Cooking Up History
A clear purpose in creating Harrison’s Calendar Cookbook was to advertise Robert A. Harrison’s pharmacy, products, and services. In creating a cookbook, Harrison was able to reach out to women who were married and/or had children, as they did most of the cooking, housework, and shopping in the early 20th century. Since Harrison was a prescription druggist and optician, his choice to advertise through a cookbook was a smart one as people were more likely to follow health and diet tips from an individual with a medical background.
In the early years of the 20th century, Canadians expressed a variety of concerns regarding health and nutrition, especially desires to raise healthy and strong children. Milk and wheat products emerged as two foodstuffs that were considered nutritious and beneficial for the human body. The establishment of milk pasteurization distribution stations in the 1890s ensured that the milk Canadians were drinking was safe. At the same time, infant mortality rates began to decrease, likely due to the new knowledge surrounding pasteurization. Many of the recipes featured in Harrison’s Calendar Cookbook call for milk and other dairy products, as these products could easily be accessed and were staples in many households.
Canadians' health concerns were also evident in the number of new products on the market promising to fix a variety of ailments. Since Robert A. Harrison owned a pharmacy and was a practicing chemist, many tonics, topical treatments, and medicinal concoctions can be found in advertisements throughout the cookbook. These products, some of which were developed by Harrison himself, allegedly had several purposes, including helping with digestion, building strength, improving one's complexion, various healing properties, the ability to control body odours, and other benefits.
The turn of the century was also marked by new interest in diet and weight loss. While calorie counting was not yet a fad, there are many sections in Harrison’s Calendar Cookbook that point to an emerging diet culture in 1908. Within the book, page 31 features the ideal measurements for men and women including height, weight, hips, waist, and breasts. Such information was largely directed toward women who were in charge of overseeing the health and care of their families. The book also seems to target middle-class women and households because of their disposable income and ability to purchase Harrison's products and consult his services.
In terms of the recipes found in Harrison’s Calendar Cookbook, though somewhat overshadowed by the medical information and advertisements, there is still a wide range of dishes included, ranging from sweet to savoury, and ingredients that would have been found in most households at the time. The recipes are not overly complex and could be made by anyone with basic knowledge of cookery, so it is very likely that they were well-received by readers.
Harrison’s Calendar Cookbook is different in some ways than most cookbooks published in the early part of the 20th century because it offers the reader so much more than recipes and food preparation tips. In order to capture the consumer’s attention, and to effectively advertise his goods and services, author R.A. Harrison designed the book with multiple purposes in mind.