Growing up in rural Canada, with a mother who didn’t like to cook, gourmet cookbooks were non-existent. The first cook book I ever used was given to me for my 8th birthday. It was a cookbook for kids. I must have shown a liking for cooking to have been given it at such a young age! The first recipe I made was deviled eggs. Delighted with myself after preparing them for the first time, I proudly served them to my parents and their friends. Oohs and ahhs were all around!
I made my first brownies when I was about 8, also a recipe from that book (I think). I took them to school and gave them to a boy I had a crush on. He was my age, and played the drums – and was always banging out beats with his hands or sticks he’d pick up in the playground. “Wipe Out” was his favorite song. I was crazy about him. I wonder now if it was him or his drumming that I was nuts about?
I guess it was when I started studying Home Economics at school (at age 12) that I graduated to adult cookbooks. The cookbooks we had around our house were Grannie B’s – the spine broken and the pages tattered and stained from years of use – the Purity Flour cookbook (my favorite) and the annual UCW (United Church Women) cookbooks.
Cookbooks were popular fund-raisers in Northern New Brunswick. Not only for the UCW, but for every church in town, as well as the Girl Guides and Four H, and I think maybe even the Boy Scouts (mothers) got in on the cookbook fund-raising gambit.
As Dad was the United Church minister we of course had the UCW book, but I remember the Anglican and Presbyterian cookbooks also on our cookbook shelf. These were both risky, and reliable, to use. Containing the favorite recipes of all the women in the parish who cared to contribute – some recipes were not tested, though many were made by the donor and sold at bake sales, or served at church suppers (more fund-raising activities). People were always trying to raise money for something or other, and things to do with food seemed to be the most popular.
If there was a winning recipe (or a dud) in one of the books, news would travel fast. The books were great for pies, baked beans, cakes and cookies. They always had the best banana bread and coffee cake recipes. Now and then a really good fudge recipe turned up. Mother put her scone and meringue recipes in, as well as toad-in-the-hole and shepherd’s pie. Even though she didn’t pride herself as a cook, her recipes were absolutely unique, because they came from her British heritage rather than the Canadian heritage of most of the other contributors. There were of course war brides in the community; women from overseas who had married Canadian soldiers and come back to Canada to live.
The books were simple: the recipes typed and printed on a duplicating machine, then bound with plastic coil, or wire. How all these different groups managed to repackage over and over, what were essentially the same recipes, each one credited to a member of that denomination’s parish, and sold – year after year after year – is a major accomplishment in the world of packaging and marketing.
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