Cooking Up History
Although this version of The Black Whale Cookbook was published in the 1960s, the book was originally compiled and sold in the later 1940s. Whether examining the importance of the 1960s or the 1940s, the book offers a lot of information about each period. Even in the 1940s, Percé, Quebec was a popular destination for tourists and people looking to spend the summer in a more remote location near the water. The presence of visitors to the region is evident in the Preface to the cookbook, where it is mentioned that the presence of "Black Whale" businesses in the town provoked many questions and much curiosity. Due to the large number of Anglophones who spent their summers in the region many of the recipes contributed have some English roots. The large numbers of tourists in the area had been the norm for well over 100 years before The Black Whale Cookbook was published, as people travelled to see Percé Rock or Rocher Percé, known worldwide since the 18th century. The importance of the local environment and landscape to Mrs. Renouf and the other contributors is quite evident throughout the cookbook, as there are several recipes that make reference to the Gaspé region.
The Black Whale Cookbook also reflects the complexity of Canadian cuisine. Due to Canada's vast size, long history of immigration, and presence of several different Indigenous groups, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately pinpoint what exactly Canadian cuisine is. As The Black Whale Cookbook demonstrates, Canadian cuisine is very much an amalgam of French, English, and Indigenous traditions. Several recipes also use fresh local ingredients, including seafood and wild game. In many ways, these recipes also discuss how Canada was changing in the aftermath of the Second World War. The postwar period was marked by economic prosperity, and Canadians were happy to spend on small and large luxuries. This willingness to spend more disposable income is echoed in The Black Whale Cookbook, where some recipes include somewhat exotic ingredients, and expects that the reader of the book will have all of the recommended appliances in their home.
The Black Whale Cookbook helps shed important light on Canada's food history, as its contributors represent people from a variety of cultural backgrounds whose recipes showcase the diversity of Canadian cuisine in the middle years of the 20th century. The recipes within the cookbook cover a wide variety of options, while keeping true to the overall theme of the cookbook itself -- to highlight the local delights of the region. By providing recipes and instructions passed down from generation to generation, The Black Whale Cookbook helps to preserve elements of East Coast history.