The Watermelon cake: Amy Schauer and her cookbooks

Amy Schauer (1871-1956), after training at Sydney Technical College, taught and demonstrated cookery in the Brisbane area from 1895 until the 1930s. Her work included public lectures on invalid cookery during the 1919 influenza epidemic and classes for members of the Australian Army Medical Corps during World War I.  Her cookbooks were used widely in Queensland both in Domestic Science Colleges and in homes.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Schauer states that she “wrote popular cookery books which were used in Queensland kitchens well into the 1960s” but I still regularly use her Schauer Australian Fruit Preserving and Confectionery (first published 1908; my copy was printed around 1982) for making chutneys and jams. Where else can you find a recipe to deal with an oversupply of loquats, five options for mango chutney, six for tomato chutney, twelve for melon jam or a recipe for prickly pear jam (not surprisingly this one begins: “Great care is required in preparing this jam”)?

The 9th edition of The Schauer Australian cookery book (Brisbane: Smith & Paterson, 1946) held in the John Oxley Library is comprised mainly of recipes for very practical country dishes using whatever was on hand –Scrub turkey (braised or roasted), Bech-de-mer soup, Sheep’s head broth, Sausage fritters, Cold tea pudding and thirty-one variations of scones. So it was with some amusement that I came across a recipe for a fanciful cake – a watermelon cake. Not using watermelon as an ingredient nor watermelon flavoured, but in the shape of a watermelon.

A layer of white cake forms the ‘rind’, with the centre of the cake/watermelon tinted pink and holding sultana ‘seeds’. Green icing completes the picture.

Watermelon Cake served on Queensland Centenary tablecloth.

After two attempts I managed to make a watermelon cake fit to be seen at a morning tea at State Library. It seemed appropriate to serve it on a 1959 Queensland Centenary tablecloth recently found at my mother’s home, with tea poured from a teapot manufactured to celebrate the visit to Australia of their Majesties the King and Queen in 1952. Unfortunately King George VI and Queen Elizabeth didn’t make it to Australia because of the death of the King, but that didn’t stop the teapots making their way into the world.

For further information on Amy Schauer’s life see The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Helen Cole

Librarian – Australian Library of Art