Cooking Up History
Traditional food knowledge is vital in promoting cultural diversity and improving the quality and quantity of food production among citizens of any nation. Cookbooks are an important piece of a group's culture as they highlight the close connection between cultural and biological diversity. Transferring this knowledge is critical to support sustainable livelihoods and community capacity. Food knowledge passed from previous generations can provide an individual or family with the skills to prepare nutritious and culturally-relevant meals. The food knowledge provided within The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery would have helped recently-arrived immigrants to North America adapt to new environments and climates. Through its pages, the book represents the identities and cultures of various peoples living in Upper Canada (Southern Ontario) in the mid-19th century. At the time, Canada, as a colony of Britain, was very much influenced by the traditions of its Motherlands, as well as its American neighbours to the south. During this period, citizens of British North America's colonies were in the process of implementing some important political reforms due to various ethnic and class tensions at play.
For recently-arrived immigrants, exploring and settling in undeveloped territory was a tough and daunting job. European settlers had to be resourceful and creative as they survived in their new environments. Though the cuisine of the people living in central Canada in the mid-19th century may seem foreign or strange today, settlers had no choice but to use what they had locally to survive and improvise as needed. Cultural representations of food production and consumption during this period are quite evident in cookbooks like The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery. Here we gain information about people's interactions with their environments and the society around them. The cookbook’s content and structure demonstrate how settlers thought about food and how food was very much under women's command at this time. North American cooking was greatly influenced by location and season. Plants and animals were sourced locally and provided most of the food in the settler's diet. Recipes from the mid-19th century like those in The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery suggest extensive work had to be put in when transitioning from season to season, especially during an era when food preservation was still in its infancy.
Cookbooks from this time also served as a resource for medical remedies. Most of the book’s remedies are simple guides with directions on how to take care of common ailments. Like many other cookbooks published in the mid-19th century, The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery can be considered an all-purpose guide that provided culinary information, solutions for common illnesses, and other tips that would interest middle-class wives and mothers. Most cookbooks were written with women in mind as it was women's responsibility to foster a supportive and welcoming home, and to nurture their family's well-being.