Sydney columnist and arts supremo Leo Schofield was born in Brewarrina, a town near Bourke, where his family kept one of the then many pubs. He called me in 1993 to see if I knew “of an old song about cooking in paper bags” and, as usual, this started a hunting session.
Leo recalled a couple of lines which, I admit, made me smile as I well remember my mother cooking with greased brown paper which, she claimed, sealed the flavour.
Over the past nine years I have managed to find the elusive words.
Mr Max Aronsten of Chatswood, NSW, told me “In the late ‘twenties’ in Brisbane I heard this old song in the Empire Theatre in Albert Street. I learnt it and sang it at parties and it was a great success.”
Mrs Bette Kingsford-Smith of Roseville, NSW, also had two verses of the song and said “I don’t remember the third verse but when I was a teenage a boyfriend used to enliven our tennis parties at Pittwater with this and other songs.”
Anthony Clarke, a noted collector of old music, also knew most of the song and contributed:
“The song, ‘Paper Cooking’, dates to the turn-of-the-nineteenth century and is based upon a short-lived fad for roasting meats and vegetables in scorch-proof paper bags – low cholesterol. My father, Neville Clarke, sang it to my sisters and me when he put us to bed, and I’ve sung it to mine. A real oral tradition”.
Anthony knew three verses.
Paper Bag Cooking
Have you heard about the latest style of cooking,
In little paper bags it’s quite the craze,
My wife she’s got the fever,
And I’m sure I’ll have to leave her,
If she doesn’t stop her paper cooking ways.
It’s not the paper bags that I object to,
It’s the method, which is very very crude,
For the paper that she uses is made out of daily news,
And the print comes off and boils out on the food.
There’s a breach of promise case across the mutton,
There’s a murder right across the pickled pork,
You can read about the Navy on the surface of the gravy,
While the spinach bears the latest news from Cork.
The song smacks of the Music Hall and having recently completed a project whereby I have indexed every Australian song in all the available Tivoli, Imperial and similar songsters, I have not come across this particular ditty. This isn’t to say it wasn’t sung however it wasn’t published here. I have long been interested in the way Music Hall and popular song on that same period have entered into the oral tradition.
Several of the great Music Hall performers in London were in fact Australian artists and for those interested in this area I would recommend you refer to my two compact discs on the Rouseabout label ‘Australian Stars of the International Music Hall‘ Volumes One and Two.
I can hear the great Florrie Forde or Albert Whelan singing Paper Bag Cooking!