I found this authentically Canadian cookbook at a thrift store and quickly recognized it as essential to my collection. Coming from a long line of farmers and mountain folk, I’m always on the lookout for cookbooks that hint at ol’ timey handed-down colonial style cooking . . . just in case the power goes out and I happen to have a spare hog’s head lying around. At least I can put dinner on the table.
A woman’s home is her castle. The history of Chatelaine begins in the late 1920′s, when Maclean’s magazine advertised a contest to name a new Canadian women’s magazine. Hilda Pain of British Columbia took the $1000 prize for “The Chatelaine, conjuring the image of a woman as the mistress of her castle with keys to every room of the household.”
Since then, Chatelaine (published in English and French) has delivered a wealth of articles relevant to the modern housewife, covering topics from politics (1929: “Now that women are considered persons, what’s next?”) and relationships (1932: “Why I let my wife spoil me”) to fashion (1943: “If you must wear pants, here’s how”) and food (1971: “Make a Christmas meat house with cold cuts”). The magazine is still popular, so I suppose their advice has proven sound through the decades.
The Chatelaine Cookbook was first published in 1965 (my copy is a 1969 4th printing) and collects hundreds of recipes between its covers, some provided by readers via the annual Family Favorites Recipe Contests. They encourage “creative cooking” that is a feast for the eye and warms the soul. They consider the book an “exciting reflection of what Canadians like to eat and serve from coast to coast.” I wonder which desperate Canadian homemaker came up with the budget-friendly Quick & Easy recipe for:
Corn and Weiner Casserole
Mexican style canned corn is simmered until dessicated, then chopped onion may or may not be added. Sprinkle liberally with 1/2 pound of boneless skinless weiners, sliced, and smother with one can of cream of celery soup. Spread this mess in a casserole dish, apply a thick coating of prepared instant mashed potatoes, and brush with French dressing (maybe that’s what makes it Canadian). Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then feed it to the dog and call the vet.
Oh how I wish there was a picture of this recipe, fittingly garnished and surrounded by admiring tchotchkes. I may have to try it, just so I can photograph the monstrosity. Maybe it would be nice garnished with sauerkraut.
As horrific as the above recipe may be, there are many others interesting enough in name or ingredient to offset the smattering of potential disasters. I so want to serve a dish named “Father Fainted” at my next holiday gathering. I think he fainted because there is no meat in it, though the recipe does note that it “makes an interesting companion for fried ham.” And for dessert, how about a platter of Soupirs De Nonne (Nun’s Sighs). Deep fried balls of puff pastry drizzled with maple syrup . . . sighs of happiness, I’m sure.
It’s a fairly comprehensive cookbook covering the usual categories, but with pleasant extras, such as the chapters on Freezing & Preserving, International Cooking, and Entertaining. There’s a decent index, and a useful though poorly presented section of tables and charts. You’ll also get some insight into the preparation of game and wild fowl as well as those mysterious “variety meats” otherwise known as vital organs. If you happen to be a good hunter, a wife armed with this cookbook will be excited when you drag home ingredients for Smothered Moose Steak, Hasenpfeffer, or Pot Roast of Bear. Ginger Man has never fired a gun, but he can still literally bring home the bacon, so perhaps I’ll have more luck with some plain ol’ chicken, beef, or pork recipes.
Of particular interest is Chapter 18: Canadiana. What exactly do Canadians eat? ‘Tis a question that has plagued me since I first was introduced to poutine. I can’t say that the chapter defines Canadain Cuisine per se, but like Virginia Hospitality, it provides a window into the world of colonial pre-industrial cooking. The introduction describes “resourcefulness and ingenuity with meagre rations” illustrated by the “seventeenth-century bonne femme of New France and her midwinter experiments with a bag of dried whole peas and a scraped bone.” Thank you, Lord, for Safeway, local produce, and my local butcher shoppe: Market Meats.
The famous French Canadian dish Pate De Noel involves “layers of turkey, chicken, pork, mushrooms, etc., held firm in savory jelly, and completely enclosed in richly glazed pastry.” Is it possible to have angina and claustrophobia at the same time? My biggest fear is being held firm in savory jelly. Of course, someday I may need to make Potted Steak, Fromage De Tete, or Old-Time Rabbit Pie . . . let us hope that day is far, far away. Perhaps some Crispy Fried Cod Tongues, a delicacy beloved by Newfoundlanders that tastes just like scallops, so they say. According to the notations, “A small root section protrudes from the thick end [of the tongue] and cooks to a soft fat consistency. Remove this before cooking if you wish. Devotees, however, would consider this a sacrilege.” Father, forgive me. Perhaps we should move on to the Salt Pork & Maple Sugar pie.
Authentic pioneer recipes for Johnny Cakes, Gooseberry Fool, Saskatoon Berry Pie, Blueberry Grunt, Buckwheat Pancakes, and real Sourdough Bread have been updated for a modern cook. Interesting information is also given about collecting and cooking dandelion greens and fiddleheads (baby ferns), which now would grace the plates in many a gourmet restaurant. By far, the most charming recipe is for Snow Muffins, which actually use 1/2 cup of clean white snow in the batter (remember, yellow snow is best avoided). Of course, if you are really hard pressed and need something to stave off famine, try the recipe for Pemmican (dried raw venison pounded into a powder, mixed with saskatoon berries and suet, and pressed into a delicious cake that promises to “keep indefinitely if perfectly dry”).
I love this strange little cookbook, and I plan to make a few things from it. Although there is a recipe for Oven French Fries, there is no mention of “poutine” which I consider to be a truly Canadian dish. I suppose it took a few decades to figure out what to do with those cheese curds and gravy. I admit, the name turned me off initially, and I wasn’t to interested in trying “curds” of anything let alone if they were swimming in gravy. That’s what got Miss Muffet in trouble.
My how misinformed I was. It’s a freakin’ delicious combination! Rich brown gravy, crispy salty shoestring potatoes, and bits of melty cheesey globs. Heart stopping satisfaction. Try it, you’ll see.