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Cooking lessons from the University of Guelph’s culinary collection

Melissa McAfee, special collections librarian at the University of Guelph, delicately opens a 1684 fifth edition of The Queen-Like Closet by Hannah Woolley, a British widower believed to be the first woman to make a living writing cookbooks.

Along with Kathryn Harvey, head of the university’s archival and special collections, McAfee has hand-picked favourites from the library’s collection of old and rare culinary tomes. There are handwritten sepia manuscripts with carefully wrought calligraphy; books that demonstrate how to prepare delicacies like swan pie; and those with more modest objectives, such as an early edition of Catherine Parr Traill’s The Canadian Settlers’ Guide. A thin saddle-stitched book commissioned by Jell-O offers harried 1950s housewives options for shortcut cooking, whereas Cory Kilvert’s The Male Chauvinist Cookbook demonstrates how 1970s men can woo ladies by appealing to their stomachs.

These titles don’t begin to cover the breadth of the University of Guelph’s culinary collection. At 14,000 volumes, it’s one of the largest in North America (Library and Archives Canada and McGill University also have significant collections). The British Library used to acquire Canadian domestic-arts books until the Second World War, when the wing in which they were housed was bombed.

The university’s archives and special collections are located in the basement of the McLaughlin Library, a building constructed in the seemingly ubiquitous Brutalist style of the late 1960s. Although much of the archives reflects the school’s early years as a centre for agriculture, domestic arts, and veterinary studies, they now include significant materials on Canadian theatre, Scottish culture, and literature. The Jean Little collection contains more than 90 diaries and other personal ephemera belonging to the beloved children’s author, while the Lucy Maud Montgomery archive features scrapbooks, journals, an original manuscript of Rilla of Ingleside, and more than 1,200 photos donated by Montgomery’s son and literary executor, Dr. E. Stuart Macdonald.

Tim Sauer, former head of information resources, and Jo Marie Powers, a retired hotel and food administration professor and founder of the Canadian Culinary Book Awards, established the collection in the early 1990s. The bulk of its holdings came from several high-profile donors. Shortly before her death in 1999, former Chatelaine home economist, author, and “collector of social history” Una Abrahamson donated more than 3,000 books and unpublished manuscripts, including many of the university’s rarest and oldest British, French, and early Canadian titles.

After downsizing her home in 2009, Jean Paré, author of the popular Company’s Coming series, donated 6,700 books from her personal research library. The university also acquired substantial materials from the late Edna Staebler, best known for her Food that Really Schmecks series on Mennonite cooking and culture.

Acquiring for the collection has never been an issue, says Harvey. “Once you let culinary enthusiasts know that you have anything related to cooking, they come out of the woodwork.” Space is the utmost concern: the entire library houses more than 1.2 million volumes in a building made for 625,000, with more stored off-site. There have been preliminary steps toward digitizing the collection, but it can be time-­consuming and expensive, especially when dealing with rare, valuable volumes.

Although donations of international titles were accepted in the past, Harvey and McAfee agree that, moving forward, the focus will be on Canadian content – a decision that brings its own challenges.

“We haven’t figured out what that means yet,” says McAfee. “It’s a complicated issue, because Canadian cooking is a mix of cultures and different ethnic groups. You can’t say it’s about butter tarts.”

One category the library is interested in is community cookbooks such as The Home Cook Book (Tried! Tested! Proven!), compiled by “the ladies of Toronto and chief cities and towns in Canada.” Since it was first published in 1877 as a fundraiser for the Toronto Children’s Hospital, there have been more than 100 editions, most recently in 2002 from Whitecap Books. McAfee jokes that, at some point in history, there was a copy in every household. “It’s become Canada’s Joy of Cooking,” she says.

Although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty and novelty of 200-year-old books, the collection is not a static entity, nor is it stuck in the past. As part of the University of Guelph’s decade long role as co-host and sponsor of the Canadian Culinary Book Awards (rebranded in 2012 as the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards), the archive receives annual donations of all the shortlisted titles, which ensures that contemporary authors, such as Martin Picard and Naomi Duguid, are represented for future generations.

“These books are great for showing what ingredients are available, what people’s tastes are, what they were interested in during a certain time period,” McAfee says. “It’s a really great way of studying communities.”

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Iconic Nova Scotian cookbook author Marie Nightingale dies

Marie Nightingale, one of Nova Scotia’s most prolific and well-known culinary writers, died on March 15 at the age of 85.

For those who grew up in the province, Nightingale’s 1970 cookbook, Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, is a familiar sight. Published by Nimbus Publishing, it has sold more copies than any other Nova Scotian cookbook.

A 40th edition of the cookbook was released in 2010 with no updates to the original recipes. In a 2012 interview with Q&Q, Nimbus managing editor Patrick Murphy said, “Marie has been around a long time and the book has sold over 100,000 copies, so I’m simply not going to change it.”

In addition to writing books, Nightingale was a long-time newspaper columnist for the Chronicle Herald and founding food editor for Saltscapes magazine. Her 2003 title, Cooking with Friends, was nominated for a food-writing award from Cuisine Canada (now known as Taste Canada.) Cuisine Canada also awarded her the 1994 Edna Award for promoting regional cuisine, and, in 2011, named her to the Canadian Culinary Landmarks Hall of Fame.

The University of Guelph’s culinary collection has an archive of Nightingale’s books, articles, and promotional and research materials.


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Tapping the market: indie presses hopping on the craft-brewing trend

Craft Beer Revolution author Joe Wiebe

In 1982, Canada’s first microbrewery, Horseshoe Bay Brewing, opened in Vancouver. Since then, more than 200 others have launched across Canada, fuelling the popularity of the craft-
brewing industry, which has enjoyed significant growth in the past five years. In 2013, several independent publishers acknowledged its success by producing books that illuminate the social and cultural aspects of locally produced beer.

Douglas & McIntyre publisher Howard White has observed the “ebb and flow” of British Columbians’ interest in craft beer,  but says it’s now at “an all-time high.” The success of Joe Wiebe’s Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries bears his point out. Weeks after Wiebe’s book was released in May, it had sold out its first print run.

Wiebe travelled 2,500 kilometres across the province to research the guide, which highlights the industry’s key figures, breweries, techniques, and tastes, and contains maps and tasting tours for enthusiasts. White says many of Wiebe’s themes are also characteristic of the province’s culture, such as “the thirst for improved lifestyles and the willingness to explore and innovate in order to achieve it.”

D&M secured a captive audience by launching Craft Beer Revolution at Yaletown Brewing Company during Vancouver Craft Beer Week in early June. Some local breweries produced a “revolutionary” beer for the event, and a few offered a free pint with a purchase of the book. Wiebe followed up the launch with a tour that covered more than 25 B.C. communities.

For the June launch of 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated History of Brewing in Manitoba, by regional experts Bill Wright and Dave Craig, Great Plains Publications collaborated with Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Brewing Company on a batch of dark ale featuring limited-edition labels that reproduced the book’s cover.

Great Plains publisher Gregg Shilliday says he was initially drawn to Wright and Craig’s historical narrative and the inclusion of more than 400 images of rare beer bottles, labels, and ads. “I found it interesting that the first thing the British did after landing on Hudson Bay 300 years ago, [after] building some shelter, was start brewing beer,” he says.

Shilliday estimates 300 Years of Beer has sold more than 1,000 copies and expects that number to jump over the holiday season. “Not too surprisingly,” he says, its readers are mostly men.

Whitecap Books publisher Nick Rundall expects sales for Toronto writer David Ort’s The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook “to be right up there with some of our best-selling cookbooks.” Released in October, the cookbook explores Canada’s history of microbrew production, profiles various brewmasters, recommends food pairings, and features more than 75 recipes using beer as an ingredient.

Rundall believes the increased awareness of, knowledge about, and curiosity in the beverage will lead people to the book. “We’re expecting our audience to mainly be people who enjoy the taste of craft beer, but that goes way beyond just beer aficionados,” he says. “The rise in popularity means you don’t have to be a hardcore beer fan anymore to tell the difference in taste between a craft beer and a beer brewed by a big corporation.”

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Q&Q.

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Fall preview 2013: pop culture, sports, food & drink, and more

In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at fall’s most anticipated Canadian non-fiction.

Art, Music & Pop Culture

Diagnosed with leukemia in 1969 while still in his thirties, artist Jack Chambers’ final decade was marked by frenzied work in an effort to provide for his young family. Faced with his own mortality, Chambers also embarked upon a research project into the nature of immortality, which took the form of a complex, colour-coded collage of quotations and ideas. Former McMichael Gallery executive director Tom Smart spent more than a decade “decrypting” the obscure work. In Jack Chambers’ Red and Green (TPQ, $22.95 pa., July), he delivers insight into the mind of one of Canada’s most gifted painters and filmmakers. • Smart is attached to another art book forthcoming this fall. Despite being one of Canada’s best-known landscape painters, Christopher Pratt is long overdue for the retrospective treatment in book form. Christopher Pratt: Six Decades (Firefly Books, $60 cl., Oct.), edited by Smart, is timed to coincide with a retrospective of Pratt’s work at the Art Gallery of Sudbury.*

From Leanne Shapton comes another book of characteristic whimsy and watercolours. A collection of 78 paintings of movie stills, Sunday Night Movies (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, pa., Oct.) expands on her series of the same name for The New York Times.

In 1993, Beverly Delich discovered 18-year-old Michael Bublé in a Vancouver talent contest. With co-writer Shelley Fralic, Delich pens a memoir, Come Fly with Me (D&M, $32.95 cl., Oct.), about working as Bublé’s manager during his rise to fame. • In the fourth instalment of Invisible Publishing’s Bibliophonic series, Cult MTL editor, musician, and filmmaker Malcolm Fraser traces the path of 1990s Canadian indie band The Wooden Stars and its influence on a generation of musicians. The Wooden Stars: Innocent Gears ($12.95 pa.) appears in October.

Ted Grant has spent more than six decades as a photojournalist, a good portion of them during the glory days of Canadian print journalism. Ted Grant: Sixty Years of Legendary Photojournalism (Heritage House Publishing, $29.95 pa., Oct.), written by Thelma Fayle with forewords from Maureen McTeer and the Right Honerable Joe Clark, includes 135 of Grant’s photos, including images of Pierre Trudeau sliding down a banister and Ben Johnson’s brief moment of Olympic glory.

Essays & Criticism

Anansi will release the latest in its annual Massey Lectures series with Lawrence Hill’s Blood: The Stuff of Life ($19.95 pa., Sept.). Hill traces the biological, cultural, and social connotations of blood that run through race and identity, culture and belonging, and family and privilege.

The correspondence between two of Canada’s most highly regarded poets, Earle Birney and Al Purdy, is collected in a new book by University of Victoria English professor Nicholas Bradley. We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1984 (Harbour Publishing, $39.95 cl., Oct.) chronicles a long, evolving friendship as the two poets became CanLit legends.

The subtitle of Zachariah Wells’ Canadian literature blog, Career Limiting Moves, is “saying shit I shouldn’t since 1977.” In his forthcoming book of interviews, rejoinders, essays, and reviews, also titled Career Limiting Moves (Biblioasis, $22.95 pa., Nov.), we suspect he’ll continue in this vein. • Toronto poet Jason Guriel offers a collection of reviews, essays, and “gonzo-reportage” from the poetry community in The Pigheaded Soul (TPQ, $22.95 pa., Nov.).


With Orr: My Story (Viking Canada, $32 cl., Oct.), Bobby Orr has written a memoir about his rise from small-town kid to sports celebrity, his agent’s financially ruinous betrayal, and what he thinks of the game today. • CBC Radio host Grant Lawrence, who was nominated for the 2011 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for his memoir Adventures in Solitude, writes about his relationship with Canada’s favourite sport in The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of Reluctant Goalie (D&M, $26.95 pa., Oct.). • Don’t Call Me Goon: Hockey’s Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys, by Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen, is about the contributions of some of the game’s toughest players, and explores the issues that plague so-called enforcers, from suspensions to concussions to personal controversies (ECW Press, $19.95 pa., Sept.).

Food & Drink

Burgoo: Food for Comfort ($29.95 cl., Sept.), by Justin Joyce and Stephan McIntyre, is one of the first titles from the recently founded Vancouver press Figure 1 Publishing. The book offers 75 recipes for home-style comfort food from the popular eponymous West Coast bistro. • Toronto celebrity chef Lynn Crawford offers 200 recipes for home-cooked meals in At Home with Lynn Crawford (Penguin Canada, $32 pa., Sept.). • Long-time Toronto Star wine columnist and Order of Canada recipient Tom Aspler has authored his 17th book, Canadian Wineries (Firefly, $29.95 pa., Oct.), which contains photographs from Jean-François Bergeron.

In The Politics of the Pantry, Michael Mikulak explores the importance of understanding food sources in contemporary culture (MQUP, $29.95 cl., Oct.). • Michael Wex, who has been called a “Yiddish national treasure,” explores the relationship between Jewish food, social history, and cultural identity in Born to Nosh (Scribner/Simon & Schuster, $29.99 cl., Nov.). • In Eat Your Heart Out with Morro and Jasp (Tightrope Books, $16.95 pa., Oct.), an idiosyncratic book that involves recipes, poems, illustrations, pie charts, and essays, clown sisters Morro and Jasp provide a guide to “playing with your food again.”

Health & Self-Help

As an orphaned child, The Global Forest author Diana Beresford-Kroger was tutored by her caretakers in the Druidic tradition. These simple rituals, coupled with her later education in biochemistry, inspired The Sweetness of a Simple Life: A Guide for Living Simply (Random House Canada, $28 cl., Oct.), which mixes art and science to offer advice for achieving health and peace of mind. • From poets Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-DeMoor, How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting (Touchwood Editions, $19.95 pa., Sept.) goes further than most books on pregnancy and parenthood. The literary anthology – composed of essays by Carrie Snyder, Sadiqa de Meijer, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Susan Olding, Maureen Scott Harris, Cathy Stonehouse, and others – focuses on true and tragic stories of miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, and loss.

*Correction, Sept. 17: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Christopher Pratt book was timed to coincide with an exhibition of work by Mary Pratt.

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HarperCollins Canada signs Jamie Oliver to four-book deal

HarperCollins Canada has signed U.K. chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver to a four-book deal.

Save with Jamie: Shop Smart, Cook Clever, Waste Less and Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals (published last year in the U.K.) will be released this fall. Two unnamed titles will be published in 2014 and 2015.

In a press release, Jamie Oliver says, “HarperCollins Canada have been the most incredible publishing partners for the last six years, and [publicity director] Rob Firing in particular has made my Canadian experience a real treat. I’m really excited that we’ve now gone from partner to full-on publisher and I’m over the moon that they will be publishing my next four books in Canada. I really love working over there and hope to spend more time out there in the years to come.”

Other HarperCollins Canada celebrity cookbook authors include Mario Batali, Laura Calder, and Emeril Lagasse.

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BookNet bestsellers: cookbooks

Bad news for carb-loaders: this week’s best-selling cookbook is William Davis’s Wheat Belly Cookbook, the follow-up to his popular health guide, Wheat Belly.

For the two weeks ending Feb. 3:

1. Wheat Belly Cookbook, William Davis
(HarperCollins, $24.99 pa, 9781443416337)

2. Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook
(John Wiley & Sons, $32.99 cl, 9781118476536)

3. The Juicing Bible, Pat Crocker
(Robert Rose, $27.95 pa, 9780778801818)

4. The Looneyspoons Collection, Janet and Greta Podleski
(Granet Publishing, $34.95 pa, 9780968063156)

5. Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook, Sally Vaughan-Johnston
(Robert Rose, $29.95 spiral bound, 9780778804130)

6. Meatless: More than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes
(Clarkson Potter/Random House, $29.95 pa, 9780307954565)

7. The Best of Clean Eating 3
(Robert Kennedy Publishing, $26.95 pa, 9781552101186)

8. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, Ina Garten
(Clarkson Potter/Random House, $40 cl, 9780307464873)

9. Supergrains: Cook Your Way to Great Health, Chrissy Freer
(Appetite by Random House, $24.95 pa, 9780449015711)

10. Canadian Living: The Affordable Feasts Collection          
(Transcontinental Books, $26.95 pa, 9780987747433)

11. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, Yotam Ottolenghi and Jonathan Lovekin
(Chronicle Books/Raincoast, $39.95 cl, 9781452101248)

12. Paleo Slow Cooking: Gluten Free Recipes Made Simple, Chrissy Gower and Robb Wolf
(Tuttle Publishing, $34.50 pa, 9781936608690)

13. The 4-Hour Chef, Timothy Ferriss
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Thomas Allen & Son, $39.95 cl, 9780547884592)

14. The Soup Sisters Cookbook, Sharon Hapton and Pierre A. Lamielle
(Appetite by Random House, $22.95 pa, 9780449015599)

15. Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
(Appetite by Random House, $39.95 cl, 9780449015674)

16. Quinoa Revolution: Over 150 Healthy, Great-Tasting Recipes under 500 Calories, Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming
(Penguin Canada, $32 pa, 9780143183785)

17. Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook, Sarah Fragoso
(Tuttle Publishing, $33.95 pa, 9781936608638)

18. Crazy Sexy Kitchen, Kris Carr and Chef Chad Sarno
(Hay House/Raincoast, $29.95 cl, 9781401941048)

19. Fifty Shades of Chicken, F.L. Fowler
(Crown Publishing/Random House, $22.95 pa, 9780385345224)

20. Fast Flavours: 110 Simple, Speedy Recipes, Michael Smith
(Penguin Canada, $32 pa, 9780143177647)

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Canadian booksellers pick the top cookbooks of 2012

According to booksellers contacted by Q&Q, cookbooks that focus on ingredient-based specialty cooking have made a major resurgence.

Mika Bareket of Toronto’s Good Egg says, “Some of the biggest and best books of the year have been very focused on regional authenticity, some as specific as to a particular province or region within a nation. This trend replaces the more worldly chef-driven trends of previous years, which tend to yield culturally broad cookbooks.”

Click the thumbnails below to explore booksellers’ picks for the top cookbooks of 2012.

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Natalie MacLean, Michael Smith among winners of Taste Canada’s food-writing awards

Culinary-narrative award winner Natalie MacLean

Although a few high-profile winners were unable to attend the ceremony, that didn’t stop last night’s newly rebranded Taste Canada – The Food Writing Awards from being a spirited affair.

Held at the Arcadian Court in Toronto, the awards – managed by the University of Guelph and a committee under the leadership of national chair Karen Gelbart – celebrate the country’s best English- and French-language food books.

Natalie MacLean’s Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines (Doubleday Canada), which earlier this year won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award, took home the prize for best English-language culinary narrative. Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan won the best single-subject cookbook for Spilling the Beans: Cooking & Baking with Beans & Grains Every Day (Whitecap Books). David Rocco, who sent a video message from India to accept his award, won best regional/cultural cookbook for Made in Italy (HarperCollins Canada). With his infant daughter perched on his lap, Chef Michael Smith sent in a video from Jasper, Alberta, to accept the best general cookbook award for Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen: 100 of My Favorite Easy Recipes (Penguin Canada).

Prolific cookbook author Anita Stewart was inducted into the Taste Canada Hall of Fame, along with posthumous recipients Catharine Parr Traill, Jeanne Anctil, and Margo Oliver.

This year, 73 titles were submitted for consideration. Publishers donated copies of all shortlisted titles to the University of Guelph library’s Canadian cookbook collection.

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian cookbooks

As winter approaches, classic recipes and comfort food dominate the bestsellers list for Canadian cookbooks.

For the two weeks ending Oct. 28:

1. Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook: 200 Delicious Recipes, Sally Vaughan-Johnston
(Robert Rose, $29.95 spiral bound, 9780778804130)

2. The Looneyspoons Collection, Janet and Greta Podleski
(Granet Publishing, $34.95 pa, 9780968063156)

3. Quinoa Revolution: Over 150 Healthy, Great-Tasting Recipes Under 500 Calories, Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming
(Penguin Canada, $32 pa, 9780143183785)

4. Fast Flavours: 110 Simple, Speedy Recipes, Michael Smith
(Penguin Canada, $32 pa, 9780143177647)

5. The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook, Mairlyn Smith
(Whitecap Books, $30 pa, 9781770500976)

6. The Soup Sisters Cookbook: 100 Simple Recipes to Warm Hearts . . . One Bowl at a Time, Sharon Hapton and Pierre A. Lamielle
(Appetite by Random House, $22.95 pa, 9780449015599)

7. Canadian Living: 150 Essential Whole Grain Recipes
(Transcontinental Books, $29.95 pa, 9780987747426)

8. Canadian Living: The Vegetarian Collection, Alison Kent
(Transcontinental, $22.95 pa, 9780981393803)

9. Canadian Living: The One-Dish Collection
(Transcontinental, $26.95 pa, 9780981393896)

10. Best Recipes Ever from Canadian Living and CBC     
(Transcontinental, $29.95 pa, 9780981393841)

11. Canadian Living: Make It Tonight
(Transcontinental, $27.95 pa, 9780981393865)

12. Canadian Living: The Slow Cooker Collection, Elizabeth Baird
(Transcontinental, $22.95 pa, 9780980992458)

13. The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood, Sharon Hanna
(Harbour Publishing, $26.95 pa, 9781550175769)

14. Friday Night Dinners, Bonnie Stern
(Random House Canada, $29.95 pa, 9780307356765)

15. Healthy Slow Cooker, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781897477434)

16. Burma, Naomi Duguid
(Random House Canada, $39.95 cl, 9780307362162)

17. Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics: Everyday Recipes for Family and Friends, Rob Feenie
(Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95 pa, 9781553658733)

18. 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes, Donna Washburn
(Robert Rose, $27.95 pa, 9780778802426)

19. 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781897477069)

20. Everyday Kitchen for Kids, Jennifer Low
(Whitecap, $30 pa, 9781770500662)

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The ingredients of timeless Canadian cookbooks

In the October issue of Q&Q, Melissa Buote talks to publishers and booksellers about what makes a classic Canadian cookbook.

Food is so fundamental to our culture it’s almost impossible to think of how ephemeral recipes once were, with family favourites collected in loose stacks of handwritten cards.

The forerunners of today’s commercial cookbooks were stapled booklets published by companies like Cook’s Friend Baking Powder or McAllister Milling Co., or by the Ladies’ Aid Society at a church or in a small town. In 1915, the Five Roses Cook Book, distributed by the flour company of the same name, hung on the walls of more than 600,000 Canadian households, dangling by the string that snaked its way through a hole in its top corner.

Five Roses remains popular today, in the company of vintage titles like The Laura Secord Canadian Cook Book (1966) and The Purity Flour Cookbook (1967), all three of which have been reprinted in the last decade as part of Whitecap Books’ Classic Canadian Cookbook series.

While many titles have stood the test of time, including Jehane Benoît’s Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking (1974), Elizabeth Baird’s Classic Canadian Cooking (1995), and Jean Paré’s ubiquitous Company’s Coming series, it is still difficult for booksellers, publishers, and writers to pinpoint the exact ingredients for making a classic Canadian cookbook.

“We’re a different type of country,” says Barbara-jo McIntosh, owner of Vancouver’s Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. “We don’t have really distinct cuisine in an all-encompassing way.” What we do have, she says, is history.

While Alison Fryer, owner of Toronto’s The Cookbook Store, believes that classic cookbooks attract readers through storytelling and presentation, she says the only thing worth a thousand words is a thousand well-written words. “Classic Canadian Cooking has no photos and doesn’t have a particularly engaging layout, but the recipes resonate with Canadians,” she says. For Fryer, the reason is simple: “They are so Canadian.”

Arsenal Pulp Press publisher Brian Lam suggests classic cookbooks should speak to other aspects of the culture, beyond food. “Whether it’s a particular community or region, or that it simply reflects our sense of social well-being,” he says. “Those are the things that resonate long after the meal has ended.”

In May, Arsenal Pulp released a new edition of Judie Glick’s 1985 tome The New Granville Island Market Cookbook, which features current photos of dishes and life at the popular Vancouver market. “The original book was very much of its era: a trade paperback, black type only, no photographs,” says Lam. “We wanted the new book to be a complete overhaul of the original.”

It’s not just the cookbook’s design that radically changed: only a handful of the original recipes appear in the revised edition. “The new ones reflect consumers’ increased sophistication, as well as the influences of Asian and other cuisines,” Lam says.

Edna Staebler

Wilfrid Laurier University Press took the opposite approach this spring when transforming Edna Staebler’s 1968 Mennonite cookbook, Food that Really Schmecks, into an iPad app. Photos and video were added for interactivity, but “we did not tinker with the recipes,” says Clare Hitchens, publicist at WLU Press.

Hitchens suggests that writer Rose Murray nailed the essence of a classic – and of Staebler’s cult popularity – in her introduction to the book’s 2006 edition.

“[Murray] talks about the use of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and the conversational tone that comes from sitting in the kitchen and learning the recipes as they are created,” says Hitchens. “Edna herself said about the cookbook that it is ‘not elaborate, or exotic, with rare ingredients and mystifying flavours; traditional local cooking is practical.’”

Hitchens adds, “A classic cookbook can be used no matter … the trends of the day.”

Patrick Murphy, managing editor at Halifax’s Nimbus Publishing, believes that timeless recipes, along with a dash of nostalgia, are key to a cookbook’s longevity. “It has to offer something unique, and it has to have recipes that have been tried and tested and loved,” he says.

In 2010, Nimbus published the 40th anniversary edition of Marie Nightingale’s Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, an East Coast staple that has never been out of print. Like Staebler’s Food that Really Schmecks, the book’s recipes have remained the same since it was first released.

“Marie has been around a long time and the book has sold over 100,000 copies, so I’m simply not going to change it,” says Murphy.

Over the years, Nightingale says she has been asked many times if she plans to update the book’s contents. “I just said, ‘You can’t change history.’”

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