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Cooking the books

Farine Purity Livre de Cuisine/ Le Livre de Recettes Farine Purity, Western Canada Flour Mills Company, Southam Press Limited, Montreal & Toronto, 1925, 161 p.350 Recettes de Cuisine, Madamoiselle Jeanne Anctil, Librairie Beauchemin, Limitée, Montreal, 1924, 300 p.

  • Eileen S. DeMarco

Corps de l’article

To whet the academic and culinary appetites of CuiZine readers, an evaluation of two interwar cookbooks, Livre de Recettes Farine Purity and 350 Recettes de Cuisine, is served. This intellectual feast will consist of four courses: as an hors d’oeuvre, a description of the texts; as an appetizer, an analysis of three primary aspects for comparison; for plat principal, a description of the “bake off,” pitting against each other recipes for the same item from each book; as a dessert, a summary of the “taste off,” including observations from members of the tasting panel.

Hors D’Oeuvre: The Descriptions

The Livre de Recettes Farine Purity is a booklet of one hundred sixty pages produced by the Western Canada Flour Mills Company in 1925. This particular version sports a red cover with gold writing and the company’s seal. On the cover, the title reads: FARINE PURITY LIVRE DE CUISINE as opposed to LE LIVRE DE RECETTES FARINE PURITY as on the title page. This collection is at least the second one of its kind offered by the company as the title page affirms the booklet “contient les meilleurs recettes de notre dernier livre auxquelles ont été ajoutées les recettes soigneusement choisies et vérifiées d’experts.” [1] The index lists 32 chapters including informational sections on household tips, cooking times, and weights and measures. Although the booklet was produced by a flour mill company, recipes for dishes that do not require flour are plentiful. These include, for example, Ponche aux fruits, Chutney aux tomates, and Salade d’huitres [sic]. The booklet’s introductory pages feature illustrations of the Western Canada Flour Mills Company’s “installation à Winnepeg” that boasts a “capacité quotidienne de 5,000 barils” as well as a montage of photographs of the company’s “laboratoire.” [2] Also included here are coupons and ordering instructions enabling consumers to send copies of the booklet to friends. Clearly, the recipe collection is a marketing tool providing a means for the Western Canada Flour Mills Company to trumpet Canadian wheat production in general and the superior quality of Farine Purity in particular. In the chapter devoted to “Pain, Galettes et Pain de Fantaisie,” the Canadian housewife learns: “...IL A ETE PROUVE QUE LE PAIN FAIT AVEC DE LA FARINE PURITY EST UNE NOURRITURE PLUS PARFAITE ET PLUS SOUTENANTE POUR LE CORPS QUE TOUT AUTRE ALIMENT.” [3] This sentence is written entirely in capital letters without accents in the text. The header on every page of the booklet reminds the home cook the recipes are provided by Farine Purity while the footer of each page confirms that Farine Purity produces “MEILLEUR PAIN – DÉLICIEUSE PÂTISSERIE.” By furnishing such a comprehensive collection of recipes that also includes general, useful information for both the novice and experienced menagère, the Western Canada Flour Mills Company sought to forge a lasting partnership with Canadian female consumers.

350 Recettes de Cuisine is another interwar cookbook, published in 1924 and authored by Madamoiselle Jeanne Anctil, “Directrice des Écoles Ménagères Provinciales.” The cover, a rather drab gray-green with black writing, declares this text to be the new, illustrated version. The book consists of 265 numbered pages, 300 in total. The Preface, attributed to “un ami de l’Ecole,” [sic] is entitled “Quorum Deus Venter Est” or “Their God is their stomach.” [4] It emphasizes one’s obligation to maintain one’s health, principally through good nutrition. Clearly, it is the responsibility of the wife of the household to promote healthful and tasty dining in a frugal manner. For the Christian woman, this is, perhaps more accurately, not merely a duty but rather a vocation. 350 Recettes can aid in this mission:

Par ce petit livre de recettes de cuisine plus d’une épouse reconquerra la royauté dans son ménage, plus d’un mari retrouvera la bonne humeur perdue. On sera surpris d’apprendre qu’on peut manger si bien avec si peu d’argent et qu’il est assez facile de cultiver son palais sans épuiser sa bourse.

The book’s definition of “la cuisine” further highlights the moral imperatives of the devoted housewife. “La cuisine” is an art that requires choosing ingredients, discerning their qualities, and judiciously using herbs and seasonings tastefully, to conform to the rules of hygiene and promote health. Descriptions of various types of dishes, advice about cuts of meat, game, poultry and the selection of other ingredients, as well as an alphabetized glossary of key terms follow. [5] The numbered recipes are divided into eleven general categories. The last section features “12 Menus de Cuisine Fine.” Interspersed in several sections of the text are illustrations, including photographs of featured dishes, line drawings of kitchen tools, and photographs of various facilities at the École Menagère including the model dining room, exhibition and sewing rooms, and the office of the principal or directrice. The placement of the school photographs strikes this reader as rather haphazard. Perhaps these are included to inspire users of the cookbook to enroll in the school yet no strong marketing appeal for the institution is evident in the book.

Appetizer: Three Aspects for Comparison

Three “tastes” are offered for readers to savour and ponder: the melting pot, authority, and modernity.

Perhaps it is appropriate for cookbooks to emphasize the image of a “melting pot” of cultures. As a reader from the United States of America, this concept is certainly very familiar. It was intriguing to see it illustrated textually in these two Canadian cookbooks. The “melting pot” of Canadian culture is demonstrated in Farine Purity and 350 Recettes most vividly with the combination not only of French and English language but also with the use of English units of measure. [6] When approached about trying recipes from vintage Canadian cookbooks, the challenge (and inconvenience for this American home cook) of using metric units, while not insurmountable, was certainly real. I was relieved to see “tasse” and “cuillerée de thé” but a bit puzzled by the inclusion of both “cuillerées de table” and “cuillerées de soupe.” As I paged through Farine Purity, I was intrigued with the interspersing of English language terms within the French text. In some cases, these were for specific ingredients like blueberries (listed in the recipe title and ingredient list for Pain d’Epice à la Crème et aux Bleuets in French but also translated into English). Examples like this abound in Farine Purity: “Candis” as opposed to bonbons, “fudge,” “prunes farcies” as opposed to pruneaux, “trilbys,” “Garniture tutti frutti,” “glace à la crème de walnut” as opposed to noix de Grenoble as used elsewhere in the text, “brioches Hot Cross,” “Junkets Jackson,” “pouding à la fécule de mais (cornstarch),” “soupe à l’orge (barley).” Of course, perhaps these should not have been a surprise in a cookbook whose very title combines French and English. While there are a few of these occurrences in 350 Recettes, such as “Oxtail Soup” and “pamplemousse glacée ‘grape-fruit’” the examples in Farine Purity are markedly more abundant. This may be explained by two reasons. First, this is likely a linguistic reflection of the strength of the English aspects of Canada’s dual identity. Second, the incorporation of both English and French must have been necessary as a marketing tool for a commercial cookbook designed to appeal to consumers from all regions of Canada. [7]

An even more compelling illustration of the “melting pot” is the inclusion in both Canadian French-language cookbooks of a recipe for a cookie considered a New England classic: the hermit. I chose to test this recipe as it appeared in both Farine Purity and 350 Recettes, and could provide an enjoyable means of comparison of the two texts. An informal internet search about hermit cookies yields a small sampling of theories about the origin of this treat; the common thread among the various sources is the “New England” origin. Upon a closer reading of at least two of these sources, it was clear the term “New England” needed to be understood rather broadly to include the east coast of North America – the online sources focused on the east coast regions of the United States, including Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont. Given the close proximity of Montreal (location of the Ecoles Ménagères Provinciales) to Lake Champlain, it is not surprising a recipe for a “New England” confection would find its way 100 miles or 220 kilometers or so north. It is curious, however, that such a recipe would find its way westward to the middle of the continent, about 2,762 kilometers away from Montreal. Perhaps this is simply a testament to the popularity of the hermit cookie and the movement of people west, to the central region of Canada, home to the Western Canada Flour Mills Company. It is also possible the recipe needed only to have migrated to Toronto, about 543 kilometers from Montreal. Toronto was the siège social of the Western Canada Flour Mills Company but the photos of the processing plant and “laboratoire” are from Winnipeg. [8]

A second “taste” to savour – or ponder – is the enduring question of authority: how is it defined, how is it established, how is it expressed, how is it communicated? Both of these texts claim expertise – authority – in the realm of cooking. Given the attribution of 350 Recettes to Jeanne Anctil as directrice of the ÉcolesMénagères Provinciales, I would have assumed this volume to be the more comprehensive and authoritative of the two books. Interestingly, there is no particular section in 350 Recettes devoted to an overview of the curriculum of the school nor is there any discussion of Anctil’s qualifications to author the book or her own formation in the study of home economics, which she pursued at a school in Fribourg, Switzerland. [9] The only references to the school itself are the few photographs of its facilities, which are sprinkled throughout the text. I wondered if the school’s reputation within Canada was sufficient to assure home cooks of the reliability of the book. While 350 Recettes does not sound the praises of the Écoles Ménagères, Livre de Recettes Farine Purity certainly takes full advantage of the text to promote its product. For this volume, authority stems from the corporate identity of the Western Canada Flour Mills Company.

The producers of the Livres de Recettes Farine Purity utilize the text to promote their product on every page, showing a particular affinity for the use of capital letters in the text. The Western Canada Flour Mills Company combines bold claims about the quality of Farine Purity and photographs of the facilities at Winnipeg to establish itself as a credible resource for Canadian housewives on the wide range of culinary issues from advice about the purchase of various cuts of meat to general and varied kitchen tips, like how to minimize the unpleasant odors produced by boiling cabbage (by adding a morsel of stale bread to the pot). [10] The introductory material of Livres de Recettes Farine Purity and the reminders at the head and foot of every page: “Farine Purity” and “MEILLEUR PAIN – DÉLICIEUSE PÂTISSERIE,” leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that the Western Canada Flour Mills Company is equipped to provide the necessary guidance in the kitchen for the novice and the experienced homemaker.

The third “taste” to relish is the claim of modernity – especially the techniques employed to express it in each text. In addition to verbal claims, both 350 Recettes and Farine Purity use images to stake their claims. The subject matter and placement of the photographs in Farine Purity were purposefully chosen and strategically deployed. The image of the exterior of the factory complex and the montage of views of the “laboratoire” confront the reader with visual proof of contemporary, sleek, professional facilities and equipment. Before setting eyes on the recipes to follow, the reader has been assured – photographically -- that the Western Canada Flour Mills is capable of furnishing up-to-date recipes for the modern-day household. The layout of the photographs in Farine Purity – organized, deliberate, and tactical -- is more effective and convincing with regard to modernity than is the seemingly haphazard interspersing of various images of school facilities, kitchen tools, and finished dishes in 350 Recettes.

Likewise, the layout of the recipes in Farine Purity strikes the reader as systematic and instructive rather than anecdotal, as in 350 Recettes. Farine Purity lists the ingredients and the quantities required prior to the directions for executing each recipe. 350 Recettes utilizes a paragraph format that incorporates the list of ingredients with the instructions or sets the list as a first paragraph followed by the directions, given in paragraph form. Consequently, at least for this 21st-century cook, the recipes in Farine Purity are easier to follow as the layout allows for the effortless gathering and mise en place of supplies before engaging in the cooking or baking procedures. The way recipes are grouped on a single page in Farine Purity enables the cook to see several recipes for related items at the same time. The paragraph format of 350 Recettes does not permit this kind of view. By today’s standards, the design of Farine Purity would certainly be regarded as more modern than that of 350 Recettes. Of course, reading the recipes is only the first step. Following them is another.

Plat Principal: The Bake Off

Both books presume a knowledge and skill base that today’s cookbooks might not dare assume. Instructions like “défaire le beurre en crème” or “battez le beurre en crème” (cream the butter) presume the cook understands the key term. In the early 20th century, this assumption was not unreasonable. Today, however, one is more likely to find much more detailed instruction like: attach the flat beater to the stand mixer; using setting 4, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Similarly, the instructions for oven settings in Farine Purity and 350 Recettes are generally not specific temperatures but rather descriptions of the levels of heat: moderate or lively. In some instances, neither a description nor a temperature was given yet another recipe called for an oven set at “400 F.” [11] The inconsistencies regarding the instructions for baking temperatures and times present a challenge for today’s cook. As an avid baker, this aspect was not insurmountable for me. In my experience, oven temperatures for most drop cookies range from 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The recipes for hermit cookies in each of the books were similar but there were three important differences in their ingredients and some variation in the method dictated. Farine Purity titles the recipe simply “Ermites” while 350 Recettes labels the cookie “Petits Gateaux Ermites.” [12] Both versions called for similar amounts of butter (one third cup for Farine Purity and six tablespoons for 350 Recettes), and identical amounts of milk, egg, flour, baking powder, chopped raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground clove. The methods for producing the dough were also essentially the same: cream the butter, add the sugar gradually, followed by the raisins, beaten egg and milk; sift the dry ingredients and add to the first mixture. The recipes parted company in terms of method for the instructions on placing amounts of dough on the cookie sheet. Farine Purity called for the simple drop method while 350 Recettes called for rolling a quarter of the dough at a time to a quarter-inch thickness on a floured surface and then cutting the dough with a round or square cutter prior to baking. The consistency of both was that of drop cookie dough. Rolling out the dough would have required the addition of a fair amount of flour, rendering the final product dry and bland, I hypothesized. Relying on vast prior cookie-baking experience, I abandoned the idea of rolling out the dough in the 350 Recettes version and used the drop method instead. I baked both recipes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes. Both recipes were easy to prepare and to bake.

The variation in the ingredient list for each version of hermit cookies yielded important differences in the doughs and the final products. Farine Purity’s hermit cookies called for one cup of brown sugar, a half-cup chopped “noix de Grenoble” or walnuts, and a quarter-teaspoon of mace. 350 Recettes’ hermit cookie recipe used two-thirds of a cup of white sugar rather than brown sugar and omitted the walnuts and mace. The dough of the Farine Purity hermit cookies was the color of brown sugar in contradistinction to the pale dough of 350 Recettes’ hermits, which incorporated the white sugar. The Farine Purity dough was noticeably more fragrant than its counterpart from 350 Recettes. How did the discrepancies in ingredients affect the finished product?

Dessert: The Taste Off

Tasters clearly appreciated the distinction between the two versions brought about by the deviations in the ingredient lists. The tasting panel consisted of members of my immediate and extended family, including my venerable mother; my three children aged 19, 17, and 15; my husband; my cousin; and myself. I did not disclose the name of the cookie to the tasters nor did I indicate which version was which. All of us, with the exception of my cousin, definitively preferred the Farine Purity hermit to that of 350 Recettes. Recall the 350 Recettes hermit recipe used white sugar and omitted the nuts and mace. As a result, tasters commented on its pale or anemic appearance and sweet and mild taste. My cousin, possessed of an avid sweet tooth, confessed to disappointment the raisins in both cookies were not chocolate chips! Adjectives and epithets most employed by the panel to describe the Farine Purity hermits included autumnal, hearty, spicy, rich in colour and texture, old fashioned, a reminder of youth, an oatmeal cookie without the oatmeal.

The differences of three key ingredients must be the explanation for the variation in the final product of the two recipes. The brown sugar produced a dough and cookie darker and richer in colour than the version with white sugar. The inclusion of nuts yielded a texture akin to an oatmeal cookie – hence the description “an oatmeal cookie without the oatmeal.” The addition of a quarter-teaspoon of mace, which is the ground skin of the nutmeg, produced a fragrant dough and a baked cookie that was more flavourful than the hermit without it.

Figure 1

Livre de Recettes Farine Purity Ermites, author’s finished product

Livre de Recettes Farine Purity Ermites, author’s finished product

-> Voir la liste des figures

Figure 2

350 Recettes Petits Gateaux Ermites, author’s finished product

350 Recettes Petits Gateaux Ermites, author’s finished product

-> Voir la liste des figures

The hermit cookie recipe from Farine Purity, with the incorporation of brown sugar, nuts, and mace, is markedly similar to the version published in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book, according to the New England Recipes website. This source also concludes that the “New England” variant relied on white sugar while the inclusion of brown sugar was typical in the Champlain Valley region of New York and Vermont, which it credits with the initial development of the hermit. Mark H. Zanger of historycook.com speculates the name of hermit cookies may be explained by the similarity between the brown colour of the cookie and a hermit’s “brown sack-cloth robe.” [13]

Le Digestif: The Conclusion

A comparison of two Canadian interwar period cookbooks, Livres de Recettes Farine Purity and 350 Recettes de Cuisine yields much food for thought. Readers and cookbook aficionados on both sides of the Canadian-American border can certainly appreciate how both volumes vividly illustrate the commingling of French, British, and American cultures through the inclusion of English units of measurement, French and English languages, and American regional recipes. The source of authority in each book is different. 350 Recettes relies on the expertise and reputation of Jeanne Anctil, directrice of the Écoles Menagères Provinciales. While references to the school are incorporated, primarily through the inclusion of some photographs of its facilities, the text does not make explicit verbal declarations about the reliability of the institution as a source of knowledge on cooking and household management. Livre de Recettes Farine Purity makes bold textual, verbal, and visual assertions about the authority of the Western Canada Flour Mills Company. The consistent incorporation of claims about the quality of Farine Purity in capital letters on every page, the verbal description of the modern and scientific facilities of the “installation à Winnepeg,” and the montage of images of the mill and the laboratoire leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that the Western Canada Flour Mills Company is a qualified source upon which Canadian homemakers could rely not only for the high quality products of the Farine Purity line but also for reliable advice and instruction on cooking. Clearly, the Western Flour Mills Company sought an enduring relationship with the Canadian female consumer and the Livre de Recettes Farine Purity was a means by which that connection could be made and maintained. The Livres de Recettes Farine Purity makes more effective and convincing claims about the modernity and authority of the Western Canada Flour Mills Company than 350 Recettes articulates about Jeanne Anctil and her school. This 21st-century cook found Livre de Recettes Farine Purity easier to use and preferred its version of the hermit cookie in terms of attractive appearance, fragrance, texture, and taste. In this limited test, therefore, corporate expertise trumped that of Mademoiselle Anctil, her contributions to the study of home economics in Canada notwithstanding. The textual analysis of each volume certainly supports this conclusion. The evaluation of the hermit cookies from each book was but one possible test case. Perhaps more lab research is required. My noble and selfless tasting panel members assure me that if I am willing to continue to conduct culinary experiments comparing the recipes from Livre de Recettes Farine Purity and 350 Recettes de Cuisine, they will fulfill their duties and put their taste buds to the service of the wider academic and culinary community. The cooking continues!

Parties annexes

Parties annexes