Culinary pioneer and educator
Ellice Handy, whose entire life was associated with Methodist Girls’ School (MGS), wrote the first Singaporean cookbook. My Favourite Recipes, first published in 1952, offered easy-to-follow, everyday recipes reflecting Singapore’s multicultural heritage – European, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian, and Indian dishes. Ellice wrote the book to raise funds for MGS and it soon became a culinary reference book in many households. Reprinted and revised many times over the years, the latest edition is still raising funds for the school.
Born Ellice Zuberbuhler in 1902, Ellice was a boarder at age four at MGS, which was founded in 1887 by Sophia Blackmore. An exceptionally bright student, she completed her Senior Cambridge examination when she was just 14. She taught for a while at MGS and left in 1917 for the Isabella Thornburn College in Lucknow, India, on an academic merit scholarship. As she was under-aged, she spent a year studying Latin before entering the Bachelor of Arts degree programme.
Graduating with honours, Ellice returned to MGS in 1922 and taught English, history and Bible knowledge. When World War II broke out in 1941, schooling was disrupted for 3½ years. The school suffered significant damage during the war. After the war, Ellice was appointed principal – the first Asian to hold the position.
In September 1945, Ellice took on the daunting task of restarting MGS, dealing with difficulties which included insufficient equipment for classrooms, shortages of books, missing apparatus, lack of funds and teachers who were physically and mentally worn out. By October 1, 1945, MGS was functioning as a school again in temporary accommodation. It moved back to its Mount Sophia premises on October 15.
A formal building programme was started in 1950. To help raise funds for this, Ellice decided to publish a book with the recipes she had collected over the years. Her love for cooking was ignited when, as a young girl at Nind Home, the MGS boarding house, she watched and helped Sophia Blackmore turn leftover chicken into a tasty meal. When Ellice was about 12, Miss Blackmore told her to skip sewing classes and instead go for cooking lessons with Bibik Lee Ling Neo, the matron of the Chinese and Indian girls at the school.
Ellice stepped down as principal in 1957 and continued as a teacher at MGS until 1964, when she retired. For her work in education, Ellice was conferred the Order of the British Empire in 1957. She was also a Justice of the Peace, and visited female prisoners on death row to see to their needs and offer comfort.
Ellice was married to Dr. James Handy, a physician, with whom she had a daughter, Helen Anderson-Handy. Prior to getting married, Ellice and her elder sister Anne adopted Jean Tow. After retiring, she updated her recipes for revised editions of My Favourite Recipes. She also wrote about cooking for the local women’s magazine Female. When she was 85 she moved to Australia to live with her daughter Helen. She died of a stroke aged 87 in 1989.
"There are no born cooks. Many have become good cooks from actually trying out recipes in their own kitchen. Cooking is fun and should be enjoyed, not regarded as a chore."
"To become good at cooking, all you need is a love of tasty wholesome food, an observant eye, practice and imagination."
"No two people cook the same dish the same way, and yet both can produce equally good results. The only way to develop a good hand at cooking is to practise in your kitchen."