Digestible Bits and Bites #99, July 2021
Digestible Bits and Bites
We had an overwhelming response to our May-June rhubarb challenge. Sandy Irvin writes: “This is my second year forcing rhubarb. In addition to muffins (gone before I got pics!), tarts, and crisps, this year I made rhubarb scones. I added some violets to a few, too.” We think the results couldn't possibly be prettier.
CHC News & Upcoming Events
News & Opportunities
Food for Thought (book reviews)
Events of Interest
1. CHC News and Upcoming Events
As of July 1 each year, CHC offers new members a bonus: 15 months for the price of 12. Normally, CHC membership starts and ends on the dates of our Annual General Meeting in the autumn. If you sign up today, your membership will be valid right away, and will extend until the fall of 2022.
Happy Canada Day!
Besides supporting this newsletter and our very active Facebook page, membership in the CHC also supports our annual sponsorships of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Taste Canada, among other projects. It offers substantial discounts on our events and publications for two individuals living at the same address (or members of the same organization). Members are included in the CHC membership directory and receive a copy, and are entitled to voting privileges.
Membership is only $30 for one year or $55 for two. Apply or renew online using PayPal, a credit card or Visa Debit.
CHC Annual General Meeting
Please note that the CHC AGM will take place on the afternoon of Sunday, September 26. Members in good standing as of that date have the right to stand for board membership, to elect board members and to vote on official matters that may arise.
Like last year, the meeting will be held virtually, so we expect strong attendance from across the country. We will be offering fascinating presentations on culinary history relating to rural women, and participants will receive some simple historic recipes so that we can all “share” a snack.
For further information, or to find out about board vacancies, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
An array of baking from The Practice of Cookery, prepared at a workshop hosted by CHC Lifetime Member Mya Sangster in 2013.
A Special Event: Mrs. Dalgairns’s Kitchen
At 7:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 27, culinary historian and CHC honorary lifetime member Mary F. Williamson will talk about her new book, Mrs. Dalgairns’s Kitchen: Rediscovering “The Practice of Cookery,” an in-depth look at a cookbook first published in 1829. Mary will be joined by Elizabeth Baird, who adapted some of the recipes in the book for modern kitchens. Baird—who found Dalgairn’s recipes extremely practical—will demonstrate two of the updated recipes. A question-and-answer session with both women will follow.
When The Practice of Cookery first appeared in 1829, reviewers went into ecstasies, and it was a top seller for nearly 30 years, until it was finally eclipsed by Mrs. Beeton’s famous cookbook. Mrs. Dalgairns was thought by her contemporaries to be Scottish, but she had lived for over 20 years on Prince Edward Island. In Mrs. Dalgairns’s Kitchen, Mary Williamson reclaims Dalgairns’ and her book’s Canadian roots.
In addition to the author’s experience of Acadian and Mi’kmaq foodways, Mrs. Dalgairns lived in the Scottish Highlands for a number of years and added recipes from there to her repertoire. Her mother had come from Boston, inspiring the cookbook’s several American recipes; Dalgairns’s brothers-in-law lived in India, as reflected in the chapter devoted to curry recipes.
Admission: $19.10 (general); $11.34 (CHC members). Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
By Sylvia Lovegren
Packaged Toronto Report
On Thursday, June 24, CHC hosted writer-historian Jamie Bradburn to talk about vintage packaging and the companies behind it, as featured in Spacing’s new book, Packaged Toronto: A Collection of the City’s Historic Design. Bradburn presented an eclectic collection of packaging from Toronto’s past, including Harry Horn’s Double Cream Custard Powder, long a standard ingredient for Canada’s iconic Nanaimo Bars; an excursion into McLaughlin’s Canada Dry Ginger Ale—with a satisfying demonstration of how to properly open a Canada Dry bottle—and a somewhat hilarious look at Mulveney’s B’Well Tonic, among other historic relics.
Visuals, as expected from a presentation about design, were fascinating, and Bradburn was able to delve deeper on some topics than the format of the book itself allowed. A lively question-and-answer session followed. Subscribers to the event were given a coupon for a discount on the book, and our thanks to Matthew Blackett of Spacing for that.
For Our Facebook Friends
Since the CHC Facebook page now reaches over 4,300 members, with more joining daily, we thought it was time to post some forum guidelines. We reproduce them here for those of you who may not have visited the site lately.
The Culinary Historians of Canada is a membership-based, volunteer-driven not-for-profit organization. Its mission is to inspire appreciation and advance knowledge of Canada’s food history. The CHC researches, interprets, preserves and celebrates Canada’s culinary heritage, which has been shaped by the food traditions of Indigenous peoples and generations of immigrants from all parts of the world. We welcome new members, wherever they live. We embrace:
Thank you for becoming part of our online community! When you post or comment, please observe the following rules:
- 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.
1. CONDUCT AND LANGUAGE
We strive to maintain an environment that promotes learning and discussion while being safe and inclusive for participants of diverse backgrounds, life choices and beliefs. Therefore:
- Participants are required to be mindful of the language they use in posts and comments; racist or demeaning comments and personal attacks will not be tolerated.
- Vulgarity or profanity should be avoided.
2. APPROPRIATE CONTENT
Those who do not comply with these guidelines will be removed from the forum. If you are in doubt about the content you wish to share, or if you would like to report a post that does not seem to conform to these guidelines, please message the group administrators directly or email email@example.com.
- Only posts and comments related to Canadian culinary history are permitted; off-topic content will be removed.
- Although we celebrate the accomplishments of CHC members in good standing (such as publications and events), we do not allow promotion of commercial goods for sale. (Feel free, however, to refer group members to a book or event you think they will be interested in.)
July Cooking Challenge: Berries
Since rhubarb evoked so much excitement in May and June, we're issuing a similar challenge for July. As they come into season across the country, show us your best-loved recipes for Canadian berries! And much as we love the classics—like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries—we’re also eager to hear about the lesser-known regional berries. We’re thinking bearberries, bunchberries, cloudberries, salmonberries, Saskatoon berries, thimbleberries and juniper berries (gin & tonic, anyone?).
If you post pictures and comments to our Facebook page before midnight on Friday, July 23, we’ll feature you in our next newsletter.
Rhubarb Cooking Challenge Participants
We called for rhubarb pictures in May for our June newsletter, but Facebook friends from the cooler regions of the country begged for more time for their crops to ripen, so we extended the deadline into June, and boy, did you respond!
Beverly Kouhi Soloway (both photos, above): “Finally got to harvest my little patch of rhubarb today ... ended up with six pounds (almost 3 kg). Made a Rhubarb Crisp from Mom's recipe, and of course Stewed Rhubarb for breakfast. The rest is in the freezer for future consideration.” 🙂
Lorraine Fuller: “First harvest of the season: a strawberry-rhubarb galette à la Complete Canadian Living Cookbook.”
Marie Polski: “My entry for May’s cooking challenge is Springtime Roly-Poly from the 1966 Robin Hood Flour / Calendar of Festive Recipes cookbook. The recipe, which prominently includes this month’s required ingredient of rhubarb, is featured in the cookbook’s month of April. I basically followed all the recipe’s instructions, except I substituted one ingredient; instead of all-purpose flour, I used Red Fife whole wheat flour.
“For those who are unfamiliar with Red Fife wheat, according to various internet articles, it ‘is derived from the Keremeos strain that was brought to Canada from Scotland 170 years ago’ and ‘ruled the Canadian prairie for 40 years, until new varieties were introduced at the end of the 19th century.’ I had fun making this recipe for the challenge. I loved the taste of the finished product; but, it wasn’t much of a ‘looker.’ The Red Fife wheat, with its ‘red’ colour, lent a rather brown-coloured dessert.”
Lorraine Fuller: “A family favourite: rhubarb cake ... sometimes it’s a cake; other times it’s a loaf. Either way it is yummy. I don’t know where it originated. I just have the recipe card my mother-in-law wrote out years ago for me.”
Kristin Howard: “Sharing this seasonal favourite today: rhubarb walnut bread! Recipe from our museum cookbook John R. Park Homestead. Enjoy!” (See our Facebook page for the full recipe.)
Jennifer Meyer: “We always had rhubarb in the garden growing up and now living in a condo, I rely on finding it at the grocery shops. Today was a double-trouble rhubarb day. I picked up a bundle of rhubarb at Farm Boy (about five cups total), and there was more than enough to make Lunar Rhubarb cake by Elizabeth Baird, found in the book Feast. I made two versions of the cake—one with the brown sugar topping on the top and the other with it on the bottom, as I used a floral loaf pan.”
Pauline Meyer Warren (in response to Jennifer’s post, above): “Jennifer, thanks for the intel on lunar cake!” (In response to “To Dinner with Julie”): “I used your method, it tastes even better than the butter and sugar aromas that were coming from the oven. I’m over the moon. 🤣”
Elvira Regier Smid: “I know I am way too late for the May rhubarb challenge. [Not so!—ed.] But that is the way it is when you live right up against the mountains. Everything is just a little later. So this is my entry into everything rhubarb. This is what we call Platz, this time made with rhubarb, but any fruit filling will work. Platz is a Germanization of a Ukrainian word meaning ‘low flat cake.’ The crust is between a baking powder biscuit and a pie crust. This works for dessert and for breakfast.”
Elizabeth Lyons Morrison: “This rhubarb (not custard) pie is from a well used family favourite cookbook called A Guide to Good Cooking, a publication of Five Roses Flour.”
Randal Oulton: “Canning stewed rhubarb. We have our rhubarb patches at the Leslie Street allotment gardens in Toronto. I used the Tattler re-usable canning lids on the jars. Tested canning directions are at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.”
Lyle Beaugard: “She’s not a member here, so I’m posting a picture of my wife’s delicious rhubarb custard pie on her behalf. The rhubarb came from her dad’s patch. Check out the colour of that custard from the free-range farm eggs we buy! It has an oatmeal crust, and the balance between the tart rhubarb and rich sweet custard is amazing!”
Sherry Murphy: “Two rhubarb and cherry pies! One for my son-in-law Greg, and one for my hubby! Very tart pie!”
Sarah Hood: “Since my beloved local café closed, I’ve been on a scones binge this year, mainly using variations on the cheese scones recipe from Charmian Christie’s book The Messy Baker. When my rhubarb came up, of course I switched from craisins and currants to rhubarb. So tart-sweet and yummy!”
- Laila Ozols (top left): “My grandparents’ 50+ year-old rhubarb patch is overflowing and I did cut back the flower. Grew up on rhubarb dumplings all year long, so I switched it up and made Vanilla Rhubarb Compote and Spiced Crumble Custard Ice Cream and added Fresh Ontario Strawberries that smell like sweet cotton candy. COVID has made me lose my sense of taste these last six months, so textures are key; taste is coming back slowly.”
- Elka Weinstein (top right) made rhubarb upside-down cake, which she served with Greek yogurt topping.
- Jane Black (bottom left): “Some days one bakes the perfect Strawberry-Rhubarb pie with decorative swoon-worthy crust and intricate lattice work. This, my fellow culinary historians, was not one of those days. Inspired by the French 76 and paying homage to the Lee Enfield .22, I am calling this the Canadian .22 made with Rhubarb Liqueur from Stratford, Ontario; some bubbly; and a decorative sprig of rhubarb from my own backyard.”
- Grace Teat (bottom right): “Rhubarb pie, first rhubarb of this year from our garden. My mom made this recipe every year🙂♥️”
- Alice Mac (top left & right): “Picked some of my rhubarb a couple of days ago. Made rhubarb syrup with sweet cicely flowers. I added some strawberry syrup that I already had and then some bubbly water. Refreshing! Rhubarb pie for dessert tonight. Just add ice cream."
- Jennifer Meyer (bottom left): "With the leftover rhubarb [from her baking, pictured above], I made rhubarb BBQ sauce to go along with ribs for dinner. I looked up a few recipes for inspiration, but didn't follow any one in particular. I used dried Carolina Reaper peppers that I grew last summer for a nice punch."
- Lyle Beaugard (bottom right): "My rhubarb chutney. Not much to look at, but it'll make your simple roast beef, chicken, duck, or pork sing!"
Mary Bilyeu (top left): “A Sunday afternoon strawberry rhubarb galette. 🙂”
Louise Morfitt Hall (top right): “Strawberry rhubarb pie. Yes, the rhu is from the garden, although I hated to disturb the ribbon snakes dozing.”
Susan Buttivant (bottom left): “Used up the very last of my frozen rhubarb from last year with this rhubarb cake. Absolutely delicious!”
Jodi Robson (bottom right): “When we were children growing up on Okanese First Nation, Nokum (My Kokum) had a glorious garden. And her prized centrepiece was her gigantic rhubarb plant. It’s been many years since she passed on and many years since her house stood. Last summer I went back to the land where my childhood was spent and searched for that beloved plant. I found it and dug up a small crown to bring home with me. Now I can bake with the rhubarb she used to. This is the pie I made this weekend: strawberry rhubarb. ❤”
- Sandra Kell-Cullen (top left): “Made this Rhubarb Custard pie today from an old family recipe. A perfect Canadian spring dessert (served with a little whipped cream)!”
- Sarah Starke (top right): “First rhubarb pie of the season! I always freeze some of the previous year’s rhubarb and mix it with the few early stalks of this year’s so I can satisfy the pie craving sooner.”
- Cathi Riehle (bottom left): “Rhubarb-Ginger-Orange Liqueur went into my cool, dark pantry to rest for the next six weeks.”
- Lyle Beaugard (bottom right): “How about rhubarb vanilla jelly? I made it last night with rhubarb from my pops-in-law. You can even see the little bits of vanilla from the pod.”
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2. News and Opportunities
Taste Canada 2021 Shortlist
Now in its 24th year, the Taste Canada Awards has announced the shortlist of cookbooks competing for a coveted culinary writing award. The shortlist narrowed the competition to 46 entries from 73, and features authors from six provinces.
Circle Sunday, November 14 on your calendar. That’s when Taste Canada will announce the 2021 Gold and Silver book award winners. The student cooking competition Cooks the Books will return this year as a virtual experience. Cooks the Books is presented by Canola Eat Well with Educational Awareness Partner Canada Beef.
P.E.I. Corn Pie
CHC is entering into an ongoing informal partnership with Harrowsmith, the beloved magazine of Canadian rural living, which was revived some years ago, after a publishing hiatus, by Moongate Publishing Inc. This month, food editor and chef Ilona Daniel shares her corn pie recipe with a down-home P.E.I. twist.
She writes: “Domesticated by Indigenous Mexicans over 10,000 years ago, corn is considered a staple food in Canada from coast to coast to coast. Often the ingredient in many processed foods and dishes, we can’t deny that the sweet vegetable is always the best when it’s in on the cob, in its natural form.”
If you don’t want to miss an issue of Harrowsmith’s recipes, gardening expertise, sustainable living tips and DIY projects, subscribe here.
From the ’Net
- Toronto History Museums are currently hosting an online exhibition called Kiin Awiiya Jiibaakwe: Everyone is Cooking, curated by Lindsay Chisholm and Dominica Tang, students at the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto. Via eight Miijim Dibaajimowin food stories, the exhibition explores the importance of food and community to the Anishinaabeg peoples.
- The University of Minnesota annual conference on Native American Nutrition presents a free webinar series called Celebrating Indigenous Women Chefs. The final live session takes place from noon to 1:15 p.m. CST on Tuesday, July 13. Past sessions are posted to YouTube.
- On Saturday, July 17, beginning at 5 p.m. EDT, Paul Couchman, a.k.a. The Regency Cook, presents a two-hour workshop called the Jane Austen Picnic Experience. Participants will work with historic recipes to recreate a Regency picnic that includes raised pies, a Salamagundy salad dish, rout cakes and syllabub. Admission is £22 to £29.
- YIVO Institute for Jewish Research presents an online course called A Seat at the Table: A Journey into Jewish Food, an exploration into the heart of Jewish food, with an emphasis on the Ashkenazi table. This course features hundreds of never-before-seen archival objects, lectures by leading scholars, and video demonstrations of favourite Jewish recipes by renowned chefs. The registration deadline is August 31.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Cathy Enright and the box that prompted the conversation.
Memories from the Back of the Box
by Julia Armstrong
Retired home economist and CHC member Cathy Enright first heard about CHC at the Ontario Home Economics Association (OHEA) conference in London, Ontario, in 2018. She signed up for the newsletter, and so did her friend Margaret MacDonald. “We’re just crazy about the content,” says Cathy, who lives in Ottawa.
Fast-forward to our May 2021 newsletter issue, which included the image of a shortbread recipe printed on a cornstarch box. When Margaret saw it, she knew Cathy had developed it and called her right away. A delighted Cathy wrote to us: “The joy I felt when I saw that box—I worked on that recipe because it included metric. I was the home economist for Canada Starch in Montreal from 1973 to 1981.”
I talked to Cathy about her career, wanting to know more about the company, whose roots trace back to 1858, when William Thomas Benson founded a starch operation in Edwardsburg (later Cardinal), Upper Canada. (Click to read about Benson and his company.)
Cathy Enright at Canada Starch Company in Montreal circa 1975.
Julia: Tell me about your early career.
Cathy: I studied food science at the University of Ottawa and scored big when I got a job with Canada Starch in Montreal as the home economist. The company was on Nuns’ Island, under the Champlain Bridge. We had a test kitchen that could accommodate two home economists. We not only tested food but also laundry products, in collaboration with Best Foods in Englewood, N.J.
Julia: What was a typical day for you at Canada Starch?
Cathy: I’d go over responses to letters from consumers, and then work on press releases and brochure content. Later in the day, I might co-ordinate with materials manager Reg Milon, who looked after packaging. So if we needed a new box for cornstarch or a new mayonnaise jar, he purchased the glass and paper. I finalized the recipe and he would see it through. We had so much fun!
Montreal Gazette food editor [and CHC honorary lifetime member] Julian Armstrong would often call me to ask questions. We also had a laboratory at Cardinal in eastern Ontario, along with the test kitchen in Montreal. I dealt with consumer correspondence for Cardinal and liaised with the marketing team.
A sample of brochures that Cathy developed.
Julia: Was the shortbread recipe the most popular?
Cathy: It was very popular, but it was not the most famous one on the box. That was lemon meringue pie. I bet that many, many people in Canada used the company’s recipe for lemon pie from scratch. In early years, it called for Benson cornstarch. [And before that, W.T. Benson’s product was called Edwardsburg Starch Company Silver Gloss Starch.] My biggest legacy was a book called Our Best Recipes since 1858. Our family favourite from it is Wacky Cake, a chocolate cake made with Mazola corn oil.
The book that Cathy calls her greatest legacy.
Cathy’s career progressed to the federal government, where she worked for 35 years—at the Metric Commission, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and then at the Office of Consumer Affairs. “I’m honoured to have served the country and to have worked on files such as crib safety that made a difference in people’s everyday lives,” she says. “I loved serving Canadians.”
In her retirement, she remains an active member of the OHEA and other organizations that benefit from her expertise in strategic communications. She and her OHEA colleagues are hopeful about food instruction being brought into Ontario schools through Bill 216, Food Literacy for Students Act, 2020, which has had its second reading in the legislature. “There’s a positive outcome of the pandemic,” she says. “More home cooking!”
Congratulations to two CHC members for earning a spot on the 2021 Taste Canada shortlist! They are John Ota for The Kitchen: A Journey Through History in Search of the Perfect Design, for which we held a launch in March 2020, just before COVID, and Suzanne Evans for The Taste of Longing: Ethel Mulvany and Her Starving Prisoners of War Cookbook, which was the topic of a virtual talk presented by the CHC.
CHC board member Susan Peters is working with a group of culinary historians based in the US on the Malinda Russell receipts. Russell was the first Black woman to publish a cookery book in the US (1866); the group is both researching the origins of her work and testing the recipes.
CHC member Gary Gillman is represented in the current issue (#119) of the journal of food studies and food history PPC (Petits Propos Culinaires) with an article titled “A New Idea Regarding the Origin of Porter’s Name.” He writes: “the article argues that porter, the dark beer style, quite plausibly owes its name to the same word in ca. 1700 weaving terminology, whereas traditionally it has been thought it was named for London street porters, who were among the ardent customers of this beer.”
On June 20, CHC board member Sarah Hood offered an illustrated virtual lecture about the rise and fall of the world’s great marmalade makers for the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. The talk coincided with the official release of her latest book, Jam, Jelly and Marmalade: A Global History.
Earth Day garden at Fort Langley, courtesy of Parks Canada.
Fort Langley (Fraser Valley, B.C.)
by Jane Black
Fort Langley in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley is a National Historic Site reflecting mid 19th-century life. The buildings are mostly reconstructions, as the site itself was moved from its original location. It reflects the origins of the modern agriculture now found in the Fraser Valley as well as a fundamental shift in the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) from a pure focus on furs to providing home goods and agricultural products to more people than just trappers.
As HBC evolved from its fur-trading roots, help was required to harvest potatoes, wheat, and peas, and to expand food supplies. Local Kwantlen were hired to assist with the harvesting. They also sold or traded wild cranberries and salmon to the Fort; it was then salted and sent to Hawaii. Eventually the production of salmon became more lucrative than furs. In 1840, at least 20 Kanakas—Indigenous Hawaiian workers—including cooper John Ohia, were employed at Fort Langley in a variety of occupations.
The cooper was an invaluable tradesman at the Fort, as the demand for barrels increased to move foodstuffs to and from Fort Langley. The Fort continues to employ a cooper to make traditional barrels. The cooperage and various other buildings, from servants’ quarters to the “Big House,” contain kitchens showing the different levels of wealth enjoyed throughout the Fort. Today’s visitors to Fort Langley can enjoy traditional food at leləm’ Café, which is supplied from the Kwantlen First Nation’s Seyem Qwantlen.
Farm animals and the heritage gardens supplement visitors’ understanding of the evolving nature of both Fort Langley and the Fraser Valley towards its modern agricultural nature.
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 email@example.com or Sarah Hood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why We Cook: Women on Food, Identity, and Connection by Lindsay Gardner (Workman Publishing Company, March 2021). Reviewed by Ivy Lerner-Frank (pictured above).
California Bay Area artist Lindsay Gardner had a big question, especially once her daughters were born: “How does the daily meal ritual relate to my identity as a human, mother, partner, friend, artist and woman?” Gardner attempts to answer this question for herself and her readers in a beautifully produced 200+ page volume, based on her contacts with over 112 women, famous chefs and home cooks alike. Through a series of profiles, essays, conversations and recipes complemented by Gardner’s lavish watercolours, the book serves to enlighten, entertain, and underscore questions of race, identity and legacy through the lens of food.
A recounting of memorable meals, decade by decade, by Ruth Reichl, kicks off the book. The most surprising is a dumpster dive in Berkeley in the ’70s, going full circle to a meal at the Blue Hill restaurant in in New York in the 2010s, made of food that would ordinarily have been relegated to the compost bin. Another in the “memorable meal” series, by writer and recipe developer Jess Thomson, describes her family’s “Thanksgiving Olympics” tradition, in which one person constructs a pumpkin pie (with premade crust and filling) blindfolded, while their competition partner gives instructions.
Two Canadian chefs living in New York make it into the book: Ottawa-born Amanda Cohen, whose essay “The Invisible Women” explores “women who work but didn’t get the praise,” and Gail Simmons, the Toronto-born Top Chef judge. Other chefs featured in the Kitchen Portraits chapters include Joyce Goldstein, Dorie Greenspan and Anita Lo. I wish these brief portraits had been longer.
The eight recipes in the book showcase the diverse backgrounds of the contributors. Dr. Jessica B. Harris, whom many may know from her extensive research on the roots of African-American food, shares her version of Chicken Yassa, a West African dish with a habanero kick; cookbook author and New York Times food writer Priya Krishna offers her mother’s version of kadhi, a chickpea flour–based soup that she describes as “thick, rich and spice-forward,” and Mimi Mendoza, a Hawaii-based, Filipino-born pastry chef, lovingly presents her version of canelés de Bordeaux, with rum and beeswax.
A book like this, attempting to be many things to many people, has its advantages and drawbacks. I appreciated the wide range of (mostly American) chefs and cooks Gardner interviewed, and often wished for more than the two pages allocated to the essays exploring Gardner’s questions. Her own words—“I hope that this book leaves you with more questions than you had when you picked it up”—resonated for me, as this lovingly assembled guide introduced me to a wealth of women chefs and writers I definitely want to learn more about.
Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet by Ian Mosby, Sarah Rotz & Evan D.G. Fraser (University of Regina Press, 2020). Reviewed by Bennett McCardle, pictured above.
This absorbing, well-researched and well-written book should be required reading for anyone interested in either world food culture and supply or climate change.
Three Canadian academics with differing approaches to the subject have banded together and, somewhat to their own surprise, agreed on a single seamless book. Mosby is a cultural historian of food and nutrition. Rotz is a geographer, techno-skeptic and food activist. Fraser is an interdisciplinary academic (agriculture, anthropology and forestry) and director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. Together they’ve produced a multifaceted, well-researched and very readable review of a broad and difficult subject.
They emphasize that they “aren’t predicting a future,” but are laying out for us the food-future factors and issues they think are most important, and suggesting what can be done about them “right now.” Many of their most interesting case examples are Canadian, but this is in no way just a local study.
They structure the book’s eight themes and chapters neatly, each around a specific staple. Algae is their fascinating intro to past futurist predictions about food, so often way off-base (“we were promised algae, damn it!”—Mosby) and the dated prejudices embedded in those SF solutions. Caribou, on the importance of protecting wild food supplies. Kale, on Big Agriculture and the dangerously high price of entry into farming. Millet, on GM seed issues and food sovereignty. Tuna, on seafood sustainability and commercial food fraud. Crickets, on why we have to deal with burdensome cultural preferences for meat. Milk, on policy changes needed to regulate corporate concentration in the food system. And finally, Rice, on the pros and cons of GMO, why we can’t rely on the snail-pace of long-term solutions, and the fact that, yes, we do have immediately workable measures to protect food supply.
Throughout the book, we hear the authors bouncing off each other as to optimism versus pessimism; contrasting attitudes to food technology; the relative importance of scientific, cultural and policy/political factors; the need to educate the public on where and how our food gets to us. We’re conscious of listening to highly knowledgeable people as they look through differing lenses to pin down the same set of big, wicked problems.
What do they agree on? That there are grounds for optimism, if short-term action starts soon. That there is no “One Big Technological Fix.” That big industrial monocultures aren’t sustainable. That corporate concentration (of food producers, processors and distributors) is increasing, and dangerous. That protecting our food supplies includes attention to smaller producers and consumers, as well as control of Big Agriculture.
Also, that GM seeds and modern fertilizers confounded 20th-century pessimists, with hugely positive results for survival and health in poor countries, but with downsides they’re only now realizing. That Indigenous and subsistence peoples are both especially vulnerable, and simultaneously face the worst of climate change. That lab-grown meat—the pop focus of so many today—isn’t the solution to any of our problems.
They advise: avoid hard lines. There are no simple solutions. There is reason for optimism. Useful tools already exist. Don’t take the existing food system as a given. Act on immediate wins as soon as possible.
On the way, we learn about a number of interesting food things, like “hacking photosynthesis”—popular with enthusiast media and billionaire philanthropists, but with no solid results to date. A rare heritage breed of nitrogen-fixing maize that might, or might not, revolutionize corn production. How non-GMO hybridized plants produced the best of the Green Revolution. The unexpected benefits of robot farms. That cities have at most nine days of food supply in emergencies. That a climate change factor little known to the public, but potentially the most dangerous for food production (per the pessimists), is the danger of a major ocean current, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, turning off. To quote one of their expert sources: “Why is it worth the fight? Our future depends on it.” Highly recommended.
- Elka Weinstein (CHC book review editor, Toronto)
- Judy Corser (Delta, British Columbia)
- Pam Fanjoy (Hillsburgh, Ontario)
- Luisa Giacometti (Toronto)
- Gary Gillman (Toronto)
- Sher Hackwell (Vancouver)
- Amy Lavender Harris (Toronto)
- Sarah Hood (Toronto)
- Frances Latham (Stratford, Ontario)
- Ivy Lerner-Frank (Montreal)
- Maya Love (London, Ontario)
- Fiona Lucas (Toronto)
- Jan Main (Toronto)
- Lisette Mallet (Toronto)
- Bennett McCardle (Toronto)
- Dana McCauley (Toronto)
- Dana Moran (Ajax, Ontario)
- Valerie Sharp
- Mary Lou Snow (Conception Bay, Newfoundland)
- Meaghan Van Dyk (Abbotsford, British Columbia)
5. Events of Interest
Compiled by Jane Black, Kesia Kvill, Sarah Hood & Julia Armstrong
All bets are off as to which in-person experiences will be available this year. The following sites were open during parts of 2020, and may be admitting visitors in 2021, but check before turning up at the door!
- Roma at Three Rivers in P.E.I.
- Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.
- King's Landing in New Brunswick.
- Some parts of Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario.
- The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa.
- From July 3 to September 4, Hutchison House Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, will be open to the public on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Scottish Tea, with sittings at 1, 2 and 3 p.m., is served on the terrace in the period garden. Admission is $10 (adults); $5 (children 6-10); free (5 & under). Maximum four people per table; COVID protocols will be in place. The museum bookshop will remain closed; however, various products can be purchased by phone for pickup. For further details, please visit the museum website or call 705-743-9710.
- Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, Ontario.
- City of Toronto historic properties (Colborne Lodge, Fort York, Gibson House, Mackenzie House, the Market Gallery, Montgomery's Inn, Scarborough Museum, Spadina Museum, Todmorden Mills, and Zion Schoolhouse).
- Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto.
- Dundurn National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario.
- Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village in Edmonton.
- Roedde House in Vancouver.
6. International Conferences
Compiled by Kesia Kvill
July 1 to 2 (Marburg, Germany)
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE “FOOD – MEDIA – SENSES”
Host: Philips-University Marburg and Virtual
July 9 to 11, August 1 (Online, Oxford, England)
OXFORD FOOD SYMPOSIUM
Theme: Food and Imagination (Margaret Atwood will speak on Fictional Foodies.)
Host: St. Catherine’s College
Registration is still open.
July 22 to 23 (Vienna, Austria)
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CANNED FOOD, HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT
Theme: Canned Food, History and Development
Host: International Research Conference Online
September 7 to 10 (Rome, Italy)
INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR RESEARCH INTO EUROPEAN FOOD HISTORY
Theme: Eating on the Move (19th–21st Centuries)
Host: Roma Tre University
September 16 (Virtual, Alberta)
ALBERTA MUSEUMS ASSOCIATION 2021 CONFERENCE SERIES
Theme: Reconciliation, Inclusion, Community, and Innovation
Host: Alberta Museums Association
CFP Deadline: July 12, 2021
October 28 to 30 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
ELEVENTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FOOD STUDIES
Theme: Making Sense from Taste: Quality, Context, Community
Host: Aarhus University
Note: Blended digital and in-person
February 11 to 12 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
AMSTERDAM SYMPOSIUM ON THE HISTORY OF FOOD
Theme: Food and the Environment: The Dynamic Relationship Between Food Practices and Nature
Host: University of Amsterdam
CPF Deadline: September 15, 2021
May 30 to June 1 (Dublin, Ireland)
DUBLIN GASTRONOMY SYMPOSIUM
Theme: Food and Movement
CFP: From March to October 2021
October 22 to 23 (New York, USA)
TWELFTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FOOD STUDIES
Theme: Imagining the Edible: Food, Creativity, and the Arts
Host: Marymount Manhattan College, New York
Call for presentations is open.
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.
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