The Landour Community Centre Cookbooks:
By Katharine (Kittu) Parker Riddle
[1 July 2003]
[Author's note: This personal, yet historical, essay tries to answer some of these questions: What is the background to the Landour Community Center? where and what is Landour, who belonged to the Community, and what was the Center, during this period in India, mainly from the 1920s through the 1960s? How did the different versions of the cook book come into publication?]
Two hundred miles north of Delhi, on the first rise of the Himalaya Mountains, is the famed summer resort, Mussoorie. Neighboring it, on a mountain to the east, is the community of Landour. It was established in the early 1800s with a Sanatorium and Cantonment at the top of the hill. British troops could be medically cared for and could escape the summer heat. When India gained her independence in 1947, the British left and, since then, Indian troops have been stationed there. St. Paul's Church, built for British Anglicans, still serves a small year-round congregation. Kellogg Church, the Community Church, located not far away, serves the expanded summer population. On the north side, facing the Eternal Snows, is the Cemetery. There are several small shopping areas and quite a few residences along the 'chakkar', or road circling the top of the hill.
Lower down on the south face is Woodstock School built between 1852 and 1854 by a group of Protestant parents as a boarding school for their children. The group included three army officers, the Chaplin of Landour and two American Presbyterian missionaries. Since boys were frequently sent to the homeland of their parents for their education, the original student body was girls. They lived in the dormitories and studied from March through November in the cool of the elevation, escaping the heat of the plains, becoming day scholars when their parents were in Landour for summer vacation.. The school has changed character over the years and has developed into an excellent international, coeducational institution. It has drawn its support from many sources including the Christian Mission Boards of many denominations.
Its buildings lie along and below the Tehri Road, the main road leading east from Mussoorie. For a number of years there was a Teacher Training College associated with the School. When the College was closed in the 1920s, its building became a dormitory for high school girls.
Several large estates with residences were also established along Tehri road for the summer use of families whose children attended school. They, and the school, could be accessed from Mussoorie by walking or by riding in rickshaws pushed and pulled by rickshaw 'wallas'. The road coming east from Mussoorie passed through what is known as Landour Bazaar, an extended area of shops of all kinds. But fresh produce, meat, eggs, milk, bread and bakery goods were also de-livered to the school and residences by 'wallas' who carried these items daily from house to house.
During the years 1920 to 1940, as Woodstock School grew and more families needed summer residences, many smaller bungalows were built along the vertical paths connecting the Tehri Road to the 'chakkar', above, and others below the Tehri Road. Quite a few of the older estate residences were converted into smaller apartments to accommodate more families. This hillside, with its long and continuing history of many changes in occupancy, is the Landour of the Cook Books. It lies between 6500 ? 7400 feet elevation and overlooks the plains (the Doon) to the south below, a spectacular view which is dear to the hearts of all who have lived there.
The numbers of Americans occupying cottages in summer increased greatly during the 20's and 30's as more and more mission Boards began to support Woodstock School. Typically, in summer, mothers would come uphill from their work on the plains and move into cottages assigned to them by their denomination. They would take their children out of boarding to become day scholars for a few months. Fathers joined them for a short period of vacation to escape the summer heat. This presence of families on the hillside promoted a busy community life centering around Woodstock School, Kellogg Church, and the Community Center. A Community Hospital, which had operated in temporary quarters above Landour Bazaar since the early 30s, was moved, in 1939, to new quarters built on the Tehri Road not far from the bazaar.
My parents, Allen and Irene Parker, went to Landour for the first time in 1919. I was born there that year. They attended Language School in Kellogg Church. My mother joined with Mrs. Lucas, wife of Dr. Lucas, the Pastor, to form a Reading Club. This group urged my father, who became Principal of Woodstock School (1922-1939), to build a Community Center. The building was built in the late 1920s (1928) on a site midway between the Tehri Road and the upper 'chakkar'. The Reading Club of Landour Community Center held weekly meetings there and created a Cook Book, sharing favorite recipes and also giving guidance on substitutions for foods and flavorings not available in Landour, and for cooking at high altitudes.
It is important to note that sales from the book went to the Reading Club. It was a characteristic of the hillside that all of the activities were carried out by volunteer effort. No individual person was paid for work done.
To quote from the Cook Books:
"The first question which usually arises in the minds of housewives when they reach the elevation of Landour is: 'How do I change my recipes, or what do I do differently in cooking food at this altitude?' Since the boiling point of water in Landour varies from 195-200 F (instead of the standard 212 F at sea level), food will take somewhat longer to cook. Many housewives use pressure cookers knowing this shortens the cooking time, saves on fuel and also increases the nutritive value of the finished product.
It should be noted here that all of this cooking and baking was done over charcoal?burning stoves, with makeshift ovens set on top. A few people had kerosine stoves and ovens. Electric burners became available by the time of the Landour Cook Books, but, in those days, electricity was not a reliable source of fuel for something as delicate as a cake.
Also, there were no refrigerators. A screened food cupboard (or doolie') built into the kitchen wall allowed cool breezes to circulate through. Milk, for example, purchased in the morning from the milkman (Dood Walla) who made the rounds of the cottages, was boiled and set in pans in the doolie' to allow the cream to rise. The next morning the cream would be taken off the top and made into whipped cream or butter as desired.
The names of foods and flavorings were foreign to many of the housewives. They had to rely on their hired staff (cooks in particular) to know what was needed and where to get it. For example, cream of tartar was available only in a chemist shop. Help on these matters was also provided in the Landour Cook Book.
Another important aspect of the Cook Book was that it contained mainly recipes foreign to India. The hired cooks already knew how to cook Indian food, but they needed and welcomed recipies for what their employers liked to eat in their countries. The Cook Book's emphasis on cakes and cookies and candy is a cry for comfort food, for familiar 'back home' tastes.
The Reading Club of Landour Community Center, through the impetus of Mrs. R.C. Newton, first published a cook book in 1930. The Foreword to this First Edition says simply:
In writing this, Mrs. Newton emphasized the fact that it was a book which belonged to the community. The recipes were all contributed by those willing to share them. Many of the recipes had the name of the contributor. Some names have only initials for the first name. Some give first name. Some have only last names. They all evoke memories of friends. For instance, for me, the name of Mrs. Pittman, listed above as the typist, is precious because she was the mother of my best friend, Helen Pittman. And Mrs. Newton was the mother of a class mate, Jack Newton, killed in WWII.
This Landour Community Centre Cook Book was in such demand that the publishers, the Mussoorie Book Society, reprinted it in 1938. The Foreword to this second edition reads:
For the third Edition in 1946 Mrs. Ruth E. Merian Beckdahl revised the manuscript and gave numbers to the recipes. She was a Woodstock alumna who had returned as a missionary. The Foreword to the Third Edition reads:
I don't know how large a printing it had, but when I returned to India in 1949, though it had been in print only three years, it was hard to get a copy.
I returned to Landour in the summer of 1949, having been away since my graduation from Woodstock School in 1935. My parents had both died and many of their generation had retired. My stepmother, Dorothy Dragon Parker, was living and working in Allahabad but came to Landour in the summer with her two children, my half sister and brother, Harriet and Donald Parker. They attended Woodstock, along with my three children, Dorothy, Bill, and Patty.
Donald and Bill were just starting school. Rhea Ewing, the Principal, made a quiet announcement at the Thursday morning chapel service; "Today, Mr. Parker's son and grandson start Woodstock School together".
It was a new India to which I returned. It had gained Independence only
two years previous, but had also suffered by being partitioned into two
countries. During that summer I spent much time on the verandah of the
cottage, Woodside,' listening to tales told by the many Indians who had
It was unclear who would exert leadership to get the cook book reprinted. Finally, in 1956, Mary O. Rice began the process of bringing together many of our favorite recipes. She wrote, "As the recipes are used, we trust they will mean not only good food, but good friends. For the harmonious working together of Landour women has become tradition!"
Her comments deserve an explanation. The foreign missionary population occupying summer cottages on Landour hillside was not only from the United States of America, but also from Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, other European countries, and New Zealand. There were Indian Christian families who lived in Landour year round. This diverse population represented many different denominations of Christianity. Other Indians who, whether Christian or not, liked to participate in programs and activities of the Community Center were welcome.
It was amazing how many activities were put together by volunteer effort. Weekly teas, Barter sales, study groups, lectures and conferences, art shows, musicals, flower shows were among the activities held in the Community Center. The Reading Club started a Library. These activities brought together people from widely different backgrounds, nationalities and faiths.
There were no telephones in the cottages and the steepness of the rugged hillside made it difficult to make the rounds of the cottages. A system of circular letters gave everyone the information needed. A coolie would be employed and instructed to go from house to house (each house had a name) with a written announcement and wait while the message was read and responded to or signed before going on to the next house. This was how invitations to participate at an event were circulated, volunteers were signed up, and ideas shared in between weekly meetings at the Community Center.
To return to Mary Rice's manuscript, we all knew it would become the basis of the next (fourth) edition of the Landour Cook Book. But it took another eight years of work, with many women devoting long hours of tabulating and typing. Meetings of the Reading Club were devoted to working on the manuscript. Many more international recipes, such as Pizza and Tamales, were added to the text.
Finally, I volunteered to take the manuscript and get it printed on the plains at the (New Zealand) Mission Press in Kharar, Punjab near where our family was living in Chandigarh. Ten miles of rough road lay between Kharar and Chandigarh. The proofs would be brought to me at the end of the day by an employee of the press on his bicycle. Frequently the electricity was off late in the afternoon or evening. The proofreading was often done by candle light as quickly as possible so that the proofs could go back. This is my explanation of the numerous errors in the text. Next season the Reading Club accepted the book with a lot of joking and good humor, and their remarks about the errors were kind.
In the preface I wrote:
"The present revision, The Landour Book of International Recipes, cannot be considered a fourth edition because it is largely a collection of recipes from a different generation of Landour women (many of whom are daughters or daughters-in-law of the original contributers)! It includes many recipes from the old cook book, included by request of members of the Reading Club."It also includes multiple listings of the same recipe in tabular form so that one can see, at a glance, where the recipes vary from one another. Despite these changes and despite what I wrote in the preface, it is still considered the fourth edition. It was published in 1964.
Margie Wilson had volunteered to be the artist. She designed the cover and suggested the change of title. She also did sketches to illustrate each section. I think her art work and ideas add a new dimension to the Cook Book.
The book had far ranging connections. For instance, in the 1970s when I was teaching in State College, Pennsylvania, and taking dance classes, the husband of my instructor told me he had a sister, Mrs. Bonham, who used to be in India. I told him I knew her well. Some months later, after the class was over, he handed out some small pots of herbs and was answering questions about herbs posed by some members of the class. Suddenly he said he'd get the cook book his sister had sent him from India which had references to these herbs. I was surprised to see the 1964 Edition in his possession. They looked with great interest at the book and found answers in the Glossary section. After the questions and answers subsided, I couldn't resist bringing to their attention the name of the Editor!
Cleone Warner was instrumental in publishing a Fifth Edition in 1969, and Lorraine Saunders was the one who urged the Reading Club to get it copyrighted. For years after that, royalties were paid to the Reading Club by the Bell Books version of The Landour Book of International Recipes, published in 1978. Unfortunately, Vikas Publishing House Pvt Ltd was selling our book commercially without any reference to the women who had put it together in the first place. (The name of Editor was omitted.) Do we consider this a Sixth Edition? And Tarang Books brazenly published a 'Seventh Edition' in 1993.
The copyright seems to have run out. And the Reading Club is no more. But the reprints go on. It has now been picked up by Landour entrepreneurs, Ruskin Bond and Ganesh Saili and reprinted in several forms -- to line their own pockets. They have usurped old photos of families who long ago lived in Landour and used them on the cover. They have used the titles, "The Landour Cookbook -- Over Hundred Years Of Hillside Cooking" and "Icing On the Landour Cake."
At least we can say that the Landour Community Centre Cookbook has a life of its own. And I discovered another dimension also! My sister Harriet Parker Moeur informed me that in a novel by Anita Desai, titled "Fasting, Feasting," "The Landour Community Centre Cook Book" is referred to by the heroine as her source of recipes of goodies to serve at tea time. The author goes on to describe summer activities in Landour. So our Cook Book has its place in fiction!
Each edition of the Cook Book has a section giving useful Household Hints of various kinds. Altitude has been alluded to. But there are also the measurement of ingredients, substitutions and other matters of common interest.
Weights and Measures: There is a difference in the weights and measures, both of dry and liquid commodities in different countries. Indians measure in seers (2 pounds) and chattacks (2 ounces). Europeans use the kilogram and gram. And the British use the B.S.I. in which the cup is 10 fluid ounces compared to 8 fluid ounces used in the United States. Each edition of the Cook Book has tackled the matter of presenting this information in a useful manner.
Substitutions: Then, how do you substitute for items not available in India, or in the mountains? How does one substitute for sugar (when it is in short supply) or for baking powder (when it is not available)? Where does one get cream of tartar'? I can just imagine the Reading Club meetings where this matter of how you substitute for an item in your favorite recipe was discussed with great usefulness and interest.
While I lived in Chandigarh and was working on getting the Fourth Edition published, the women in the University of Punjab's Women's Faculty Club were full of questions as to why I was doing this and wanted specific examples of substitutions. Our conversations played themselves out when the book was actually completed and they each bought a copy. By then I was leaving Chandigarh to go to the hills and eventually back to the USA. They invited me to a luncheon for which each woman had prepared a dish using a recipe from the Cook Book.
I was suddenly confronted with the need to identify each of the concoctions carefully spread out on the buffet table. I was in a near panic, but took the plunge. There was one large flat pastry like dish, greenish and white in color. By the shape of it, it could only be Pizza'. But why green, I wondered.? Mustering confidence, I said, "Someone made Pizza'!" A woman rushed up to me and said, "I'm so glad that you recognized it. You said we could substitute, so since I couldn't find tomatoes, I used peas. And I couldn't find yellow cheese so I used cottage cheese. I hope it tastes good." I assured her I would taste it, but inwardly, I was noting, 'You can take the matter of substitution too far!'
Glossary: Nevertheless each edition of the Cook Book did give a Glossary of names of foods and condiments and suggestions as to where to get the needed items. And, in the later editions there were lists of Hindustani translations for foods and flavoring agents.
Household Hints: Each edition had its section of helps for keeping house again a sharing of useful hints of how to make do with available ingredients. For example, what to do for furniture polish and how to remove stains. This was very useful information at a time when the item needed had to be made at home from several different sources.
Poetry: In the early editions, some very interesting poems are included; some with author names and some without. In one instance, stanzas about Thanksgiving are included with the suggestion that these might be used for place cards on the dinner table. This reminds us that decorations and entertainment in those days were all home made and ideas were shared to make life a little more varied and interesting.
Listed under Household Pests' is a famous Landour poem by Julia Norton Clemes, entitled, "Jharans" (or dish towels). I can remember it's being read at the Community Center and other places or occasions for a good laugh.
In conclusion I'd like to thank Gil Osgood for putting me in touch with Phil McEldowney, South Asian librarian at the University of Virginia, who is collecting the Cook Books for the Woodstock Archives. I quote from what Gil wrote:
"He (Phil) discovered that the only copy of the 1930 (first) edition in a US library was in the rare book collection at the University of Oregon and I went and looked at it and copied some of it for him. I also got out my copy of the 1964 edition which you edited and found I was very deeply moved by it. I saw how the women on the hillside banded together to help each other adapt to a foreign country and learn to provide for their families. I made an index of names of the people that had contributed to this cookbook which I gave to Phil. These cookbooks now seem to me to be almost the sacred scriptures of a culture now fading into history."
Since that time, Phil found that another copy of the first edition was archived in Cambridge, England. When he told me, I remembered that my cousin, Carol Titus Pickering, daughter of Methodist missionaries to India, now lived in Cambridge and had put her parents' papers in the archives there. When I wrote to her and asked whether, by chance, she had included a 1930 edition of the Landour Community Center Cook Book, I got an affirmative answer plus the information that she could remove it. That book is now safely in the Woodstock School Archives, the first of subsequent copies of further editions (or sacred scriptures) which will be added to the collection to memorialize this era of history.
One final question I'd like to place; In the 1964 (fourth) edition, reference is made to The Rangoon International Cookbook. How many other places on earth has the presence of foreign women inspired the publication of a community Cook Book?
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Philip McEldowney pm9k @virginia.edu