Cooking Up History
This cookbook was printed in 1867, the year of Confederation for the Dominion of Canada. On July 1st, the official day of Confederation, Canada consisted of the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, as created by the British North America Act, shown in the map on the left. Prior to Confederation, each of the provinces were colonies of Great Britain. Ontario and Quebec were known as Canada West and Canada East of the Province of Canada. Other colonies that joined Confederation later (for various reasons) were British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Rupert's Land and The North-West Territory were later acquired by the new country from the Hudson's Bay Company to become the future provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the three Territories. It is important to note that Indigenous peoples were not involved in the process of Confederation. Canada assumed the role previously held by the British Crown in negotiations with Indigenous peoples as their affairs were now under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The target audience for the Canadian Receipt Book were newly-arrived immigrants in Canada who were unfamiliar with their new country and needed to quickly learn the ways of coping in a new environment; for example, how to deal with farm animal diseases. Most immigrants to Canada in the mid-19th century were from the British Isles. The Great Famine in Ireland from 1845 to 1852 prompted thousands of Irish to emigrate. About 100,000 arrived in Canada in 1847, settling primarily in rural areas and taking up agriculture. It was likely that the new immigrants settling around Ottawa desperately needed a cheap resource containing familiar recipes as well as tips for surviving on a farm in a new community when the way of life was so unfamiliar. The book’s complier satisfied this need for information by gathering sections of popular books already in publication that both native-born and newcomers to Canada could use.
The book was likely pulled together in a hurry as part of the Confederation celebrations. Its pages offer much useful and necessary information, but the sections are not well-organized because food recipes are mixed in with recipes for cloth and yarn dyeing and other household chores in the front section. The next section which makes up half of the book contains remedies for various farm animal diseases, followed by food preservation recipes. It appears the entire book was compiled by copying from different popular cookbooks and self-help farming books from the period as the book's layout is inconsistent throughout. For example, on page 154, a recipe for preserving currants is followed by instructions on how to mend tinware and further down the page are instructions for making a home-made water filter.
It was not unusual in the 19th century for compilers of cookbooks to copy recipes from other cookbooks. In the same year that the Canadian Receipt Book was published, the renowned French chef, Jules Gouffe, noted that he considered all cookbooks to be without value because they just copied all the error from earlier books. Compilers were known to copy whole sections without restraint while others tried to disguise it by making small changes. In the United States, the famous cookbook American Cookery (book cover shown here), printed in 1796, was long cherished as the first American cookbook authored by an "American orphan" named Amelia Simmons from Connecticut. Recently, food historians have found that most of the recipes contained in the book were either copied verbatim from British sources, taken from the same British sources with some alteration, or are like the type found in British cookbooks. Only about a quarter of the recipes have no known line of origin.
Plagiarism was clearly not a concern for cookbook compilers between the 16th and 19th centuries. Rather than being known for their writing abilities and recipe innovations, they tended to focus more on making recipes available to wider audiences.