While most of us think of cookbooks as resources for how to prepare a particular dish, a new exhibit suggests they also reflect changes in Canada’s social history.
“The Taste of the Library,” which opens Thursday, takes cookbooks from Queen’s University’s archives — even one from a student’s grandmother’s collection — to show how recipe collections offer a lesson in nationalism, business (specifically advertising), and community building, among other things. Kingston is the birthplace of the country’s culinary history, as the first Canadian cookbook, the intriguingly named The Cook Not Mad, was published here in 1831 (it was actually published a year earlier in Watertown, N.Y., and substituted the word “Canadian” for “American”).
History professor Steven Maynard’s approach is to look at what ordinary people were doing rather than look simply at milestones.
“Food history has been coming on in the past few years as a new area of research, and, because I’m always looking for new themes for the second-year course, and because I’m interested in food — I have a lot of cookbooks and like to cook — I thought, ‘OK, let’s see if this can work,'” explained Maynard, who has also used crime as a way of studying Canadian history in the past.
Second-year history major Jessie Cooke was one of the students responsible for putting together the display about cookbooks and nationalism, from 1898 to the country’s centennial, 1967. She was in Maynard’s last year when he mentioned his idea, and, while food history was a new topic to her, she was intrigued.
“As a social history, looking at it through food provides a very different lens for looking at…
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