Around the Table: Library Chat

Welcome to the latest Around the Table and return to the Recipes Project Library Chat! Today we travel to the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal. I am delighted to speak with Dr. Mary Yearl, Head Librarian at Osler Library. Please note that you will soon find a version of this post on the McGill University Library News Blog, Library Matters.

1. The McGill Library has many items of interest to our readership, particularly in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine and the Cookbook and Menu Collection housed in Rare Books and Special Collections. Could you provide a brief overview of the library’s holdings and research strengths?

The Osler Library was designed by Percy Nobbs to house Sir William Osler’s books and his remains. Here one sees the library in the Strathcona Medical Building, where it opened in 1929. This room was reassembled in its current location in the McIntyre Medical Building in the mid-1960s.

The nucleus of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine is the collection of nearly 8,000 titles left to the McGill Medical Faculty by Sir William Osler when he died in December 1919. The holdings are mainly, but not exclusively, medical. The library is also home to editions of foundational works in the history of science and to a number of literary and theological books collected by Osler. The majority of our items are printed, but we also have sizeable collections of archival materials, artifacts, and some pieces of artwork.

B.O. 53, Assyrian Medical Tablet. Containing such advice as, “‘the emerald plant’ in best beer thou shalt give him to drink,” This Assyrian medical tablet from ca. 700 BCE provides recipes to treat an unnamed eye disease.

Osler’s own collecting with respect to recipes favoured works from England written or published in the 16th and 17th centuries. That said, there are also works in French, German, and Latin, and the earliest item is an 8th-century BCE Assyrian tablet on various treatments for an unspecified eye disease. Of the items that have been added more recently, the 19th and 20th centuries are well represented.

The real wealth of recipe-related items at McGill can be found outside of the Osler, within the Library’s division of Rare Books and Special Collections. The Cookbook and Menu Collection was established in the late 1960s and consists of over 3,800 titles. It is composed primarily of Canadian, American and British material. The bulk of the collection is from the twentieth century, though there are significant nineteenth-century holdings including a long run of editions and revisions of Mrs. Beaton’s Book of Household Management. In addition, there are some eighteenth-century books.

The collection includes a considerable number of ephemeral items containing recipes and produced by flourmills, sugar refiners and other food manufacturers. Cookbooks created by church organizations, women’s clubs, and other community groups form another significant part of the collection. In addition, there are a number of books devoted to home economics. Also within the Rare Books and Special Collections division is the recently-acquired Doncaster Recipes Collection, consisting of culinary and medicinal recipes mainly from the late-eighteenth through the first half of the nineteenth century.

2. Can you highlight a few of your favorite recipes-related items?

François II de Rohan. Medical Recipes and Health Regimens Including Receptes De Plusieurs Expers Medecins Consernantes Diverse Malladies and Other Texts. ca. 1515. Several of the recipes in this manuscript refer to a “Master Bernard,” whose identity is but one of many questions we hope to answer through scholarly research. Note the combination of fine artistic detail and practical medical information.

Without hesitation, our current favourite item is manuscript of medicinal recipes from ca. 1515, recently acquired with an eye towards honouring Sir William Osler as we commemorate the centenary of his death. We are in the early stages of planning a scholarly edition and are truly enthusiastic about the many directions we can go with this work. The work is marvellous aesthetically: it is a deluxe presentation copy with a velvet cover and fine illuminations, given by the Archbishop of Lyons François II de Rohan to his brother, Charles de Rohan-Gié. The manuscript bears clear signs of having been read, with marginal “nota” and the occasional “nota secretum” indicating that this work was not merely admired for its beauty, but was also appreciated for its contents.

Another interesting one is B.O. (Bibliotheca Osleriana) 7591, which in many ways is a standard late medieval recipe manuscript, a copy of John of Burgundy’s Practica phisicalia. This in itself is not remarkable, but in a blog post that appeared in the Osler Library’s former platform, De re medica, Patrick Outhwaite observed that B.O. 7591 had in common with Wellcome MS. 406 the removal of information about male sexuality.

Another local favourite is manuscript B.O. 7586, best known to us as “The Book of the Head,” which is the subject matter of the text bound with Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super librum Job. This 15th-century manuscript is part of a larger work that would have offered treatments for all sections of the body, but a deliberate choice was made in this case to include only recipes to treat ailments of the head.

Margaret Parnell, Manuscript commonplace book, rough account book and notebook in pencil and ink, including five pages of home abortion and contraception recipes. Ontario [various places], ca. 1908–1913. The abortifacient and contraceptive recipes recorded in this commonplace book from Ontario, ca. 1908–1913 contain many ingredients that were either identified as poisons (ergot) or which are known as such (sugar of lead), and also includes the curious, “gun powder + whiskey + take freely.”

Many of the less explored recipes come from daybooks, journals, and other sources of vernacular medicine. I was recently reminded of a short section on recipes that appears in a notebook kept by a woman from Ontario in the early years of the 20th century, which we recently acquired but have not yet catalogued. “How to get rid of kids” is the start of a few pages of recipes on abortion and contraception. Fertility recipes are an important part of the history of medicinal recipes, and to see such a stark title is a somewhat ironic reminder of the utter humanity behind the pen. Despite the shock of the initial title, however, the recipes themselves are practical, if poisonous (e.g., a contraceptive douche that contains sugar of lead). Beyond these few pages, the commonplace book is as mundane (and interesting for this) as might be expected, also including household accounts, a list of books, and an inventory that includes a breast pump.

Other items we appreciate because they reflect our attempts to tell the history of medicine as practised locally. Some of our recipes come from patient notes. For instance, in a record book kept by Theodule Nepveu, who practised in a variety of towns around Quebec in the first half of the twentieth century, we find a “regime alimentaire” outlining permitted and prohibited foods for those with colitis. Nepveu’s record book is not spectacular in the way that the François II de Rohan illuminated gift is, but the information it contains is no less important. To start, one might examine a doctor’s comments about diet to draw conclusions about what foods were available, and which his patients were likely to have access to. Or, as with the commonplace book of the woman from Ontario, it is the ordinary practicality that makes the contents extraordinary.

3. What tips can you offer to help users find collection items with recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

This is not intended to be a trick question, but at the moment it rather feels like one. At McGill, we have had two catalogues for quite some time. The “classic” catalogue is heavily used by those of us who work with rare materials, but it is going away on 1 May 2019 so we are all in the midst of a steep learning curve even as we are still waiting for some advanced features to be made available in the new WorldCat Discovery catalogue. For those who wish to search the original Osler catalogue, the Bibliotheca Osleriana is easily found online. For archival sources, there is now an integrated archival catalogue, through which one can search all archival holdings at McGill. Another place to find recipe-related items is in the McGill Library’s collections within the Internet Archive, discussed below. With regard to searching those resources, though, it is a good idea to click “search text contents” rather than only searching the metadata.

Even though most of our material is catalogued, we would advise anyone with questions to reach out to us (osler_[dot]_library_[at]_mcgill_[dot]_ca) to see if there might be more.

4. Does the McGill Library offer any digital resources to off-site researchers?

MS 251, Practicall Physick of Roger Lickbarrow, mid-18th century, contains medicinal remedies for a wide range of complaints. The contents are ordered by type of ailment. The page shown refers to “diseases of the belly” and has “French pox” as well as “nocturnal pollution” near the end. Other sections are devoted to “womens diseases” and “childrens diseases”.

We have a small number of items that have been digitized, but enough that we have created an Osler Library collection within the Internet Archive.

We are making an effort to increase the digital resources available to off-site researchers. In addition to highlighting items to prioritize for digitization, we are figuring out the best workflow for digitizing items straight from cataloguing where feasible. Finally, we do digitize materials on demand. There will be some delay depending upon the queue in the digitization lab, but we regard user requests as one way of making our materials available to a wider audience.

5. Does McGill offer any fellowships or travel grants for researchers who want to go to Montreal to use your materials?

The Osler Library offers three research grants and one artist residency. For those seeking to use materials within Rare Books and Special Collections, there are three available grants.

Thanks, Mary, for chatting with me! If you’d like to see your library or archive collection featured on the Around the Table Library Chat, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Introductions

Editor’s Note: In this post, we’re delighted to welcome one of our new editors, Sarah Peters Kernan. Sarah completed her Ph.D. in History at the Ohio State University, with a dissertation entitled, “For all them that delight in Cookery”: The Production and Use of Cookery Books in England, 1300–1600, and she’s now working as an independent scholar. Here, Sarah describes some of the new ideas and activities she’ll be bringing to the RP. –AH

A doctor taking the pulse of a woman patient, seated at a table. Watercolour by Zhou Pei Qun, ca. 1890, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.
A doctor taking the pulse of a woman patient, seated at a table. Watercolour by Zhou Pei Qun, ca. 1890, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

By Sarah Peters Kernan

As the Recipes Project begins a new year, we also begin a new series focused on our blog community. I recently joined the Recipes Project’s editorial team, and during my initial conversations with the other editors, I mentioned the many ways in which this blog has been important in my scholarly development. Throughout the final years of my graduate training and now, in my early career as an independent scholar, the Recipes Project has not only provided an outlet for writing and developing ideas, but a venue for connecting with other researchers and authors. I began meeting other contributors and readers at many conferences and seminars I have attended. While organizing conference sessions, I contacted potential presenters after perusing their posts on related topics. I have learned about new resources and methods from the diverse group of contributors. And, most importantly, the personal connections that I have made through the site have led to exciting conversations, ideas, projects, and even friendships. I value these ideas and relations all the more, because I have worked away from an academic home for a few years. I completed my dissertation hundreds of miles away from my university and am now working as an independent scholar. So despite being a virtual and international community, the Recipes Project has become a place to which I return often, frequently reading and occasionally contributing. My experiences appealed to the editors, and we decided to try strengthening this sense of community among our readership. Many of you have had similar connections because of the blog; it is now my job to facilitate even more of this.

Each month, I will highlight a different part of the Recipes Project community in the new series, Around the Table. The idea of any community joining together around a table is a powerful one; when we work together sorting through the issues surrounding historic recipes research, we can unearth so much more, as well as enjoy time with our colleagues. No matter what kind of table we encounter in our work and research—be it kitchen, craft, lab, or surgical—we can all learn from others around us. The editors know that our readers have many interests, careers, and uses for the blog. Hopefully this series serves as a catalyst for meeting other readers and contributors in person, collaborating on future projects, and confidently contacting others when you have questions about research, teaching, publishing, recipe re-creation, and more. Occasionally, I will revive the type of content found in past series, like First Monday Library Chats. In other posts, I will share conversations with curators, publishers, podcasters, and other scholars. You will find out what is going on in our fields at conferences and sharing in congratulations of our contributors with new jobs and completed degrees. As we all begin to know each other a bit more, it is my hope that you, too, will turn to the Recipes Project when you need to find a person, project, or idea.

In order to do all of this, I need your help! I encourage you to reach out to the Recipes Project through social media. We are active on Twitter and Facebook; let us all know when you have completed a degree, secured a new job, or won a major fellowship or award. Tell us about new job posts related to recipes, calls for papers, exhibition announcements, historical meal re-creations, and more. Please also share the conferences you are planning to attend. Just remember to use #historecipes so we can easily track your announcements; if you have shared your news or conferences, I may even contact you when working on certain posts in this series focused on topics like conference roundups and contributor accomplishments. You may, of course, also email the Recipes Project if you would prefer not to use social media. From time to time, the Recipes Project will use social media to organize informal cocktail hours and meetups at conferences, when we know many contributors and readers will be there. These informal gatherings may be infrequent for now, but it is our hope that these meetings will be a source of community and conviviality for those who can join us.

I look forward to hearing from you all and I am excited to share more about our wonderful Recipes Project community next month Around the Table!

First Monday Library Chat: The David Walker Lupton African American Cookbook Collection

Welcome to the September 2018 edition of the First Monday Library Chat. This month we travel to Tuscaloosa and speak with Kate Matheny, Reference Services & Outreach Coordinator for Special Collections at University of Alabama Libraries.

Ruth Jackson's Soulfood Cookbook, 1978. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Ruth Jackson’s Soulfood Cookbook, 1978. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

 

The Lupton Collection is a key holding at the University of Alabama Libraries. Could you give us an overview of the collection?

The Lupton Collection documents African American foodways writing, a spectrum that ranges from professionally published cookbooks and food memoirs to recipe collections self-published by community groups or families. The earliest volume is The House Servant’s Directory, published in 1827, and the latest are from the twenty-first century. It’s a collection of over 450 books—which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it very much is. Consider the factors that might prevent such books from being written, especially in the nineteenth century: low literacy rates, a historically improvisational method taught person-to-person, or the pragmatic need for someone working as a cook to safeguard his or her livelihood. That’s to say nothing of barriers to publishing cookbooks by black authors and the reality that some early works may have simply been lost over time.

Mother Africa's Table, 1999. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Mother Africa’s Table, 1999. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

The collection contains some cookbooks authored by whites, including corporate collections featuring figures like Aunt Jemima and nostalgic works by Southerners purporting to share the recipes of family servants. Including these in the collection may seem strange, but for a time these were the only works attempting to set down African American food culture, all while typifying stereotypical portrayals that black cookbook authors were working to combat. But the bulk of the collection is from the mid to late twentieth century, written by African Americans or on their behalf. It’s hard to sum up all the themes that run through the collection, but in many ways they reflect the currents of modern black history. For example, you can see the consequences of the Great Migration as well as the paradigm shift of the Black Pride movement. Two of the biggest recent trends are adjusting traditional soul food to combat health problems like heart disease and diabetes and highlighting the connection to African foodways and diaspora cuisines like Caribbean and Afro-Brazilian.

For those of us interested in the history of archives, can you tell us a bit about the Collection founder David Lupton?

Freda DeKnight, The Ebony Cookbook, 1962. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Freda DeKnight, The Ebony Cookbook, 1962. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

David Lupton was an academic librarian who became a diligent bibliographer of early African American cookbooks, even after his retirement. According to his wife, Dorothy, his interest in the subject sprang from his purchase of a black-authored cookbook at a flea market and subsequent realization that such items were rare and hard to find. He became passionate about finding a way to document—as well as collect and preserve—these artifacts of African American culture.

I think knowing the rationale behind the collection is actually important in understanding how to use it. The Lupton collection is historical and academic, which is a different thing entirely from a personal collection accumulated by a cook. For example, we recently catalogued a large donation of cookbooks belonging to Viola Pearson Ragland, an African American woman from north Alabama. Some of those items overlap with Lupton, but not as many as one might think. Since they are books she owned and used, the selection tends to be more eclectic, and it’s possible she didn’t need or perhaps want very many works on African American cooking. An academic collection will naturally be more focused, as it is curated for posterity and for study, but it is not as reflective of actual use.

Can you highlight one or two of your favourite items?

These may not be the most “important,” but they are certainly favorites, and they’re pretty representative of what’s compelling about the collection.

Cooking with Coolio, 2009. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Cooking with Coolio, 2009. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

When I teach, I often bring out Cookin’ with Coolio (2009). People don’t expect a rapper to have anything to say about cooking, but that’s precisely why I like it. Coolio did collaborate with a chef, but the aim of the cookbook and the tone are all his. He talks about growing up poor in inner city Los Angeles and learning to improvise with the ingredients he could find, including things as simple as canned tuna and white bread. It leads to pragmatic recipes with funny names, like, “Your Ribs Is Too Short to Box with God” and “Really? Corn Salad?” The book looks like a joke—on the cover, he calls himself the “Ghetto Gourmet”—but it’s a real cookbook with its own unique personal and cultural perspective. As a teaching tool, it asks us to evaluate kneejerk assumptions and provides a good entry point for a discussion about food and class.

Introduction from Ruth Jackson's Soulfood Cookbook, 1978. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Introduction from Ruth Jackson’s Soulfood Cookbook, 1978. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

I also like Ruth Jackson’s Soulfood Cookbook (1978). It’s a self-published, spiral-bound volume put together on Jackson’s behalf by someone who clearly knows and loves her. Though the text is written in the third person, it asserts that “Ruth Jackson wrote this book.” After all, the recipes and all the intangible things that helped shape them — her small Georgia hometown, her church, her family — are hers. Interspersed are sketches and candid photographs, and there’s an essay in the back on the history of the local black community. Recipes are fairly simple, but it’s clear she has put her own spin on things. Two unusual recipes that stand out are “Cornmeal Gingerbread” and “Devil Chicken.”

This month, we are featuring a Teaching Series here at the Recipes Project. Can you tell us about some of the ways that you’ve used the Lupton Collection in the classroom?

Interior from Cooking with Coolio, 2009. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries
Interior image from Cooking with Coolio, 2009. Image courtesy of Lupton Collection, University of Alabama Libraries

What impresses me about teaching with cookbooks in general is how versatile they are. I didn’t set out to become the “cookbook person” at my archive; I just ended up with frequent instruction requests for the Lupton Collection — from half a dozen departments, including English, Anthropology, and History. There are so many things to analyze in a cookbook. The rhetoric of the text and the iconography of the visuals tell some of the story. The organization reveals a lot about the particular cuisine and the cook’s approach to it. The format and level of detail in the directions changes over time and indicates what kind of kitchen facilities the average cook had and who was doing the cooking. Even the ingredients are revealing, giving insight into the foods available at the time and the socioeconomic class of the audience.

In my experience, cookbooks also level the playing field for student discussion. Everyone eats, and most people have done some cooking at some point, so cookbooks feel very easy to approach. Deceptively so, I think. Students don’t get intimidated, so it’s easier to engage them in analysis and discussion. The instructor can tie them to complex ideas they’ve been discussing in class, and I can help them develop critical thinking and information literacy skills. To address the Lupton Collection specifically, it’s always interesting for students to see how much of traditional Southern cuisine has its roots in African American cuisine. It opens up an interesting dialogue.

Can you offer any tips to help users locate Lupton resources via your catalog, online, or finding aids?

We don’t have a formal finding aid for them as such, but this webpage has a comprehensive alphabetical list. You can also find the cookbooks in a search of our catalogue. If you’re interested Lupton’s bibliography, which also includes items that are not in the collection, it can be found in an appendix to collaborator Doris Witt’s Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity (Oxford University Press, 1999). However, it is nearly 20 years old, so it doesn’t include one important early work that hadn’t yet been discovered: Malinda Russell‘s Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen (Paw Paw, Mich., 1866).

First Monday Library Chat: University of Guelph Archival and Special Collections

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! To start the new 2018 year we’re speaking with Kathryn Harvey, Head of the Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library, and Melissa McAfee, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Guelph Library. 

courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.
Courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.

For our readers who may not be familiar with the University of Guelph’s Archival and Special Collections center, can you provide a brief overview of your holdings and research strengths? What tips can you offer to help users find recipes via your catalogue or finding aids?

In 1903, the Macdonald Institute was founded in Guelph by Adelaide Hoodless and Sir William Macdonald. This institute (one of the three founding colleges of the University of Guelph in 1965) took as its mission the education of women in the areas of nature study, domestic science, and household management. From the library’s early days it supported these studies; however, the Culinary Collections as a discrete major collecting area within the library did not really come into being until 1993 around the time the University acquired Edna Staebler’s archives. (More on her a bit later.) Since 1993, the collection has grown to encompass more than 18,000 cookbooks—with one of the world’s largest holdings of Canadian titles and authors—as well as the personal and professional papers of food writers, educators, and editors.

Our Culinary Collections are strong in many areas. In addition to having a world-class collection of specifically Canadian cookbooks and books about Canadian foodways, we have books international in scope to help contextualize these collections and support research on the many cultural, social, and economic influences on Canadian cuisine, the food industry, and the hospitality industry. These works comprise what we call our Canadian Cookbook Collection.

Our collections include more than sixty manuscript receipt books dating from the period between 1722 and 1959, with two-thirds of these dating from prior to the 20th century. Many of these receipt books contain recipes not solely for food and beverages, but also for medicinal purposes. This is a rich and largely un-researched collection. Only one of these manuscripts has thus far been published: A Receipt Book of Mrs Johnson 1741/2 recently appeared as The Johnson Family Treasury, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Kathryn Harvey (Oakville, ON: Rock’s Mills Press, 2015). Two other of our manuscripts are available for transcription through the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Dromio interface as part of the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective Project (located under EMROC > GuelphMS).

Other areas where our collections are strong are community cookbooks, often created for fund-raising purposes and corporate/advertising/publicity cookbooks including the little pamphlets which come with food (flour, yeast, jello to name only a few) and appliances (stoves, blenders, microwaves, etc.). The case of community cookbooks is particularly interesting. Such works differ from those by professional chefs coming out of larger publishing houses because the community cookbooks reflect the type of cooking actually done in the community and not ideals to aspire to. Furthermore, because the cookbooks often give information about the community putting it together and recipes are often signed, genealogists and social historians (two name only two groups) use them to track relatives and learn about the community.

For those researching the history of household management and domestic science, we have a rich selection of primarily British and Scottish texts from the 16th century on, including works such as Thomas Tusser’s famous Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie As Well for the Champion, or Open Countrie, As Also for the Woodland, or Severall, Mixed in Everie Month With Huswiferie, Over and Besides the Book of Huswiferie …Newly Set Foorth (London, 1560), Gervase Markham’s A vvay to get vvealth: containing sixe principall vocations, for callings, in which every good husband or huswife, may lawfully imploy themselves (London, 1660), Hannah Wooley’s The Queen-like closet : or, Rich cabinet, stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying and cookery (London, 1684), Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium domesticum; being a new and compleat household dictionary for the use both of city and country (London, 1736) and Hannah Robertson’s Young ladies school of arts (Edinburgh, 1766), AFM Willich and Thomas Cooper’s William Cobbett’s Cottage economy (London, 1824), and John Armstrong’s The young woman’s guide to virtue, economy, and happiness (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1825).

All of our holdings are available for on-site viewing and may be access via the library’s online catalogue at http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/.

Guelph has a particularly strong culinary collection.  What are the oldest and the newest objects you’ve acquired that relate to recipes and food, and what can they tell us about the scope and texture of the collection as a whole?

The oldest cookbook in our collection is Murrel’s Two Books of Cookerie and Carving; the Fifth Time Printed with new Additions.  London: Printed by M.F for John Marriet and to be sold at his shop in St. Dunstans Churchyard in Fleetstreet, 1641.

Written by John Murrell, a professional cook from London, who studied cooking in France and the Low Countries, this was one of the first cookbooks to establish cooking as a fashion rather than a domestic household guide. The book is divided into three sections: the first two sections contain a variety of recipes for boiled, baked, and roasted meats, puddings, food preservation,  and the third is on carving. Murrell’s cookbook is innovative in promoting cooking as a cosmopolitan fashion, which he experienced while studying cooking in France, rather than the focus on provincial recipes of earlier English cookbooks. In the carving section, Murrell republished parts of The Boke of Kervyne, the first carving manual published in England. This cookbook contains many recipes “on the French fashion”, such as capon with lemons, pigeon with rice, rack of veal, steak pie and classics “on the English fashion” such as rice pudding, boiled rabbit, and gooseberry tart.

Early editions of this cookbook are very rare. Only four copies of this edition are listed in Worldcat. This book was part of an early donation to our culinary arts collection by Una Abrahamson, a Toronto food writer. 

The newest cookbook added to our collection is Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.

Catharine Parr Strickland. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Catharine Parr Strickland. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Originally published in Toronto in 1855, The Female Emigrant’s Guide provides the most authentic account of cooking in Ontario in the first half of the 19th century. Catherine Parr Traill (née Strickland) emigrated with her husband to Upper Canada form England in 1832. She states that her book was not “intended for a regular cookery-book,” but to explain to recent English immigrants the distinctive practices in Canadian kitchens. The book covers the whole cycle of food production, from growing and gathering to preserving and storing. This new edition edited by food scholars Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas not only reprints this important Canadian culinary classic, but provides a “Guide to Traill’s World” containing sections that contextualize and interpret 19th c. Canadian cooking.

Although these two volumes barely scratch the surface of the breadth and depth of the collections, what they do show is the fact that Canadian foodways have a much larger context and lineage. Additionally, our books focus on all aspects of food from “food as fashion” to practical domestic cookery.

Some of the most impressive things about Guelph’s recipe sources are the ways that they bring to light the noteworthy careers of Canadian women food-writers and chefs (eg., the Edna Staebler Collection, the Helen Gagen Collection, the Jean Fewster Collection, Jean Paré Collection).  What do these sources tell us about gender and work in twentieth-century Canada?

One of the real strengths of our archival collections is the way they demonstrate the depth and breadth of women’s contributions to Canadian culinary and food culture. The strongest examples, I believe, are the extensive Edna Staebler papers and the smaller—but no less important—collections of Jean Paré’s fan mail and Marie Nightingale’s papers. In the 20th and early 21st centuries, cookbooks published by the big publishing houses tend to focus on what we might call aspirational meals, the type of meal you might find in a restaurant. These women’s cookbooks focus on the practical, on meals that a cook might reasonably be expected to make in the home on a regular basis. Furthermore, the archives of women such as Jean Paré, Jean Fewster, and Helen Gagen also reveal their exceptional business acumen and influence over product development, education, marketing, and nutrition within Canada and abroad.

Edna Staebler (1906-2006), is the author of the successful Schmecks cookbook series, beginning with “Food that Really Schmecks” in 1968, based on the food and culture of the Mennonite communities of Waterloo County, Ont. She is recognized as one of the nation’s leading voices on the lifestyles of Canadians coast to coast, primarily for the Hutterite colonies on the Prairies, miners in Northern Ontario and the descendants of refugee slaves in Nova Scotia. Her articles appeared in Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Reader’s Digest, and Saturday Night magazines, among others. An avid diary writer, she began keeping diaries at the age of 16 and continued throughout her lifetime, so these diaries would be of great interest to those researching women within the food industry.

Edna Staebler (1906-2006), "Food That Really Schmecks," courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.
Edna Staebler (1906-2006), “Food That Really Schmecks,” courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.

Marie Nightingale (1928-2014) is considered the definitive authority on Canadian East Coast cuisine. She began her career in radio, working at Halifax’s CHNS Radio; Windsor, Nova Scotia’s CFAB Radio; and Halifax’s CJCH Radio. She published Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens in 1970, and it remains the best-selling cookbook to come from Nova Scotia and was awarded a spot in the Canadian Culinary Landmarks Hall of Fame in 2011. She went on to publish five more cookbooks: Marie Nightingale’s Favourite Recipes (1993), Out of Nova Scotia Gardens (1997), Cooking with Friends (2003), Traditional Holiday Fare (2004), and Your Best-loved Menus (2005). As the food writer and editor for Halifax newspapers The Chronicle-Herald and The Mail-Star from 1982 to her retirement in April 1993, she continued to contribute to the papers on a regular basis even beyond her retirement. She was the founding food editor of Saltscapes magazine, where she worked from 2000 to 2009. In 1998, she was the second individual to receive the second Edna Staebler Lifetime Achievement Award from Cuisine Canada. (Edna Staebler herself was the first.) In 2013, she was presented with a Canadian Food Hero Award from Slow Food Canada.

Helen Gagen (1908-1998) was hired by Katherine Caldwell Bayley in 1931 to assist with the latter’s and her husband’s consulting company, and she worked for the next ten years helping to produce a monthly 12-14 page supplement for the Canadian Home Journal (later part of Chatelaine) and also preparing food sections of the Globe and Mail. She and Bayley were additionally responsible for developing the food profile of Maple Leaf Milling, including recipe development and testing, cookbook writing, developing several series of cooking lessons, and preparing copy for product packages. Her work in advertising in the 1940s and 1950s put her at the centre of development of advertising copy for Jell-O, Carnation evaporated milk, Swan’s Down baking powder, and Baker’s chocolate, among others. This early work influenced many of her activities over the next forty years: food editor for the Toronto Telegram (1963-1971); consumer adviser for Miracle Food Mart supermarkets in Ontario (1972 on), “Shopping Basket” columnist for the Globe and Mail (1976-1987), and anonymous restaurant reviews for Toronto Life magazine. The fact that Helen Gagen was made the first member of the Ontario Home Economists in Business Hall of Fame shows how important her contributions to Canadian foodways.

Like Gagen, Jean Fewster (1924-2015) spent a significant portion of her career in product development, consumer information and education. She received a BHSc in 1946 from the University of Saskatchewan. From 1951-1964, Fewster was Director of Home Economics, Dairy Foods Service Bureau, Dairy Farmers of Canada in Toronto. Under the pen name “Marie Fraser,” she developed and directed their consumer information/education program. In the 1960s she enrolled in a summer course at the University of West Virginia and then decided to go back to school full-time. She enrolled in the University of Wisconsin–Madison earning an MS (Home Economics, Journalism) in 1966 and a PhD in 1969 (Communications). After graduation, she accepted a three month consultancy job with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at its headquarters in Rome. That position turned into a 15-year commitment which took her travelling to almost 100 countries around the world. She was particularly influential helping women in emerging countries learn about nutrition and food handling practices.

While Staebler, Gagen, and Fewster were active in journalism, product development, nutrition, and consumer education, Jean Paré’s legacy to the Canadian culinary scene is largely through her influence on home cooks through her more than 200 cookbooks, published by the Company’s Coming Publishing Company empire which she founded herself. Evidence of this legacy is readily apparent in the 30 years’ worth of her fan mail which is housed in Archival and Special Collections. And as a testament to her dedication, she kept copies of all her responses to fans and detractors alike! She started her culinary career as a caterer, launching a catering company that operated for more than 18 years. Over the years, attendees kept asking her for the recipes, which led to the self-publication of her first cookbook, 150 Delicious Squares, at the age of 54. It sold out its entire print run of 15,000 in less than six weeks. As a cook herself and a shrewd businesswoman, she produced spiral bound volumes instead of traditionally bound books so they would easily lie flat while the home cook worked around in the kitchen. Another of her innovations was to sell the compact volumes in places where people were buying groceries rather than solely in bookstores. As a result since 1981, she has sold more than 30 million copies of her books around the world. All this was accomplished through amassing more than 6,700 cookbooks from around the world that she used for inspiration (volumes also donated to the University of Guelph) and through building a large test kitchen and food staging area/photography studio, and publishing house where all her recipes were created, tested, photographed, and then published. Although she retired in 2011, her books are still readily available.

Who was Una Abrahamson and how did she help to shape Guelph’s archive?

Una Abrahamson (1922-1999) was a Canadian writer who authored a book on domestic life in nineteenth century Canada and wrote articles on food and nutrion for Canadian magazines. She also chaired the Ontario Council of Health’s Task Force on Nutrition and Dietetic Services In 1997 the University of Guelph acquired her distinguished library of  published and manuscript cookbooks and domestic manuals dating from the early seventeenth century to the late twentieth century. Abrahamson’s donation of 3,000 historic cookbooks formed the foundation of our Culinary Art Collection, which now includes over 18,000 items.

Examples from the Una Abrahamson collection of English, French, and early Canadian cookbooks, domestic manuals, and medicinal receipts include:

  • De Tuenda Bona Valetudine: libellus Eobani Hessi; commentarijs doctissimis illustratus a loanne Placotomo, professore medico quondam in Academia Regiomontana, illustratus i quibus multa erudite explicantur, studiosis philosophia plurimum profutura, accesserunt & alia nonnulla lectu non indigna quae versa pagina indicabit. Franc. : Apud Hared Chr. Egen, c. 1521.
  • The Queen-like closet, or rich cabinet stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying and cookery by Hannah Wooley. Fifth edition. London: 1684.
  • American cookery, by an American orphan by Amelia Simmons. Poughkeepsie, NY: 1815.
  • The Queens closet opened Incomparable secrets in Physick, chirugery, preserving, candying, and cookery; as they were presented to the Queen by the most experienced persons of our times, many whereof were honoured with her owne practice, when the pleased to descend to these more private recreations. London : Printed for Nathaniel Brook, at the angel in Cornhill 1655
  • Vinetum Britannicum : or, A treatise of cider, and such other wines and drinks that are extracted from all manner of fruits growing in this Kingdom. Together with the method of propagating all sorts of vinous fruit-trees. And a description of the new-invented ingenio or mill, for the more expeditious and better making of cider. And also the right method of making metheglin and birch-wine. By John Worlidge. London : Printed by J.C. for Thom. Dring. 1676
  • Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois, qui apprend a ordonner toute sorte de repas en gras & en maigre, & la meilleure maniere des ragouts les plus delicats & les plus à la mode. Ouvrage tres-utile dans les familles, & singulierement necessaire à tous maitres d’hotels, & ecuiers de cuisine. New ed. By Francois Massialot. Paris : Chez Claude Prudhomme 1704.
  • A treatise of foods, in general: First, the difference and choice which ought to be made of each sort in particular. Secondly, the good and ill effects produced by them. Thirdly, the principles wherewith they abound. And, fourthly, the time, age and constitution they suit with : to which are added, remarks upon each chapter; wherein their nature and uses are explained, according to the principles of chymistry and mechanism. By Louis Lémery, London : John taylor 1704
  • The cook’s and confectioner’s dictionary : or, The accomplish’d housewife’s companion. By John Nott. London : Printed for C. Rivington 1723
  • The cook not mad, or, rational cookery; being a collection of original and selected receipts, embracing not only the art of curing various kinds of meats and vegetables for future use, but of cooking, in its general acceptation, to the taste, habits, and degrees of luxury prevalent with the American public in town and country; to which are added, directions for preparing comforts for the sick room, together with sundry miscellaneous kinds of information of importance to housekeepers in general, nearly all tested by experience. Watertown, New York : Knowlton & Rice 1831 (First cookbook in English published in Canada)

Abrahamson was also was a collector of manuscript cookbooks, and many of the more than sixty in our collection (as mentioned above) were donated to us as part of her collection.

Tell us a bit more about how you’re encouraging faculty and students at Guelph to use your recipes holdings.  I saw an announcement about an experiential learning exhibit curated by students at Guelph and I’d love to learn more about it.

Courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.
Courtesy of Archival and Special Collections at the University of Guelph Library.

Since 2015, we have supported experiential learning projects based on our collections to students at the University of Guelph. Last year we worked with 37 students in Dr. Rebecca Beauseart’s Food History course to develop “Tried, Tested, and True: A Retrospective on Canadian Cookery, 1867-1917”. The student curators explored cooking in Canada from Canadian Confederation until the First World War. The aim of this project was for students to gain an appreciation for cookbooks and domestic manuals as primary resources that provide a window into Canadian society during the fifty-year period after Canadian Confederation in 1867. An online component to the exhibit was developed by as an independent study project by a 4th year History major. This can be viewed here. During the Fall 2018 term, Archival & Special Collections is supporting another classroom project based on our culinary collection. Students in Dr. Kevin James’ First Year Seminar on ephemera are using advertising cookbooks from our holdings to research and curate an online exhibition on the variety of fascinating and colorful cookbook pamphlets published by food producers, kitchen appliance manufacturers, and professional food organizations. Through these experiential learning projects students learned how to interpret and contextualize original and primary sources; protocols for using rare books and archival materials, and how to develop and curate physical case and online exhibits.