Cooking Up History


How We Cook in Canada was, undoubtedly, a well-received cookbook. According to the Wellcome Library in London, UK, the Little Blue Books were printed in "many thousands" until the 1930s, with the majority of them distributed to Canadian households, and only "relatively few" can be found in library collections. This coincides with the fact that How We Cook in Canada was composed of fundamental principes for cookery that even the most inexperienced cook can learn from.  

Published in 1923, How We Cook in Canada was released during the unique period known as the "Roaring Twenties." Demographically, statistics show that in the 1910s and 1920s, more Canadians were choosing to live in urban centers than rural areas. Much of Canada was going through some significant economic and cultural changes. Canadians became avid consumers and a host of new domestic technologies, like kitchen appliances, were patented. Many homes soon had the latest and greatest "toys" for the kitchen, including electric stoves, toasters, refrigerators, and dishwashers. At the same time, in regions like the Prairies, ongoing rural depopulation meant farmers were struggling to find agricultural workers willing to live nearby and work for a wage that was considerably less than offered for jobs in the city. 

How We Cook in Canada's targeted audience was most likely Christian housewives. In the 1920s, Canada's population was still largely composed of people of Anglo-Celtic descent. Many had arrived during massive waves of immigration from Western Europe in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these newly-arrived immigrants could have benefited from the content of How We Cook in Canada as they would have been unfamilar with the culinary customs and traditions common in Canada at the time. This may partly explain the Canadian government's desire to publish such cookbooks and pamphlets, offering instructions on proper cookery techniques, home economics, and household management. All the ingredients listed for the recipes in How We Cook in Canada were common and cheap; most vegetables could be grown in a kitchen garden. Recipes such as stews, pot roast, and porridge required just basic culinary skills. Assorted bread recipes, which took up a significant portion of the cookbook, indicated that wheat was an important staple of the Canadian diet. 


How We Cook in Canada is also reflective of scientific and technological developments in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. For instance, many recipes in the book require "lukewarm water," which likely came from the hot water reservoir attached to the cookstove. Their built-in ovens meant cooks could create a variety of dessert recipes. How We Cook in Canada contains many recipes for bread, hot rolls, pies, and tarts. Moreover, a significant portion of How We Cook in Canada emphasizes food reforms based on the latest nutritional and scientific information available at the time. The 19th century saw North Americans becoming more concerned about the associations between diet and health; emerging nutrition experts and government programs began to educate people on healthy eating. Known as a well-versed food science advocate, Dr. MacMurchy encouraged the consumption of vegetables (under the Ontario Women's Institutes' guidelines) and pasteurized milk in rural areas. Such examples demonstrate how the Canadian government used the distribution of such literature to ensure rural Canadian homemakers had access to scientific information in the hopes of making women more aware of issues surrounding health and sanitation. 

One final noteworthy aspect of How We Cook in Canada is how the last few sections of the cookbook attempt to persuade the reader to adopt Christian thoughts and practices. For example, MacMurchy emphasizes the importance of neighbourhood solidarity by quoting the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In other ways, through its instructions and guidance, along with learning more about food and cookery, Canadians are also urged to live their lives according to Christian principles. According to MacMurchy, along with a strong sense of faith, women should seek out motherhood, which was situated as women's ideal role. Very likely, MacMurchy was speaking to White women in this context as her feelings about eugenics were well-known. This idolization of motherhood spoke to her passions for infant and maternal health and the Canadian government’s intention to promote and encourage White, Christian, heterosexual relationships. 


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