Mary MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, c.1930

Margaret Black and Mary MacKirdy

Another cookbook in the GCU collections that is interesting to consider for insight into Glasgow’s invalid recipes is Mary MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, which was published in the 1930s. It is worth noting that there was a personal connection between Black and MacKirdy, as Margaret Black (whose maiden name was MacKirdy) was Mary’s aunt. Mary took over the West End School of Cookery in 1903 when her aunt passed away, and then stayed on after the amalgamation of the two cookery schools, though she never became principal at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science (Ella Glaister took the position in 1908, and was succeeded by Dorothy Melvin in 1910, who went on to hold the position until 1946). Instead, MacKirdy was the Head of Department in the cookery department of the school. Nevertheless, the familial connection and choice of career show that Black had a tangible influence on niece, which is reflected in the dedication in MacKirdy’s Recipes for You, which reads: ‘To Margaret Black, In very Grateful Remembrance’. 

Recipes for You, Mary MacKirdy c.1930. 

Despite being published at least 60 years after Margaret Black’s Household Cookery, there are similarities in the way that invalid recipes are approached in MacKirdy’s Recipes for You. MacKirdy’s cookbook was also a general cookbook rather than one specifically angled towards health and illness. Recipes for You was written to give readers an overview of all the different types of cookery they may need in daily life: soups, vegetable cookery, meats, main courses, and cakes etc. That MacKirdy’s cookbook has a chapter called ‘Dishes for the Sick Room’ demonstrates that she still thought this was an important thing to include in her cookbook, even at this point in the twentieth century. 

MacKirdy’s chapter includes twenty invalid recipes, which are ordered as follows: 

  • ‘Beef Tea’
  • ‘Mutton Broth’
  • ‘Veal Broth’
  • ‘Chicken Broth’
  • ‘Water Souchet’
  • ‘Fillets of Sole with Custard’
  • ‘Quenelle of Fish’
  • ‘Veal Jelly’
  • ‘Chicken Jelly’
  • ‘Minced Steak’
  • ‘Pounded Beef’
  • ‘Raw Beef Juice’
  • ‘Beef Tea Pudding’
  • ‘Fricassee of Tripe’
  • ‘Semolina Soufflé’
  • ‘Invalid’s Tart’
  • ‘Apple Fool’ 
  • ‘Carragreen or Irish Moss’
  • ‘Milk Jelly’
  • ‘Boiled and Baked Flour, for Invalids’
Turning through the Dishes for the Sick Room chapter of MacKirdy’s Recipes for You

If you’ve read the previous posts on Margaret Black’s cookbooks, some of these recipes might sound familiar: ‘Beef Tea’, ‘Mutton Broth’, ‘Quenelle of Fish’, ‘Veal Jelly’, ‘Beef Tea Pudding’, ‘Fricassée of Tripe’, ‘Invalid’s Tart’, and ‘Apple Fool’ are all recipes that appear in Black’s cookbooks, though they are not entirely the same. Comparing MacKirdy’s recipes to the earlier iterations in her aunt’s cookbooks therefore illuminates how approaches to invalid cookery changed or stayed the same over time. 

Beef Tea

I’ll begin with the beef tea, given how central it is to invalid cookery. MacKirdy only includes one recipe in Recipes for You whereas her aunt provided three different methods in Household Cookery. In terms of method, MacKirdy’s recipe is similar to Black’s ‘Beef Tea (Best Way)’ recipe. Each recipe uses lean beef, water, and salt. MacKirdy writes that the beef should be ‘scraped’ before it is put in a jar and stirred with half a pint of ‘cold or tepid’ water and salt. The jar is then placed in a pan and surrounded by water of the same temperature. The pan should be steeped by the fire for an hour, before the liquid is poured off and the beef is then boiled again with a little water. This concentrated mixture is then added to the tea from earlier.

Beef Tea Comparison: from Black’s Household Cookery and MacKirdy’s Recipes for You

This is very similar to Black’s recipe: both opt for the bain-marie method of stewing the tea, stipulate that the water should be cold or tepid, that it shouldn’t get hotter by the fire, and then concentrate the beef further to add flavour to the final beverage. Even the timings are similar: Black’s best beef tea takes an hour and fifteen minutes to make, and MacKirdy’s takes an hour and twenty. Despite the time between the publication of these cookbooks, then, the recipes are very similar in terms of timings, ingredients, and process. 

The similarities between the two recipes shows a consistency in the method of preparing beef tea that lasted decades, in spite of technological and culinary advances. By the 1930s, instant beef extracts that followed in the footsteps of Liebig’s Meat Extract like Bovril and Oxo would have fully taken hold. They would have been cheap too, whereas in the 1880s Black’s readers may have still been more trusting of traditional methods. Moreover, enclosed ranges would have been common in even working-class homes in the 1930s, and electrical cookers were starting to take hold, particularly in cookery schools that were at the forefront of advertising and advocating domestic developments like electrical implements.

Despite that, however, MacKirdy still writes that the beef tea should be steeped ‘at side of fire’ (c.1930: 278). This could have been done by the side of a fire that was not in the kitchen, but suggests either that the traditional method was longstanding because it was preferable, or that MacKirdy still trusted the process written by her aunt and used in the cookery school enough to reproduce it in the cookbook. Either way, a culinary lineage can be traced throughout the recipes written by these two women, who wrote their recipes in different centuries.

Other recipes for the same dishes show changes in technique and in the things that authors thought it was necessary to include in recipes. MacKirdy includes a recipe for ‘Fricassee of Tripe’ in her book just like Black has a recipe for ‘Tripe Fricasée’ in Superior Cookerybut despite having the same ingredients, the recipes are very different in appearance. 

Black’s Fricasée recipe is one of the longer ones in her chapter on ‘Sick Room Cookery’. The method paragraph has sixteen lines which instruct the reader how to prepare and wash the raw tripe, simmer it in water for four hours until soft, before adding an onion and simmering for another 15 minutes. The water is then drained before the tripes is simmered in milk for ten minutes. Once the tripe is ready, chopped onion, corn flour and spices are added, the mixture is boiled, and then an egg yolk is added before the dish is served. As noted in the post on Superior CookeryBlack includes a note about the way in which tripe can aid digestion. 

MacKirdy’s recipe is far shorter than Black’s: it only has four lines, instead of sixteen. This is because instead of calling for raw tripe, MacKirdy’s ingredient’s list calls for ‘1/4lb Cooked Tripe’, meaning the lengthy process of washing and softening the tripe is not necessary. Instead, the cooked tripe is combined with the chopped onion and milk and simmered for ‘a few minutes’, before the corn flour and seasoning are added. The mixture is taken off the heat, before the yolk is stirred through and the fricassee is served ‘with pieces of toast’. The whole process appears to be simpler and shorter in terms of the time taken to prepare the dish. This only works, however, if the reader can source cooked tripe. If they were buying it raw, they would still have had to undergo the lengthy washing and cooking process. MacKirdy has therefore shortened her recipe for the sake of convenience: both in terms of recipe writing, and in terms of the cooking process. Whether this reflected the actual process of making the dish, however, was dependent upon the kind of tripe the reader could source. 

Throughout Recipes for You, MacKirdy has taken earlier recipes and shortened them, conveying her instructions to her reader in a concise manner. Her recipe for ‘Beef Tea Pudding’ shares ingredients and method with the same recipe from Black’s Household Cookery, but rather than instructing readers to soak the bread crumbs in the beef tea, let it stand, beat the eggs, combine with the tea and then bake or steam the mixture, MacKirdy simply writes: ‘Beat eggs, add other things, put into buttered bowl, steam slowly till set, about ½ hour, or bake in slow oven’ (c.1930: 281). Even though both Black and MacKirdy’s recipes are short, MacKirdy’s tone is far more clipped. Her instructions either do not go into every detail of the cooking process, or skip steps that Black has thought it was important to include, like soaking the breadcrumbs in the case of the pudding. 

This is a repeated pattern throughout Recipes for You, and the saving of time (and words) seems to be a priority for MacKirdy. But despite this, at no point in her ‘Dishes for the Sick-Room’ chapter does MacKirdy recommend the use of any manufactured products: beef extracts, ready-made medicines, or any branded foodstuffs whatsoever. Earlier in Household Cookery, Black mentioned that ‘Raw Beef Tea’ could be improved with the addition of ‘a little ketchup or Harvey Sauce’, sending her reader into the world to purchase a particular brand of sauce and incorporating manufactured food products into her recipe (1880: 109). But despite the sixty years that sat between the publication of these books, and the myriad of food products and time-saving implements that were manufactured in that time, there is a stability in the kinds of ingredients and the methods that MacKirdy employs that is reminiscent of her aunt’s recipes.

Comparing MacKirdy’s cookbook to the ones published by her aunt show that the same dishes, the same ingredients, and the same cooking processes were recorded in invalid recipes over several decades. While written instruction cannot be taken as reality and it is hard to know if or how often these recipes were used, it can be assumed that these were the kinds of recipes being taught to culinary pupils in Glasgow in the 1930s, especially given MacKirdy’s connection with the West End School of Cookery, and then her role as Head of Cookery at the GWSCDS. A comparison of these Glaswegian cookbooks therefore depicts invalid cookery as a fairly stable practice, where a collection of recipes became the standard approach to the feeding of the ill. 


Black, Margaret. 1882. Household Cookery and Laundry Work (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

Black, Margaret. 1890. Superior Cookery (London and Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Co)

MacKirdy, Mary. c.1930. Recipes for You (London: Collins)

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s