Articles - Cookbooklets and Canadian Kitchens

Cookbooklets and Canadian Kitchens

Nathalie Cooke
McGill University


Cet article analyse la forme et la fonction des carnets de recettes, ces petits livres de recettes omniprésents et auxquels on accorde que peu d’importance, fabriqués à des fins publicitaires et publiés de manière irrégulière. Après un examen attentif, on remarque que les caractéristiques du carnet de recettes sont curieusement invariables. En conséquence, il semble y avoir un paradoxe lorsque le carnet de recettes ordinaire est considéré parallèlement au mode dont il est un sous-ensemble : l’éphémère. Plutôt que d’associer le carnet de recettes ordinaire à sa particularité d’être éphémère, je propose de l’examiner en tant que sous-ensemble d’un tout fortement stylisé et délibérément médiatisé constitué de la littérature culinaire. Pour ce faire, cet article identifie et présente les deux principales stratégies rhétoriques du carnet de recette, c’est-à-dire le témoignage et la localisation, y compris l’ironie qui leur est inhérente, en plus de porter une attention particulière aux éditions canadiennes des carnets de recettes Knox et Davis Gelatine.


This paper explores the form and function of cookbooklets, those ubiquitous and oft-overlooked small cookbooks produced for promotional purposes and published irregularly. Under close examination, characteristics of the cookbooklet suggest a surprisingly stable genre. Consequently, there seems to be a paradox when the corporate cookbooklet is seen in relation to that of which it is a subset: ephemera. Rather than associate cookbooklets with ephemera, I suggest that we consider corporate cookbooklets as a subset of the highly stylized and consciously mediated set constituted by cookery literature. To this end, this paper identifies and exposes two primary rhetorical strategies of the cookbooklet—testimonial and localization—as well as ironies inherent in them, with a particular focus on Canadian editions of the Knox and Davis Gelatine cookbooklets within the larger corpus of Canadian cookery texts.

Cookbooklets in Canadian Kitchens

1 Canadian culinary history, as perceived through the lens of Canadian cookbooks, can usefully be divided into five periods: contact and settlement, consolidation, affiliation, articulation and differentiation. This heuristic ends with the 1960s because the next significant paradigm shift occurs when cookbooks become the object of keen interest on the part of scholars. This, however, is not so much a development of culinary history as one of scholarly history.

Contact and Settlement

2 The first Canadian cookbooks emerged as guidebooks for newly arrived Canadians during the mid-19th century—the best known being Catharine Parr Traill’s Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854) and A.B. of Grimsby’s Frugal Housewife’s Manual (1840), as well as La cuisinière canadienne (1840) and La nouvelle cuisinière canadienne (1850-55).


3 During the last decades of the 19th century, cookbooks served to consolidate knowledge gleaned from various sources for Canadian home cooks—the best-known being The Home Cook Book (1877), Canadian Housewife’s Manual of Cookery (1861), Mrs. Clarke’s Cookery Book (1883, and published under various titles) and Directions diverses données par la Rev. Mère Caron (1878). The consolidation of culinary knowledge in this period was intended to serve the Canadian cook in her kitchen. But it was also the first step in a larger program of consolidation that would both give rise to a sense of a distinctly Canadian cuisine, and position cookbooks as a useful vehicle for the articulation of Canadian tastes and values. In some ways, then, the period of consolidation might be seen to extend to the latter half of the 20th century, reaching a crescendo in 1967.


4 At the turn of the 20th century, cookbooks emerged that were affiliated with institutions rather than individuals. Such corporate cookbooks as The Five Roses Cookbook/La cuisinière five roses (1913), as well as those by Purity and Ogilvie flour companies, became valued resources in Canadian homes, rather in the way that the Edmonds Company cookbook became ubiquitous in New Zealand homes.1 Further, single-author cookbooks gained credibility from their association with educational institutions. Nellie Lyle Pattinson, for example, developed the trusted Canadian Cook Book (1923) as a textbook for the cooking school of which she was director; and in French, Manuel de la cuisine raisonnée (1919) was used in homes and classrooms.


5 As home economics was professionalized in Canada in 1939, and home economists took up positions as not only teachers and dieticians, but also as corporate and public spokespersonalities, cookbooks served as one conduit for the articulation of identity alongside radio and, later, television shows.

6 Canada had its own spokescharacters, of course. Kate Aitken (fondly known as “Mrs. A” to her audiences), author of Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cook Book (1945), and Jehane Benoit, author of L’encyclopédie de la cuisine canadienne (1963) and The Canadiana Cook Book (1970), both illustrate the way in which cookbooks provide an opportunity for an individual to articulate, even construct, an emerging sense of shared identity.


7 At the same time as cookbooks articulated a shared sense of identity through explicit use of the word “Canadian” in the title, a tendency further encouraged by various initiatives of the centenary celebrations, the 1960s paradoxically ushered in a time of increasing differentiation as cookbooks focused on regional and cultural variation in food-ways practices. These competing drives—towards consolidation and differentiation—are always at play to some degree, but their co-existence is most acutely visible in cookbooks of the 1960s and 1970s. Expo 67 can be seen as a moment in which Canada not only invited the world to its doors but also into its kitchens.

8 There are other paradoxes associated with the history of cookbooks in Canada. In addition to the competing drives towards consolidation and differentiation that reach a crescendo in the 1960s, one can identify simultaneous and contradictory impulses to evoke the timely and the timeless, and to advocate for the saving as well as the spending of time in the kitchen. The focus of this article, on the period of Affiliation, best allows me to illustrate all three paradoxes since this period witnessed a homogenization of North American cuisine as a result of a number of factors, including significant corporate penetration into the marketplace. One of the most effective corporate marketing strategies was the introduction of corporate spokescharacters—fictitious creations, such as Betty Crocker, who put a human and friendly face to a corporate identity and promoted the use of her (with the notable exception of Uncle Ben, human food spokescharacters were generally women) company’s products in homes across North America. Canada had its own spokescharacters, of course, but Canadians also welcomed a number of American corporate spokeswomen into their homes on a regular basis—via their products, radio and, later, television shows; newspaper columns and corporate ephemera. It is this last category that particularly interests me; many of the small corporate recipe booklets originated from companies outside Canada, but were revised to relate a different story of food and the kitchen for the Canadian and the Quebec markets. The precise nature of that revision—what was changed and why—provides clues to the corporate vision of uniquely Canadian food tastes and practices. More particularly still, a number of these corporate publications were produced in both English and French, the latter for Quebec. However, they were not all direct translations; they often included recipes selected both to feature the company’s own products and to appeal to particular regional tastes. At a time when North America was experiencing a normalization of food practice, corporate ephemera provides evidence not only to suggest that the distinct nature of Canadian and Quebec society existed, but also that it was recognized in their various constructions of Canada’s—and Quebec’s—commercial “fictions.”

What is a Cookbooklet?

9 With food studies in their infancy, we understandably know far more about the sources for and influence of cookbooks with many pages and multiple editions than those with fewer pages or appearances. Notably, Elizabeth Driver’s recently published bibliography of Canadian cookbooks focuses on those of sixteen pages or more. My aim here is to open a discussion about these often-overlooked little cookbooklets, to explore their form and function while acknowledging the paradox of an ephemeral genre that provides lasting and wide-ranging interest. By way of illustrating how these little cookbooklets punch above their weight, I focus on the Knox (Figs. 1a-b) and Davis (Fig. 2) gelatine cookbooklets, which made their way to homes in at least five countries and in six languages, establishing culinary links between home kitchens around the globe.

10 Often known as an advertising booklet or, more generally “corporate ephemera,” product cookbooks are a subset of what is generally called ephemera. Cookbooklets are distinguished from their culinary cousins by virtue of their size and their explicit product affiliation—both primary characteristics. Like the short story in relation to the novel, they are notable for their brevity. Mary Barile explains that a booklet, although larger than a brochure, is made up of fewer than fifty pages, whereas “a brochure is only a few pages and is folded, not bound” (1994: 131). Secondly, but equally significant, cookbooklets are usually the result of a promotional initiative and thereby illustrate a particular affiliation to a corporation or lobby group as well as a strategic logic.

11 Cookbooklets tend to be produced irregularly (Burant 1995: 191), are intended as ephemeral documents and are usually distributed free of charge or for marginal cost and are lightweight and made of cheap materials. Ironically because of their need to engage an audience, they have immediate appeal (Barile 1994: 132). As a result, some examples of the form are surprisingly attractive and colourful (Fig. 3). Collectors prize the “die-cut designs” (135) or booklets with “moving parts” (137).2

Figs. 1a and 1b Front and Back Covers of Knox Gelatine Company’s Dainty Desserts for Dainty People. Dated 1915 and published in Johnstown, NY, by Charles B. Knox Company. Private collection.

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Fig. 2 Front Cover of Davis Gelatine Company’s Davis Dainty Dishes, circa 1926. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Driver. Private collection.

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12 The cookbooklet can be distinguished by a series of secondary characteristics as well. As a corollary of the genre’s promotional purpose, those who produce cookbooklets assume readers need or can benefit from information they contained. Their appearance in the late 19th century3 coincided with socio-economic conditions in which housewives often found themselves living far from their culinary mentors and in a world where literacy rates were rising in inverse proportion to printing costs. Further, soft and hard technological innovations in a rapidly changing world meant that those of previous generations were unfamiliar with recent product innovations and cooking techniques. By mid-20th century, as more women found themselves working outside the home, they were additionally pressed to find more cost and time effective methods of food preparation than those of their mothers or grandmothers. Consequently, cookbooklets were highly prescriptive and presumed a reader who was less knowledgeable than the booklet’s author or principal spokescharacter.

Fig. 3 Index of Knox Gelatine Company’s Dainty Desserts for Dainty People, 1915, page 6. Private collection.

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13 As a result of the genre’s ephemeral nature and irregular production, cookbooklets assume the reader comes to each publication in the absence of context. They rarely show evidence of an expectation that readers are familiar with similar texts or their role in a series of ephemeral publications, and therefore articulate very clearly their product claims (Figs. 4a-d).

14 Until marketing regulations are were enforced, acknowledgement of product and corporate affiliations appear only when advantageous.

15 Taken together, such characteristics suggest a relatively stable genre—much more stable, for example, than such loose forms as the novel or the lyric poem. Consequently, there seems to be a paradox when the corporate cookbooklet is seen in relation to the wider category, ephemera, of which it is a subset. While the cookbooklet is a highly contrived form of strategic discourse, self-consciously developed to promote a particular product or point of view, ephemera more generally is inconsistently mediated, produced cheaply and collected unsystematically.

16 In a 1995 article, archivist Jim Burant reflected on the role of ephemera in the context of archival theory and practice (189). Of the many issues raised, one with particular relevance for this paper was his question about how archivists should respond to an ephemerist’s offer to donate a collection of items to the archive, asking “[c]an or should these collections be accepted as is?” (1995: 196). The question emanates from Burant’s perspective that ephemerists have amassed collections “which they consider to be, in Barbara Rusch’s words ‘a more reliable witness of social life than other more self-conscious records’” (196).4 With his statement that “[e]phemeral collections may have a place in archives, depending on the institutional approach (record-keeping versus documenting)” (196), Burant privileges the latter over the former and aligns himself with the professional archivist and a curatorial impulse rather than with the hobbyist or collector. Interestingly, he does acknowledge—in an almost confessional tone—that archivists are (read: “mere”) collectors.As archivists, we must always remain aware of changing trends in the research and collecting communities. While most of us consider ephemera not worthy of our individual or collective attention, we are probably all ephemera collectors within our own institutions, and we have to come to grips with this fact. (Burant 1995: 190)As collectors, one wonders, do archivists lose the distance required for critical scrutiny, for documenting rather than merely record keeping or gathering information? Certainly collectors like Mary Barile, author of Cookbooks Worth Collecting, would argue that collectors have an increasingly precise sense of critical analysis. Her comments on the possible organizational rationales for cookbook collections, including justifications for collection of cookbook ephemera and cookbook-related material, provide evidence of considerable self-consciousness and a keen sense of documentary potential (Barile 1994: 9-11).

Figs. 4a, 4b (Left) 4c and 4d (Opposite) Front matter and Preface of Knox Gelatine Company’s Dainty Desserts for Dainty People, 1915, inside cover and page 3. Private collection.

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17 Rather than associate cookbooklets with ephemera, however, I suggest that we consider corporate cookbooklets as a subset of the highly stylized and consciously mediated set constituted by cookery literature: derived from the oral transmission of information; dominated by prescriptive discourse and the imperative voice, as well as highly stylized and sequential organization of information; and governed by a series of inherent assumptions about the relationship between recipe donor and recipient that regulate the form and function of the specific textual interaction.

Paradoxes of the Genre

18 Ironically, these ephemeral cookbooklets have had remarkable staying power and are being read in the 21st century by readers never addressed, or possibly even anticipated, by the original authors. Today, 19th- and 20th-century cookbooklets appear in private and public archives, are prized possessions of collectors and have become the objects of critical scrutiny.

19 What is their appeal? For their contemporary audiences, it was surely their ease of use and accessibility, even the attractive illustrations and engaging text. For belated readers—as I call those of us who, rather than using them in the kitchen, scrutinize these cookbooklets long after their publication dates out of curiosity and, as New Zealand culinary historian Helen Leach describes it in an October 28, 2007, email message to this author “recognizing their documentary potential”—they are intriguing because of how they can provide a colourful snapshot of particular periods of social history and, because their “intentionality of discourse” (Bower 1997: 8), offer glimpses of some predominant strategies of influence.

20 What were and are those strategies of influence? One involves testimonials, from both cooking authorities and celebrities. From the 1920s through the 1960s, these testimonials often involved fictitious characters brought to life by corporations in order to put a human face on a corporate image or brand trademark. “Penny Powers” of Saskatchewan Power Corporation, “Marie Fraser” of Dairy Food Services Bureau, “Rita Martin” of Robin Hood Multifoods Inc., “Brenda York” of Canada Packers, “Martha Logan” from Swift and Company, all come to mind.

4c and 4d (Opposite) Front matter and Preface of Knox Gelatine Company’s Dainty Desserts for Dainty People, 1915, inside cover and page 3. Private collection.

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21 Part of the point of such testimonials is to prove the product’s efficacy and ease of use. Specialized knowledge during the consumer age was displaced from the home to the research and development centres of the corporations. Hence in corporate cookbooklets one often finds pages devoted to images of corporate factories and those individuals charged with product testing and development.

22 When Genesee Pure Food Company placed its first ads for Jell-O in Ladies’ Home Journal, for example, it showed a “fashionably dressed woman tossing away” her cookbook with one hand as she gripped the Jell-O box with the other (Wyman 2001: 14-15). Carolyn Wyman points out a striking irony: although the instructions were deemed unnecessary, there were more than fifty different Jell-O brand cookbooklets produced during the next twenty-five years! Clearly these cookbooklets were effective and necessary for the company and its marketing plan if not for the consumer.

23 The other predominant strategy of influence, and the one discussed here with reference to the Davis gelatine cookbooklets, involved their adoption of the personalized and localized rhetoric of the recipe. Colleen Cotter defines the recipe “as a text form that is ‘locally situated’ as a community practice, and as a text that embodies linguistic relationships and implies within these relationships a number of cultural assumptions and practices” (1997: 53). In other words, a recipe, like the foodways in which it is situated, has a specific sociocultural context. By looking at a recipe, one can make certain assumptions about time and place. For example, when one hears that the contents of one 1927 cookbooklet include recipes for “Paw Paw Dessert,” “Gooseberry Charlotte,” “Milk Jelly” and “Mint Jelly,” one might reasonably conclude an Australasian context, with hints of a British influence.5 While pawpaw points to an Australian context, the “Pavlova” recipe on page 11 seems to indicate a New Zealand locale, notes Helen Leach in the October 28, 2007, email message to me.6 Although all the Davis Dainty Dishes editions published during the 1920s are dated, the recipes themselves appear to provide clues beyond time and place. For example, the Pavlova recipe on page 11 in the sixth edition of Davis Gelatine cookbooklet signals a publication date after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova visited Australia in 1926. Indeed, as Leach observed in the 2007 email, the layered jelly pavlova recipe first appeared in the Australian fifth edition of Davis Dainty Dishes in 1926. The 1927 New Zealand sixth edition of Davis Dainty Dishes carries the same recipe, along with what Leach describes in her 2007 email message as the “Australian-sounding” recipes. She further contends that the New Zealand 1927 edition was prepared in Sydney, Australia. “There is nothing in the New Zealand 6th edition” she argues in email communication of May 22, 2008 “that could not be Australian in origin. Gooseberries grow well in Tasmania.” Consequently, although the recipes can help to date and place the cookbooklet, they also point to a certain blurring of national boundaries on the part of the Davis Gelatine company. “The inescapable conclusion,” laments Leach in that 2008 email, “is that in the 1920s, Davis thought that a book that suited Australian home cooks would do equally well for New Zealanders.”

24 The Canadian fifth edition of the same cookbooklet has some slight variations, as pointed out in email communications of July 25-27, 2006 between cookbook bibliographer Elizabeth Driver and Leach: more wine in the New Zealand version of wine jelly, for example, or the use of a cake tin mould for the “Carrington Mould.” Driver further notes in those July 2006 communications that the Canadian version, published in Toronto, substitutes some local ingredients for the pawpaw and passion fruit then unavailable—peaches, the combination of maple and walnut, raspberry, and rhubarb. I note that both Driver and Leach automatically, and quite rightly, equate New Zealand’s “milk jelly” with Canada’s “blancmange”—and without specific mention. The latter, although French, is a term cemented in North American usage by an explicit glossary of terms associated with the new technology of granulated gelatine by the American gelatine company Knox and outlined in its 1929 cookbooklet (Knox 1929: 47). The American version contains recipes affiliated explicitly with American locales, such as “Philadelphia Vanilla Ice Cream” (38), but also ones containing ingredients to which Canadians, by dint of the corporate brand name “Canada Dry,” now take proprietary interest: “Ginger Ale Fruit Salad,” for example appears in Canadian and American editions of the Knox and the Davis Gelatine cookbooklets (Knox 1929: 14; Knox 1943: 18; Davis 1926; Dainty 1932: 23).7 Such overlap of content suggests that there is collaboration as well as competition between the two gelatine manufacturers.

Fig. 5 Introduction to 1938 Mets délicieux Davis, page 1. Courtesy of McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

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Fig. 6 Introduction to the 1938 Davis Dainty Dishes. Image courtesy of Mary Williamson. Private collection.

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25 But it is the French-language versions of the Davis cookbooks, printed in Montreal ostensibly for a francophone audience, that allow more finely-grained scrutiny of localization. Although McGill has a 1930s French-language version of the Knox cookbooklet (which also contains “crème glacée philadelphie vanillée” [Knox ca.1930s: 22]) the earliest confirmed French-language Davis cook-booklet available at McGill is a 1938 edition, Mets délicieux Davis (Fig. 5). The front matter tells us that it is a revised ninth edition (Fig. 6), subsequent to the first eight editions published between 1922 and 1928. Changes are apparent in this ninth edition (Fig. 7). At first glance, the period term “Dainty” of the earlier editions has been excised from this title, which points not only to a change in fashion but also to the company’s desire to highlight gelatine’s utility for the entire meal and possibly for the gender seldom associated with a taste for things dainty. It will be the 1960s before gelatine’s contribution to dieting take front stage with such titles as the Knox Eat and Reduce Plan (1960). Curiously, while the 1930s Knox version is addressed to those using “les réfrigerateurs mécaniques” the later Davis version adds many explanatory notes for those intending to set gelatine outside an ice box or refrigerator. “Si vous faites [sic] prendre la gelée en dehors du’une [sic] glacière ou d’un réfrigérateur, employez un peu moins de liquide” explains the note appearing after “Crème Espagnole” (Mets délicieux Davis 1938: 28) (Fig. 8). More curiously still, the same caveat does not appear in the English version published six years prior (Fig. 9), even though adaptation to electricity was slow in many parts of the country, not only in Quebec. One cynical explanation would be to suggest that corporate headquarters shared a vision of Quebec kitchens as hopelessly provincial and behind the times. A more pragmatic explanation would note that an English readership in Canada would include those in all Canadian provinces, and in urban as well as rural settings. The French readership, by contrast, would include those living in rural areas in Quebec, and the francophone population of the one urban centre in Quebec, Montreal, itself a bilingual city. Although francophones currently outnumber anglophones in Montreal, in 1921, 73 per cent of the Montreal population would have been English speaking, and a full 75 per cent by 1941. Within the province of Quebec, however, only 21.6 per cent of the population was English-speaking in 1931 and 21.5 per cent in 1941 (Caldwell 1974: 30, 31). By way of providing additional context, in 1931, 59.1 per cent of the Quebec population lived in urban centres, and by 1941 a full 61.2 per cent lived in urban areas (McVey and Kalbach 1995: 149). The exodus from rural Quebec accelerated during the depression years when, as Paul-André Linteau explains:The percentage of the Quebec population living on farms fell steadily. It declined from 27 per cent in 1931 to 25.2 percent in 1941 and then to 19.5 per cent in 1951. Similarly, the percentage of the labour force employed in agriculture, which stood at 22.5 per cent in 1931 and 20.8 per cent in 1941, was only 13.3 per cent in 1951. (Linteua: 1991: 16)The 1938 Davis reveals further treasures. It boasts one of the anchor recipes of the Knox-Davis books: Spanish Cream (Fig. 10).

Fig. 7 Index to the 1938 Mets délicieux Davis, page 4. Image courtesy of McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

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Fig. 8 Recipe for Crème Espagnole from 1938 Mets délicieux Davis, page 28. Image courtesy of McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

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26 Dennis Taylor notes that Spanish Cream appears in American cookbooks by 1870, described either as “Spanish Cream” or “Gelatine Pudding” (2006: 136). Like Bavarian Cream, Spanish Cream is a cold custard dessert but, as Taylor points out, is the subject of considerable debate. Some prefer their Spanish Cream layered—with a clear jelly on the bottom and a top layer rendered lighter through the addition of whipped cream or egg whites. Others prefer it to be of a single layer and consistency. Whether it becomes one or the other depends on what Taylor calls the “science” of the dessert, the moment at which the egg whites or cream are added. In order to achieve the single-layered variety, the cook must allow for “sufficient cooling for the rapid setting required to hold the whipped egg whites in suspension” (Taylor 2006: 138). If the egg whites are added when the gelatine is insufficiently cool and set, then the mixture will separate. Similarly, if the egg mixture is not heated sufficiently for the custard to thicken, then the pudding will not set. Many recipes are either vague about the desired effect, or unclear about the method of achieving it. The Davis Gelatine booklets reveal a series of different techniques and desired effects over the years. As Taylor notes, the 1920s booklets indicated that the custard should be removed from the fire before boiling (Fig. 11), the 1937 edition reminded cooks that the custard must boil in order for the cream to separate, and the mid-century booklets provided instructions for separation (to boil until it separates into curds and whey) and for avoiding separation (to refrain from boiling and add gelatine to cool mixture) (Taylor 2006: 140).

27 In the Knox cookbooklets, Spanish Cream is not quite as ubiquitous as Bavarian Cream, largely because Bavarian Cream comes in so many varieties; indeed, there are no less than seven listed in the Johnstown, New York, 1929 edition, with such creative names as “Bavarian Cream #1” or “Bavarian Cream #2.” Spanish Cream, by contrast, involved basic custard, to which was added beaten egg whites and flavouring—usually vanilla, but possibly lemon or coffee flavouring. This last, however, is such a daring variation that it necessitates changing the name of the finished product. “Coffee Cream,” explains the Canadian English 1932 Davis Dainty Dishes, “is Spanish Cream flavoured with strong coffee” (32). (Note that the word “flavoured” is spelled in the Canadian spelling style with a “u,” in the Canadian edition (see Fig. 9). But this is not true of the earlier edition, published circa 1926; see Fig. 11.) The revised 1938 French-language edition, however, feels no inhibition about adding variety to this paradigmatic recipe although the same prohibition against changing the name seems to reappear. There is “Crème Espagnole” on page 28 (see Fig. 8), “Crème Espagnole (Méthode canadienne),” (Fig. 12) as well as “Crème Espagnole (Méthode anglaise)” on page 48. Nowhere in the titles or explanatory notes appear any signs of the peculiarly Spanish elements of the recipe. Taylor mischievously suggests that Spanish Cream may, in fact, just be a variation of Bavarian Cream. “Was it from the outset a ‘Bavarian Cream’ that had gone wrong and had to be called something else as a ‘cover up’? But why ‘Spanish’?” (2006: 141).

Fig. 9 Recipe for Spanish Cream from the 1932 Davis Dainty Dishes, page 32. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Driver. Private collection.

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Fig. 10 Recipe for Spanish Cream, Canadian and English methods, from the 1938 Davis Dainty Dishes, page. 48. Image courtesy of Mary F. Williamson. Private collection.

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28 What distinguishes English from Canadian methods of preparation seems to be the moment at which the beaten egg whites are added to the custard mixture: in the Canadian version, they are added once the cooling custard mixture begins to take or “commence à prendre”; whereas in the English version, they are added as soon as the custard mixture is taken off the heat. Despite the waiting involved in the Canadian mode of preparation, a cautionary note is added: “Cette preparation ne tranchera pas (will not curdle), pourvu que la crème aux oeufs et les mélanges gelatins ne soient pas trop chauds quand on les mêle ensemble” (Mets délicieux Davis 1938: 48). The English qualification—“will not curdle”— is from the original. Similarly, the alternative recipe for an English mode of preparation also provides explanatory detail of how to cook rather than curdle a custard: “Se rappeler que la crème aux oeufs doit jeter quelques bouillons pour être de la consistence voulue, mais on ne doit pas la laisser sur le feu plus longtemps” (Mets délicieux Davis 1938: 48). That “egg cream” or “crème aux oeufs” is sometimes called “cossetardclearly a Gallicized version of custard—in an early Canadian recipe book (as in La Nouvelle Cuisinière Canadienne 1850) certainly suggests that it is borrowed from the English tradition.

Fig. 11 Recipe for Spanish Cream from Davis Dainty Dishes, ca. 1926, page 34. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Driver. Private collection.

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Fig. 12 Recipe for Crème Espagnole, Méthode canadienne and Méthode anglaise, from the1938 Mets délicieux Davis, page 48. Image courtesy of McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

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29 Why, one wonders, did this French-language text need to incorporate English translations for an ostensibly francophone audience? One possible answer is that custard was not a traditional dish; or it may have been one the authors of this cookbooklet felt was so familiar to readers that the method of preparation could be left unexplained. Another, more persuasive explanation, is that the cookbooklet assumed a bilingual audience.8 This conclusion is supported by the many anglicisms in the recipe titles (as in Crème Exeter, Egg Nogg en Gelée, Éponge aux Mûres (“ou aux Loganberries”), and Jack O’Lanterns), and within the introductory notes (as in the phrase “plusieurs autres countrées” instead of “plusieurs autres pays”). This is further supported by anglicizations of other words in La nouvelle cuisinière canadienne: pudding (in the 1865 edition) or pouding in the 1879 edition, for example. Cookbooklets for Cox Gelatine, sold in Canada since 1945, also contain a Poudings section in the French-language edition.9 The notion of a bilingual audience is also supported by the curious choice of terminology.

30 A third explanation is that the translator was having difficulty finding the precise word. Today, one would say that a custard has turned, or “a tourné,”10 a general phrase and one that can be used to describe food that has gone “off” as well as one that has “curdled.” There are other alternatives: like cailler, for example, a verb “mainly associated with dairy or with blood” and used to describe curdled milk in a 1919 French-Canada cooking textbook (Manuel de cuisine raisonnée 1919: 112).11 Cailler is also the verb of choice in a French-English dictionary of the period, where curdle is translated as “se cailler” (Bellows 1924: 175) and “cailler” translated as “to curdle” or “to coagulate” (114).12 Alternatively, the writer might have used such simpler explanatory phrases as “Cette préparation ne se séparera pas” or “Cette préparation ne se défera pas.”13 There is certainly evidence that the translation is weak. The English version of 1938 (Fig. 10) seems to suggest that one wants the separation to occur. “Remember the custard must boil or it will not separate” (48) is very different from the French-language prohibition against allowing it to separate.

31 Such clues provide a tantalizing glimpse of how recipes originally conceived by Mrs. Rose Knox in her Johnstown New York kitchen as of 1915, as well as those conceived by the Davis Gelatine company, presumably in Woolston New Zealand in 1913 and then in the plant near Botany Bay, Australia as of 1921, translate across national boundaries, languages and cultures. They also both reinforce and undermine linguist Colleen Cotter’s notion of recipe as a context-specific discourse, with which I began this foray into gelatine cookbooklets. At first glance, of course, the various explanatory and cautionary notes seem to emphasize the way in which a particular cookbooklet, despite its origins in a multi-national food practice, is customized to speak to its particular national and cultural constituency. At closer inspection, however, the very necessity of such descriptive notation confirms these cookbooklets are not at all context-specific. Cotter’s comparison between corporate and community recipe genres is helpful here. While recipes from corporate cookbooks, she finds, contain a wealth of what she refers to as “orientation components,” they are unnecessary for a community cookbook in which the recipe writer is intimately familiar with the assumptions and culinary expertise of its recipient (1997: 60). Ironically, then, it is precisely the location-specific details that seem to ground these cookbooklets in a specific time and place that speak to the distance between their authors and the kitchens into which they enter through product packaging or front door mail slots. Rather than serving as indicators of differentiation in foodways practices, then, they serve as indicators of their consolidation.


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1 . An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Food History Conference hosted by the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, in November 2007.

2 . Barile (1994) explains that “[a]dvertising items also came in die-cut designs, that is, the booklet itself was shaped to resemble something else. Watch for these in the form of milk bottles, cans, bread loaves, shoes and other unusual designs; few modern advertisers use die-cut designs because of the printing costs. Another style to watch for is the mechanical, a book that has moving parts. Usually these consist of wheels which can be turned to give different types of information about a food or allow the user to change recipes quickly” (135, 137).

3 . Mary F. Williamson’s private collection, for example, includes a number of late-19th-century cookbooklets including those from Cottolene, Diamond Dye, Strong’s Baking Powder, Jewel, Northrop-Lyman and Silico (email to the author, November 16, 2007).

4 . Here Burant is quoting Rusch, president of the Ephemera Society of Canada, in her 1992 Message from the President.

5 . Milk jelly or “blancmange” recipes appear in British cookbooks dating back to the 14th century.

6 . Leach is a professor of anthropology and author of The Pavlova Story: A slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History.

7 . The latter two are distinct, though confusingly-named publications.

8 . My thanks to Michèle Rackham for this suggestion.

9 . See Selected recipes for use with Cox’s Instant Powdered Gelatine/recettes choisies Cox’s Instant Powdered Gelatine, dating from the 1920s. My thanks to Mary F. Williamson for sharing this insight in her email of November 16, 2007.

10 . This insight emerged from a conversation on November 23, 2007 with Charlotte Sturgess of University Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France, about French culinary vocabulary.

11 . Interestingly, in the recipe for “Crème d’Espagne” on page 375, there is no mention of the possibility of curdling and no use of either “trancher” or “cailler.”

12 . L’Université de Montréal’s bilingual The Canadian Dictionary: Concise Edition, also gives “(se) cailler” as “to curdle” when applied to milk and “to clot” for blood (Vinay 1962: 52). Curdle is translated as “cailler” for milk and also as “se figer” (487), an expression figuratively applied to blood.

13 . I am indebted to Caroline Durand for these insights in her email of October 27, 2007.