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Book Reviews

Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825–1949, Elizabeth Driver, University of Toronto Press, 2008, 1,257 pages

  • Fiona Lucas

Corps de l’article

Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825–1949, has instantly become an essential resource for Canadian food history studies. Her grand purpose was to record the publishing history of our cookbooks and thereby identify the most significant. Two decades of research later she has indubitably demonstrated that cookbooks and their authors have played a central role in the history of Canada and that, by looking at cookbooks, we uncover this past.

The extensive introduction begins with a warm foreword by the late Alan Davidson (founder of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, among other endeavours), who lauds Driver’s ability to contextualize Canadian cookbooks. This ability is demonstrated from her opening essay, “The Evolution of the Genre in Canada,” where she explains how cookbooks reflect our evolving food practices, and such associated topics as agricultural advances, grocery purchasing decisions, and more. Driver has organized the 2,276 titles in the actual bibliography geographically by province from east to west, and chronologically within each province, within which additional essays offer overviews for each province, author biographies, corporate histories, and explanations of each book’s significance. Four exemplary indexes (subject, place of publication, name, and short title) are at the back and are all carefully cross-referenced. A fine series of illustrations appears in the middle of the encyclopaedic volume.

Having previously published Bibliography of Cookery Books Published in Britain 1875–1914 (1989) and many scholarly essays, as well as having learned to cook over the open hearth like many of the early- to mid-19th century cook-authors she writes about, Driver brought considerable skills to her Canadian bibliography. Her far-ranging and exhaustive research led to identifying Canadian food history data and patterns.

While Driver’s work offers an incredible resource to any reader, scholarly or lay, she leaves some questions for others to pursue. For example, the importance of community cookbooks, also known as fundraising and charity cookbooks, “within Canadian cookbook publishing, or, indeed, within the context of Canadian print culture generally, remains to be investigated” (xxvi). She signals intriguing avenues for other researchers to follow, such as why did English-speaking Protestant churchwomen in Quebec compile 58 fundraisers between 1888 and 1949, but the Catholic québecoises none? Probably it was due to the Catholic Church’s restrictive influence, but in what ways? Also, she notes that cookbooks that had several or many editions across the years or in more than one province could be examined to see how the changes, modifications, additions and deletions of recipes and ingredients reflected, contradicted, or influenced local, regional, and national culinary trends. Two cases in point: La cuisinère canadienne (Q3.1–Q1.11), the first French language cookbook authored in Quebec, published in 1840 and many more times through the 1920s, and The Blue Ribbon Cook Book (M7.1–M7.21), published in Winnipeg from 1905 through to a twenty-third edition circa 1948–50. Similarly, a close comparison between the Five Roses Cookbook and La cuisiniere Five Roses (1913, 1915, 1939) (Q79) “would illuminate the differences between the two cultures” (139) of English and French Canada.

Reading the essays and perusing the entries elicits many other questions, profound and curious. How did Canadian housewives employ these Canadian, American, and British cookbooks in Canadian homes? How did their relationship to published recipes evolve, especially once food columnists in daily newspapers and monthly women’s magazines, such as Chatelaine, entered the collective scene? How is it that Mrs McMaster’s Carrot Pudding from The Home Cook Book (1877) (O20) became “the classic Christmas dish in English Canada” (323)? More Jews lived in Ontario than Manitoba, so how is it that the Manitoba Jewish women produced fourteen cookbooks to Ontario’s four? How did manufacturers’ recipe booklets for new ingredients like shortening and baking powder alter our baking preferences?

Answering these fascinating questions and untold others is made easier by having each Canadian cookbook from 1825 to 1949 identified, dated, described, and assessed—indeed such definitive and well-researched cookbook bibliographies rarely exist. Of course ending Culinary Landmarks at 1949 means that the period from 1950 to yesterday awaits similar research and dissection. Each decade since then has seen an increasing number of titles, in which celebrity cook-authors, kitchen gadgets, cuisines and ingredients from all over the world have been featured, but what are the multitude of stories prompting their appearance on the dining table?

Many librarians, archivists, curators, and cookbook collectors are eager to write Driver’s identification numbers into their pre-1950 Canadian cookbooks. The significance of this work is such that from now on, Canadian cookbooks from 1825 to 1949 will be permanently identified by their Driver number as assigned in Culinary Landmarks.

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