I recently had the pleasure of leafing through a book called Standard Recipes for Fifty. I hadn’t really felt the urge to become a cookbook collector until I came across this volume. Now I can understand the cookbook obsession. I’d just love to get my hands on a copy of this book.
The Australian Government Department of Labour and Immigration first published the book in 1942, and the one I saw was the first metric version printed in 1972. It is no longer published. This isn’t surprising, since it would have had to undergo massive changes to suit modern tastes. Some of the recipes were really dated. Kidneys and bacon served on fried bread for breakfast anyone?
Not all of the recipes were quite so outrageous, and the head volunteer chef at the NSW Rogaining Association said she finds the book very useful. Rogaining is the sport of long distance cross country navigation. Participants walk or run through the bush for between six and twenty four hours looking for checkpoints, which are marked on a map. Of course this is hungry work, so providing a good meal for the rogainers when they finish the event is important. On this occasion our head volunteer chef was catering for two hundred people for dinner. The first hundred people were due to arrive at 6pm, after having been on the course for six hours. The more adventurous hundred people were not expected until midnight – and after twelve hours of exercise were going to be very glad of a hot meal.
While the rogainers were out navigating the catering volunteers were working in very primitive conditions. The event site was a large paddock which was kilometres from the nearest small town. We were working in tents without running water. Water had been brought in with a fire truck, and was decanted into ten litre containers with taps for our use. Washing up was carried out in a series of large plastic tubs. We had refrigeration, powered by generators, for some items. Fresh vegetables were ok at room temperature (about fourteen degrees Celcius), especially since the overnight temperature dropped to the equivalent of true refrigeration. Amidst all these primitive arrangements only the cooking seemed relatively normal. We had gas burners and barbeque plates running off small gas bottles.
Looking at all the equipment in the catering tent I quickly understood why the catering trailer weighs three tonnes. All of the gas, stoves, pots and pans, knives, tea towels and so on had to be transported. Luckily the large tent and shelving had been brought in by a local company, but then we were on our own. There was no shop down the road if something was forgotten. When it became apparent that a couple of the large pots were missing one of the volunteers offered to drive to town and buy some. The head chef laughed and said, “If you’re imagining Coles, Woolies and Bunnings, try rolling them all into one tiny shop that also sells the newspaper.”
To feed two hundred people the pots were enormous. The quantities of vegetables that had to be chopped up for the dishes was also astonishing. Our chef had planned quite a range of dishes that could be boiled or barbequed. There was pumpkin soup, vegetable soup, pea and ham soup, beef curry, chicken stew, mashed potato, salads, sausages and veggie burgers. I couldn’t believe the number of potatoes and pumpkins that had to be chopped and cooked, and there was masses of bread to be buttered. Our chef taste tested everything, and adjusted things with salt and stock cubes. She also had to keep an eye on quantities to make sure that the 6 hour people would have a good meal, but leave plenty of food for the twelve hour group.
The hungry rogainers arrived back ravenous as expected, and queued up to be served straight from the giant pots. Everyone brings their own mug, plate and cutlery, which is very important considering how many people are being served. It would be a lot of landfill if everyone used disposable versions. Once their plates were filled people moved back to their tents, or sat around a communal campfire to eat. On such a cold night it was very nice to be eating a hot meal in front of a blazing campfire.
I was very impressed by the huge efforts of the volunteers. They did the shopping on Friday and brought the food from Sydney, which was a four hour drive. Then on Saturday they spent all day preparing food, which was still being served after midnight. Under very primitive conditions they did a wonderful job of cooking a filling and varied meal. I’m glad I wasn’t in charge of catering for so many people, but I’d still love a copy of Standard Recipes for Fifty.