Anybody who has every met Dorothy Duncan can agree on two things – that’s she adorable, and that she knows more about the food history of Canada than all the rest of us put together.
Arranged chronologically through a calendar year, Feasting and Fasting looks at the foods and food-related traditions that go with various holidays celebrated by Canadians. From Robbie Burns Day, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year to Thanksgiving and Christmas, every holiday includes specific dishes or activities that include (or exclude) food. Duncan also examines some seasonal activities that centre around food, such as the running of the maple syrup in early spring and events like picnics and garden parties in the summer.
Each entry offers a bit of history and explains the evolution of the related feast, particularly as it applies to new immigrants in Canada in colonial times who might not have access to traditional ingredients.
When I was in junior high school, I was very excited about taking history class. That was until I got to that class and realized “history” was really all about who won what war, and not about how people really lived. Feminists would interject here and mention that what I really was interested in was “HERstory”, and I guess to some degree, that would be right. Because what really turned my crank was learning about how people lived, and most of that centred around women. How did the pilgrims keep their teeth clean? What did the Egyptians use in place of pads or tampons? How did cooks make all of the things we cook today without the convenient appliances we take for granted?
This interest was so intense that it almost led me to become an archaeologist, until I learned that archaeologists spend an awful lot of time digging in the dirt under the hot sun. Turns out what I really wanted to be was an anthropologist, but by the time I figured that out, I had moved on to wanting to be a fashion designer, and my interest in history got set aside until I got into the study of food.