Cooking Up History
The Dugald Women’s Institute Cook Book was written during the era known as the Great Depression, a time when Canadians suffered greatly due to job loss, wage decreases, and inflation. This cookbook hoped to inspire Canadian housewives to strive to make the best of this difficult time by giving them helpful tips for around the home, and by providing recipes that could stretch food budgets. In 1930, when the cookbook was published, countries around the world were experiencing an economic downswing, especially Canada and the United States. Canadian housewives were tasked with maintaining their homes and dinner tables on stricter budgets. The recipes and tips provided in this cookbook exemplify how important it became to stretch household goods and make money for food go as far as possible. As the cookbook was published by a Women's Institute, it is clear that its intended audience was women. In the 1930s, women were still the primary caretakers of the home and the family's needs, including food preparation. In this sense. the cookbook demonstrates the defined gender roles that existed at the time. Though during the First World War and into the 1920s, more Canadian women were pursuing work outside of the home and/or post-secondary education, when the Great Depression hit, many were forced to return to the home and take up the traditional roles and tasks of the housewife. Though the book's primary audience is women, the presence of advertisements for farm equipment suggests that women may have had a voice and opinion about fiscal affairs outside the home. When choosing to purchase new farm machinery, male farmers may have consulted their wives in order to ensure that the family's budget was not stretched too thin.
The plainness of the cookbook, especially the lack of images and decorative elements, is also demonstrative of Canadian society in the 1930s. The Great Depression meant that many Canadians could afford little beyond basic necessities. In the case of this cookbook, the lack of decorative elements represents how Canadians were trying to make every dollar count, so instead of including fluffy imagery, the Dugald Women's Institute chose to include more recipes and advertisements in their cookbook.
During the Great Depression, women were tasked with cutting down household costs to save the family as much money as possible. For example, many recipes in the cookbook call for fruits and vegetables such as onions and apples, two cheap foodstuffs that many Canadians grew themselves or could be procured locally. Most of the recipes in the book represents the money-saving mindset of Canadians at the time. The Dugald Women's Institute also faced budget constraints, based on the fact that they published the book themselves. Avoiding the costs of publication meant that the book could be sold at a lower price for anyone wishing to purchase it.
There are other ways the Great Depression may have played a role in the development of this cookbook. As workers lost their jobs and families struggled to think about how to put food on the table, women still had to ensure that good, hearty food was available. In times of stress and strife, the body often craves comfort food, and the Dugald Women's Institute Cook Book contains many such recipes that would have soothed the souls of those struggling to survive. The book also strives to offer recipes that blend a variety of readily-available and affordable ingredients, and provides options for families forced to slash their food budgets considerably.
Likely, there would have been mixed reactions to the publication of this cookbook due to the ongoing financial crisis in Canada. On one hand, there may have been some push back from those who saw the purchase of a cookbook as frivolous at the time, or worried that the recipes promoted wastefulness at a time when so many people were losing everything. On the other hand, it may be argued that this cookbook was a way to lift the spirits of women and their families in Canada, especially in the hard hit Prairies, by giving them access to new recipes, tastes, and flavours.
The combined efforts of the Dugald Women's Institute to collaborate on this cookbook demonstrates the mentality of rural Canadian women at the time. Despite the economic struggles many were experiencing, women still came together to share their knowledge, tips, and tricks, in the hopes of making others' lives easier and more pleasant.