Bake as usual: the Edmonds "Sure to rise" cookery book

2020 has had a baking theme. When Aotearoa New Zealand began the nation-wide lockdown at COVID-19 Alert Level 4 in March there was a shortage of flour as panic buyers raided the supermarkets and home baking became a focus of comfort and calm.

The Edmonds cookbook might have been dusted off the top shelf for some of the kiwi classics, essential eating at a time of personal and global stress. Sometimes only bacon and egg pie will do.

Image: The "Sure to rise" cookery book, front cover. 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b3099445_01.

Take a look at your family copy – you might have an Antiques Road Show moment. There are only two known surviving copies of the first edition, the ‘Sure to Rise Cookery Book’ (1909) - which Thomas Edmonds produced to promote the use of his baking powder with his promise of success, “sure to rise”. He should be recognised as one of Aotearoa’s pioneering marketers in the development of the cook book with his product.

It is unlikely you will have a rare edition as the Edmonds book is recognised as Aotearoa’s fastest selling book – with over 200,000 copies sold in one year in both 1976 (15th edition) and 1977 (16th edition). This book is still in print and over three million copies have been published already so the odds of having a first edition are slim. You can identify your edition on the Edmonds website.

It is also unlikely that your copy will be in pristine condition. The Edmonds book is essentially a manual, and your favourite recipes will be covered with signs of use, “badges of honour”. Note the page with a Birthday Cake in this early edition:

Image from private collection.

In this heavily used condition this copy won’t make the grade for a rare book sale where condition counts. 

In 2016 Alexa Johnston researched the recipes to produce the revised edition (69th edition) of the Edmonds sure to rise cookery book, published by Goodman Fielder Ltd. Alexa provides some helpful context to all the recipes, as well as information on the time it takes to cook, and serving estimates. Listen to Alexa discuss the evolution of the Edmonds Cookery book on Auckland Libraries'  Soundcloud, and check out YouTube for Alexa’ Johnston’s “brief history” of the Edmonds Book (less than six minutes). This includes a 60 second sponge cake tutorial.

Auckland Libraries' earliest Edmonds is the 2nd edition, published in 1910, which is now available to explore on Kura Heritage Collections Online. You can search through the recipes and browse all 48 pages to get a sense of how it was designed to be used. It starts with the instruction: ‘Order a tin and try the recipes’.

It is interesting to see how the early twentieth century recipe book has evolved. A century later we expect much more detail about the process. Our baking literacy has slipped. We expect photos of the finished product and detail on the steps to get there.

These recipes are mostly farinaceous (flour-based) - and mostly baking. The biggest section of the 2nd edition was Cakes and Buns (p. 18 – 35). The recipes are simple – two or three recipes to a page mostly, with minimal instructions and no illustrations of the finished products. Note the variations in the Scone recipes with the “Up-to-Date” Brown scones at the top of the page.

Image: The "Sure to rise" cookery book, page 6. 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b3099445_08.

The Soups section comprises Tomato 1 and Tomato 2. The recipe for Tomato 1 starts with the instruction "Get 3 shanks mutton."

So why is Edmonds’ prize baking powder “like the Sun?” You get the answer on page 45 - ‘Sure to Rise’ in the centre of the infographic with the impressive statistics. The sunrise infographic shows the tin sales. The sale of baking powder tins numbered over 3 million by 1910 – that is an impressive achievement when in 1910 the national population was scarcely one million.

Image: The "Sure to rise" cookery book, page 45. 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b3099445.

The 1910 edition also includes Testimonials, letters from happy customers from “all parts of the Dominion”.

Image: The "Sure to rise" cookery book, page 36. 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, b3099445_38.

This shows how the new product was catching on – no more mixing cream of tartar and baking soda required.

You can see the original 1910 edition alongside the landmark 2016 edition in the heritage collections exhibition ‘Food for Thought’, on at Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero, the Central City Library from 26 September 2020 until 31 January 2021.

Author: Jane Wild, Principal Curator Rare Books