Cooking Up History
The main theme of Beef: How to Choose and Cook It is to provide a crash course in beef selection and preparation for the average Canadian citizen. When analyzing the historical period when this cookbook was produced, its relevance and purpose is clear. By the early years of the 20th century, meat was considered a normal and expected part of the daily diet. Increases in production and fair prices for meat, alongside increasing wages for Canadians, allowed the majority of the population to consume meat daily.
As this cookbook is aimed at Canadians hoping to gain a better understanding of beef, it is important to note that all methods of cooking discussed included a stove or oven. This suggests that by the time Beef: How to Choose and Cook It was published, ovens and stoves were widely available and most Canadians were using one to cook their meals. As well, the book's inclusion of more affordable cuts of meat speaks to the fact that it was produced during the Great Depression. During this era, at times, meat was difficult to acquire or was very expensive. This may explain the cookbook’s efforts to include information about both higher- and lower-priced cuts of beef. The cookbook first discusses shopping for high-priced cuts of meat and then moves on to discuss the same for low-priced cuts. This shows that the author and the Department of Agriculture wanted to make sure that Canadians from all socio-economic classes could still consume meat. Concerns about not wasting beef are also apparent. As it was difficult to acquire at times and expensive, the author is adamant about not wasting food. For example, author F.G. Semple mentions saving bones and leftover pieces of meat to make stew. The cookbook also devotes several pages to discussing miscellaneous cuts of beef, which was likely meant for Canadians really struggling financially who could not afford to purchase the more common and higher-priced cuts.
The art of food preparation gained popularity in the 1930s when electric stove-top ranges became more popular and affordable. The availability of more technologically-advanced kitchen equipment is evident in Beef: How to Choose and Cook It. The cookbook describes in depth thirteen different methods for cooking beef. As more Canadians began using electric stoves, the ability to prepare a variety of dishes in different ways also expanded. Despite being in the midst of the Great Depression, Canadians still endeavoured to beautify their kitchens, and manufacturers endeavoured to produce quality kitchen appliances that were not only affordable, but also functional and somewhat pleasing to look at.
Overall, Beef: How to Choose and Cook It provides a great deal of information about the time period in which it was created. Not only does it offer educational tidbits about cooking with beef in the later 1930s, it also shows that stove technology had evolved to the point where more Canadians were using electric versions, allowing them to cook a variety of of cuts of beef and follow the recipes provided in cookbooks. Furthermore, the cookbook offers information about a wide range of cuts of beef, including both higher- and lower-priced ones, allow virtually any Canadian the opportunity to benefit from beef's nutritional properties.