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Marie Nightingale’s book a gold standard for Nova Scotia cuisine

Marie Nightingale.

Peter Parsons/Herald

Marie Nightingale sought out older Nova Scotians to learn their culinary tricks and scoured the faded pages of diaries and scrapbooks at local museums to find recipes for boiled beef tongue, salt cod and pork scraps, oat cakes and dandelion wine. In 1970, after four years of researching and writing, Ms. Nightingale published Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, a collection of traditional recipes. Both a recipe book and a food history of Nova Scotia, the book went on to become the most popular cookbook ever produced in the province, selling more than 60,000 copies.

Along with the recipes in the cookbook, Ms. Nightingale told stories about the people who first settled Nova Scotia and how the mix of Mi'kmaq, French, English and Scottish, among others, helped to create a diverse cuisine. When the book appeared, one food writer wrote that before it, Canadian cuisine didn't exist east of Montreal. Ms. Nightingale died at age 85 on March 15 in her Halifax home. She had lung cancer.

"She was a national treasure," said chef Michael Smith, a PEI-based cookbook author and host of several TV shows on Food Network Canada. "Her book was a gold-standard reference for all chefs wanting to learn about Nova Scotia cuisine."

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While the book reflects an early appreciation for now trendy nose-to-tail cuisine, some of its recipes, such as the one for headcheese, might offend those with delicate sensibilities: "Cut up the pig's head and remove all the undesirable parts. Soak in cold water for a couple of hours to draw out the blood."

And in the section on beverages, Ms. Nightingale included an old recipe for spruce beer: "Take 7 pounds of good spruce and boil it well till the bark peels off. Then take the spruce out and put in 3 gallons of molasses and boil the liquor again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out of the kettle and put into a cooler. …"

After the cookbook's publication, Ms. Nightingale became a newspaper and magazine food columnist and published several more cookbooks. Fond of experimenting with new foods and recipes, she also loved interviewing chefs, meeting local farmers and food producers, and advocating "buy local" long before the mantra became popular. "She was always open to new ideas and new expressions," Mr. Smith said. "She wasn't married to the past. She saw the past as an essential path to the future."

Born in Halifax in 1928, Ms. Nightingale was one of seven siblings. She started her radio career at CFAB-AM in Windsor, N.S., where she stayed for a year before moving to CJCH-FM in Halifax to become an on-air personality.

In 1951, she married Laurie Nightingale and before long motherhood called, so she left radio to raise her three sons. As a young wife and mother she set out to learn about cooking.

"Most of her cooking was self-taught, just like most things she did," her son Frank Nightingale said.

In the early 1980s, Ms. Nightingale wrote to Ken Foran, then managing editor of Nova Scotia's Chronicle Herald newspaper, with the idea of a food section.

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"You can live without comics, entertainment and art,

You can live without sports, at least, well, in part,

You can live without social, though readers keep lookin',

But civilized women can't live without cookin'," she wrote.

In 1982, Mr. Foran hired her as a food writer, but said no to her idea of creating a kitchen in the newspaper's building. She stayed at the paper for the next 20 years. Forced to retire in 1993 at age 65, she "went kicking and screaming," she said. "Old enough to be mother to most of my colleagues, I was accepted as one of them, and happiness, for me, was going to work each day," she wrote in her 2003 book Cooking with Friends: Marie Nightingale and Canada's Celebrated Cooks.

In 1999, she joined Saltscapes magazine as its founding food editor and columnist. While she officially retired at age 80, she continued to provide the magazine with recipes until her health failed.

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Ms. Nightingale leaves her sons Frank, Gary and Bob; five grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; sisters Ruth and Betty; brothers Ray and Ken; and several nieces and nephews. Her siblings Earl and Joan died before her. Her husband, Laurie, died in 2000.

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