Digestible Bits and Bites #90, October 2020

Digestible Bits and Bites

The monthly newsletter of the
Culinary Historians of Canada
Number 90, October 2020
Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Forward Forward
Pin Pin
+1 +1
Mya Sangster hosted the most recent meeting of the Toronto chapter of the Jane Austen Society (see Member News, below) with an array of period baked goods, including jam tarts filled with (left to right) "Jam of Damscenes," made with damson plums, from English Houswifry of 1764 by Elizabeth Moxon; "Marmalade of Peaches" from Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery of 1744; and "Red Strawberry Jam" and delicious "Black Currant Jam"—a first-place winner in the Heritage Jam category at the 2019 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair—both from Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper of 1769. Photo by Mya Sangster.


  1. CHC News

  2. News and Opportunities

  3. Destinations

  4. Food for Thought (book reviews)

  5. Events of Interest

  6. International Conferences

1. CHC News and Upcoming Events

News from Our 26th Anniversary AGM

By Lori Jamieson

CHC president Carolyn Crawford welcomed members to the CHC annual meeting on Saturday, September 26. The meeting was held virtually using Zoom and was also streamed on Facebook. 

In addition to a treasurer’s report, other committee chairs noted highlights of the year: 
  • For programming, our in-person events and our first YouTube series, Behind Every Great Cook Is a Great Mother in May, marked success this past year. We have two new members bringing considerable expertise to help bring future virtual events to our membership.
  • This year, CHC has partnered with a Quebec production company shooting a documentary about the home-front activities of Canadians through WWII, and we might have an opportunity to work with them in the future.
  • We’ve made considerable updates to our website, and have digitized or linked to many key Canadian historic cookbooks in the public domain. We have more than 2,000 members of our Facebook group, and we are seeing accurate and scholarly answers posted to questions posed there.
  • 2019-2020 was a year of outstanding efforts by volunteers who support CHC by helping with the newsletter and events.
  • Ellen Pekilis, chair of strategic planning, shared results of work the board has done in defining values and priorities for the next three years.
  • Members were polled about volunteer opportunities and what new features might add value to their memberships.

Strategic Planning

As the culmination of a strategic planning initiative led by Ellen Pekilis, we unveiled CHC's first-ever set of organizational values and strategic priorities that will guide our activities over the next few years.
We embrace:
  • DIVERSITY by exploring all the culinary histories of Canada.
  • LEARNING by producing innovative and engaging programs.
  • COLLABORATION by nurturing fertile partnerships among members and the culinary history community.
  • AUTHENTICITY by valuing accurate research while remaining open to fresh interpretations of the past.
  • PRESERVATION by supporting the promulgation of Canadian culinary history.
  • INTEGRITY by demonstrating responsible stewardship.
Strategic Priorities
We will continue to implement our mission (to inspire appreciation and advance knowledge of Canada’s food history) from mid-2020 through 2023 by adopting three interlocking strategic priorities:

We will accomplish this priority by cultivating:
  • a membership program that delivers meaningful programs, fertile collaborations, continuous learning and informative publications
  • retention schemes
  • attraction schemes
  • partnerships for programs and publications
We will accomplish this priority by leveraging:
  • technology to reach audiences across Canada
  • social media platforms to interest Canadians in continually evolving ways 
  • partnerships to embrace diverse culinary histories
  • national online programs to attract members from coast to coast to coast
  • our website as a growing resource for Canadian food history
We will accomplish this priority by developing:
  • a nomination and pipeline process for the board of directors
  • an onboarding process for incoming board and committee members
  • structured standing committees 
  • an online portal for key documents and archives
We will also accomplish this priority by considering:
  • a paid part-time manager
  • charitable status

Honorary Membership to Rose Murray

First awarded in 2003, the CHC  honorary lifetime membership is granted to recognize exemplary service to CHC or for excellence in the field of culinary history. 

This year, CHC honoured Rose Murray as its 11th recipient. Rose
has authored over ten books, including two Taste Canada Gold Award winners: Canada's Favourite Recipes (with Elizabeth Baird, in 2012) and Hungry for Comfort (in 2003).

Her first work,
The Christmas Cookbook, remains a treasured Canadian kitchen resource, and she has contributed to many other publications, including Canadian Living. Her latest book, Rose Murray’s A-Z Vegetable Cookbook, was originally published in 1983 and has been revised to include an additional 100 recipes developed by home cooks across Canada. 
Rose is respected for her understanding of the agricultural traditions of our food. Beginning in her childhood on a mixed farm near Collingwood, Ontario, she learned the art of growing, cooking and preserving at a very young age. She blended her university degree in English from Trinity College, University of Toronto, with formal studies at cooking schools in Paris as well as classes in Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Rose has been a member of the Culinary Historians of Canada (originally Ontario) since our inception in 1994. She's been a teacher and ever-willing volunteer for many CHC events. Her 2019 presentation on her dear friend Edna Staebler was captured for our archives, and she recently shared her story as part of our 2020 video series Behind Every Great Cook Is a Great Mother.

Election & Appointment of Board Members

Meet the members of your 2020-2021 board of directors:

Executive Officers
  • President: Carolyn Crawford
  • Co-Vice-President: Samantha George
  • Co-Vice-President: Sherry Murphy
  • Secretary: Colin Rier
  • Treasurer: Fiona Lucas
  • Past President: Luisa Giacometti
Standing Committee Chairs
  • Chair of the Membership Committee: Judy Chow
  • Chair of the Program Committee: Sylvia Lovegren
  • Co-Chairs of the Communications Committee: Sarah Hood & Julia M. Armstrong
Other Board Positions
  • Chair of the Education Committee: Jane Black
  • Chair of the Outreach Committee: Vacant
  • Member at Large: Kim Moulsdale
  • Coordinator of Publicity: Samantha George
  • Coordinators of Refreshments: Sherry Murphy & Carolyn Crawford
  • Coordinator of Volunteers: Jennifer Meyer
We are especially pleased to welcome a new member to the board: Colin Rier is a food historian based in Montreal. They have a BA in Food History from McGill University. They lead culinary walking tours, develop food-based community building projects, write for multiple publications and cook at restaurants around the world. We know Colin will bring a lot to the role of secretary.

Editor's note: CHC also wishes to express sincere thanks to outgoing secretary Lori Jamieson and outgoing board member Ellen Pekilis, both of whom made significant contributions to the work of CHC and its governance throughout their terms.

Save the date for next year's AGM, which falls on Saturday, September 25, 2021.

Our First Online Book Launch!

Join us from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 8 for our first-ever virtual book launch and author chat: A Taste of Longing – In Conversation with Suzanne Evans. It's a talk by Canadian author Suzanne Evans about her new book, The Taste of Longing, which focuses on food in a POW camp during WWII. Admission for this digital program is $10, or free for CHC members using the code CHCMember at checkout. All ticket holders will receive a discount code for purchases of The Taste of Longing through the publisher, Between the Lines, and a feature seasonal recipe.*

While jailed as a POW in Singapore’s Changi Prison during WWII, Canadian Ethel Mulvany rallied her fellow prisoners to create elaborate imaginary feasts to distract themselves from hunger, torture and solitary confinement. As inspiration, she used the Canadian cookbook she had brought with her to the camp.

Canadian author Suzanne Evans will join us on Zoom to talk about Ethel Mulvany and her experiences as she describes them in The Taste of Longing. It follows Mulvany through the fall of Singapore in 1942, the years of her internment—when she devoured dog biscuits and book spines, befriended spiders and smugglers, and endured torture and solitary confinement—and back home to Canada. Suzanne will share favourite memories and recipes, discuss the research that went into the book and answer questions at the end of her talk.

Dr. Suzanne Evans holds a PhD in Religious Studies. Her writing, which has appeared in academic and literary journals, newspapers, magazines, and books, has a strong focus on women and war. After working, studying and living in China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, she now lives and writes in Ottawa. She is the author of Mothers of Heroes, Mothers of Martyrs: World War I and the Politics of Grief.

*The member code for a free ticket is CHCMember. When you click "Tickets" on Eventbrite, you will be taken to a page that looks like the one below. Click on "Enter promo code" (above "Non-Member"), and you will be prompted to enter the member code for the free ticket.


October Cooking Challenge: Festive Favourites

Our challenge for October has a seasonal theme. We're inviting you to prepare something special that you associate with your own traditional celebrations for autumn: Thanksgiving, Sukkot, Hallowe'en, Oktoberfest, or whatever is most meaningful to you. Those who post photos and comments with the hashtag #FallFood on our Facebook page by midnight on Wednesday, October 21 will be featured in the November newsletter. 

Posy Pudding Challenge Results
In our last issue, we challenged readers to make a Posy Pudding using the recipe from the Changi Prison cookbook, in tribute to Ethel Mulvany. Suzanne Evans, author of The Taste of Longing, served as the celebrity judge of our virtual bake-off. Here's what she responded:

You know what they say, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." So I need, and want, a spoon! Sigh.

Never mind. I will be satisfied by relying on a morsel of culinary wisdom I learned long ago while living in China: "The first bite is with the eyes."

By nature I am a saucy person (pun intended). I love the look of Mya pouring the marmalade sauce over the pudding. I would ask her to keep pouring! Then there is Elena's pudding, simply wallowing in the sauce, soaking up its marmalade tang! Yum.

Stephanie's offering looks unusually light and cake-like for a steamed pudding. Her elegant design of raisins on top came out beautifully.

In the end, though, I lean towards Sherry's contribution. I appreciate how she presented her offering. Like Elena, she served this orange pudding on a blue plate. The two complementary colours enhance the food. Sherry then added the delicate decoration of strained marmalade pieces or soaked raisins (?) around the edge of the plate and topped off her creation with a nice glimmer of sauce, seeming to make the raisins sparkle.

I have been looking at these puddings before lunch as my stomach growls. I can understand how the prisoners would have loved looking at the colour photos of food in Ethel's copy of the
Five Roses Cookbook!

One more thing. I included this recipe in my book for the word "posy," in the sense of a sentiment in verse. I did so because Ethel's recipe collection was inspired by the poem of E.J. Pratt, "The Depression Ends." If I had the talent, I could get poetic about any of these puddings!

Thank you for serving as our judge, Suzanne! Sherry Murphy will receive a one-year extension to her current CHC membership. In case you didn't follow along this month on our Facebook page, here are the participants and their comments.
  • Mya Sangster (top left) wrote: "Having read the recipe for Posy Pudding, several things popped into my head. How common was the use of self-raising flour in Canada in the 1930s? What sized pudding basin should be used? Where are my pudding cloths? When Ethel Mulvany was reading the recipe in Changi prison, what image of the Posy Pudding was in her mind? Had she ever made this pudding? She had to be an amazing person to survive that hell hole. There is an excellent book, published in 1986, of Ronald Searle's drawings of his time in Changi jail."
  • Sherry Murphy (top right) wrote: "This pudding is a very light and simple pudding. I used bread crumbs from a cinnamon raisin bread I made, and with the orange marmalade sauce it has a unique taste! Just imagine Ethel Mulvany in prison starving, tortured and in confined isolation; she did not break down but created a mental image of preparing delicious recipes for a banquet and then wrote them down to compile a cookbook, to give her strength once again to enjoy good food in her future! She did it all and involved other women in prison to help, which kept most of them alive! Amazing life story."
  • Elena Rueda (lower left) wrote: "Before I made the pudding, I made my own marmalade—which proved to be something of a learning experience. I also made the bread used in the recipe yesterday, and I used my mother's (and before her my grandmother's) pudding bowl. This probably makes it at least 80 years old! It still works really well. I did use a trick my mother showed me—maybe 50 years ago—for sticking the raisins to the bowl. The recipe says the bowl should be greased, and mom's trick for this was to use butter—and a lot of it. The raisins stick to the butter. I tried to be as careful as possible when spooning the pudding mix into the bowl so as not to disturb the raisins. 😁 I expect all that extra butter did add a little more flavour to the pudding, but neither my husband nor I found it distracting. As for the pudding itself, the taste was light with a nice aftertaste of orange and lemon (from the sauce). Would I make this again? Yes. Thanks to Evelyn for her lovely creation!
  • Stephanie Thomas (lower right) wrote: "Here is my first attempt at a steamed pudding. Even though my pudding basin was too large and I gave up  trying to get the raisins to stick to the sides of the pudding basin, I was pleased with the result. The pudding was light and moist, not heavy and stodgy. I imagine women would have made puddings similar to this during the Depression or during wartime when food was rationed, because it uses up old bread, requires only one egg, and does not call for much sugar (except in the jam). My mother made the marmalade."
Join the Culinary Historians of Canada!

The membership year runs from one annual general meeting (usually late September/early October) to the next. Download a membership form here and join us today! 

2. News and Opportunities

Taste Canada Virtual Awards Ceremony
Now in its 23rd year, Taste Canada Awards has announced the titles of shortlisted cookbooks competing for a coveted culinary writing award. The winners will be announced during a Virtual Awards Ceremony on October 25, at which time CHC members Fiona Lucas and Liz Driver will unveil the newest inductees into the Culinary Landmarks Hall of Fame. Sponsored by CHC, the Hall of Fame celebrates the personalities who have shaped Canadian culinary writing and made a lasting contribution to our culture.

Check Out The Sifter!

The Sifter is a searchable database that has recently come online to assist people with food-related questions. At present, it includes over 5,000 authors and 5,000 works, with details about the authors and contents of their works. The central documents are cookbooks and other writings related to getting, preparing and consuming food, and the activities associated with them, as well as writings about cultural and moral attitudes.

It is based on the Wikipedia model, whereby users help to input the data and review it, making any needed corrections or edits. The more data entered, the more comprehensive the search results will be. The editors invite people of different backgrounds, languages, cultures and professions to contribute by signing up for a free account and adding information. Information can be entered in many languages, including Chinese and Sanskrit, but English is used as the language that ties all the other languages together so that when you search for “tamarind,” for example, the English as well as the Urdu and Thai references will be found.


10th Annual Devour! Festival
Devour! The Food Film Fest is marking its 10th installment with a hybrid-digital event running from October 21 to 25. The festival, which is based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is making virtual lemonade out of pandemic lemons by scheduling a full program of food-related movies and workshops that are accessible to anyone, anywhere, for a fee of $10 per event.

Here's the 2020 online film roster; for workshops and in-person scheduling, visit the Devour! site.

The Scotiabank Big Picture Program
  • Mon., Oct. 19, 10 to 11 a.m., Generation Greta: They are aged between 12 and 24. They have grown up in a world with increasing droughts, floods, fires. And in spite of their cultural and geographical differences, nine young female activists are united under the same struggle: raising awareness about the climate emergency, fighting against the inaction of politicians, and promoting radical societal change so that nature and social justice become our top priority.
  • Tue., Oct. 20, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Fish and Men: Today, 91% of our fish is imported and the market is flooded with billions of tons of imported seafood. Fish & Men exposes the high cost of cheap fish in the modern seafood economy and the forces threatening local fishing communities and public health by revealing how our choices as consumers drive the global seafood trade.
  • Wed., Oct. 21, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Meat the Future: A timely case for “cultivated” meat, a food science that grows real meat from animal cells in a controlled and clean environment. This revolution in food production proposes a sustainable way to feed the world in the future without the need to breed, raise and slaughter animals.
  • Thu., Oct. 22, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Toxic Puzzle: We are on the brink of an ecological catastrophe. Due to pollution, and with climate change compounding the situation, cyanobacteria are growing more than ever. Toxic blooms now occur in lakes, rivers, dams and lagoons all over the world. Meanwhile, diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, linked to these bacteria, are on the increase in many countries.
Other Film Programming    

Thursday, October 22
  • 5 to 7 p.m.: Free Way with Soup
  • 7 to 9 p.m.: Devour! Chefs & Shorts Gala
  • 8 to 10 p.m.: Games People Play & A Piece of Cake
Friday, October 23
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: The Forum & The Silence of the Dying Fish
  • 2 to 4 p.m.: Wine Reflections & Crystal Frog
  • 5 to 6:30 p.m.: Bread in the BonesAlchemy
  • 8 to 10 p.m.: Master ChengThe Happiness Project
Saturday, October 24
  • 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: The Art of Cooking with FireDavid Toutain, de la terre à l’assiette
  • 2 to 4 p.m.: Shorts Program: The Dark Side
  • 5 to 7 p.m.: Feast of the Seven FishesCrab Special
  • 8 to 10 p.m.: Forgotten FlowersPurple fog, l’art du cocktail
Sunday, October 25
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Breaking BreadTradition
  • 2 to 4 p.m.: Weed & WineThe Biodynamical Way        
  • 5 to 7 p.m.: Love SarahThe Coin

Culinary History Online

As the fall lecture and workshop schedule migrates online, here are some of the standout virtual events for October.  

What’s Cooking? (Member News)
CHC MEMBERS: Please let us know what you're up to! We'll publish all suitable news items received at by the 25th of each month. (Please write your announcement directly into your email window, with no attachments except a photo. Be sure to include a web link for further information!)

CHC Honorary Lifetime Member Mya Sangster prepared a period tea for the September meeting of the Jane Austen Society (Toronto chapter). She writes: "We had an excellent presentation by Dr. Lorrie Clark telling us 'Why Manners Matter: Making and Breaking Engagements in Northanger Abbey.' Her talk was followed by tea, pound cake, gingerbread and jam tarts. The weather was cooperative."

The gingerbread biscuits were from Martha Lloyd’s recipe "To Make Gingerbread," and Mya notes that "Martha was a great friend of the Austens. She lived with Mrs. Austen, Jane and Cassandra in Chawton Cottage. I have made this gingerbread many times; the receipt calls for two ounces of ginger. I halved the receipt. The flavour is very intense." The tarts are filled with Mya's jam, also made from period recipes (see photo at top).

Mya also served slices of a currant-stuffed Pound Cake from The New London Family Cook by Duncan MacDonald (1808), pictured below.

Nathalie Cooke recently participated in a webinar as part of an ongoing Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) project looking at two British sisters who lived in Chennai, India, in the early 19th century. In a session titled "Curry and Clove Beans: Cooking, Eating, and Forgotten Foods in Madras in the Early 19th Century," she traced Elizabeth Gwillim’s encounters with the foods and foodways of Madras, while another presenter, Akash Muralidharan, explored culinary shifts over time, tracing now-forgotten elements of Tamil Nadu’s cuisine. You can find out more about the project and view posted webinars at the The Gwillim Project Online channel on YouTube.

Last month, new member Ellen Moorhouse invited CHC members to participate in a project created by her not-for-profit Back Lane Studios to collect recipes for and memories about favourite childhood foods. She hopes to publish a cookbook and to post recipes and stories through her website and social media.

On September 17, she dropped in to visit CHC member Sherry Murphy with Alia DeSanti, who recorded and filmed Sherry in her kitchen as she plated her mom's soup-can cake and spoke about her childhood as one of three children (triplets: herself and two brothers).

Sherry writes, "My mom loved to bake, and each year on our birthday she would bake three large cakes, one for each of us! Later, hardships interrupted her happy life, and having little money to buy baking pans, she would bake a cake in a large soup can. She plated the cake slices and decorated them with Christmas Ribbon Candy. This became a Christmas tradition that I always treasured, and so I follow her footsteps in my own home."

CHC member John Ota has been busy as usual. He has recently finished taping six one-hour presentations for the Hot Docs Curious Minds series on "Houses and Lives of Great Cultural Icons" (Thomas Jefferson, Georgia O'Keeffe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Armstrong, Julia Child and Elvis Presley). The sessions, which will be streaming on the Hot Docs online platform starting on October 29, contain substantial material from his book The Kitchen and will cover the cultural icons' families, their homes, what they liked to eat, how they cooked and—of course—their kitchens. Also, on September 19, he chatted with Chef David Zilber in a presentation called "Someone's in the Kitchen with Garlic" for the Toronto Garlic Festival on Instagram Live.

Are those blue suede shoes? John Ota gets into the spirit of Graceland.

3. Destinations

Do you know of a great historic site with a food program? Send a short article with one or two of your best photos to by the 25th of the month to have your write-up included in our next issue!

Eldon House (London, Ontario)
Text: Jane Black. Images: Eldon House

Restored to the 1920s, Eldon House reflects the opulence of a family whose travels took them around the world. It is the oldest, and maybe the most opulent, residence in London. Built in 1834 for Amelia and John Harris in Georgian and Regency style, it remained in the Harris family for four generations until 1959, when Milly Harris passed away, after which the house and lands were donated to the city. The Eldon House museum opened in 1961, and a good portion of the land was developed into Harris Park. Along with beautifully maintained gardens, the site comprises four buildings: the main house, coach house, greenhouse and an interpretive centre.

Three rooms were set aside solely for culinary preparation and storage: a pantry, larder and kitchen. Here there is a large collection of culinary artifacts, including pieces used by family and other pieces donated from the London area. (This includes a box of crackers from the local McCormick’s factory.)

The Harris family converted from gas to electricity in 1896. In 1928 and 1929, a new electric stove and refrigerator were purchased, both of which still work today, although the fridge is unplugged at most times for environmental and safety reasons. In the kitchen, one can also find the bells. While they are no longer wired, staff can sound the bells for those on tours. Unlike houses where the bell had clear labels, the system at Eldon House required staff to memorize the chime of each one in order to know which room was ringing for their attention.

Much is known about the daily life of the Harris family through the diaries, journals and cookbooks they left behind. Eldon House Diaries: Five Women's Views of the 19th Century by Robin Harris and Terry Harris was published in 1994 by the University of Toronto Press and contains some mention of the culinary happenings at Eldon House. For recipes specifically, The Eldon House Cookbook, compiled by family members and servants primarily during the 1940s, is on display in the museum’s kitchen. A second cookbook, The Harris Family Cookbook, is housed at the University of Toronto.

Eldon House regularly hosts culinary-themed events as part of its programming, including visits from Charles McPherson (a.k.a. Charles the Butler), who provides lessons in domestic service. Tea is available for purchase during the summer months and served outside in the gardens. Neighbouring Harris Park, which reaches down to the Thames River, makes for a great picnic spot.

For those coming from out of town, the London Museum, the London Gaol and Covent Market are all within less than five minutes' walking distance. Currently, only self-guided tours of the museum are available. Visitors must pre-book an appointment and come in groups of six or fewer. Admission is by donation. You can learn more or make an appointment for a tour via the website or by phoning 519-661-5169.

Bar U Ranch wagon. Photo by Judy Chow

Bar U Ranch National Historic Site (Longview, Alberta)
By Judy Chow

Situated in the rolling foothills about an hour southwest of Calgary, Bar U Ranch National Historic Site commemorates the history of ranching in Canada. As it's located just off the aptly named Cowboy Trail (Highway 22), the scenic drive through the grasslands, with mountain vistas in the distance, is itself worth the trip.

The Bar U Ranch was a highly successful livestock enterprise in its heyday. The current site was a working cattle ranch until 1991. The land and buildings were purchased by Parks Canada, and as a National Historic Site it has been open since 1995. Visitors can learn about the history of ranching from the late 1800s to the early half of the 20th century.

Founded by Fred Stimson and fellow investors in 1882, the ranch passed through a succession of owners until 1950, when the properties were divided into smaller parcels and sold. One of the owners, George Lane, developed a prominent business breeding purebred Percheron horses in addition to maintaining a large herd of cattle. His most famous legacy is helping to establish the Calgary Stampede.

Coffee grinder. Photo by Jean Gallup, Parks Canada Interpretation Officer / Coordinator, Bar U Ranch

Food played a key role in maintaining health and morale among the ranch hands. On the grounds of the ranch, you can find a wagon, tent and fire pit, representative of the rustic cooking amenities available on the prairie during cattle drives. The cook house has a garden and root cellar at the back. Nearby ice houses were used to store meat and supplies before the ranch acquired its own refrigerator.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has restricted public access to the cook house, cancelled programmed events and closed the gift shop and café this year. Visitors to the cook house can browse artifacts in the large common area and chat with a costumed interpreter; however, access to the smaller dining area and kitchen are limited to staff only at this time.

Cookhouse dining room. Photo by Judy Chow

4. Food for Thought

Have you missed a book review? You can read reviews from all our past issues online. If you are a CHC member who would like to contribute, please contact Elka Weinstein at or Sarah Hood at

The Prairie Table by Karlynn Johnston (Penguin Random House, 2019). Reviewed by Jan Main (pictured above).

The title The Prairie Table intrigued me. I was born in the Prairies and spent my first six years there, but have never revisited these provinces, by and large considering myself an Easterner from Ontario. However, to rediscover some of my early roots, especially culinary ones, fascinated me. The Prairie Table was an excellent way to sample culinary Prairie life or, as author Karlynn Johnston, who blogs as The Magpie’s Kitchen, says in her introduction, to be invited into an Edmonton kitchen. Together with her husband, Mr. Magpie, she has created a colourful cookbook full of much-loved family recipes.

It is here where all the sharing begins, with crowd-pleasing recipes to bring people together over supper, potlucks and socials. Homey, old-fashioned terms (“socials," "dainties" and "libations”) flavour the book and give you the sense that family and community are at the core of everything. Indeed, this is true; again, Johnston explains that “the bleakness of isolation was very real (and still can be in rural farming areas on the Prairies.) Social gatherings are essential."

Of course, with socials come food. And what food! The chapter titles outline the focus of Prairie tables: Ukrainian dishes (yes, Johnston has a Ukrainian background; this chapter illustrates perogy-making in detail, with all the family on board); Breads, Buns and Baked Goods (as expected of the Prairies, an emphasis on wheat); Small Bites and Nibbles (no fancy appetizers!); Salads and Vegetable Sides (vegetables are a hard sell in this part of the world); Main Dishes (suitable for weeknights but company too—any leftovers are used for lunch); Dainties and Cookies (I love the term “dainties”! As Johnston qualifies, when you ask people for coffee, it means coffee and food!); Portable Desserts (suitable for supper and socials); and, finally, the last chapter, Libations (fancy drinks, the province of Mr. Magpie, her husband and business associate).

So many aspects of this cookbook make it inviting: the hard cover in the signature sky blue of the Prairies, sprinkled with a tantalizing collage of dishes to be sampled within; Johnston's conversational style, which makes you feel at ease with her recipes and eager to try them; and the well laid-out recipes with simple numbered directions, preparation and cooking time. A full-page coloured illustration accompanies each recipe, displaying the finished product in a glass serving dish, part of Johnston’s extensive collection of retro glass—casual and welcoming. Well-illustrated and carefully explained, these dishes are just waiting to be prepared in your kitchen for friends and family in the same hospitable fashion as in The Prairie Table.

The Bite Me Balance Cookbook: Wholesome Daily Eats & Delectable Occasional Treats by Julie Albert & Lisa Gnat (Appetite by Random House, 2020). Reviewed by Maya Love (pictured above).

This is the fourth cookbook by Toronto sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat. Fun and humour are two ingredients that play a key role in their approach to life, food and recipes. Here, Albert and Gnat share 138 original, easy-to-follow recipes for breakfast and brunch, lunch, weeknight dinners and gatherings.

The Bite Me sisters are on a mission to equip readers with the tools (easy, everyday, delicious, healthy, well-tested recipes) needed to create a balanced, healthy-ish lifestyle. In the introduction, they explain their approach and how they have created balance through smarter shopping and eating. Bite Me Balance is not a diet book; it’s a lifestyle and wellness book that we can all use as a guide to fill our fridges and pantries with quality ingredients found in any upscale grocery store. 

There are several features that I love. One is that recipes include icons: quick preparation, freezes well, gluten-free, vegetarian and occasional treat. These help us navigate mealtime and locate recipes we’d like to shop for and cook. Another feature is the frequent inclusion of helpful shopping or cooking tips alongside recipes, referred to as "Lessons from Lisa."

Also unique are their top-ten lists to inspire you, such as steps you can do (to prepare ahead) on a Sunday to make Monday feel less like Monday; meals in a bowl; hosting hacks; and easy, yet elegant recipes, to name a few. Thinking ahead to the fall season, a few of the recipes that caught my attention were Banana Date Oatmeal Bowl; Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs; Baked Carrot Fries; Chunky Root Vegetable Soup; Turkey Ragu; Za’atar-Crusted Chicken; Banana Sheet Cake; and Pecan Pie Bars. 

Bite Me Balance is a cookbook you may want to keep handy in your kitchen for everyday use. It’s a fun and friendly collection with beautiful, compelling colour photographs on every page, reminding us that we “eat with our eyes first.” And remember, as Julie and Lisa say, “it’s all about balance.”

Craft: An Argument: Why the Term “Craft Beer” Is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential by Peter Brown (Storm Lantern Publications, 2020). Reviewed by Gary Gillman (pictured above).

Pete Brown is a well-known author and broadcaster on drinks and food who is based in the UK. His previous books include Pie Fidelity (about British food) and Miracle Brew (the nature and science of beer). His idiosyncratic subtitle explains his theme very well.
In the 1970s, a small brewery revival started in the UK and North America that has burgeoned ever since. In recent years, the momentum has revolutionized the brewing business and beer habits worldwide. Brown charts the origins of the ubiquitous term "craft beer." He shows that various attempts by lobby groups, publicists and writers to define it are limited in application, if not replete with paradox and contradiction.
If a small hands-on brewery makes a beer similar to a mass-market “light,” while an international mega-brewer produces a resinous and otherwise faultless pilsener in an automated factory, which is craft? Or is neither?
Brown persuades us that, while an airtight definition of craft brewing is logically impossible, the idea of associating craft with brewing is still valid and even necessary. As he puts it: for millions perusing the retail shelves, the “abstract idea” of craft has “innate appeal.”
Brown then examines the notion of craft “in its own right,” its long history in different contexts and societies: Descartes, the Arts and Crafts movement, time-and-motion theory, and Colin Wilson, among many other names and doctrines, come in for scrutiny as to what they can teach us—and not teach us—of hand, mind and automation. This dimension of the book deepens its interest.
Based on his insights, Brown considers that beer is simply one illustration of the idea that “whenever industrial capitalism gets too scientific and regulatory ... we seek an alternative point of view .... by re-discovering the counter-cultural ideals of craft.” This and "prioritizing an alternative source of value above financial success, are the acts of the modern-day Outsider.” Still, for Brown, craft and mainstream are complementary; each has meaning but also has the potential to change the other. Using this conceptual foundation, he identifies certain factors to help identify craft ethos, creativity and motivation.
This book is closely argued and therefore not a casual read. But for the thinking reader interested in food and drink, the rewards are clear. Nor must the reader agree with all of Brown’s assertions—for example, that so-called corporations “do” things to people (as opposed to being actuated by people’s wants)—to be in sympathy with his main points, or at least find them stimulating.
Finally, Brown is a very British writer. Some people on this side of the pond may find his use of the UK vernacular (“wind up,” “uni”) difficult. Don’t let that stop you from reading the book—it is part of the Brown style. He is your pub mate, beer maven and intellectual historian all in one.

Review Contributors
  • Luisa Giacometti
  • Gary Gillman
  • Sher Hackwell
  • Amy Lavender Harris
  • Sarah Hood
  • Maya Love
  • Sylvia Lovegren
  • Fiona Lucas
  • Jan Main
  • Dana McCauley
  • Elka Weinstein

5. Events of Interest

Compiled by Jane Black, Kesia Kvill, Sarah Hood & Julia Armstrong

Although some museums and historic sites remain closed, many are resuming some version of their regular programming, including the following:

6. International Conferences

Compiled by Kesia Kvill


October 17 to 18 (Online from New York City)
Theme: Making the Local: Place, Authenticity, and Sustainability.
Venue: Marymount Manhattan College.

November 13 to 14 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Theme: Food and the Environment: The Dynamic Relationship Between Food Practices and Nature.
Venue: University of Amsterdam.

November 13 to 15 (Mumford, New York – cancelled; may move online)
November 27 to December 11 (Online)
Host: Institute of Modern Languages Research.


May 13 to 15 (Online from Guelph, Ontario)
Theme: Kitchen Table Talk to Global Forum.
Venue: University of Guelph.
Zoom or Webex are likely platforms for the conference, and previously planned activities will be adapted to this new format.
Of note: The RWSA is an international association that promotes and advances farm and rural women’s/gender studies in a historical perspective.

June 2 to 5 (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
Theme: Challenging Crops & Climate.
June 11 to 14 (Online from Archbold, Ohio)
Theme: Looking Forward… The Next 50 Years.
Venue: Sauder Village.
CFP deadline: November 15, 2020.
September 7 to 10 (Rome, Italy)
Theme: Eating on the Move (19th to 21st centuries).
Venue: Roma Tre University.
CFP deadline: 30 November 2020.
Across the far-flung regions of Canada, a lot is happening in the fields of food and history. This monthly digest is a forum for Canadian culinary historians and enthusiasts to tell each other about their many activities. This is a place for networking and conversation about Canadian culinary history happenings. Each month, Digestible Bits and Bites is shared with members of the Culinary Historians of Canada and other interested persons who ask to be on the distribution list. 
The Culinary Historians of Canada would like to share this digest with a wide audience. You are encouraged to post or forward this information. 


  • To receive their free monthly edition of Digestible Bits and Bites, interested readers need only send a request with their email address to the editor.
  • Past issues of Digestible Bits and Bites are posted on the Culinary Historians of Canada website.
Copyright © 2020 Culinary Historians of Canada, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp