Just about everyone has a favourite cookbook, and if you come from a family of cooks, there's no doubt a special edition has been passed through the generations.
Food historian Elizabeth Driver has seen quite a few such treasures in her day. In fact, she just spent more than 10 years researching and compiling Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, published by University of Toronto Press.
The book is a 1,008-page, 2.8-kilogram tome, containing descriptions of 2,276 cookbooks published between 1825 to 1949.
So it's no surprise that Ms. Driver gets asked a lot of questions about cookbooks. Among them she says: "Does my old cookbook have any value?" Or: "My sister inherited the family cookbook (or I lost our old family cookbook in a move), where can I find a replacement copy?"
Another question, she says: "I don't want to keep my old cookbooks anymore, but don't want to throw them out. Where can I donate them?"
Elizabeth Driver is the author of two definitive cookbook bibliographies: the just-published Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 and a study of British 19th-century recipe collections. She also wrote the introductions in the Classic Canadian Cookbooks Series by Whitecap Books.
Currently, she directs the historical foodways program at Montgomery's Inn Museum in Toronto, teaches Applied Food History for George Brown College, serves as Past President of the Culinary Historians of Ontario, and writes the Food Roots column for Edible Toronto.
For fun, Ms. Driver debates food issues with Bonnie Stern on the CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada.
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Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: Hello Elizabeth and thanks for joining us online today. There are a lot of cookbook lovers out there, but even the most enthusiastic probably can't imagine spending 10 years putting together a bibliography of cookbooks. How did you decide which books would make the list? I'm assuming something like the ladies parish auxiliary cookbook did not make the list. Or did it?
Elizabeth Driver: Hello Christine. It's always a pleasure to talk about cookbooks, in particular Canadian cookbooks!
Sometimes I wonder why I am still engaged by the subject. I think it's because Canadian cookbooks are grassroots expressions of who we are. There is no more intimate unit than the family, and cookbooks take you right into the home.
Also, most of these cookbooks were written by women and their voices are often missing from conventional historical accounts. I am inspired by the women's groups who compiled cookbooks for fundraising purposes, or sometimes as an act of social solidarity.
Today we turn to governments to solve our problems, but communities had to be much more self-reliant before 1950. Publishing cookbooks was an important way for women's groups to promote their causes and raise money at the same time, just like community potluck dinners (another long tradition in Canada).
I am also admiring of women who worked outside the home (either out of financial necessity or choice) and made a career in the food area, writing cookbooks for Canadian families. Sometimes they toiled anonymously for food producers or kitchen equipment companies or for government departments but for the most part they seem to have remained close to women in the home and provided welcome, reliable advice.
As for which cookbooks to include in my study, I decided to hunt for every cookbook that was published in Canada before 1950 that was more than 16 pages. I included general reference books, such as Nellie Lyle Pattinson's Canadian Cook Book of 1923, and government booklets about wartime canning or rationing. I also included advertising cookbooks (for Moffat stoves or Magic Baking Powder) and church fundraiser cookbooks.
Hopeless Wonder, Hamilton, Ont.: Hi Elizabeth, I love the old copies of Five Roses flour cookbooks. Can you tell me anything about the history and how far back the editions go?
Elizabeth Driver: I love the old Five Roses Cookbooks too. My grandmother was married in 1914, one year after the very first Five Roses Cookbook was published in 1913. That cookbook stayed with her throughout her whole life, eventually being stored in a drawer at our family cottage.
As a child I used to love turning the pages and looking at the cherubic figures that decorate the margins and also at the colour pictures of doughnuts, bread and cakes. You can imagine how exciting it must have been to have a cookbook with colour pictures in 1913! I believe the book cost 40 cents and every copy had coupons for ordering more copies. The book was popular because the recipes were truly useful; they had been submitted by housewives to a recipe contest run by the flour company. As a later 1915 edition stated:
" The Five Roses Cookbook is an all-Canadian publication. The recipes were supplied by Canadian housewives ... The book was printed in a Canadian shop, and the paper, both inside and cover stock, was produced in a Canadian mill. No cookbook published anywhere has received such popular appreciation. Already, nearly 950,000 copies are in daily use in Canadian kitchens-practically one copy for every second Canadian home."
At the grocery store recently, I checked the packages of Five Roses flour and there is still a coupon for ordering the cookbook printed on the flour bag. Of course, the recipes and other text been revised many times to suit the era, but it's still possible to cook from the 1913 version! If you are looking for copies of the old Five Roses Cookbook, Whitecap Books has published a modern facsimile of the 1915 version and the 1967 edition.
My grandmother made homemade doughnuts from this book and I can testify that they were delicious!
l. Carter, Ottawa: One of my favourite cookbooks is American Cookery by James Beard because it contains a lot of history along with a huge selection of recipes. I'm wondering if there is any comparable book on Canadian cookery?
Elizabeth Driver: I recommend A Century of Canadian Home Cooking: 1900 through the '90s by Carol Ferguson and Margaret Fraser (1992). There is a chapter devoted to every decade and each chapter includes social history, food photographs, images of cookbooks, and lots of recipes. Unfortunately the book is out of print, but you should be able to find a copy in your local library or you could buy a secondhand copy through one of the book-selling websites.
You might also look at the about-to-be-launched Anita Stewart's Canada. This April seems to be the month to celebrate Canadian culinary traditions: My Culinary Landmarks, Anita Stewart's Canada and Margaret Webb's Apples to Oysters are all out at the same time! And it was only about a year ago that Fiona Lucas' Hearth and Home and Dorothy Duncan's Canadians at Table appeared. I will always keep close to hand Elizabeth Baird's Classic Canadian Cooking (1970s).
Rose Genest, Hamilton, Ont.: Hello Elizabeth, I love cookbooks and I collect them as well. I have over 300 books. I have too many favourites. One quick question: My mother had a book that I am having difficulty finding. I believe it was an old Purity cookbook. Thanks.
Elizabeth Driver: The only problem with owning so many cookbooks is finding the shelf space!
Since the prairies opened up to wheat production at the beginning of the last century, Canada has shipped flour around the world. Purity was a well-known brand and the company also published cookbooks. I don't know which edition of the Purity Cookbook you are looking for, but Whitecap has done a facsimile of the 1967 edition ( The All-New Purity Cookbook). For these facsimiles, check the "Classic" section of Whitecap's website.
Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: As you compiled the cookbook list, how deeply did you engage with the books? I can imagine becoming fascinated with seeing how many variations you could find on a chocolate cake, or macaroni and cheese, for example. Did you become obsessed with one recipe or another during your research?
Elizabeth Driver: When I started my research, I didn't know what I would find since very little was known about Canadian cookbooks. I didn't want to limit myself because once I started on the research path, it would be impossible to retrace my steps.
At first, I was happy "adding to the list," but many of the books were undated and as I tried to determine when they were published, I would discover interesting facts about the author or the company or our food history.
For example, Margene Recipes, the first cookbook promoting margarine in Canada, was undated. I went looking for the history of margarine and learned that it was legalized in Canada only in 1948. This led me to the pages of Chatelaine magazine to see what women were saying about margarine. After the Second World War, women were clamouring for margarine to be sold in Canada!
Through the Canadian Home Economics Association, I managed to contact the (anonymous) writer of Margene Recipes for Canada Packers. She told me that it was Group of Seven artist A.J. Casson who designed the book, which has cut-outs on the front cover with foil papers peeking through, just like a package of margarine. Margene Recipes is just one of many examples where I found fascinating tidbits of Canadian food lore.
Cookbooks can tell us about the start of food fashions. I found the earliest recipe for Christmas carrot pudding in The Home Cook Book of 1877 and the first recipe for oatmeal cookies in The Galt Cook Book of 1892, but NO butter tart recipes before 1900. No glacé cherries in fruitcake before 1900 either, just citrus peel, nuts, raisins, currants and sometimes also pork fat! Did you know that we have loved strawberry shortcake since at least 1877?
Jennifer Mondoux from Toronto Canada writes: Hi Elizabeth, I'm very interested in food history - in fact, my business partner and I have recently started a website dedicated to preserving food memories, called passeddown.com. We've been collecting incredible stories from people right across Canada. We were recently north of Belleville, in a small community called SpringBrook (Stirling/Marmora area), interviewing several women there. One of our subjects produced an amazing recipe book called The Farmer's Union Cookbook, 'compiled by the women'. I think it was printed about 60 years ago. I'm curious if you've ever come across this book in your research? Thanks! Jennifer
I suggest people donate unwanted cookbooks to the University of Guelph Library. Another idea is to donate to the local history museum in your area. The Farmer's Union Cookbook likely has advertisements for local businesses and recipes from prominent residents.
"Passeddown.com" is a great idea for a website!
Jennifer from Toronto writes: Hi Elizabeth. When you were going through all of those old recipes, did you come across many ingredients that are no longer available?
Elizabeth Driver: I can't remember the last time I saw Junket at the grocery store. It's rennet from a cow's stomach and makes milk curdle. The Junket tablet was put into blood-temperature, sweetened and flavoured milk and left to set. It may not sound appetizing, but it's a lovely delicate dessert, good for children, invalids, and I would be happy to eat some right now! I suppose you could say that it was eaten rather like yoghurt is today.
It's also interesting to follow in the cookbooks the rise and fall of certain ingredients. Crisco Shortening, for example, began to be manufactured in Hamilton in 1915. At the beginning, it was promoted as a pure, white, delicate fat, perfect for women's diets. Of course, in the past few years, highly processed foods have come under increasing scrutiny.
Before vegetable shortening, the main fats in the kitchen were lard and butter, and the recipes call for a lot of both. Lately, cooks have come to appreciate the good qualities that lard imparts to pastry.
In the past, housewives could visit the local butcher and ask for particular cuts of meat. People used more of the animal, partly for reasons of economy. The marketing and distribution of food has changed so much that it's not easy to obtain certain kinds of offal.
On the subject of odd parts of the animal, I was interested to read in Don Gillmor's article about boiling sheep's head (in fact, the whole preparation of the head, before cooking!). Sheep's head is incredibly rich and makes a great soup. You might say that the proof of a real cook is whether the person has cooked sheep's head (I've watched it being made and eaten it, but have yet to do it myself).
Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: You mentioned that you are often asked by people what they can do with cookbooks they no longer use, but don't want to throw away. What do you suggest?
Elizabeth Driver: Of course, I didn't look for cookbooks just in libraries and museums. So much of Canada's printed culinary heritage is still stored away in kitchen drawers or boxes. Happily, as people heard about my quest, they contacted me to ask whether I would like to see their books.
Then the question arose of what to do with their old cookbooks. Often they didn't want to keep them, but didn't want to throw them out. What to do? The University of Guelph Library created a Canadian Cookbook Collection. Now, I advise anyone who has old cookbooks to contact Lorne Bruce at the library. This website has Lorne's contact information:
Head of Archival and Special Collections
(519) 824-4120 ext. 52089
Elizabeth Driver: Sue, your questions have no single answer. Over the years, different publishers have reprinted some of these rare items. They do it because they believe there is a market and there usually has been. Sometimes a book is reprinted because the publisher himself happens to have the book in his possession. This was the case with The Cook Not Mad; or Rational Cookery (Kingston, 1831), reprinted by Roy Abrahamson. Sometimes, a publisher will seek out old cookbooks to reprint, as in the Whitecap Books Canadian Cookbooks Series.
There are different ways to approach reprints. I favour not changing the original and letting it stand as is. There's no harm with adding commentary, but it's important, in my view, for the reader to know what is original and what is new.
The internet has opened up new opportunities for access, especially to precious and rare early items. You can find some early cookbooks scanned and searchable on www.canadiana.org (e.g., look for "cook books" as two words, the older style, or for "recipes"). In fact, it may be that publishers will not be reprinting many more older books because they are concerned that on-line texts will detract from sales of the hard copies.
Another way you can read Canada's old cookbooks (pre-1920) is to go to the Toronto Reference Library or the reference sections of University of Toronto or York University libraries and ask to look at the microfiches of some of Canada's old cookbooks (collection of Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction). CIHM is now part of Canadian.org and you can order hard copies of any of the microfiches. Most university libraries across the country have the CIHM collection of cookbook microfiches, and anyone can order hard copies (photocopies of the fiches) from Canadiana.org. It's the next best thing to owning the original book!
In Culinary Landmarks I give the CIHM number for the early cookbooks, which makes it easy to find the item.
I should also add that sometimes community groups will reprint their old recipe collections as fundraisers, or perhaps a museum or historical society will take on such a project. For example, not too long ago the Swansea Historical Society reprinted an old community cookbook from its neighbourhood, which can be purchased from the society.
Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: Thanks for joining us today Elizabeth. Before we close, I wondered whether as you mentioned earlier, as the cookbooks of old tell us about the history of the time, what do you think the cookbooks of today will tell future historians?
Elizabeth Driver: That's a big question and I fear that my short answer will reflect my own prejudices. Cookbooks of today show Canadians embracing their own culinary stars. We have lots of food writers, who are recognized across the country through television, radio, and what has been over the past twenty years or so a vibrant Canadian cookbook publishing industry. At the same time, the cooking reflected in the books does not spring up from the grassroots the way that it did in the earlier works -- it's more top down, the experts telling us how to be successful in the kitchen, healthy, sophisicated, or whatever the "message" is.
Too many Canadians are unskilled in the kitchen, and family time pressures and marketing make us more and more dependent on these experts. Another aspect that concerns me is the American influence on our food industry and in publishing. The US has always exerted a strong influence on Canada, but I expect that this trend will only accelerate. The illustrations for Don Gillmor's article in The Globe showed Betty Crocker, but Canada had several of its own fictional cooks, such as Rita Martin for Robin Hood Flour. My hope is that Culinary Landmarks will bring our own culinary heritage to attention.