Cowboys' Kitchen on the Prairie, Western Canada, ca 1912
Postcards from the Past, PC 843
I was taught to make bread by my grandmother. She told me to stop kneading when the dough "felt right." For generations of women, this was the way we learned to cook - a mother, grandmother, auntie or other female family member passed on her techniques and her secrets of the kitchen. The only time they ever used cookbooks was when they were trying something fancy. But they did have cookbooks. They had cookbooks prepared by the ladies organizations they belonged to, or from a company that sold spices or other food products, they had cookbooks from the gas company. I have inherited some of these - stained and written in though they may be ("these are not good" beside a muffin recipe that called for wheat germ).
So it is no surprise that for me, one of the highlights in the Community Heritage and Family History room at the Calgary Public Library is the great collection we have of cookbooks. We have items like the Watkins Cook Book (1936) and the United Farm Women of Alberta Cook Book (several editions). We have cookbooks from community organizations like the Troup 89 (Calgary) of the Boys Scouts of America and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Ladies Aid. These often include more than just recipes. They have household tips and dietary advice They could also include tips on etiquette and on cooking in special circumstances (for example for large groups or for the sick).
It is in books like this that we can discover the day to day existence of our mothers and grandmothers. Cookbooks provide a little window onto the lives of women and families that we often can’t find in other resources. So, please come down and visit us at the Central Library, in the Community Heritage and Family History Room. We’ve got lots of interesting stuff to see.