Cooking Up History

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Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation is meant to be a guide and provide knowledge about the history of Iroquois foods, technologies (mainly food related), diets, cultivation patterns, and linguistics. The information provided in the cookbook is important because it highlights the rich and long history of the Iroquois people in North America. The different groups who composed the large group known as the Iroquois, including the Cayuga, Huron, Cherokee, Onondaga, Mohawk, and Seneca, all had their own languages, customs, and traditions. These groups mainly lived in and around Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, as well as New York State, southern Ontario, Quebec, and Pennsylvania. They were largely agriculturalists and hunters of small game. The Iroquois were somewhat sedentary, meaning that they lived in a fixed location but also left their communities to trade and find food. Hunting, fishing, tending crops, and cooking was usually done communally and gathering to share meals was an important social and cultural custom. 


Cover with a logo showing a beaver and two axes with the words: Department of Mines, Canada, Geological Survey, 1842.

By the time Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation was published, European settlers and colonists had been in North America for several centuries. In the process of settling, the lives, habits, cultures, and lands of Canada's Indigenous peoples were intruded on, disrespected, or erased. When the cookbook was released in 1916, Residential Schools for Indigenous children were still fully operational. These government-sponsored institutions were created as part of a wider policy of assimiliation whereby the Canadian government hoped that Indigenous people would abandon their traditional ways of life and adopt more Euro-Canadian ones. Between 1831 when the first Residential School opened, until the eventual closing of the last one in 1996, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend one of these church-run schools. The process of assimilation included forbading the continuation of traditional practices, such as the consumption of foods common in Indigenous cultures. As one of the mandates of the Residential Schools was to erase Indigenous ways of life, so the publication of Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation can be viewed as a way of ensuring that the culinary traditions of the Iroquois were preserved so that future generations may learn about them. In the 1910s, it is very likely that the book was not widely-read; historians have shown that systemic racism towards Indigenous peoples was common. Likely, many Canadians did not wish to learn more about Iroquoian foods and traditions, so it is difficult to know what sort of impact the book may have had. Despite this, the book does hold historical value as it offers important information about the culinary traditions, diets, agricultural practices, and technologies of the Iroquois people. 




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