Unit 4: Cooking – In the Kitchen

KitchenIn this unit students will experience the difficulty of preparing and storing food for a large rural family with reference to isolation, vermin and the extremities of Australian weather.

Read the following background information for the unit, then select which activities you would like the students to complete. Don't forget that some of the Photo Gallery pictures link with this unit.

Without the convenience of pre-prepared food, a lot of time was spent cooking and preparing food.

A pre-electric lifestyle necessitated using fire to cook with and water to keep food cool.

Student Question: Would the Blundells have been able to buy items at the shops like you do? Where did the Blundells items come from? They were made at home or from supplies at Duntroon or Queanbeyan.

Pest-control was a problem in pioneer kitchens. Mouse and rat traps were used and poisons if they could be obtained. Sometimes a cat was added to the household to assist in rodent control.

The Blundells were allocated enough land around the cottage to have a cow and grow their own vegetables. When fruit and vegetables were in abundance, large families would preserve them and also make jam, to hopefully get them through the leaner times of the year. Bread and damper would have been a staple part of their diet, being quite inexpensive and satisfying. The bread oven at the cottage would have been a very welcome addition for Flora Blundell.

Keeping Food Cool

Keeping perishables fresh was a challenge before refrigeration, especially in Australia's extreme conditions. The Coolgardie Safe or Drip Safe was invented in Western Australia in the late 1890s. It used water and a slight breeze to create a cooling effect. Water was poured into the trough on the top and this dripped down the hessian walls. It was usually kept on the verandah, to allow a breeze to pass through. The Coolgardie works on a similar principle to a modern day evaporative cooler. The safes have been known to achieve an eight degree drop in temperature. Link to photo gallery

Cooking with Fire

Cooking potsWithout electricity or gas connected to Blundells Cottage, this stove was heated by a wood fire. The fire was set behind the door on the top right side of the front of the stove. The large white door is the oven, and has adjustable shelves, much like a modern oven. Pots were placed on top of the stove just like today.

However you may notice the pots themselves are different. They have metal handles which would become very hot when in use. The pots are extremely heavy (even without water or food in them) compared to the pots and pans we use today! Cooks would use pot holders, or perhaps the bottom of their apron, to wrap around the handle to avoid being burned when lifting the pots on and off the stove.


Making cream into butter was an important way of extending the useful life of this perishable. Butter, especially when made with salt, will last much longer than fresh cream. Once the cow was milked, the milk would be left to stand so that the cream would rise to the top. This was then skimmed off. Nowadays the cream has been separated from the milk before we purchase it. Most will be familiar with how to whip cream. If this process is continued, eventually the cream will become butter and a whitish liquid will separate out of it. This is the buttermilk and is the component which spoils quickly. The butter would be finally 'patted' or squeezed into blocks, removing the last of the buttermilk. Link to photo gallery

Activity sheets

Download activity sheets (PDF:997KB)

The PDF contains:

Cooking in the Kitchen Activity Sheet 1 - How to Make Butter
Cooking in the Kitchen Activity Sheet 2 - Making Damper
Cooking in the Kitchen Activity Sheet 3 - Perfect Porridge
Cooking in the Kitchen Activity Sheet 4 – Make a Coolgardie Safe