Margaret Shanks, from 1893 until she died in March, 1925 wrote a regular weekly column for the Scottish Farmer under the pseudonym “Gretchen”. The contributions, under the headline, “The Household”, were scarcely ever omitted. They were begun when Margaret was 30. She chose the by-line Gretchen but changed back to her own Christian name of Margaret during the first World War, the German nick name being considered then to be inappropriate.
The subject matter of the articles varied from recipes to housekeeping and indicated that Margaret had a thorough knowledge of most aspects of housework. Gradually, however, there was increasing interest in practical matters of a topical nature, descriptions of work outside the kitchen, in the farm steading, in the fields, the village, natural studies of birds and flowers, foxes and otters and their depredations, the impact of the war, books and authors. She met many people who came to the kitchen door looking for such ordinary things as cups of water, milk, and bread. These provided interesting material for her pen.
Though shy and introverted, Margaret was remarkably clever. She had been to Glasgow University when she was 16 where she had won the junior and senior scholarships on each of two years. She had then, however, had a nervous breakdown which prevented her taking up a position as a teacher or similar professional posting. She returned to Egremont and the farm at Woodend.