Making Do: Rural Canadian Recipes

The Canadian recipes in an antique cookbook reveal a lot about how homesteaders in northern Canada made the most of the food they had.
By Edna N. Sutherland
June/July 1998
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An antique cookbook of Canadian recipes calls back the food lore of a lost time.
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Almost sixty years ago, in the homestead country of northern Canada, the housewife had to make do or do without. There was no corner store in the day when supplies were ordered a few weeks in advance. There was only money for the necessities of life. No money for frills, as the men were fond of saying.

Recently I found an antique cookbook, dog-eared and well-worn antique, from that time in my late mother-in-law's cupboard. It seems that a number of church ladies had gotten together, written out their recipes, and sent them to a printer, with the businessmen of the nearest town picking up the tab. The ladies sold the book and donated the money to their favorite charity.

The Canadian recipes, the cookbook guarantees, were "proven and tested," even though some of them seem to have come over with a bride or two from the old country. But those ladies must have assumed that anyone opening the book and intending to use the recipes was already an accomplished cook. It was often left to the discretion of the cook as to the quantity that she should put up. Some did not even include any quantities required or baking instructions.

It has recipes for everything from marrow balls and Saratoga chips to liver soup. One housewife must have learned the hard way about the difficulty of cleaning burnt pans, for she followed her scalloped potatoes recipe with this advice: "the dish will be hard to clean."

Another recipe contributor was very clever when she made her version of a sandwich spread. "Take some baloney," she wrote, "Put through mincer. To this mince, add a small bit of onion or any kind of pickle. Add enough salad dressing for right consistency to spread easily. Salt and pepper to taste. Is very economical and tasty."

They made vegetable burgers (oh, yes, they did), canned mushrooms, pickled fish, and mundelen (Jewish soup-nuts) — which sounded much like a modern snack food. They found time to make potato chips, decorate cakes, and serve big meals and tasty snacks. Those busy ladies were doing everything all the time with never a moment's rest. Or so it seemed. One might easily assume that there was Spartan fare on the Canadian kitchen table during the depression — but not by the looks of the recipes in this book!

Edna N. Sutherland
Vancouver, B.C.

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