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!

An object of hungry desire

Weston Biscuits shelf

This gorgeous metal biscuit shelf is among the fine selection of food-themed antiques for sale (along with amazing baked goods) at Madoc‘s Hidden Goldmine Bakery. How I covet it to help store our collection of vintage cookbooks!

There is something for sale in beautiful downtown Madoc that I would just love to have. Its price, however, is a little north of $300, and while I am quite sure the amount is fair, it’s a little rich for my blood right at the moment. Because it is located in the wonderful Hidden Goldmine Bakery – source of the best butter tarts you will ever eat, as well as possibly the best cookie, the splendid Cinnamon Sparkle – I get to see and ogle this object frequently – because you can’t make a trip to “town” without stopping by the Hidden Goldmine.

This object is, as you can see from my photo, a vintage metal store shelf for holding packages of Weston biscuits. Now, Weston being a fine old Canadian company and all, the name is a big lure for me. I’m also very interested in the fact that this particular shelf may have come from Raymond’s home state, Massachusetts, because in the small print at the bottom it tells us that the biscuits it was helping to market to consumers had been made in a factory in Watertown, Mass.

(Now, before we go one bit further I need to point out that Watertown, Mass, is not the same thing as Watertown, N.Y., home of WWNY-TV, channel 7 CBS on the old black-and-white TV that was at the Manse when I was a kid growing up here. In the period, I might add, that I think constituted the golden years of television [as I wrote about at length here]. Those golden years included a corny made-in-Watertown kids’ show featuring the late Danny Burgess. Anybody here remember Danny Burgess? I’m sure at least a few of you do.)

Anyway, I am surprised to know that the George Weston company, Canadian through and through, had a factory in New England, and so far I haven’t found anything about that on my friend the internet. But really it’s no matter. What does matter is how much I would like to have that biscuit stand!

Why? Because I think it would be the perfect funky place to display some of our large (and growing) collection of vintage cookbooks. The ones I find at yard sales and flea markets and library sales, that promise midcentury hostessing perfection, not to mention a limitless supply of casserole recipes. I love those cookbooks! (As I’ve written before, notably here and here.)

To show you how much I love them, here are some photos featuring some of the titles. Perhaps the pictures will bring back some culinary memories for you too:

Vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks

Thanks to Betty Crocker, I have instructions on being the perfect hostess and making the perfect dinner for two. Like: Liver and Bacon Patties, with Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Broiled Tomato Halves, Fruit Compote and Ginger Creams. Wow!

Serve At Once/Dinners That Wait

I deliberately put side by side the two cookbooks Serve At Once (subtitle: The Soufflé Cookbook) and Dinners That Wait, a classic featuring recipes that finish themselves off on the stovetop or in the oven while the hostess sits down with her guests for “a leisurely cocktail.”

Vintage cookbooks

More vintage classics (and not-so-classics).

Vintage cookbooks 2

I have a soft spot for anything by Elizabeth David. And the bright colours on the dust jacket of her cookbook brighten up the shelf!

Oh yes, I guess I should also show some proof that we do have modern cookbooks too:

Modern cookbooks

And also proof that I actually use my cookbooks. Just look! Do you think any previous occupant of the Manse has ever made such a nice cheese soufflé? (Thanks for the recipe, Julia!):

Katherine's Famous Soufflé

Hot and beautifully puffy, light as air: a cheese soufflé (recipe by Julia Child) just out of the Manse’s vintage Harvest Gold oven.

Anyway, that’s a very quick partial tour of the contents of the Manse’s cookbook collection. Now can you see how perfect Mr. George Weston’s biscuit shelf would be to show them off?

A whole pile of treasures from the thrift shops

O Canada! in Up and Away

The first entry in a classic Canadian primary-school reader from 1946, called Up and Away, that I found at The Bookworm used-book store in Madoc. I like the artwork – especially the scene of Montreal (our former home, and Canada’s biggest city at the time that Up and Away was published) at the top of the left-hand page. Such a sense of optimism and promise in those images!

You know, much as I love you readers and appreciate the time you spend here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, I really shouldn’t be telling you what I’m about to tell you. Why? Because I know perfectly well what’s going to happen. You’re all going to get in your cars and come up to Madoc and Tweed and visit the thrift stores and get to all the good stuff before Raymond and I can.

What a disaster that would be!

But anyway, I’m just so delighted with our finds from a local thrift-shop excursion this past Saturday that I can’t stop myself from sharing them by way of this post.

Would you like to hear about those finds? Of course you would.

Up and Away reader

Up and Away, part of the “Canadian Reading Development Series” published in 1946 by Copp Clark.

First stop: The Bookworm in Madoc. I’ve written before (that post is here) about that dandy little store, which is operated by volunteers and raises money for the excellent cause of supporting the Madoc Public Library. What I especially like about The Bookworm is how eclectic the selection is; you just never know what you’re going to find. And boy, we found a lot this past Saturday. I won’t even go into detail about the interesting prose translation of Homer’s Odyssey, and the massive two-volume set about all the mammals on earth (published by Johns Hopkins University), and the dozen or so other treasures that we found. But I will tell you about the primary-school reader whose image you see here, and whose charming first entry is shown at the top of this post.

I don’t think I would have used this reader back in the days when I attended Madoc Township Public School; it would have been 20 years old at that time. But I have to admit it looked kind of familiar. In 2015, it comes across as a sweet little memento of a simpler time, when Canadian kids apparently looked like this:

Young Canadians To-Day, from Up and Away

And when you wouldn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities (or at least, you didn’t care if you did) by publishing a Judaeo-Christian psalm in a general-audience textbook:

The Lord is My Shepherd in Up and Away

The 23rd Psalm, in a school reader! Can you imagine that today? On the opposite page and above the psalm, by the way, are the concluding verses of Longfellow‘s The Wreck of the Hesperus – guaranteed to give a small child nightmares.

I was also charmed by the inclusion of a poem by the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose work I admire. She tended to have a bit of an edge, and you can definitely see it in the last line of this poem; though perhaps the editors of Up and Away thought it would go over its young readers’ heads, and maybe it even went over theirs:

Travel in Up and Away

Gracious, all this enjoyment from just one book! But of course you want to ask, “What other treasures did you find, Katherine?” Well, here you go:

Poetry of Mid-Century

Is that not a Canadian classic? Good old McClelland and Stewart and its New Canadian Library of inexpensive paperback Canadian literature. And you have to love the design and colours of this midcentury cover – not to mention the book’s collection of early poems by the cutting-edge Canadian poets of the day.

And then there was this book, which I almost didn’t nab because it seemed a little ordinary from the cover…

A Book of Classical Stories

… but which did have nice illustrations and was kind of funky generally…

A Book of Classical Stories cover page

… and the deal was finally sealed when I discovered a lovely local bit of history stamped inside the front cover:

Johnston, the Druggist

Now isn’t that something? “Johnston, the Druggist” is, of course, Johnston’s Drug Store, still in operation (though in Madoc only, not Bancroft; and no longer selling textbooks) all these years later. (I’ve mentioned Johnston’s many times before, like here and here; and this post tells you about a new direction that the venerable business has recently taken.)

Okay, that’s The Bookworm. Let’s move on to Hidden Treasures in Tweed, another volunteer-run shop, this one raising money to support the very good work of Community Care for Central Hastings. At Hidden Treasures, Raymond and I picked up a basketful of things, and I do mean a basketful – we even found a bushel basket like you used to see (and maybe still do?) at apple orchards and whatnot. Here are some of our not-so-hidden treasures in that basket, three vintage games:

Basketful of games

And here’s a closeup of the Travel Trio of travel-sized board games – don’t you just love the colours and design from, I’m guessing, c. 1970?

Travel Trio games

And here is the price tag on the Travel Trio, which intrigues me:

Travel Trio price tag

Why a “Catalogue Price” as compared to “Your Cost”? What catalogue? Where would this boxed game set have been sold, I wonder?

Okay, now we get to what might be the coolest find of all, something that cost me all of about 10¢, I think. Get a load of this souvenir drinking glass:

Lindsay Dairy Day glass front

Wow! A souvenir of “Ontario Dairy Day, Lindsay (Ont.), June 16th, 1954.” I love this glass partly because I have Lindsay farm connections through my uncle, aunt and cousins; and partly because I think it’s so amazing that it has survived these 61 years. This glass is rather older than even I am!

And here’s the back, a little bit of Ontario dairy-farming history in and of itself:

Lindsay Dairy Day glass back

You probably can’t read the full text on the back of the glass, so here’s what it says: ONTARIO DAIRY PRODUCERS CO-ORDINATING BOARD Co-ordinating the Work of:– Ontario Cream Producers’ Marketing Board, Ontario Whole Milk Producers’ League, Ontario Cheese Producers’ Marketing Board, Ontario Concentrated Milk Producers’ Assn. Designed:– “TO PROMOTE THE WELFARE OF ALL ONTARIO DAIRY FARMERS”

Now, I am rather fond of a nice glass of cold milk with my grilled-cheese sandwich come Saturday lunchtime. Thanks to Saturday’s find, I now have possibly the coolest local vintage glass ever in which to enjoy my dairy product of choice.

And to think it was just another day at the thrift shops…