Thermo-Electrical Cooking Made Easy
by Helen Nora Curle Smith
With an introductory essay, “The Kalgoorlie Stove”, by H.A. Willis
ISBN 978-0-85905-492-8, (2011 R+N), illust., 116pp., 230g
$22.00 + POST
In 1906-07, the Western Australian gold mining city of Kalgoorlie became the first place in the world to see an electric stove manufactured with the intention of bringing “cooking by electricity ... within the reach of anyone”. The ambitious enterprise brought about another world first ‑ the publication of a recipe book for electric cooking.
David Curle Smith (1859-1922) and his wife, Helen Nora, respectively the stove’s inventor and the author of the cookbook, have been overlooked by historians.
Helen Nora Curle Smith (1861-1924) was the sister of the renowned essayist and academic, Sir Walter Murdoch. She was also the aunt of Sir Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s father. Born in Scotland, Helen Nora accompanied her family to Melbourne as a young woman. She married David Curle Smith, another Scot, in 1891.
In the late 1890s, Curle Smith obtained a position on the burgeoning Western Australian goldfields, where he soon became responsible for the generation and supply of Kalgoorlie’s electricity. Because power generation had to run at a certain level regardless of lighting demand, Curle Smith developed a scheme to encourage consumption of the excess daytime production. Backed by progressive members of the Municipal Council, he set about providing Kalgoorlie with electrical appliances – irons, fans and, above all, his “Rational” electric stove.
Although almost fifty stoves were made, none survive – which may be just as well because they were insulated, indeed packed with raw asbestos. Offered for hire by the Council, about half the customers seem to have been satisfied with the appliance’s operation. But municipal politics and budgetary cutbacks swung against the project and, over several years, they were withdrawn and scrapped.
David Curle Smith lodged a patent application for his stove in November 1905. The man usually credited with the invention of the electric stove, Lloyd Copeman (Linda Ronstadt’s grandfather), lodged his patent in 1915, selling it two years later to Westinghouse. The vital component of Copeman’s stove was a thermostat, which he patented in 1909. The heat of Curle Smith’s stove had been controlled by the more basic method of the number of elements turned on together. Even without a thermostat, the plain priority of the Kalgoorlie stove demands that it be afforded long overdue recognition.
Curle Smith’s project was ably supported by his wife, whose cookbook aimed to foster the stove’s popular use and acceptance. Helen Nora’s easily followed recipes are a unique snapshot of Australian cuisine at the beginning of the 20th Century. Republication of this long lost book is intended to acknowledge the couple’s significant contributions to Australia’s cultural and scientific heritage.