A newfound treasure of local sports and culinary history

Cooper Comets Cook Book

A copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book from sometime in the mid-1970s – do you happen to know when? There is no date on it – has made its way to the Manse. I couldn’t be more thrilled!

A treasure, people! And I don’t use that word lightly.

Oh all right – maybe when it comes to finds from the era of my 1960s and ’70s childhood here at the Manse, I do use the word lightly. What I mean is: all such finds are treasures to me, be assured. But sometimes I suspect readers must roll their eyes at my breathless reporting on my vintage finds, whether they be pieces of Blue Mountain Pottery, or multiple copies of Donna Parker in Hollywood, or old roadmaps, or a record by the Singing Post Family. “Why is she accumulating all this junk?” is probably the question in at least a few minds. Because, as we’re constantly told these days, our mission is to declutter, to simplify our homes and thus our lives by keeping only the things we constantly need and use. Well, I ask you: where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, a desire on someone’s part to get rid of – well, if not exactly “junk,” at least something that this person considered old and no longer useful, is what was behind my latest thrilling vintage acquisition, the topic for today’s post.

I have my Queensborough friend Jen to thank for my newly acquired copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book. Jen happened to be in one of the local hardware stores recently when someone there – I’m not sure whether it was a customer or an employee – brought forth this delightful little volume and announced that he or she was getting rid of it. Jen, who well knows my love of local history and artifacts, immediately offered up that she knew someone who would be thrilled to have it. And before you know it, the Cooper Comets Cook Book was in my hands. Which means I get to share it with you good people!

Now, there’s absolutely nothing that’s not great about this slim little volume, but let me tell you some of the things I love about it:

Queensboro Cook Book

My most treasured cookbook from the days of my childhood here at the Manse.

One: It’s a classic example of those locally produced midcentury cookbooks that I’ve written about before – the ones in which members of a church group like the United Church Women, or of the local branch of the Women’s Institute, or of a sports organization, or of a school group, get together and contribute their own recipes and those they can beg, borrow and steal from their friends, mothers and mothers-in-law, so that a cookbook can be produced and sold as a fundraiser for the group in question. My most treasured example of these cookbooks is the Queensboro Cook Book, produced in 1966 by the U.C.W. of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; thanks to two wonderful women and Queensborough natives, Barbara Martin and the late Isabella Shaw, I have two precious copies of that foodstained cookbook. But the Cooper Comets Cook Book is now a close second to it in my heart.

Two: It’s a great reminder of simpler days when every little community in rural Ontario – hamlets like Queensborough, and Eldorado, and, yes, Cooper – had sports teams, primarily hockey and baseball. And, as the Cooper Comets show us, they weren’t just men’s and boys’ teams; women played too. (I’ve written before – that post is here – about the hard-to-beat teams that were fielded in those midcentury days by “The Tannery,” a community that wasn’t really even a hamlet, more a collection of homes and farms in the Tannery and Riggs Roads area north of Madoc.) I remember that Cooper in particular had a reputation for teams that were skilled and tough. The Comets were no exception; as is explained in the introduction to the book, they were league champions from 1971 to 1973. Here’s that introduction, complete with the listing of the team members:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, introduction

The introductory page of the cookbook, including a listing of the team members at the time of publication. So many familiar names!

Three: The ads. All cookbooks like this one were funded partially by ads paid for by local businesses, and leafing through them, you are frequently reminded of businesses that you patronized long ago that are no longer with us. And sometimes, happily, you spot ads for businesses that are still here, like Johnston’s Pharmacy and the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc:

Cooper Cook Book including ads

A typical page of the cookbook: half recipes, half ads. What a delight to see that one of those ads is for Johnston’s Pharmacy, still in business (though now in a new location) all these years later!

Most of the ads – featuring stores like Stickwood’s Dry Goods, and Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, and Rupert’s Drugstore, Brett’s Garage, and the Madoc Cash & Carry, and Kincaid Bros. IGA – are an exercise in happy nostalgia for me, and I bet they will be for you too, so here you go:

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Oh, and here’s a very special one, featuring three Queensborough businesses:

Cooper Comets Cook Book Queensborough ads

Wow! Sager’s and McMurray’s general stores (about which I have written fondly many times, including here), and Allan Ramsay’s trucking company (Allan being the man who finally got general-store proprietor Bobbie Sager to say yes to matrimony) were all advertisers in the cookbook. A good showing from Queensborough! (Though the cookbook company should have had a proofreader to catch the misspelling of Doug Chapman’s name.)

Vintage cookbooks

Some of the many vintage cookbooks filling a bookshelf dedicated to them at the Manse.

And finally, of course, there are the recipes. As I’ve written before, I love vintage cookbooks in general, and have a fairly good collection of them. I am intrigued by what these culinary guides tell us about the lives of people in those eras – what they ate, how they prepared it, and what their attitudes to food were as compared to how we approach food and cooking now. (Hint: they were a lot more Jell-O friendly in those days.) Now, many of my vintage cookbooks are by “the experts” – people such as James Beard, and Julia Child, and Elizabeth David, and Irma Rombauer (of The Joy of Cooking), not to mention giant food companies like Betty Crocker and homemaking publications like Chatelaine and Better Homes and Gardens. But many others are collections from groups like the St. Andrew’s U.C.W. and the Cooper Comets. These recipe-writers are not famous TV chefs like Julia Child, or newspaper food columnists like James Beard, or literary types like M.F.K. Fisher. They are ordinary women who had busy lives and families to feed when they weren’t doing chores on the farm or working at a part-time or full-time job in town. They did not have a lot of time for fancy-schmancy stuff in the kitchen. Many of the recipe titles feature the words “quick” or “easy;” many of the recipes are along the lines of casseroles whose ingredients are hamburger (“hamburg,” as we used to call it back them), a can of soup and some bread crumbs on top, perhaps with some ketchup or mustard and salt and pepper added in for “seasoning.” And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that.

One other interesting thing about the recipes, though, is the emphasis on desserts and sweets. As the pie selection at the St. Andrew’s United Church Ham and Turkey Suppers always shows…

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

… desserts are kind of a specialty around here. As I’ve often said, you never leave a community meal in Queensborough (or environs) hungry, and you especially don’t leave feeling the need for more dessert. Here’s a typical double-page spread in the Cooper Comets Cook Book, just one of several featuring squares and “bars” (another name for squares):

Cooper Comets Cook Book, squares and bars

I have to say that, while I might not be trying too many of the casserole or pickle recipes in the book anytime soon (I think it’ll be a frosty Friday before I ever try to make pickles), some of the dessert recipes look pretty darn tempting. And easy! Like this one:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, Chocolate Ribbon Cake

I mean, yum!

So yeah: this cookbook is my new favourite thing, and I thank the person in the hardware store who parted with it, and Jen for her quick thinking in nabbing it for me – and most especially the women (some of whom are no longer with us) of the Cooper Comets – who in my eyes were, and are, superstars of sports, cooking and the home front. Ladies: play ball!

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