News | Member launches "Cookbook"

Selby Civic Society

stimulating public interest in, and caring for, the beauty, history and character of the town and its surroundings

Ouse Bridge
Apr 8

Member launches "Cookbook"

Event Date: April 8, 2016 Location: The Hub, Market Lane, Selby

"Durability, Efficiency, Economy" : a guide to kitchen management from 1903

Mary Eleanor Blakey was a Yorkshire lass, born near Ripon in 1876. She lived quite a life, but the reason we're celebrating her 140th birthday in April is because of something she left behind, undiscovered until more than 70 years after her death.

To see the book cover, with Mary in her role as WW1 nurse, and her signature in the book, open here.

The story starts in the back room of a charity shop in Selby on a cold February day in 2012. Local historian and charity shop volunteer David Lewis was sorting through the donated books. Halfway down the pile lay an old, dog-eared green notebook. That had no chance of selling - it needed to be chucked into the recycle pile to be chomped, pulped and turned into kitchen roll.

But David's aim was poor. The book hit the side and fell open on the floor - and what a sight!

Page after page of meticulous Edwardian copperplate writing detailing recipes and kitchen tips from more than a century ago! Certainly not fit for the muncher!

"At first I thought I'd just keep the book as a curio" David said, "but then I started doing some research into who this mysterious Miss Blakey was".

That research took almost four years, but was quite a story. Mary Eleanor moved with her family from Ripon to Howden and then Hemingbrough near Selby where Mary's relatives still farm. She then lodged in a mining village east of Leeds in the early 1900s where she taught her kitchen skills to factory girls and labourers' daughters, and learnt to love rhubarb.

"I found out that Mary's Domestic Science lessons were way ahead of her time" David added, "she was really keen to get the girls to cook healthy and tasty food, not just fat-ridden fry ups"

Whilst some of her dishes, like Stuffed Sheep's Head and Battered Tripe might not grace many tables today, she covered regional fare like the mystifying 'Moggy' (East Riding Gingerbread) and Potato Cheesecake (a Lincolnshire Harvestime dish) and solid staples like Irish Stew and Roast Pork

Marriage to a much older man followed in 1909, and keeping in with the farming tradition, husband Willie Hall was the most famous sheep breeder in Cumberland and the Borders, so Mary followed her husband to Cockermouth.

During the First World War, Mary was Commandant of the Cockermouth Auxiliary Hospital, and received the MBE for her work.

After 20 years of family life, intrigue surrounds her demise. Forced to leave the family home when Willie died in 1937, Mary died in Carlisle two years later, and is buried in that town, many miles from either of her families.

"I've selected 75 of Mary's recipes for the book, along with her tips on kitchen management, going as far as how to sharpen the tines of your fork" David said, "I've also included a section on how advanced her teaching was for the time, as well as a detailed biography".

The book is called "Durability, Efficiency, Economy".

That's Mary's phrase describing a well-run kitchen. In keeping with where the book came to light, a proportion of profits will go back to charity.

The book will be launched at The Hub, Market Lane Selby on 8th April 2016 at 2.30pm, where free samples of cake - cooked from her recipes - will be available to taste.

David can be contacted via