Translating tastes: the Rose Seidler recipe collection

Recently translated from the original German, recipes kept by Rose Seidler provide valuable insight into her culinary heritage and Austrian identity.

Sydney Living Museums holds a collection of recipes that belonged to Rose Seidler, mother of renowned architect Harry Seidler AC OBE. Donated by Rose’s daughter-in-law, Penelope Seidler AM, the recipes offer a tangible link to Rose’s life as a wife, mother, homemaker and entertainer, and also the experiences of an immigrant family forging a new life in Australia. 

The recipes have now been translated into English by our multilingual Visitor & Interpretation Officer Avril Vorsay, who took on the project as a redeployment work package when our museums temporarily closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Avril says:

The opportunity to translate the Rose Seidler recipe collection felt like a gift: a wonderful linguistic, cultural, historical and gastronomic journey, contained within a precious heritage item. 

Viennese classics 

Rose and her husband, Max, migrated to Australia in 1946, after first finding refuge in England following the Nazi occupation of their beloved homeland, Austria. They settled in Sydney, where Harry later joined them. 

Rose was an accomplished and enthusiastic home cook, and many traditional Austrian dishes remained in her culinary repertoire. Harry’s particular favourites were Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel, and when Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus design movement, and his wife visited Rose Seidler House in 1954, Rose served belegte Brötchen, Austrian-style open sandwiches. Although they may seem unremarkable today, these Viennese classics were entrenched in the family’s identity, and reproducing them provided ways for the Seidlers to maintain and honour their heritage, and share it with others. 

Rose Seidler in her garden

Rose Seidler in her garden (detail), 1965. Photo © John Evans

An appetising archive 

It’s not known when or under what circumstances the recipes in Rose’s collection were recorded – whether at a cookery course at school or elsewhere, or passed on by a friend or family member. The majority of the recipes are typed in German, with distinctly Austrian style, using words such as Paradeis for tomato, rather than the German Tomate. Avril explains that in translating the recipes, she tried to strike a balance between

‘maintaining the individuality in the original recipe from the Austrian German while rendering it into contemporary Australian English’. 

The recipes are organised alphabetically in two spring-bound folios – one containing predominantly savoury dishes, and the other sweet. The savoury volume of 56 recipes is divided into sections by type – beginning with essentials such as aspics and eggs, followed by Austrian-style dumplings and sandwiches, then main dishes, sauces, and a few preserved fruit preparations. The other volume holds more than 100 recipes, mainly cakes and desserts. Annotations and additional recipes written in English – some obviously entered here in Sydney – provide evidence of the book’s continued use. Many are in Rose’s handwriting, but some were entered by others. Along with several other recipes recorded in various hands on loose pieces of card and paper, they illustrate the importance of sharing recipes – and tastes – in forming social connections and adjusting to a new culture. 

The recipe collection provides valuable insight into the Seidler family’s heritage and immigrant identity, and how readily they integrated with the local Sydney community. Collectively, the recipes bring added richness to our understanding of the Seidlers’ home life and an extra dimension to our interpretation of the kitchen, dining room, and entertaining areas at Rose Seidler House. 

About the author

Dr Jacqui Newling

Assistant curator

Jacqui brings over ten years of ‘visitor first’ interpretation experience to her role as a curator at SLM. She specialises in place-based social history and heritage, bringing meaningful stories from our past to contemporary audiences through various forms of media, from exhibitions to interactive opportunities for visitors in our museums. 

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our quarterly Members’ magazine.

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