How 20th c. Canadian Cookbooks Both Wrote & Erased History

Selected Recipes:
Tomato Soup Cake w Cream Cheese Frosting
Cheddar Shorties

The 20th century saw many periods of change (flavoured with surprisingly persistent continuity). One of the biggest catalysts for change was of course, the wartime period. Looking at repositories of wartime recipes is a fascinating glimpse of how Canadian Cookery and home life changed. However, I also learned that while cookbooks are a unique method to illuminate history, they can also actively erase important histories as well. Lest we assume that cookbooks are entirely honest and forthright in where foods come from, let us critically examine one of the first compilations of publicly contributed Canadian recipes: the Centennial 1967 Canadian Cook Book, the product of a joint endeavour between the Laura Secord Chocolatier and the Canadian Home Economics Association.

In this post I shall use recipes from the following two cookbooks, in addition to a recipe saved in oral history form:

57 Ways to Use Heinz Condensed Soup. Toronto: H. J. Heinz of Canada, 1944. Print.

The Canadian Home Economics Association, comp. The Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook. 5th ed. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1966. Print.

In this post I venture beyond my usual practice of relying upon other food historians to adapt old recipes. Due to the shared technology and recipe terminology, there was little need to adapt these recipes to a 21st century kitchen.

Tomato Soup Cake

57 Ways to Use Heinz Condensed Soups, Heinz Company of Canada LTD, 1944

Tomato Soup Cake. It was so moist and rich it collapsed inside!

3/4 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 10 oz. can Heinz Condensed Cream of Tomato Soup
3/4 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves

Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs and beat well. Combine Soup, water and baking soda. [In a separate bowl,] Sift together flour, baking powder and spices. Add the Soup mixture and sifted dry ingredients alternately, stirring after each addition. Pour into a greased pan (9″ x 9″ x 2″). Bake in a moderate oven (350F) for 55 minutes. When cool, frost with Cream Cheese frosting (recipe below). Note: If desired 3/4 cup seedless raisins may be added before patter is poured into pan.

Cream Cheese Frosting

57 Ways to Use Heinz Condensed Soups, Heinz Company of Canada LTD, 1944

1 package (4 oz.) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat cream cheese with rotary beater (hand beater) until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until well blended. Add butter and vanilla.

Front cover, “57 Ways to Use Heinz Condensed Soups”, 1944.
Inside cover, “57 Ways to Use Heinz Condensed Soups”, 1944.

“Canada has determined to change the eating habits of a nation, because she has learned that efficient production of food is only half the victory. It takes efficient consumption, too, to give full meaning to the slogan, ‘Food will win the war.’” -A. Fromer, 1942

The wartime periods serve as nexus points of radical change within Canadian kitchens. In the First World War, newspapers published special ‘wartime menus’ that encouraged substitution of high-demand items. Previously unregulated food items became limited or heavily controlled. The Second World War saw further steps being taken by the Government to regulate the food economy. The Government took unprecedented steps aimed to transform the Canadian diet, through campaigns that pushed ‘patriotic’ dishes, the launching of a national nutrition campaign, and the regulation of production, distribution and price on thousands of food items. In this feature by the Food Network on wartime recipes you can see the result of the heavy regulation on meat, sugar and flour. There are such recipes as “Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake,” “Beef loaf” and “Carrot and Honey Cookies“. All of these steps were an attempt to save food on the Homefront in order to feed the Soldiers and Allies in Europe.

This cookbook belongs to the collection of Musings’ own Natania Sherman! I poured over her collection with starry-eyed delight and found this little treasure by the Heinz Company from 1944.

This was a delicious cake! I gather that it was included in this recipe book almost as a dare, all of the other entries are meatloaves, casseroles, sauces and the like. It smelled very much like pumpkin pie while in the oven, and tasted much like my Grandmother’s spice cake. The use of tomato soup results in a deliciously moist and rich cake body. I highly recommend!

Cheddar Shorties

The Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, The Canadian Home Economics Association, 1971


1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp paprika (or more)
1/4 tsp dry mustard
pinch cayenne
1/2 cup butter
1/2 lb. (2 cups, 225g) shredded and packed cheddar cheese

Sift flour, paprika, dry mustard and cayenne together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter. Gradually blend the shredded cheese into the butter. Add in the flour mixture and knead. Form the dough into rolls, about 1 inch in diameter, and chill until firm.
Slice into 1/4 inch rounds. Place on greased baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes, watching closely.

This is something of a holiday and potluck favourite in our family, and it has fallen upon my hands to whip it out at various occasions. My family has, and I say this with great affection, all the self restraint of starving squirrels in front of banquet of nuts after a particularly harsh winter when it comes to these cookies. (I include myself in this behaviour.) You eat one, two, blink, and all of a sudden you’ve consumed 14. Over the holiday season I probably bake this recipe on at least three occasions, usually at twice the amount. (And let me tell you, nothing says love like repeatedly being willing to shred a pound of cheddar cheese. And then kneading it.)

This particular cookbook belong to my Grandmother, and is the source of a number of family dishes. Over the past holiday break I poured over it and noticed a strong appearance of cheddar in the cheese options. I came to wonder, is Canada particularly obsessed with cheddar over other cheeses? With further research, I discovered that our own humble nation is actually revered internationally for our ability to create delicious cheddar! We just so happen to have the perfect combination of soil, climate, ingredients and livestock to make perfect cheddar. Canadian exports of cheddar in 1904 were, wait for it, 234 million pounds. That made cheddar the second largest export after timber. Goodness gracious. In today’s world of abundantly available processed cheese, our cheddar exports are much more meagre, more in the range of 5 million pounds.

Front Cover, “Laura Secord Canadian Cook Book”, 1971.

I want to mention the source of these recipes as an artifact in the history of interpretation. In 1967 Canada celebrated 100 years as a confederated nation. Most people think of the Centennial with an image of Expo 67, but another popular celebratory item was this Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, originally published in 1966. It claims to be the first publicly sourced cookbook, that brought together submissions from home cooks across the nation. Previous cookbooks collected recipes in small groups of individuals, rather than open to any household across the entire country. It frames itself as both a cookbook as well as an educational tool on Canadian cuisine. Each entry has a short interpretive text on the history or provenance of the recipe.

This is a great example of why inclusivity is so critical to interpretation. Reading through the interpretive text with a critical eye, it is striking how much the authors choose to not include. For example, there are a number of First Nations, Inuit, or Metis recipes, yet these recipes are almost never attributed to those peoples. Not attributing First Nations origin or history was a common occurrence in cookbooks of this time. On this web-archived series at Library and Archives Canada, you can see the practice of speaking about First Nations cooking (and existence) as though it is entirely in the past. In the Laura Secord Cook Book, the interpretive texts for Succotosh and Bannock go on at length about “settlers,” erasing the importance (or origin) of these foods in First Nations history, and the presence of First Nations as active peoples in Canada at this time.

Excerpted recipes for Succotash from the 1971 “Laura Secord Canadian Home Cook Book”.

If I were to rewrite the interpretive text for Succotash, as seen above in the Laura Secord Canadian Cook Book, I might say something along the lines of:

Succotash is a popular First Nations and Native American dish that has entered the kitchens of many North Americans. Usually based upon the Three Sisters (corns, beans, and squash), succotash has many variations and can also include other ingredients such as smoked or salted meats, herbs, and other vegetables. It especially  important amongst the Haudenosaunee. Early immigrants from Europe quickly adapted succotash recipes into their cooking due to the abundance of its ingredients and ease of preparation.

However, the above passage is far from perfect. It is silent on the intercultural interaction between these two groups of people. I would edit it further, after conducting additional research and consultation.


a Metis family recipe


1 cup wild Canadian rice, rinsed
4 cups water
seasonal berries (recommended raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
maple syrup

Put the rice and water together into a pot, and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 45-60minutes. There should be some water left in the pot, and you should see the rice starting to split. When the rice is somewhat soft, (with a little bit of texture still) it is done.
Strain the rice and put into a large bowl. Add large handfuls of berries, and drizzle with maple syrup. Recommend: a package each of berries, and about 1/2 cup of maple syrup.

Manoomin is a delicious, healthy, and incredibly easy dish to prepare. I absolutely loved the taste, which is somehow both nutty and fresh. A very good friend of mine, Jade Huguenin showed me this recipe. She remembers it from her childhood, growing up in a Metis home. Traditionally manoomin is a breakfast or dessert item. Family members used to bring it as a gift when they came to visit. Jade now works in an Indigenous workplace, and taught me a little about First Nations cooking in relation to her work. Her workplace recently completed a research project on Traditional Foods and Diabetes, which you can see in this beautifully shot video illustrating the importance of maintaining traditional food practices.


Manoomin is a highly labour intensive rice to harvest, but serves as an important ingredient for many dishes, in addition to being eaten on its own. In this video you can follow along the story of one man as he beautiful articulates the rhythm of harvesting and practice of giving thanks out on the water.

Originally published on Musings on March 18, 2016.


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