The Country Women's Association of Victoria's new book, Thrifting Cooking gives tips for catering for a crowd on a budget

Cooking for a crowd? The CWA has you covered. Picture: Shutterstock
Cooking for a crowd? The CWA has you covered. Picture: Shutterstock

Since 1928, the Country Women's Association of Victoria has been sharing their wisdom with Australian families. And their latest book, Thrifty Cooking is no different.

This time of year, as we look at sharing a meal with friends and family, we want to know how to please a crowd - and the association is here to help. Here are some of their tips for catering for large numbers.

Thrifty sandwich tips for a crowd

  • If you are pre-slicing tomatoes ready to make a large quantity of sandwiches, place the crusts from loaves of bread in the bottom of containers to soak up the juice to save soggy sandwiches.
  • Vertically cut tomatoes keep their shape better.
  • Place folded paper towel in the bottom of a container or on a plate to drain and dry beetroot before placing on a plate of salad or in a sandwich. This will soak up the juice to prevent sogginess or beetroot juice spreading over the salad.
  • When making egg filling for sandwiches, instead of mixing the cooked, shelled hard-boiled eggs with only mayonnaise, which can leave a harsh flavour, mix in a little pouring cream or melted butter with the mayonnaise. Very finely chopped parsley, chives or a little curry powder added to the egg mixture, gives extra flavour. (The fresher the egg, the harder they are to peel once hard-boiled. As the egg ages, the membrane just under the shell comes away from the egg easier.)
  • Crack the shells of hard-boiled eggs immediately to stop the cooking process and cool down quickly in cold water.
  • As a rule of thumb, a single loaf of bread yields approximately 20 slices. You will need about 125 g butter to cover all the slices. Allow 11/2 rounds sandwiches per person.
  • To make the butter go further, beat 125 g butter until soft, then gradually add 4 tablespoons milk with 1 teaspoon of gelatine dissolved in the milk while beating, adding salt if required. This is the equivalent of 250 g butter.

Mock chicken filling

Mock chicken (or "mock turkey") is a tasty and cheap sandwich spread. This makes enough for sandwiches from one loaf of sliced bread.


1 onion

3 large tomatoes

120g grated cheese

120g butter

1 1/2 tsp mixed herbs

4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs


  1. Peel and finely dice the onion. Finely chop the tomatoes.
  2. Simmer all ingredients (except breadcrumbs) gently for 10 minutes. When cooked, add breadcrumbs.

Thrifty salad tips for a crowd 

  • To provide 2 tablespoons of salad per head for 50 people, allow about 4 kg total of salad.
  • If pre-preparing lettuce for the next day, place a stainless steel knife or fork in the bowl with the cut up lettuce, cover with cold water and store in the fridge. It will keep the lettuce crisp and fresh.

French salad

One large bowl of mixed lettuce goes a long way. Make sure lettuce is washed and spun dry or dried by being wrapped in a clean towel. Just before serving, mix through three to four peeled and chopped avocados (or use peeled and sliced cucumber) and finish with French dressing. Once dressing has been added to the salad, it becomes soggy if not used on the day of making.

Thrifty Cooking, by Country Women's Association of Victoria Inc. Murdoch Books. $24.99.

Thrifty Cooking, by Country Women's Association of Victoria Inc. Murdoch Books. $24.99.

Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

Serves 6 (see note to serve 50)


500g fresh green beans

1 punnet (250g) cherry tomatoes, or any type of tomato if you have them growing

1/2 bunch spring onions, or use chives if you have them growing

2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds


3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together.
  2. Top and tail beans, and halve if large. Slice tomatoes and spring onions.
  3. Blanch beans in boiling salted water until just tender. Refresh under cold running water, drain well.
  4. Arrange beans, tomatoes and spring onion on a platter, drizzle with dressing and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.

Note: To serve 50 you will need 3.5kg fresh green beans, 3 bunches finely sliced spring onions and 3kg halved cherry tomatoes. Make 8 x the quantity of dressing.

Thrifty meat cooking tips for a crowd

  • Casseroles, curries and pasta bakes are economical dishes to feed a large number as they use the cheaper cuts of meat.
  • For 50 people, allow 7.5 kg meat of any sort (without bone in), allowing 125 g meat per person plus a bit extra. To make the casserole or curry go even further (and add nutritional value), add plenty of vegetables as well as tinned lentils and/or beans.
  • For a cold meat platter for 50, allow approximately three kilograms of various cold cut meats such as sliced ham, corned beef and roast lamb. Allow approximately six to seven sliced breadsticks for 50 people.
  • When scaling up a recipe, allow extra cooking time but cook at temperature listed in the recipe - do not cook at a higher heat. When cooking a large amount in a curry or casserole, it is always better to cook longer and slower than try to hurry the cooking process.
  • Tinned or dried lentils can be added to curries, casseroles, stews and soups. Rinse both tinned and dried before using. They can also be added to shepherd's pie, lasagne or stuffed capsicums (peppers) to extend meat.
  • The best way to cook lentils is to boil them - follow packet instructions.
  • The liquid from canned chickpeas can be used as an egg white substitute to make meringue. Add 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar to help it to whip.

Simple lamb curry

Serves 50


7.5 kg boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2.5 cm chunks

Flour, for coating

Salt and pepper

10 brown onions, peeled and sliced

12 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 tbsp brown sugar

1-3 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

120g fruit chutney

3 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

7 cups (1.75 litres) chicken stock

Cornflour, if needed


  1. Roll meat in the flour seasoned with salt and pepper. When cooking this volume of ingredients it is not practical to go to the trouble of browning that volume of meat in batches. Combine all ingredients, except cornflour, in a very large bowl. Divide the mixture evenly between 3 large casserole dishes with lids.
  2. Bake in a slow (150 to 160°C) oven for 2 1/2 hours. Chill overnight to allow the flavours to develop.
  3. Next day, remove any fat that has set on the top and reheat in a slow oven 11/2 hours until piping hot.
  4. If mixture is not thick enough, mix some cornflour to a paste in water and thicken the curry.
  5. Alternatively, you can cook in 2 large slow cookers on low for 8 hours.
Trifle is a great option when catering for a large number. Picture: Shutterstock

Trifle is a great option when catering for a large number. Picture: Shutterstock

Thrifty dessert tips for a crowd

  • When making hot desserts for a large number of people, it is easy to multiply the recipe at the time of mixing (e.g. fruit crumble, or a self-saucing pudding), to serve the number of people you are catering for. You will need larger dishes to bake them in, or several if using smaller dishes. If recipe says to bake for 40 minutes, check larger quantity after the 40 minutes to see if dessert is baked. If not, then check every 10 minutes thereafter until cooked through. Do not increase oven temperature to cook quicker.
  • If making cold desserts, it is better to make several batches rather than one large batch. They are all very easy to make and you may choose to make two of each, rather than six of the one dessert.


Serves 6


1 Swiss roll (jam roll) - can use a stale one of any left over sponge or plain cake spread with a little jam

A little sherry or apple juice

1 packet jelly

2 cups of boiling water

1 litre (4 cups) creamy custard

Fruit of your choice, to taste

Whipped cream, for topping

Toasted flaked almonds, for decorating


  1. Slice the Swiss roll and place decoratively around a glass bowl. Sprinkle on a little sweet sherry or apple juice to moisten the cake. Make up a jelly with the boiling water and set in a shallow tin, such as a lamington pan.
  2. Make custard and cool (cover top of custard with baking paper and press down to stop a skin forming on the top as it cools).
  3. To put the trifle together, cut set jelly into cubes. Pour some cooled custard over the soaked cake, place on some fruit and half the jelly cubes, pour over remaining custard, place on more fruit and the remaining jelly cubes. Decorate the top with whipped cream and toasted flaked almonds.
  4. Suggested combinations: Raspberry or strawberry jelly with berries of any sort and/or drained poached plums or orange or mango jelly with chopped fresh mango and tinned pineapple - if using this combination, spread the cake with lemon curd instead of jam.

Note: If serving trifle for 50 people, make separate Swiss rolls and make each trifle quantity individually - don't try to make a giant Swiss roll and a multitude of jellies at once.

  • This is an edited extract from Thrifty Cooking, by Country Women's Association of Victoria Inc. Published by Murdoch Books. $24.99.
This story Cooking for a crowd this Christmas? The CWA has you covered first appeared on The Canberra Times.