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Verdun Buns – a Red Cross cookbook

Ena Ryan was born in the prosperous Wellington suburb of Kelburn in 1908. In this 1985 interview she leafs through a cookbook produced during the war as a fundraiser for the Red Cross.  The recipes and advertisements reveal the social upheaval the war brought to communities back home, from florists advertising speedy service for last-minute weddings (before men departed overseas) to recipes for cooking for invalids. Some recipes were contributed by the public, and Ena is appalled that one woman named her recipe ‘Verdun buns’, after the horrifingly destructive 1916 Battle of Verdun.

Year:1914-1918 (Recorded 1985)

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

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Verdun Buns – a Red Cross cookbook

Ena Ryan was born in the prosperous Wellington suburb of Kelburn in 1908. In this 1985 interview she leafs through a cookbook produced during the war as a fundraiser for the Red Cross.  The recipes and advertisements reveal the social upheaval the war brought to communities back home, from florists advertising speedy service for last-minute weddings (before men departed overseas) to recipes for cooking for invalids. Some recipes were contributed by the public, and Ena is appalled that one woman named her recipe ‘Verdun buns’, after the horrifingly destructive 1916 Battle of Verdun.


Year: 1914-1918 (Recorded 1985)

Length: 03:57

Credits: Interviewed & Produced by: Jack Perkins

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 18285 Spectrum 511 – Views from under the parasol


People: Ena Ryan, Jack Perkins

Location: Wellington, New Zealand


Image Title: The Red Cross Cookery Book of Tried Recipes. Compiled by Sybil Nathan, 1918.

Image Source: Courtesy of Duncan Galletly


Cooking especially nutritious food for invalids was already a well-established practice in New Zealand and Australian homes before the war, with chapters dedicated to these foods in famous Victorian cookbooks such as Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

The idea was for a home cook to be able to produce easily digestible, yet highly nutritious, foods which would sustain a patient and nurse them back to health.  Serious illnesses followed by long periods of convalescence were much more common in the years before modern drugs such as antibiotics. Daughters, wives and mothers would be expected to know how to look after a bedridden patient at home, often for many months at a time. Soups, especially plain, high-protein ones like chicken broth or beef tea, were popular, along with home-made jellies (both sweet and savoury), milk desserts such as blancmanges and custards, and egg dishes.

As wounded men started to arrive back in Australia and New Zealand, the need for home-nursing skills increased. In September 1915 the Auckland Education Board advertised special classes in invalid cookery, and the Board’s chairman stated that the class was regarded as so important that no fees would be charged “to the young ladies attending.” (Caring for invalids was seen very much as women’s work.) 

The Education Board added, “A practical knowledge of invalid cookery, desirable at any time, is rendered much more valuable now that so many soldiers are returning invalided from the war.”(1)  

Similar newspaper advertisements for invalid cookery classes were offered in many other locations throughout the war, often by the local technical school or organisations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

1. New Zealand Herald, 15 September 1915, p.5