Cooking Up History

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The Mixing Bowl is a historical cookbook that was published during the Great Depression in 1933. The variety of recipes included in the cookbook allow readers to gain some insight into the types of food popular during that time. Recipes in The Mixing Bowl range from beverages and baked goods to entrees, jellies, and salad dressings. Cookbooks are often overlooked as historical texts, but The Mixing Bowl provides some clues as to how citizens of Renfrew shopped, cooked, and ate. Compiled by the Ladies' Aid of the Renfrew Presbyterian Church, the book intends to vary women's menus, so it can be assumed that the recipes included were favoured ones. The Mixing Bowl showcases the popular gender norms and roles of the time, as it was written for women who, generally, oversaw the cooking in their households. In the 1930s, women still faced barriers in terms of roles they could occupy outside of the home, but women’s organizations like the Ladies’ Aid of the Renfrew Presbyterian Church offered women an opportunity to join together and contribute to their communities.

In the early 20th century, women's education often included instruction on home economics. The curriculum focused on teaching the fundamentals of cooking, canning, and preserving food, and such skills would have been quite useful during the Great Depression when women were tasked with saving money and finding ways to extend the shelf life of food. The economic downturn meant many Canadians struggled with limited funds and resources, so cooks stretched their food budgets by relying on pantry staples and shopping locally. Many recipes in The Mixing Bowl call for some unconventional ingredients, such as gelatin in meat entrees and canned soups in desserts, suggesting that women had to be resourceful and creative when using up whatever ingredients were available in their cupboards. 


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In Canada, churches like the Renfrew Presbyterian Church were known for their efforts to help local citizens during difficult times. The publication of The Mixing Bowl is an example of how the Ladies' Aid tried to assist local women when putting together meals during a time of financial struggle. Most small towns and rural communities across Canada had church groups like the Ladies' Aid; their generosity, fundraising efforts, and organizing of social activities were highly regarded. Though it is unknown how The Mixing Bowl was shared and received by members of the church and beyond, based on how many community cookbooks were created during this period, it can be assumed that the book was very popular and offered important financial assistance to the church. At first glance, The Mixing Bowl appears to be just a simple cookbook, but after a careful read of its pages, it is evident that the content represents so much more about the citizens of Renfrew and the importance of the Presbyterian Church in the community. 


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