This article has nothing to do with my purported theme of urbanism. People still seem to love the latest kitchen gadgets and deluxe appliances even though it’s estimated that 50% of American meals and 30% of Canadian meals are prepared outside the home. The latest craze is the multi-purpose Instant Pot, with emphasis on “instant”.
I was also reading about the latest type of apps for cooks that interact with an electronically connected kitchen. Your ethereal electronic assistant can suggest a menu based on what’s in your fridge, or order the ingredients ahead of time, walk you through the prep with video instructions and demos and turn on your oven at just the right moment. Someday it might suggest menu variations based on your food preferences or sensitivities, your exercise tracking, or genetic profile.
Some people claim “recipes are as dead as paper maps” because we have so many food options, cooking styles and regional cuisines. But it seems a bit creepy when a computer knows not just what you ate, but what you’re going to eat.
It was with those thoughts in mind that I started flipping through The Canadian Woman’s Cookbook in the war-time 1941 version updated from the 1927 and 1934 editions. In spite of the name, it was an American publication revised by the Director of the Culinary Arts Institute of Cornell University. It’s one of those old volumes passed along through the family that still had an envelope, a draw ticket, a playing card and other ephemera tucked in between pages of recipes 76 years later.
The 40s don’t seem that far back in the historical past so I was a little surprised by the recipe for “opossum roast”. Further on, there were instructions on how to skin, dress and roast squirrel. I think tastes and more dire circumstances have changed! There were other intriguing concoctions that might be more familiar to New England states such as Indian pudding, Pandowdy and boiled cider pie. In spite of the page markers, I don’t recall this book making much impact on the family table. Ours was dominated by the traditional dishes of my ancestors.
Some recipes may be dead as a practical guide but the cookbook exists as an historical and cultural record (i.e. – “wedding menu”), a glimpse at social norms and tastes (i.e. – “table setting and service”), and ideally for some, as a memory of happy times past.
Snow has fallen, candles are lit, tables are set. No matter how you may choose to celebrate at this time of year, it will undoubtedly be around a table. Let your recipe include the love of family, enjoyment of friends and the creation of new special memories. Wishing my readers all the best …