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How to Eat Like a Canadian: Centennial Cookbooks and Visions of Culinary Identity

  • Sara Wilmshurst

Corps de l’article

By 1967, the approaching Canadian centennial raised anxiety over what it meant to be Canadian and how that might be celebrated and expressed. The federal government went to work, attempting to define Canadian culture and spread the word.  [1] The press and the federal government voiced hopes that nationalist initiatives like the new flag and Expo 67 would renew and reshape Canadian identity. [2] Montreal, the site of the 1967 World’s Fair, was a hive of activity where Canadians sought to represent their nation to the world. [3]

There were, however, other processes of representation underway. Celebratory cookbooks were published in 1966 and 1967. Among them were the Chatelaine Institute’s Chatelaine Centennial Collection of Home-Tested Recipes, the federal Department of Agriculture’s Food – à la canadienne, and The Centennial Food Guide by Pierre and Janet Berton.  [4] These texts celebrate Canadian identity in different ways than such public spectacles as Expo 67. They regard food culture as a feminine domain and, as such, provide women with a powerful role in cultural formation ― in doing so, however, they validate gender essentialism. The cookbooks also represent Canadian cuisine’s regional nature, but provide a selective vision of the nation’s diversity. Finally, the books celebrate Canadian recipes of the past, but were less optimistic, or willing to speculate, about the future.

Figure 1

Chatelaine Centennial Collection of Home-Tested Recipes ― cover. Canadian Cookbook Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph.

Canadian Cookbook Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph

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Figure 2

Chatelaine Centennial Collection of Home-Tested Recipes ― p.1.

Canadian Cookbook Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph

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Figure 3

Food– à la canadienne ― cover. Una Abrahamson Cookery Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph.

Una Abrahamson Cookery Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph

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Figure 4

Food– à la canadienne ― p.2. Una Abrahamson Cookery Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph.

Una Abrahamson Cookery Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Guelph

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Figure 5

Centennial Food Guide.

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Food is an intriguing way to examine national identities, as the two are strongly linked. As Arjun Appadurai has argued, cookbooks in countries with newly acquired nationhood and regionalized cuisines act as a middle-class instrument for composing a national culture. They allow the dominant social group to collect foodways from around the nation, establishing a culinary common ground. [5] Though Appadurai’s writings focus on India, his broad conclusions are applicable to the Canadian context.

Hersch Jacobs has addressed Canadian cuisine specifically. He has argued that most national cuisines are actually regional foodways united by a political system, Canada being no exception. He recognizes though that a constructed national cuisine is vital to the formation of an identity and national brand. [6] Rhona Richman Kenneally has argued that Canada’s food culture at Expo 67 was characterized by the “range and diversity of foods” eaten around the country. [7] She has also examined the Expo organizers’ search for an “authentic” Canadian menu, which wound up being foreign to most Canadians. [8] Franca Iacovetta and Valerie Korinek have discussed the ways in which food was used to enforce and reinforce Canadian citizenship. They have found that immigrant and refugee women in postwar Canada were the target of food education campaigns intended to minimize ethnic food practices and assimilate immigrant households into the Canadian fold. [9]

Nathalie Cooke has looked at fictional cookbook authors created by Canadian companies. They were represented as maternal, traditional authorities that guided home cooks into the consumer age. [10] Rhona Richman Kenneally, meanwhile, has explored real Canadian cookbook authors who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. She has argued that many of these authors, including the Bertons, continued Expo’s work in constructing a national food culture. [11] They were recognized Canadian authority figures who mobilized their cultural weight to form a Canadian cultural narrative. [12]

The three cookbooks under examination here were chosen for their creators’ authority over and interest in interpreting Canada to Canadians. Chatelaine magazine, for example, has been published nationally since 1928. [13] Valerie Korinek has discussed how strongly Canadian women responded to the magazine and associated publications. [14] The Family Favourites recipe contest, upon which the Chatelaine Centennial Collection was based, was open to all readers and actually shut down after 1967 because there were too many entries.  [15] The Chatelaine Cookbooks, first published in 1965, sold over 100,000 copies at a time when 10,000 units sold connoted a Canadian bestseller. [16] Korinek points out that Chatelaine provided a forum for Canadian women to exchange ideas at a time when womanhood was in flux. [17]Chatelaine cookbooks were a specific but vital space where women could share valued recipes from their everyday lives. Interestingly, as this paper will discuss, the Chatelaine centennial cookbook carried a less flexible vision of womanhood than did the magazine.

The Department of Agriculture’s cookbook, Food – à la canadienne, was evidently among the federal government’s attempts over the 1960s and early 1970s to establish an official national culture, alongside initiatives like Expo 67, the new flag, the national logo, and official bilingualism. [18] The book itself is bilingual, with French text on the left leaves and English on the right. [19] That design choice is intriguing, since readers accustomed to the Latin alphabet make more rightward than leftward eye movements when reading. [20] Whether they intended to or not, the authors may have disadvantaged French-language material.

The Centennial Food Guide by Pierre and Janet Berton constitutes a third facet of cultural production, a statement provided by cultural authorities. [21] McClelland and Stewart asked the Bertons to write about food for the Centennial Library Collection, since the couple were known for its adventurous eating and entertaining. Pierre was recognized for his work as a journalist, television personality, and prolific author of Canadian history books. [22] His wife, Janet Berton, lent her culinary expertise and experience to The Centennial Food Guide. [23] It sold out several print runs. [24]

Each cookbook has a particular structure and aesthetic that hints at the creators’ values. The Chatelaine Centennial Collection is published in English, divided into categories like casseroles, cakes, quick breads, and preserves. The book features densely printed recipes, with three or four items per page. Each item ends with the contributor’s name and location. Recipes over one hundred years old are marked but interspersed throughout the collection. Meanwhile, Food – à la canadienne is issued with soft or hard covers, and organized into categories of dishes. The recipes are accompanied by quotes about food and cartoons of edibles and eaters from Canadian history. It is not compiled from citizen submissions, but claims to act as “a sample of the dishes we like.” [25] The Centennial Food Guide is organized by culinary “eras” in Canadian history, portraying each through recipes, images, and quotes from historical actors. The Bertons include several personal anecdotes and recipes as well.

These were not the only Canadian cookbooks published for the centennial. The well-known food writer Kate Aitken, for example, published Kate Aitken’s Centennial Cookbook, while the New Democratic Party Women’s Committee released the Centennial Cook Book: Canada’s Favourites. [26] Community groups also produced centennial recipe collections. [27] Furthermore, collections of Canadian cookery were published before and after the centennial by popular authors like Jehane Benoit and Sondra Gottleib; Rhona Richman Kenneally has explored their genesis and meaning. [28] So, though the cookbooks under study here are a few of many possible sources, they were selected to assess how a specific set of recognized cultural producers interpreted food and nationalism in a particular historical moment. They act as case studies of national media, national government, and national figures.

These books offer a limited vision of Canadian citizenship. Aboriginal and immigrant foodways receive only token acknowledgment, often in amended form; one example from the Chatelaine publication, called “Favourite ‘Pemmican,’” contains day-old white bread, eggs, rosemary, thyme, and pepper. The author suggests it be used as a sandwich filling, and it bears negligible resemblance to the recorded recipes used by Aboriginals. [29] Though the Bertons discuss Aboriginal foodways more than other authors, they still provide a settler’s viewpoint. A section entitled “How Our Forefathers Fared” only includes European settlers’ anecdotes, while throughout the book Aboriginal food history is accessed through Euro-Canadian accounts. [30]

Elizabeth Driver has written about the limited authorship of compiled cookbooks like the Chatelaine Centennial Collection. These cookbooks’ compilers and composers were probably predominantly white, middle- and upper-class people, while the Bertons were white Canadians of the upper-middle class. [31] Though the authors of Food – à la canadienne are not identified, it is unlikely that the Consumer Section staff was especially diverse when the cookbook was being written in 1966. [32] With these facts in mind, it is clear that these books have exclusionary qualities. They reveal a somewhat narrow account of Canadian identity. Still, they can provide significant insight into the identity formations available to their authors and intended audience.

The North American kitchen was a gendered space, and Sherrie Inness has discussed how cookbooks act as "barometers" of gender roles and social fantasies about gender. [33] Canadian centennial cookbooks are in keeping with social trends, as they frame cooking and baking as feminine pursuits. In this vein, The Chatelaine Centennial Collection of Home-Tested Recipes excludes men. It includes 363 recipes from as many authors, none of whom are male. The introduction explains that “what makes this centennial collection so special, so personal, is that every dish ... is contributed by homemakers like yourself.” [34] Homemakers, it implies, are female by definition. The names of recipes also emphasize the book as belonging to a uniquely feminine domain. Betty’s baked beans, Mother’s vegetable pork pie, Barbara’s chili casserole, Agnes’ sponge cake, and Great Grandmother’s pork pie. These titles evoke origins or ownership. In some cases they indicate a descendant’s willingness to vouch for the recipe. [35] For writers who use their own name, the recipe remains connected with them. [36] The cookbook places power over food production, an important facet of national identity, with women.

The Chatelaine cookbook acknowledges men as an important audience for culinary efforts. Only seven contributors are not identified with the title “Mrs,” one of which is a child. [37] Fifty-eight of the contributors identify themselves with their husband’s first name, while only fifty use their own. The remainder are identified with initials. The fact that most contributors represent themselves in relation to their spouse compounds the implication that these meals are at least partially intended to satisfy men’s appetites. Even in a feminine literary space, men have a tacit presence as consumers. Women’s power over personal and national identity through power over food may, therefore, have been tempered.

The gendered aspects of food and cooking are displayed more explicitly in Food – à la canadienne. It is concerned with showing that women cook and bake while men do not. For example, the illustrations in the book show women cooking and serving food. [38] Illustrations of men, however, show them herding animals, fishing, and tapping maple trees. [39] One illustration, accompanying a quote that states “[a] woman who cannot cook soup should not be allowed to marry,” shows a perplexed woman at a burning pot while a man frowns over her shoulder. [40] His cartoonish demeanour is angry rather than concerned, and he seems to express displeasure at a delayed dinner rather than offer instruction. The image, like the text of the book, assigns women plenty of work and responsibility for cookery while simultaneously calling their abilities into doubt and showing that a woman’s lack of skill could lead to household discord.

The Centennial Food Guide contains more overt references to the gendered nature of cooking. This book establishes that in the Berton household, and Canadian society at large, women do the cooking and men the eating. The first recipe in the book, Janet’s Soup, tells the reader that “the male editor of this book unconditionally guarantees this soup.” [41] Janet openly states that her cooking is directed at a male audience. “I cook for my husband,” she writes, “and when he’s not at home I find myself making do with peanut butter sandwiches or the equivalent.” [42] The book even takes a darkly humorous turn, when Janet writes, “[i]f I served instant coffee to my husband I really think he’d divorce me.” [43] Though it has not aged well, this sort of domestic humour was appealing at the time. Nancy Walker has discussed how female humourists of the late 1940s and 1950s ― Phyllis McGinley, Jean Kerr, Margaret Halsey, Betty MacDonald, and Shirley Jackson ― exploited the essentialist contrast between male and female domestic tasks; their hyperbolic gestures to spousal abandonment were absurdist, though Walker argues that such humour did speak to the writer’s frustration. [44] Even so, Janet Berton represents herself as the sort of domestic goddess these humourists would mock; in one of her triumphant stories she serves Alfred Knopf the best meal of his life while heavily pregnant at the height of summer. [45] The Centennial Food Guide emphasizes that women should seek fulfillment and approval in the kitchen. Janet provides women with control over food preparation, but little else.

Pierre’s sections of the book reinforce that message. In an essay entitled “Certain Reservations About the Future,” he expresses dread about the future of food, envisioning Bake-in-a-Bag meals or entire families who eat nothing but pablum. He still pictures housewives doing the shopping and mixing the pablum. “Mum may start to yearn for an old-fashioned kitchen and an old-fashioned chopping board,” he warns. “After all, if the scientists are right, time will be hanging pretty heavy on her hands in the age of automation.” [46] It is interesting that Pierre acknowledges one evident trend while ignoring another; while packaged foods were becoming more and more prominent in the 1960s, they were not necessarily leaving Canadian wives bored and useless. In that decade, half of the women in the national workforce were married. [47]

These cookbooks show variations on a vision of Canadian womanhood. The Chatelaine Institute has compiled a celebration of womanly culinary authority, but it carries a consistent acknowledgment that male consumers are part of the culinary transaction. Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture displays an uncritical acceptance of gendered roles in food production. The Bertons imply that cooking defines femininity and gives purpose to purposeless females. Though the Bertons’ particular slant may reveal more about their marriage than Canadian culture, the fact remains that Pierre Berton was a cultural authority and the book was a popular text. These centennial cookbooks form part of the prescriptive literature about gender, food, and nationalism in the 1960s. While the books are produced by various methods that inform their tone and content, they all espouse the same broad message about gender and food. In these texts, Canadian women receive a compelling but truncated role in creating and perpetuating national identity through food preparation.

Another characteristic of Canadian food culture that these cookbooks convey is regionalism. According to Jacobs, it does not matter whether a cohesive national cuisine exists, so long as one can be asserted. [48] Kenneally points out that “Canadian cookbook” authors in the long 1960s made sure to explain the regional provenances of each dish. They knew that Canadian cuisine was so strongly regionalised that the only way to write credibly on Canadian food was to embrace regional diversity and establish it as a touchstone of the nation’s food culture. [49] Each cookbook under study here displays those strategies.

In the Chatelaine Centennial Collection each contributor’s province and town are given, along with her recipe and name. Moreover, there are several recipes from each province, though only one from a territory; Mrs. I.M. Goulter has sent in a recipe for hot pot clam casserole from Cormacks, Yukon Territory. [50] It is significant that the cookbook’s compilers choose to specify where each recipe comes from. Even when a dish is not especially regional or remarkable, as in Mrs. Goulter’s case, its geographic origins are important to composing a portrait of national food culture.

Food – à la canadienne portrays Canada’s regionalized food culture in a more deterministic way. The introductory page explains that “[f]ood in Canada is as diverse as the cultural backgrounds of our people ... Some [dishes] are distinctively regional; others have been adapted from old-country favourites; and many are simply very popular ways of serving foods produced in Canada.” [51] The book carries on, including detailed explanations of where several dishes originate. One pea soup recipe is accompanied by text explaining that “[t]his recipe comes from the Maritime Provinces. French-Canadian pea soup is similar but contains whole yellow peas, salt pork, savory parsley, a bay leaf and a little hominy.” [52] The book also includes charming asides that explain how the foods are eaten regionally, as well as how they are prepared. [53] These measures to personalize regional recipes seem to figure in the process by which cookbook authors attempted to make regional dishes less remote. [54] However, it is notable that these recipes offer a selective vision of Canadian diversity. Aboriginal, Japanese, and Chinese foods, for instance, are neglected in favour of items from Canada’s predominantly white settler communities. The Department of Agriculture works to make difference inviting and endearing, but they exclude some parts of the nation from that process.

In their book, the Bertons focus on French Canadian and Maritime regional dishes. Their “All Canadian Dinner” perpetuates Maritime and French-Canadian dominance in Canadian cooking by including Brome Lake duckling, Malpeque oysters, French Canadian pea soup, fiddleheads, young Prince Edward Island potatoes, blueberries, and Oka cheese. [55] The Bertons also provide the most definitive statement on what Canadian cuisine meant to them. “Canadian native foods fall into three categories,” they have decided:

“[T]he natural dishes unchanged since Indian times – the Saskatoon berries and the boysenberries ... maple syrup ... fiddleheads ... Then there are what one might call the Canadian species ... McIntosh Red [apples] ... St. John River salmon ... Arctic char ... Finally, there are distinctive Canadian concoctions, many of them regional in character and some of them derivative. The first was certainly pemmican...pea soups, baked beans and chowders ... [and] French Canadian tourtiére. [56]

With this definition in mind, it is interesting that the Bertons choose a relatively exclusionary “All Canadian Meal” that speaks more to eastern Canadian cuisine than any other. By their definition, perhaps this was among the privileges Canadians had to be proud of, in that they were able to share in a food culture so far from their homes. Though Canada has a diverse geography and covers massive distances, the scattered people could eat their way into a coherent nation. Though they could not meet their fellow citizens, they could certainly cook like them. [57]

Most of the Bertons’ references to Aboriginal food are couched within a discussion of northern cuisine, and in many cases they are tinged with morbid fascination. The filmmaker Doug Wilkinson is quoted a number of times, describing his favourite “Eskimo” dishes, like “[r]aw frozen caribou meat eaten with chunks of back fat; meat thawed just enough to be crunchy.” [58] He is quoted in a separate section, noting that “[b]adly cooked food, spoiled food, does not bother the Eskimo very much.” [59] Though the Bertons’ inclusion of Aboriginal foodways is interesting, they are prone to selecting material that constitutes Aboriginals as other. Perhaps with their middle-class, Euro-Canadian audience in mind, they represent Aboriginals as a foreign, exotic people with shocking habits.

The centennial cookbooks’ gender essentialism and uncritical reliance on “region” as a guarantor of authenticity are matched by their reductive emphasis on Canada’s culinary past as a marker of identity. These books each work to contextualize their recipes in the nation’s history. This is a notable departure from other centennial celebrations; Expo 67 is known and remembered for its futuristic approach to defining and displaying Canada, characterized by innovative buildings and displays touting human progress. [60] The cookbooks though look to the known territory of the past to harness the centennial’s significance. The past that they access, however, is culturally specific and colonist-oriented.

The Chatelaine Centennial Collection’s introduction sets the stage for this historical focus. “As a memento of Canada’s centennial,” Elaine Collett writes, “we have published this new and expanded edition of our most popular book of recipes. Tracing Canadian cooking customs back one hundred years or more, it includes authentic heirloom recipes from pioneer Canadian kitchens.” [61] Some of the updates on those old recipes are rather amusing. One heirloom recipe for snow muffins suggests that “[c]lean frost scraped from a freezer may be used instead of snow.” [62] 175 recipes out of 363 are marked as heirloom items. The Chatelaine Institute compiled recipes with a historical as well as regional provenance for their centennial celebration. Though the book represents a largely settler-oriented history of food, it is intriguing to see which parts of their history Canada’s dominant classes use to define themselves.

The Department of Agriculture also celebrates the centennial with a historical slant. Food – à la canadienne includes anecdotes about the historical significance of many foods, and especially how they helped early Canadians survive financially and physically. A section of pork recipes explains that hogs were once known as “mortgage lifters”: “[U]nlike grain crops, they could be depended upon for income in any kind of weather.” [63] The book also describes early settlers’ reliance on potatoes for food, laundry starch, leavening, and bottle stoppers. [64] Saskatoon berries also receive applause as a “constituent of pemmican, the ‘emergency rations’ of the Indians and early settlers on the Prairies.” [65] This detail may explain why pemmican in particular received acknowledgment in each book; it is integrated into settler cuisine and the process of colonization. Though they do not stipulate the age of recipes as does the Chatelaine Institute, the Department still links Canadian dishes and ingredients to the nation’s history.

The Bertons, meanwhile, trace Canadian cookery through Confederation, from “Dining Out in the Good Old Days” and “The Dining Car Breakfast.” [66] “The Temperance Era” is blamed for Canada’s continuing ill-appreciation of wine, while the “Age of Abundance” and its fourteen-course banquets are lovingly described. [67] The Bertons celebrate old-style food, when “[b]aking was done at home, which meant bread tasted like bread and not papier-maché.” [68] They go on to sniff at Canadian food since the 1940s. “Since World War Two,” they write, “dining has been dominated by the lineal descendants of the K-ration.” [69] The Bertons’ centennial gift to Canadians is a reminder of past food culture, and a tool to reclaim it. Their pessimistic view of the future is notable among these publications, but it raises the question of whether a form of anti-modernism is at work in all of these cookbooks. The Bertons’ editorializing makes it apparent in their publication, while the other books celebrate the past without openly plotting to escape to it. Regardless, these books suggest that, in 1967, Canada’s future was a challenging, enigmatic, or even undesirable destination.

Canada around the centennial is an especially intriguing place to study food culture. 1967 represented an occasion to define and display national culture to domestic and international audiences. [70] There was no obvious Canadian cuisine though and cultural authorities ranging from the Chatelaine Institute to the federal government to the Bertons took up the task of locating one. The differences between these books are intriguing. While the Department of Agriculture’s book is clearly a vehicle for bilingualism as well as nationalism, the Chatelaine cookbook assumes that readers are Anglophone and translates titles submitted in French. The books also have notably different styles of delivery. Food – à la canadienne has a tone of omnipotent authority. The Chatelaine Centennial Collection, meanwhile, includes many identified voices but each is constrained by the formulaic recipe format. [insert endnote: Theophano, Eat My Words, 90.] The Bertons diverge by providing two colourful and expressive editorial voices, along with many excerpts from past Canadian culinary wrinting.

These cookbooks portray Canadian cuisine as a feminine domain, emphasize its regional character, and laud its historical origins. In doing so, they validate gender essentialism, provide a selective vision of Canadian diversity, and express a degree of skepticism about the future. They also provide a means for the dominant classes of Canadians to perform and celebrate their identity in domestic space. These cookbooks suggest that being a Canadian was a complicated undertaking in 1967. They provide a specific narrative of national identity. Citizenship performance through cookery, they articulate, favoured certain Canadians.

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