Unless we keep journals or blog, few of us ever write our own story — our mothers and grandmothers certainly didn’t have much time to do so. So written records of their life’s experiences can be hard to find.
But often their cookbooks have tales to tell. In the late 1990s, Ontario librarian and archivist Elizabeth Driver became so intrigued by the stories and history she found in Canadian cookbooks, she started a search for all of them.
In 2008 she published Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949, a book as big as its aim was ambitious — to cite the earliest known published-in-Canada cookbook, then document every printed-in-Canada cookbook she could find to 1950.
She found a total of 2,275 cookbooks from every province. Many came from food companies and ingredient suppliers — think Oglivie’s Book for a Cook (1905) and Five Roses Cook Book (1913) from Lake of the Woods Milling Co. Ltd. Many titles were the creations of women themselves.
What all these cookbooks collectively represent, writes Driver in her introduction, is a contribution to our understanding of Canadian history, regional or national.
Out of all the provinces, Manitoba had the largest variety of cookbooks from immigrant groups — cookbooks reflecting the foods of Ukrainian, Scottish, German, Icelandic and Jewish communities. There was one exception. No French-language cookbooks written specifically for the Franco-Manitoba population ever surfaced.
A cookbook published in 1913 by a group of women (no affiliation cited) in Dauphin, included alongside its equivalent weights for measure, a “schedule of infectious diseases,” including information on diphtheria, German measles, typhoid and scarlet fever.
Many thousands of the Blue Ribbon Cook Book, the cookbook of three Winnipeg-based companies making their own brand of teas, extracts and baking ingredients, were printed between 1905 and 1970.
The Manitoba Agricultural College’s influence was huge. Many households used the titles from the Manitoba Farmers’ Library, which beginning in 1916, included Cookery Recipes, Canning by the Cold Pack Method, The Potato, Cheese-making on the Farm, The Beef Ring and others.
As for cookbooks of women’s groups, more than half of all the titles Driver found in Manitoba were community fundraisers for hospitals, churches and schools.
We’ve begun to give our old cookbooks — and those who created them — the recognition they’re due. We now see them for the historical records that they are.
I came across another wonderful mention of them recently in a University of Guelph professor’s blog. Ian Mosby, author of Speak, Recipe: Reading Cookbooks as Life Stories, writes of cookbooks as “an important component of celebrating and affording respect to the lives and work of ordinary women.”
October is Women’s History Month. Do you have a cookbook or story from one you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it. So would Ian Mosby. You can email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep sending us your recipes too. We love hearing from you.
Here’s a couple of chili recipes to take the chill off a wet, late-October day.
Slow Cooker Turkey Chili with Apples
This recipe was submitted by Fiona Odlum to Granny’s Poultry and Manitoba Turkey Producers’ Turkey Chili Throwdown 2012 in August. It’s a first-place winner.
- 1 c. onion, diced 1/2 c. carrot, diced 1/4 c. celery stalk, diced 2 c. apples, peeled, cored and chopped 2 c. butternut squash, peeled and chopped 2 tbsp. garlic, diced 1 lb. (454 g) cooked ground turkey, sautéed in oil 2 tbsp. chili powder 1 tbsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. dried oregano 1/4 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper 1 10-oz. (284-ml) can chicken broth (undiluted) 1 14-oz. (400-ml) can light coconut milk 2 tbsp. tomato paste 1 c. canned black beans, drained and rinsed Cilantro for garnish (optional)
Combine everything in your slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you like.
20 Minute Chili
- 1 lb. lean ground Canadian pork or hot Italian pork sausage, casing removed 1 28-fl.-oz (796-ml) can diced tomatoes with Italian spices 3 tbsp. chili powder 1 19-oz. (540-ml) can kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained 1-1/2 c. corn, frozen
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook ground pork or crumbled pork sausage over medium-high heat; stirring occasionally. When pork is thoroughly cooked, drain excess fat. Add canned tomatoes (with juice) and chili powder. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add beans and corn. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve with whole wheat crusty rolls. Top with sour cream and grated cheese if desired.
Yield: Serves 8. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes. Preparation time: 5 minutes.