for scrimping on butter and eggs, even in country kitchens. Similarly, recipes for blanket wash and carpet cleaner remind us that the making of cleaning products – often involving highly volatile chemicals – was a domestic art. These formulas are not intended for modern use, with a resounding warning, ‘do not try this at home’. Other recipes transcend time and are ideal for modern cooks to make in their own kitchens. They provide the perfect opportunity for us to share – and eat - Meroogal’s history.

Reviving an heirloom recipe

Wedged between the pages of an old family cookbook is a manuscript recipe for Meroogal Sponge

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Dr Jacqui Newling

Dr Jacqui Newling


Jacqui is a passionate public historian, her curatorial practice shaped by a hungry mind. Jacqui has a PhD in History and a Le Cordon Bleu Master’s Degree in Gastronomy. Interrogating and interpreting history, place, and social culture through a gastronomic lens, she is a leading voice in Australian food culture and identity in settler-colonial contexts, past and present. Her doctoral thesis examines the role of food and food insecurity in the founding of colonial NSW. Jacqui is author of the award-winning book Eat Your History: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens, 1788-1950. She co-curated the Eat Your History: A Shared Table exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, and is the ‘Cook’ in the blog, The Cook and the Curator. Jacqui curated a series of ‘hands-on’ gastronomy programs in our house museums and in the Villages of the Heart partnership in regional NSW. Jacqui’s curatorial expertise also extends beyond the kitchen – she curated the End of Transportation digital exhibit at the Hyde Park Barracks, the Collected exhibition and Enchanted valley digital interactive at Museum of Sydney and was a co-curator in the Unrealised Sydney and History Reflected exhibitions