Revolutions In The Kitchen


It is difficult for us to grasp just how labour intensive preparing food was in the primitive kitchens of Canada's early settlers. Cooks throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries had to do everything by hand. Trees had to be cut down, firewood cut and split and then carried to the kitchen wood box. Fireplaces, and later wood stoves, required constant attention. Refrigeration was provided by cool running springs or a cold box buried in the ground. Bread was made at home. Butter was churned by hand. Food was either eaten fresh or dried: commercial canned goods and home-canning methods were not yet available.

Cooking information and techniques were passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. They were based on general rules and rough measurements (e.g., a sufficient quantity, a teaspoon of this, a teacup or a handful of that). "Cooks who didn't rely on buzzers, timers, thermometers and burners had, and have, a sensory relationship to their cooking and baking that others lack. Farm women who tended fowl were not flummoxed by 'butter the size of a duck egg'." (Fiona Lucas, "Fiona's Musings." The Culinary Historians of Ontario. No. 29 (Summer 2001), p. 4.

In the second half of the 19th century, baking powder, compressed yeast, powdered gelatin and glass preserving-jars came into use. By the end of the century, the first canned goods had arrived on the shelves. In the 20th century, technological innovations would transform the Canadian kitchen.

Adelaide Hoodless

Adelaide Hoodless (née Hunter), born in Canada East in 1857, became one of Canada's most significant 19th-century social reformers. She was involved in the establishment and early days of the Women's Institute, the National Council of Women, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

In 1889, the youngest of her four children, John Harold, died at the age of two. Adelaide was devastated to learn that his death was the result of drinking contaminated milk -- a common enough occurrence in those days. Milk was delivered door-to-door in uncovered containers at the time, and most people were still unaware of the basic rules of hygiene.

Determined that this would not happen to others, Adelaide Hoodless led a campaign for the pasteurization of milk. For the rest of her life, her spare time was devoted to improving life for women and families. She even persuaded the Hamilton school board to add "domestic science" to the curriculum, an idea that would spread throughout the country. In 1906, Lillian Massey Treble founded a household sciences faculty at the University of Toronto. It was one of the few university courses where female students were encouraged and where they could study chemistry.

Adelaide Hoodless died suddenly in 1910. "Apart from my family duties," she wrote, "the education of mothers has been my life work."

The purpose of this little book was to encourage young Canadian girls in the art of home-making and to bridge the gap between home and school through practical home economics education.

Science in the Kitchen

In the 20th century, cooking adopted an increasingly scientific approach, and concern about proper nutrition began to assume a more central role.

With the introduction of gas and electric stoves, electric refrigerators, canned goods, preserving jars and various gadgets during the first few decades of the century, it became easier to prepare a wider range of dishes. It was expected that these aids, along with the home delivery of bread, milk and butter, would make life easier for women. Instead, household standards were raised, and housewives were expected to do more. Since servants were no longer deemed necessary for most people, the burden on the homemaker actually increased.

With food options gradually becoming less dependent on what was seasonally available, the sense that there was a right time to eat various fruits and vegetables began to be lost, and with it some of the enjoyment of the local harvest.

Nineteenth-century teacher Amy Richards dedicated her book to her many pupils. She noted that a great deal of attention was given at the time to the subject of cookery, yet many were still woefully ignorant of that important household art.

The aim of this little book, published in 1912, was to instruct young girls in the art of healthy cooking. "In this work, I have omitted anything fantastic in nature; this book is, above all, useful and practical" [translation] (p. vii).

Nellie Pattinson's cookbook, first published in 1923, satisfied a demand for a recipe book that could be conveniently used by teachers and students in technical schools. Pattinson was one of the first authors to refer to the new science of nutrition. Her book, still in print, has been republished in updated versions every few years.

The existence of vitamins (unrelated chemical substances that are all necessary for life) is one the most significant discoveries of our century. The word vitamin comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

McClary's had already been manufacturing kitchenware for 65 years when this all-inclusive catalogue was published in 1913. It includes the latest in oil and gas cooking stoves.

Rural electrification and the expanding use of electric and gas appliances in both rural and urban areas created significant changes for the homemaker and the work of the home economist (p. 23). The first electric range was built in Canada in 1921, although electricity was not available in many parts of rural Canada until the 1930s or even later.

This book features a sample of advertisements for stoves from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Food Company Publications

As new products and appliances came on the market, manufacturers promoted them by offering cookbooks illustrating and emphasizing how much they simplified and improved cooking. Often free, the booklets were sometimes attached to the product, or were available by coupon.

This cookbook presented some of Mrs. Palmer's favourite recipes, as commended by women throughout Canada and the United States. It also assured cooks of the value of Armour's Extract of Beef for all culinary and household purposes.

This early title advertised the quality and nutrition of Five Roses flour, as ground by the Lake of the Woods Milling Company.

Over the years, Metropolitan Life has provided simple cookbooks for beginning cooks. This early version includes advice on nutrition and the daily requirements for healthy living.

An advertisement included in the cookbook stressed the superior quality of its featured product: "We take the most painstaking care to assure that the quality of Magic Baking Powder is always maintained at the highest level. Its tremendous popularity is due to the fact that – "A Satisfied Customer is our Best Advertisement" – and more than three out of every four housewives in Canada to-day use Magic Baking Powder exclusively."

Billed as the first truly Canadian cookbook, published in both French and English and sponsored, appropriately, by Laura Secord Candy Shops, this attractive and useful book identifies the regions from which each of the wide-ranging recipes originates. "One thing we did prove conclusively: there is a Canadian cuisine, and it is unique in all the world" (p. 9).


In a recent interview, Elizabeth Driver explained: "I have been handling historical cookbooks as artefacts instead of using them. Now using them I hear the voice of the women behind the words" (London Free Press, June 4, 2003).

Madame Benoit

Undoubtedly the best-known cooking expert Canada has produced, Jehane Patenaude was born in 1904 to a well-known Montréal family. She studied in Montréal and at the Sorbonne in France, where she studied the chemistry of food. On her return to Montréal, she began a cooking school and opened the restaurant le Salad Bar. In 1934, as part of the anniversary celebration of Jacques Cartier's arrival in Canada, she was asked to open a restaurant featuring traditional dishes on Île Sainte-Hélène.

Her fame spread and before long she was writing food columns and books in both French and English -- many of her books are available in French and English editions -- as well as appearing on radio and television, where her folksy charm made her a country-wide favourite.

Jehane Benoit (she married Bernard Benoit in 1940) received the Order of Canada for her many contributions to Canada's cuisine. Madame Benoit knew Canadian cooking from coast to coast, and described it as combining "French refinement, English basics, American traditions, and ethnic influences."

Jehane Benoit has been described as an archivist of Canada's culinary past who raised cooking from the status of 'women's work' to an act of love that was one-part science and one-part celebration. This may be her most important legacy.

"My grandmother taught me, a long time ago, that our cooking is part of our folklore, and it must therefore be varied. It bears testimony to our past, to our mothers' ingenuity, and to the spirit of our own flesh and blood" (p. 1).

"I am convinced that good cooking is an art, as well as a form of intense pleasure. This is why, in this book, I tried to infuse Canadian cuisine with the subtleties of this art and pleasure" (p. 9).


In 1956, Jehane Benoit and her husband, Bernard, moved to a Quebec farm, Noirmouton, where she continued her cooking career and he raised sheep -- an experience that, no doubt, contributed to her love of cooking lamb. In addition to continuing with all her other activities, Madame Benoit operated a shop where fresh lamb, homemade tourtières, pork and beans, cookies and muffins were sold.

Madame Benoit recognized early on the significance of the microwave oven and foresaw how important this way of cooking would become in the modern kitchen.

This book was written by Madame Benoit after she had crossed the country seeking traditional dishes from each region.

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