By Bonnie Sitter
Carolyn Crawford is a cook and a leader and a collector of cookbooks. As president of the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC) her enthusiasm to inspire appreciation and advance knowledge of Canada’s food history is bubbling over!
Carolyn’s infectious smile and knowledge of food topics made me want to learn more about the group of women and men who are dedicated to research, interpret, preserve and celebrate Canada’s culinary heritage. This includes the food traditions of the First Nations peoples and generations of immigrants from all parts of the world. Programs, events and publications are developed by the CHC to educate its members and the public about the foods and beverages of Canada’s past. Originally they were the Culinary Historians of Ontario but in 2010 they became the Culinary Historians of Canada and they welcome new members across Canada.
Carolyn lives on a farm at Caledon in the municipality of Peel. She has a lovely, big, red-brick home with a collection of cookbooks that wowed me. I took a small Women’s Institute Cookbook with me published by the women of Walton many years ago that I thought perhaps might be one she didn’t have. Sure enough, she knew immediately that it could be added to her collection. At an auction a few years ago she acquired 17 boxes of cookbooks that the auctioneer couldn’t get a bid on. Five dollars bought them all. Imagine the fun she had with those.
Carolyn estimates her collection contains approximately 5,000 titles, including food history books, and an impressive collection of government publications. She has her favourites and can tell what cookbook, and page number in most cases, that she pulls out of the book case for a certain recipe. I thought the very full bookcases in the kitchen were impressive but then she invited me to view the huge collection downstairs. She mentions her Kate Aitken Cookbooks and comments that Kate was an Ontario farm girl who was admired by homemakers across Canada. My mother was one of her fans. Kate Aitken was food editor for a large weekend newspaper, an advisor to both the Federal and Ontario Departments of Agriculture and for many years Women’s Director for the CNE.
The Five Roses Cookbooks which almost every Canadian generation has used was a mass-produced cookbook advertised as being a collection of good recipes, carefully tested and approved under the supervision of Pauline Harvey. The 19th edition, revised 1960, is the copy I have, and inside the front cover it boasts having over 15,000 users throughout Canada. It was a bridal shower gift in 1966 and was published by Lake of the Woods Milling Company. Inside my copy there are still four coupons to clip and order a copy at a cost of 50 cents. What a deal for an all-Canadian cookbook which is why it can claim that Five Roses is “Canada’s Most Respected Name In Baking”.
What is Carolyn’s oldest cookbook? She has an original edition of Home Cook Book, published in 1882. The first edition was actually printed in 1877 and besides plain and healthy recipes, there are chapters on housekeeping, etiquette, utensils, and directions for making soap.
Carolyn’s collections are invaluable when she is asked to speak and demonstrate at historic cooking events. In 2017 the Culinary Historians of Canada’s board of directors was invited to demonstrate WW1 cooking in Arras, France as part of the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. Carolyn made the trip to Vimy to represent CHC and she demonstrated Canadian War Cake and spoke to over 9,000 Canadian High School students about the rural homefront during WW1. Carolyn, as a member of the Women’s Institute in Norval, was able to weave the institute’s important contributions on the homefront during both world wars as she spoke and demonstrated the preparation of War Cake. Closer to home, Fort York National Historic Site and Montgomery’s Inn, which was a tavern and a farm before it was an inn, have offered opportunities for historic cooking events as well.
Carolyn was both a Girl Guide and a 4-H Club member. Her mom was a 4-H leader so trips to the Ag. Office to get supplies to aid in her teaching, meant an opportunity for Carolyn to tag along and pick up brochures that had anything to do with food, recipes, gardening and agriculture.
As a farm girl, Carolyn naturally became interested in entering baking in the fall fair. After all, her mom and siblings were leading by example. She was familiar with a rolling pin and pie dough because as a child, her mom usually gave her a bit of pastry to play with as she had a child-size rolling pin. When she got older the lesson was to stop playing with the dough or the pastry would be tough and not flaky! The time came when she announced she was entering six pies in the Brampton Fall Fair. Her mom’s lard pastry recipe was used and the pies, blueberry, peach, strawberry-rhubarb, apple, bumbleberry and pumpkin were entered. The results were five firsts using the pastry recipe on the Tenderflake lard box.
Personally, I depend on Crisco shortening with the vinegar and egg recipe that my grandmother copied and signed. She titled it “Real Good Pie Crust.”
If you have old cookbooks and want to know where to send them, contact CHC for advice. People talk about gramma’s and mom’s cooking and baking and there are many traditional foods people love to eat but they are often at a loss as to how to make them for themselves. The aroma of chili sauce being made in the autumn or bread baking any time of year are topics that come up at family gatherings. Collect the recipes while you can.
Of course the topic of butter tarts came up. I asked when and where the first Canadian butter tart recipe appeared. Apparently history credits the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie for including it in their community cookbook fundraiser in 1900. Carolyn told me that the Five Roses recipe and the Canadian Living recipe for butter tarts are favourites when making the quintessential treat. Liz Driver’s book, Culinary Landmarks – A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks 1825-1949 says that at the time, “The scheme of a cookbook is not a new one. Many other towns have adopted this way and have been successful.” Today, community cookbooks remain popular and many kitchens have cookbooks from church groups and plowing matches that are extremely well used.
“The best thing about having a great recipe is sharing it ... I’ve never understood why some women don’t want to share a recipe ... for me that’s the fun part!” said Carolyn.
We end our visit in agreement that Home Economics needs to be reintroduced in schools. Students need to know how to prepare meals, efficiently manage households, how to budget and shop for groceries. Maybe you agree.
Carolyn encourages anyone who is at all interested in cooking and history to go to the CHC website. They offer a complimentary monthly electronic newsletter called Digestible Bits and Bites. Sarah Hood, author of We Sure Can! who has a new book to be released next year called Jam, Jelly and Marmalade: A Global History, is the editor of CHC’s newsletter and she is the reason the newsletter is such a success. It is a forum for Canadian culinary historians and enthusiasts to tell each other about their many activities. It is a great place for networking and reading book reviews. If you are looking for a speaker for your organization, this is the place to find a talented and knowledgeable one. You can discover how CHC participates at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair by sponsoring classes and providing judges and how they are also a sponsor for Taste Canada – the Canadian cookbooks awards. Becoming a member is easy and inexpensive and membership details can be found on their web site http://www.culinaryhistorians.ca/wordpress/
Culinary Historians of Canada can be found on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. ◊