Book Review Week – Out of Old Ontario Kitchens

Out of Old Ontario Kitchens
Christine Bates
Pagurian Press Ltd. 1978, 190 pages, out of print

My local used book shop, besides being supervised by one of the coolest felines ever and occasional guarded by Thor the Thunder Poodle, is a treasure trove of cool old stuff, and the food writing shelf almost always contains something that just has to come home with me.

I grabbed Out of Old Ontario Kitchens thinking is was the Upper Canada version of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, a cookbook that I grew up with in Halifax. While it’s similar, the Nova Scotia book is straight-up recipes, while the Ontario book also has bits of history and anthropology that offer explanations of the many dishes included.

Christine Bates, at the time that she wrote this book in the late 70s, was a senior historical interpreter at Montgomery’s Inn, a historic museum just outside of Toronto. Bates began a search for pre-Confederation recipes and food references in conjunction with her work at the museum which boasts a working Victorian-era kitchen, and besides hosting tours, also hosts a variety of food-related events throughout the year.

Bates looks at the tools and layout of the Colonial kitchen and the gaining popularity of cookery books. She explores culinary traditions in Ontario and looks to writers of the time (Susanah Moodie, Catherine Parr Traill, Lady Simcoe) for explanations and stories of feasts, seasonal events such as sugaring season, and ways in which early pioneers made due in times of scarcity.

The second half of the book is a collection of historic recipes, many with quotations and explanations to support their significance. From plum pudding to how to fatten a hog for slaughter, Bates puts together a culinary snapshot of how our colonial forefathers (and mothers) ate.

I confess that I lost interest somewhat with the recipes, mostly because I’m probably not going to be making blood pudding, stewed hog’s head or a syllabub any time soon. So while the book certainly offers a glimpse of history, it’s probably not going to be looked upon as a concise cookery book translatable to modern times, except for those who are really into historical recipes and cooking.

Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting look at food preparation in the early years of our country and is worth a read for the historical context if nothing else.

Out of Old Ontario Kitchens is out of print but can be found online through a variety of used book sellers.