A few years ago I saw a very good talk by Helen Zaltzman at the Boring Conference in London on recipe cards.  Since then I’ve developed a bit of an obsession and have started to collect them.  It’s like collecting Pokemon Cards, I guess, but with instructions for cooking terrible meals rather than hit points.  Actually cooking probably isn’t the word, because as you’ll see, the cards are really more of an exercise in surreal construction, a bit of tin opening and occasional heating up.

If you’re not familiar with them, the heyday for recipe cards, in my opinion, was the late sixties and early seventies.  The cards are a lovely social history of what was a relatively unsophisticated, pre-EU time in Britain’s culinary history.  Here’s a sample to give you an idea of what I mean.

What I love most about these cards is that recipes are little more than a chance meeting between ingredients.  Stuffed loaf is essentially a scooped out loaf of bread filled with chopped meat, cheddar and parsley.  Hey presto, Stuffed Loaf.

Onion Dumplings are pretty much what you see in this picture, sitting in a shallow lake of cheese sauce.  I love the delicate pastry frames, which I guess are what make these dumplings.

Cheese and grapefruit salad is a beauty.  The ingredients are cheese, grapefruit and diced capsicum.  It couldn’t be easier. Lovely use of lettuce.

Sweet and sour crown roast requires four tins of luncheon meat, opened, part-diced and arranged on a plate, a sugary sauce and a can of sweetcorn nested in the middle.  Note the sultana garnish, partly placed with care and partly randomly scattered.  Parsley deployed again. Tempting!  Mmmm-mmm.

I bought my set of cards in an antique shop in Cornwall this year.  They come in a convenient box with protective perspex lid.

The ‘Round the World’ category of cards features ‘Pig’s Liver Chinese’, ‘South African Pear Pancakes’, ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’, ‘Hawaiian Duck with Bananas’ and ‘Pizza’.

Many of the recipes cite ‘can opener’ as the one piece of essential equipment.

In the puddings section, there is a recipe called ‘Casserole of Oranges’.  This recipe doesn’t really get started.  You peel a few oranges, put a whole peeled one in the centre and slices around and balance glacé cherries in the middle.  Heat it up (which I guess is what turns it from orange slices into a casserole) and there you have it: Casserole of Oranges.

Here are a few more favourites:

I’ve been looking everywhere for a set of cards that feature Frankfurter Crown Roast.  This card is the Crown Jewel of recipe cards.  If you have one that you’d be prepared to sell, please get in touch.  Here’s Frankfurter Crown Roast in all its glory.

It is a work of art.  This is the Warhol, da Vinci, Van Gogh and Michelangelo of the card circuit.  The glistening frankfurters, the careful stitching, the seemingly undressed coleslaw, the dollops of tomato sauce, and, of course, the parsley, nestled in the feet.

As part of my search, I discovered that there is an Internet subculture devoted to replicating this recipe.  The results of these efforts are mixed.

Note the leek braid that tries to hold this one together:

Good sauce detail on this one, but the cook has overplayed his/her coleslaw hand and the frankfurters don’t look roasted:

Good roasting on this one, but the filling looks a bit dry and there’s no sauce:

Good filleting skills on the frankfurters in this one.  It looks to me like a blowtorch has been used.  Shame about the sway in the frankfurters.  The filling is a bit of a departure.  It could use something to lift it.  Parsley?

This one is a bit ‘unchoreographed’ for my liking, not helped by the camera angle.  Also, the frankfurter offcuts don’t really work for me.  Filling is unclear.

I suppose the ribbon gives this one a slightly celebratory look.  Filling can’t be seen.  The boiled carrot salad that it is sitting in is an authentic seventies accompaniment.

Where do I start with this one?  Good marks for uniformity, but that isn’t a coleslaw filling.

Good filleting, but where’s the coleslaw.  Nice easy-release bows on the restraints.

I think there might be a Hipster restaurant concept in this (shades of Cereal Killer).