Digestible Bits and Bites

The monthly newsletter of the
Culinary Historians of Canada
Number 112, August 2022
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Facebook friend Kerwin Wong "threw some shrimp on the fire" in honour of summertime and our Canadian obsession with outdoor cooking.


  1. CHC News and Upcoming Events

  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


Annual General Meeting Notice

The 2022 CHC AGM falls on Saturday, October 1, 2022. All members in good standing are invited to attend. With a seventh wave of COVID upon us, and in the interests of making it easy for everyone to attend, we have decided to hold our third annual virtual meeting. All members will receive an email with Zoom login information a week before the meeting.

On the agenda—some exciting announcements, a proposed change to the Constitution and a really entertaining piece of scholarship. More will be revealed over the next six weeks.

We are looking to expand the CHC board. Will you join us? We are actively seeking new board members, and hoping to fill the positions of president, vice-president, secretary and co-chair of communications.

If you think you could commit about three or four hours per month and might like to help organize events, manage our social media accounts, bake historic refreshments or handle administrative details, please consider joining us. We also welcome volunteers from any part of the country to offer even a few hours a year to one of our committees (Membership, Programming, Communications, Education, Publicity, Volunteers and Refreshments). Find out more at

All 2022 memberships expire on the day before the AGM; only members in good standing may stand for board membership, elect board members and vote on official matters that may arise. Those who renew before January 1 will be charged our current price of $30 per year ($55 for two years). As of 2023, the rate will rise to $35. 

To renew, simply visit the membership page on our website. If you are not certain whether your membership is still up to date, check in with our membership chair, Judy, at

Advertising cards from Rennie's Seeds ca 1904 (Duncan Lithographing Co.), Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, Toronto Public Library. Public domain.

Just A Bite Report #4: Seeds and Harvest

By Carolyn Crawford

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors' cultural groups, associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the fifth in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

In this blistering hot summer of 2022, we look at what Ontario seniors told us in the Just a Bite questionnaire about seeds and harvests in their pasts. Many respondents saved seeds, canned, preserved, froze, sold and shared much of Ontario’s summer produce which many had grown in their family gardens or farms. I have tried to include as many recollections as possible for you to enjoy.

Eleanor Aldus from Peterborough writes of her memories from the '50s, "The cellar was lined with jars and shelves of pickles, relishes, canned tomatoes and fruit preserves nestled beside the bottles of maple syrup from the spring sap run ... The Department of Agriculture issued information on safely preparing and freezing foods [and] new cookbooks now had a section on freezing and canning."

Betty Bender of Goderich states, “I remember my mother poring over seed catalogues. She even wrote a poem about how much she enjoyed doing that.” Murray Borer (Renfrew) says that his family in Dundas "bought seeds from the hardware store" and that "tomato plants were traded [with his neighbour] for horse manure."

Steele, Briggs' Seed Co. garden guide for 1928, back cover (detail), Harris Litho. Co. (publisher), Humanities and Social Sciences department, Toronto Reference Library, Public domain.

Gaetano Tom Burgio, who moved to Virgil in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area from Italy said that “We would dry the seeds from the year before ... We saved them in jars. My brother gave me wild fennel seeds from Sicily, Italy, and I grow them today in NOTL. They taste so good in sauce.”
Lynn Clelland, formerly of Brampton, now in Renfrew, still remembers "coming home from elementary school to the wonderful smell of chili sauce." Barbara Cook (Caledon) said her father "shared with neighbours, friends and co-workers ... they would fill his vehicle with veggies before he went to work." Lloyd Cook, also of Caledon, recalls that "we preserved earlier on … Before we had our own [freezer] we rented three freezer lockers at the farm Co-op in Brampton and at Kaufman’s store in Inglewood."

Joseph Gray (Caledon) also mentioned that "we did not have a freezer growing up but had a freezer locker in Brampton at the Peel Seed Co-op store, where other members stored theirs…. We each had an area that was like large wire cages that had padlocks on it so others could not borrow your supplies." Also, "Mother preserved …  many jars of different jams, pickles, and fruits that we stored in our basement [and] we used to store [apples] on the front verandah covered with blankets to keep from freezing until it got really cold, then we hauled the bushel baskets full of apples down to our cellar. Many springs a few bushels of rotten apples were hauled back out."

Elizabeth Glenney from Oshawa shares that while growing up in Newcastle, "the corn on the cob was boiled and wrapped in butcher paper and tied with butcher cord … and put in the freezer. My mother preserved peaches, pears, plums, cherries, tomatoes, grapes, and beets."

Susan Hitchcock from Syndenham says "mom and dad would make homemade chili sauce, dill pickles, jam … Dad even tried his hand at homemade wine. We spent an entire weekend picking wild grapes near his family home in Stanleyville."

Marilyn King, currently of Listowel, shared that her family’s harvest was sold at the Stratford Farmers Market. Her mother froze, canned and pickled, and made Dutch apple pie which they froze in quarters.

Debra McAuslan (Clinton) tells us about their cold cellar in the basement: "In what I think was an old cistern, my dad would bring in dirt, and the potatoes and carrots would be buried in the dirt. I remember digging them out for supper [and] mom always had a few crocks of pickles with a plate over them … I would lift the plate and sneak my hand in to get a pickle!"

Margaret McMahon of Gorrie writes that "seed potatoes were usually the eyes off last year's crop if any potatoes were left." She also recalls "we had elderberry bushes growing right outside the barn … but we had to get them before the birds did. Shaking the berries into the big garbage bags was always a fun day. Pie to follow! Extras were frozen for the winter months." Ted Meyer in Waterdown says his "big family preserved a lot.... As we got older and had our own families, we would share and trade produce with each other; we all had our own gardens. It was a social event."

"Return from the Insect Fair" advertising card from Rennie's Seeds ca 1890, Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, Toronto Public Library. Public domain

Peter Myers speaks of growing up in a suburb of Winnipeg called St. Vital. He writes: "the Dominion Seed Catalogue arrived every winter.... The best product was corn right out of the garden, into the pot, and onto the table. Summer food." He also writes that "a Native person would come with blueberries once a summer … and mom would buy enough for a pie. Wild blueberry pie!"

He further mentions the summer tastes of Saskatoon berries, chokecherries, wild plums and caragana blossoms that he ate as child: "very easy to pick and the nectar delicious. Caragana were introduced to the prairies and became a characteristic element of the of towns and cities as well, I am sure, of shelterbelts when the first farms matured and before all were removed in the expansion of the massive farms of today."

Margaret Pearson from Milton recalls purchasing her seeds mostly from the store but "as a teen got them from the Agricultural Society for 4-H." Eva Norman-Vestergaard from London tells us that "heritage [garden] seeds were saved each year … and Dad would store clean grain and corn in bins." They also purchased their seed from Stokes, Dominion Seed House and Rennie’s Seed Annual. "Fruit tree cuttings for grafting came from neighbours and family," she says. She created and included her own recipe for Elderberry Squares:

Elderberry Squares
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter
Use parchment paper in bottom of an 8" x 8" pan for easier removal and cleaning. Combine well the flour, butter, and sugar. Pat the batter into an 8" x 8" pan and cook at 325° F for 20 minutes.

  • 3½ cups elderberries
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour 
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter
Cook elderberries, lemon juice, white sugar, flour, salt, and butter. Add mixture to top of crust and spread evenly. Bake at 325° F for 20 minutes. When cooled, chill in refrigerator, then freezer. Cut in squares and remove from pan.

Sherry Murphy of Toronto was raised in Boston and Florida. Her family picked mangoes and citrus fruits, which they sold. Her mother also preserved some oranges and made marmalade. Peggy Parent of South River says that her "dad donated lots of vegetables" to her mother’s church ladies’ groups to use as fundraisers. She remembered going to Midland (her hometown) Flour & Feed to purchase seeds by the pound.

Ruth Quast (Renfrew) states that her family "froze corn and peas, preserved the fruit, made apple pies and froze them—anything in abundance went to anyone who needed it." She remembers that when the seed catalogue came in the mail, "It was almost as exciting as the Christmas catalogue—spring was coming!" Another Renfrew resident, David Reid, saved seeds "in hemp bags in a small mouse-proof wooden box that Grandpa had made." The Reids "sold asparagus to the local hospital and apples in the community." David notes that they did not have hydro until 1949, and they stored their frozen goods at the freezer plant in town.

Steele, Briggs' Seed Co. garden guide for 1928, p. 6, Harris Litho. Co. (publisher), Humanities and Social Sciences department, Toronto Reference Library, Public domain.

Nancy West of Lakeside says her family sold their summer harvest "extra to neighbours and the local grocery store" and that her "grandparents' place was well known for strawberries and raspberries that they planted in 1947." She transplanted some to her current home and says that "the raspberries are great, but the old strawberry variety has no shelf life."

Mary Williamson of Toronto shares with us many stories about wartime summer harvests. Her family grew their own small Victory Garden that had carrots and lettuce, and included an asparagus bed that her brother painstakingly dug for a month! She tells us that "rationing impacted the making of jams and jellies." But her mother managed to take advantage of summer vacation time spent in Northern Ontario and cottage country; Mary recalls, "My mother would take a walk and, straying from the usual paths, look for blueberries and other wild fruits. She would gather them (with my help!) and take them back home where they would be boiled up into jam, with sugar acquired via the special sugar ration stamps."

Mary’s uncles had a farm in what is now Burlington. She was "eager to help in picking fruit on their farms: mostly raspberries." Mary wrote more of these summer food memories in an article she included in her Just a Bite booklet titled "Feeding the Family in Wartime," which was first published in Edible Toronto issue 16 in the summer of 2011. She and her brother are pictured on its front cover picking raspberries. The article is based on a book she edited with Tom Sharp titled Just A Larger Family: Letters of Marie Williamson From The Canadian Home Front, 1940-1944.

Looking forward to the arrival of seed catalogues, planting, picking and preparing the harvest of fruits and vegetables, and doing these things as a family for themselves or for others, are prominently fixed in the memories of Ontario seniors.

Multicoloured peppers at Toronto's Leslieville Farmers' Market. Photo by Sarah Hood.

August Cooking Challenge: Peppers

Sweet or hot, peppers are among our most versatile veggies. This month, we challenge you to show us a pepper-packed culinary effort. Are you canning salsa? Flipping omelettes? Garnishing a Moroccan soup with harissa? Dishing up a Mexican-inspired brunch? Maybe you're prepping a scorching jerk chicken dinner or baking some lip-smacking stuffed bell peppers. You decide: just show us what you're up to!

You might enjoy having a look at 
Canadian Cookbooks Online on our website for inspiration. There you'll find links to scores of Canadian cookbooks of the past. If you post pictures and comments with the hashtag #peppers to our Facebook page before midnight on Thursday, August 18, we’ll feature at least one of your entries in our August newsletter.

Photo hints: To get the best results with your photos on Facebook and in this newsletter, follow these tips:
  • Make sure your image is big (at least 1MB in file size, or at least 1,000 pixels wide).
  • Make your image wide rather than tall. If you're taking a picture of something round, like a cake, include lots of blank space on either side of it.
  • Keep the camera still; balance it on a chair back or a stack of books if necessary.
  • Use as much light as possible. Outdoor light is great, especially on a cloudy day when there are no sharp shadows. Unless your room is very well lit, place the food near a window, turn on all your lights, and even point extra light sources (ring lights, flashlights) at it from a few different angles.
  • Put your food on a tea towel, a wooden counter or a similar neutral background rather than the stovetop.
  • Decorations are nice, like a flower in a vase, a charming salt and pepper set, an antique spoon or a decorative plate. But don't go overboard: remember, it's the food we want to see!
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

Save the Date!
The 25th anniversary Taste Canada Awards Gala will be held on Monday, November 7. Attendees will find out who takes home the Gold and Silver awards in each English- and French-language book category. The winners of the 2022 Cooks the Books presented by Canada Beef and of course the Taste Canada Hall of Fame presented by CHC will also be revealed!

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 member Ellen Moorhouse of Back Lane Studios has just released We Are What We Ate, a book of compiled food memories that features our own vice-president Sherry Murphy on the cover. When COVID shutdowns began, she began to collect memories by phone and in writing. She notes that "each favourite food story includes memories associated with the dish—who made it, when and where it was consumed, and, perhaps, why it was a favourite." To receive a copy, contact her at 647-313-1654 or The cost is $20 plus $7 for shipping.

CHC is thrilled to be able to congratulate member Kesia Kvill, who manages the Conferences section of your newsletter. Earlier this year she moved to Calgary to take up a new position as the chief curator at Heritage Park Historical Village. (Check out her short video "What is a Living History Museum?")

Previously, Kesia had been working as an Assistant Collections Assistant at Guelph Museums while enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Guelph. She is continuing to work on her doctoral dissertation on women, food control, kitchens, recipes and the government in Canada during the First World War. Her Master's thesis was on public dining in Alberta from the 1880s–1920s. Best wishes for your continued success, Kesia!

Marie Holmes' recipe for O’Brien Potatoes (with butter, onions, parsley and canned pimentos), as cooked up by Matthew Noel, a member of Parkwood Estate's War in the Kitchen project.

CHC vice-president Samantha George and volunteers at Parkwood Estate National Historic Site in Oshawa, Ontario, have been making their way through the recipes published by Marie Holmes in the Toronto Daily Star, and they've now reached July 1942. Samantha writes, "Butter is on the ration, 'exotic' spices are disappearing, coffee and tea are limited (about to hit ration in August 1942). Marie focuses on vegetables as a lone ingredient, as access to meat begins to be further reduced, with rations coming."

CHC member Sylvia Lovegren has been working on a biographical history of the elusive Justus Morton, an American potter who came to Ontario from Upstate New York in the late 1840s or early 1850s. Morton started the first stoneware factory in Canada West, manufacturing churns, cream pots, pitchers, jugs and all the other ceramic "Tupperware" of the mid 19th-century kitchen. Although Morton has been well recognized in his adopted land—one of his prize-winning water coolers is resident at the ROM, and the Brantford Museum has a room devoted to his pottery—his American past has been shrouded in mystery, all because of an incorrect name-spelling by a census taker in Onondaga County, New York.

Sylvia has chronicled for the first time Morton's work in stoneware centres up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States, through his arrival in Brantford, his unfortunate marriage to a much younger woman in Ontario after he became a widower, and the mystery of the whereabouts of his grave after his death in Brantford in 1859—as well as his Brantford executor's woes as the latter tried to keep the peace between Morton's adult daughters and their young step-mum. Her article on the true history of  "The Invisible America Potter: Justus Morton of Brantford, Ontario" appears in Ceramics in America 2021 as of August 7, and will be available at the Chipstone Foundation website.

Upper image: Jug from Morton & Co., Brantford, Canada West, ca 1854. Photo courtesy Scott Wallace, Maple Leaf Auctions. Lower image: Stoneware cake crock from Morton, Goold & Co., Brantford, C.W., 1859. Photo courtesy Scott Wallace, Maple Leaf Auctions

3. Destinations

Jane Black's Destinations feature will return.

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 Sarah Hood at

Culinary Herbs: Grow, Preserve, Cook! by Yvonne Tremblay (Whitecap Books, February 2021). Reviewed by Jan Main (pictured above).

A comprehensive workbook, ideal for the experienced cook, the novice and the gardener. In fact, it is the perfect book for anyone who wants to know more about herbs: how to grow them, how to cook with them, and best of all, what goes well with each herb and how to prepare dishes with them.

The book, one of the submissions for the Taste Canada 2022 Book Awards, is dedicated to the late food editor, writer and teacher Carol Ferguson, well known for her well-tested recipes and clear writing for Canadian Living. Tremblay, well known to many CHC members, follows in Ferguson’s footsteps and proves herself an experienced teacher.

The book’s enticing layout—a single recipe on each page with the method beside the numbered instructions—allows you to read and quickly understand the steps. Recipes are accompanied by helpful tips, variations and/or substitutions, all of which encourage you to try. As you peruse the recipes, the appealing food photography begs you to prepare the mouth-watering dishes.

The introduction is especially appealing to anyone who wants to start growing herbs. Tremblay provides each herb’s flavour profile, along with wonderful illustrations of the plants, how and where to grow them, and how to use them.

Then there are the recipes. Who among us is not on the lookout for a tantalizing recipe? They are in abundance in Culinary Herbs, from the tried-and-true classic Spinach Dip in a Pumpernickel Bowl to the more sophisticated Basil Pesto Torte or Green Beans with Dill Mustard Sauce. (I thought I was the only one who made dill mustard sauce! No, Tremblay has a new version.) 

The formula for Citrus and Sage Scones calls to me, a scone lover, as do the Rosemary Asiago Crackers. But what is a meal without dessert? How about Lemon Thyme Sugar Cookies with a cup of lavender tea or better still, a lemon lavender margarita? There is an entire section on pesto, sauces and salsas to inspire the reader and a wonderful vegetable herb chart, so necessary for cooks struggling to understand which herbs enhance the flavour of which vegetable. 

Culinary Herbs provides practical advice on how to preserve leftover herbs through freezing, drying and preparing vinegars, oils, syrups, honeys, mustards and butters, providing information and recipes to demystify these processes. Summer is never long enough to investigate all the possibilities! However, as Tremblay points out, you can grow your own herbs or buy supermarket herbs year-round to accomplish this preservation. 

Culinary Herbs has solved my gift-giving dilemma. For anyone who enjoys food and gardens, it’s a treat. Yvonne, you have made Carol proud.

Jam Bake: Inspired Recipes for Creating and Baking with Preserves by Camilla Wynne (Appetite by Penguin Random House, 2021). Reviewed by Sher Hackwell (pictured above). 

When regularly asked, "What can I do with jam besides put it on toast?" author Camilla Wynne responds with an essential cookbook instructing readers, from jam rookies to seasoned preservists, on the Alpha to Omega (her words) of preserving. Wynne's expertise spans two decades as a professional pastry chef, a decade of preserving through her Montreal-based Preservation Society and a Master Preserver certification; she also finds tremendous joy in teaching the craft.  

Said rookies will be in capable hands between the ideas and techniques Wynne shares and her personable approach; when relaying her unusual canning method, Wynne writes, "Don't freak out!" urging readers to trust her. 

Jam Bake opens with fundamentals like the science of pectin and how to avoid botulism, followed by a detailed equipment list, with most items likely found in a well-equipped kitchen, other than perhaps a pH metre (which, she points out, might only be used by those designing their own recipes, to confirm a sufficient level of acidity to prevent botulism. Safety first!) Moving on, readers can ease in with a straightforward how-to.

Then, with ever-growing confidence, they can be tempted by Wynne's recipes for delectable jams, jellies, marmalades, butters, and novel baked goods intended to showcase the preserves. Each recipe for jam, jelly, marmalade or fruit butter is matched with two baking or dessert recipes using that preserve, with sophisticated options like Cherry Negroni Jam Swirl Ice Cream and Empire Cookies with Gin Glaze. Aperitivo anyone? 

Nominated in the Single-Subject Cookbooks category for the 2022 Taste Canada awards, Jam Bake is a master class in preserves—with Wynne's riffs on the classics and inspired takes on the new.

Editor's note: Some readers may be scandalized by Wynne's approach to sealing jars, since she does not advocate immersing them in a boiling-water bath after filling. However, her advice is based on a solid educational grounding, and she clearly explains the science behind her method, why it works and when it won't, so CHC has no qualms about endorsing her recipes, if followed as she describes.

Tout sur les gins du Québec by Patrice Plante (Groupe Fides, Inc. Éditions La Presse, 2021) & Boire le Québec by Rose Simard (KO Éditions, 2021). Reviewed by Ivy Lerner-Frank (pictured above).

Gin and cocktail lovers interested in terroir will find much to enjoy in two books shortlisted for the Taste Canada French-language awards: Tout sur les gins du Québec (All About Quebec Gins) in the Culinary Narratives category and Boire le Québec (Drinking Québec) in the Single-Subject category. Whether taken as a pair or individually, both volumes provide insights and a vast amount of information about the spirit scene in the province. 

Patrice Plante has earned the moniker Monsieur Cocktail for good reason: the award-winning Quebec mixologist has written five books on cocktails over the course of his career and has a fun French-language website with videos of cocktail mixing (often with his baby cooing in the background). His compendium Tout sur les gins du Québec is an excellent resource for anyone who has walked into a gin aisle and been overwhelmed with the range of choice. 

Plante meticulously breaks down over 150 Quebec gins and gin liqueurs bottled, made, or produced in the province, detailing their aromatic profile, tasting notes and pairings, and alcohol and flavour intensity, among other criteria. Each double-page entry also includes an image of the bottle and is complemented by suggestions of the cocktails best suited to each particular gin, finishing off with an illustrated cocktail recipe, often of his own creation. (The book starts off with beautifully photographed classic gin-cocktail recipes.) I was delighted to find my favourite local gin, the saline St-Laurent Vieux in the book, but also discovered the piney, citrussy Mugo gin, ideal for making a classic gin and tonic. 

Tout sur les gins is easy to navigate, with exhaustive indexes, including gins by region and which gins are solely available at the distillery. Those planning a spirit-based road trip in Quebec will find this book a very useful and user-friendly resource. 

Rose Simard’s Boire le Québec takes the concept of terroir a step further, adding cultural references and context to this book using exclusively Quebec spirits and products. The book is divided into chapters focused on vodka, whiskey, gin, liqueurs, apple (brandy and ciders) and grappes, including vermouths, verjus, and eau-de-vies. 

Simard’s voice is encouraging, accompanying readers to explore spirits and flavours (there’s a section specifically on funky artisanal ciders), and there’s a simultaneous sense of discovery and nostalgia in her narratives and recipe headnotes. I loved her reimagination of the recipe for the Expo 67, a cocktail which had been served in the brewers' pavilion at the time, now made with Avril amaretto, fresh lemon, and ale from the Dunham brewery in the Eastern Townships. 

Simard offers a modern lifestyle esthetic along with her cocktails: drinks like the Martini Boréal, using Menaud vodka, and Desrochers D’s Vert de Miel, a vermouth-inspired honey wine garnished with a pine sprig, evoke a sunny winter afternoon. The Paul Piché, named after one of the province's most beloved chansonniers, features maple whiskey, sparkling blueberry cider, lime and white cranberry juice, and basil leaves for a warm spring day listening to music. 

Readers interested in understanding of the vast range of producers and flavours of the Quebec artisanal distillery industry—and those who enjoy making their own cardamom or camomile syrups—will appreciate Simard’s perspectives and the evocative photographs of her creations. 

Island Eats—Signature Chef’s Recipes from Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea by Dawn Postnikoff & Joanne Sasvari (Figure 1 Publishing, 2021). Reviewed by Ania Young (pictured above).

I experienced Island Eats as a love story dedicated to the chefs who have evolved the culinary scene on Vancouver Island and turned it into the emerging foodie destination it is today. Forty-one restaurants are featured in this cookbook, which feels impressive given that the region has a population of less than one million people.

At first glance, a standard cookbook—a collection of recipes from Vancouver Island restaurants, accompanied by biographies of the chefs who created them—quickly distinguishes itself as an outstanding volume. Island Eats was a submission for the Taste Canada 2022 Book Awards and a finalist for the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award, and won Honourable Mention in the Reference Category by the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada.

It begins with a foreword by Sinclair Philip, who along with his wife founded Sooke Harbour House in 1979, setting the stage for the culinary scene the Island now offers. Philip beautifully sets the context to experience this cookbook as a guide to “one of the world’s most promising emerging culinary regions: Vancouver Island and the Canadian Gulf Islands.” 

The introduction provides a glimpse into the history of the culinary scene of the region; the main body is comprised of short biographies of chefs, including recipes they cook at their restaurants and for their families. As a result, there’s an intimacy to Island Eats, and learning about the restaurants and the chefs’ motivations gives you an appreciation for each dish. 

I particularly liked that this book provided more than one recipe per featured restaurant, allowing readers to experience the diversity and complexity of each. Foraging culture is well showcased with recipes such as the Spiked Spruce Float and the Chanterelle Mushroom Pate, while the Island’s dedication to local and sustainable ingredients echoes throughout, specifically with dishes such as Truffle Tuna Tartare, Oyster Tacos and Salmon Chowder.

As a proud local, I would highly encourage my fellow foodies to come for a visit to experience all that the Island has to offer. If you can’t make it out this way, however, cooking your way through this book is the next best option!

Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship by Annabel Abbs (HarperCollins, 2021). Reviewed by Fiona Lucas (pictured above).

This is rare: a novel about a famous cookbook author. Eliza Acton is considered by many 20th-century cookbook authors, among them Elizabeth David and Delia Smith, to be their greatest 19th-century predecessor. Although few familial or factual details are known about the real Acton (1799–1859), Abbs weaves what little is known into a plausible narrative of thwarted literary ambition inadvertently generating a great cookbook.

At first Acton rejected a publisher’s request that she write a book of recipes instead of poetry, but novelist Annabel Abbs convincingly imagines Acton’s gradual acceptance, then excitement at the possibility, and eventually the obsession that occupied her for ten years. The result was finally published as Modern Cookery in All Its Branches, Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families in 1845; nine years later, in 1854, she revised it as the better-known Modern Cookery for Private Families.

The novel alternates chapters between the first-person perspectives of Eliza Acton—poet, non-cook, impecunious genteel spinster—and the much younger Ann Kirby, a kitchen maid with a tragic family background but latent culinary talent that blossoms in the Acton kitchen. A friendship develops, then falters, as they write the recipes together over a decade. But, however much they share in commitment to "their" cookbook, ultimately their class-bound life experiences are too dissimilar for mutual understanding. (Kirby was a real servant to the Actons who assisted in preparing the recipes, but the friendship as depicted is fictitious.) 

Annabel Abbs tells a good story, supported by attentively reading Eliza Acton’s recipes, published and unpublished poems, and by historical research around destitute poverty, restricted female lives, food preparation, dining manners and earlier cookbooks. She offers some wonderful phrases: the "vast stinking skirmish that is London," her "shoulder blades jutting like stunted wings," and "the flickering flame" inside the spinster.

I enjoyed the novel a lot, such that I had to often remind myself that it is a work of imagination.

Review Contributors
  • Ivy Lerner-Frank (CHC book review editor, Montreal)
  • Julia Armstrong (Toronto)
  • Luisa Giacometti (Toronto)
  • Gary Gillman (Toronto)
  • Sher Hackwell (Vancouver)
  • Sarah Hood (Toronto)
  • Frances Latham (Montreal)
  • Maya Love (London, Ontario)
  • Fiona Lucas (Toronto)
  • Jan Main (Toronto)
  • Bennett McCardle (Toronto)
  • Elka Weinstein (Toronto)
  • Ania Young (Nanoose Bay, B.C.)

5. Events of Interest

  • Thursday, August 18, sittings at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. & 4 p.m.: Peach Tea: (Peterborough, Ontario). Hutchison House will host its 30th annual Peach Tea, where visitors will enjoy the feeling of an old-time summer social with home-baked scones served with fresh peaches and whipped cream or ice cream, topped with blueberries. Admission: $14 (general). $10 (children). Pre-registration is required at 705-743-9710 or

6. International Conferences

Compiled by Kesia Kvill


August 20 to 21 (London, UK, and online)
Theme: Culinary Evolutions
Host: London Centre for Interdisciplinary Research
CFP Deadline: June 15, 2022

September 7 to 10 (Rome, Italy)
Theme: Eating on the Move (19th–20th Centuries)
Host: Rome Tre University

October 22 to 23 (New York, USA)
Theme: Imagining the Edible: Food, Creativity, and the Arts
Host: Marymount Manhattan College, New York
Call for presentations is open.


September 5 to 8 (Ekaterinburg, Russia) To be confirmed
Theme: Food and Memory in European History of the 19th–21st Centuries
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.
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