The joy of vintage cookbooks

How can you not love a cookbook that looks like this? The recipes have names like "Broccoli-and-Cheese Custard" and "Broccoli Piquant," but I think we can safely classify them all as "Broccoli Glop." Would you eat this stuff? Can you believe that anybody ever did?

How can you not love a cookbook that looks like this? The recipes have names like “Broccoli-and-Cheese Custard” and “Broccoli Piquant,” but I think we can safely classify them all as “Broccoli Glop.” Would you eat this stuff? Can you believe that anybody ever did?

In recent years I have become something of a sucker for vintage cookbooks, with an emphasis on ones from  the 1950s and ’60s. Buying the Queensborough house where I spent my childhoodin the 1960s and early 1970s has only encouraged my enthusiasm for these relics of another culinary time.

My collection – pretty much all of them finds from yard sales and thrift shops – includes several old editions of The Joy of Cooking (the edition published in the middle of World War II is interesting, what with rationing and all), a book dedicated to casseroles (remember when casseroles were just the thing?), another dedicated to salads (which, at the time it was published, were something of a novelty, what with fresh produce not being all that common) and also several guides to entertaining that are – well, entertaining. Here’s a typical excerpt from one of them, How To Give Successful Dinner Parties (published in 1963):

Even if a roast burns to a crisp … a hostess neither weeps nor wrings her hands. Again she smiles – and asks for volunteers to scramble eggs, male volunteers preferably. In these days of “togetherness” many men take pride in their culinary ability. Also, when a man undertakes to do anything in the kitchen he will, almost certainly, ask for and receive assistance. Whether he simply scrambles the eggs or, on a whim, decides to add tomato paste, mushrooms, if there are any, or grated cheese, there will be women eager to wait on him. And such guest participation could result in a better party than it would have been had the roast been done to a turn instead of a burn.

Now you just try to tell me that that isn’t good stuff. (Maybe I should start a whole other blog with daily excerpts and pearls of wisdom from these classics.) And I should note that as I write this, my husband (Raymond) is behind me in the kitchen preparing lamb and mushroom stew. Oddly enough, he has neither asked for, nor received, assistance.

At 50 cents – or maybe it was 75 – I just couldn't pass up this early-1960s classic.

At 50 cents – or maybe it was 75 – I just couldn’t pass up this early-1960s classic.

But meanwhile, at the Manse: I was going to tell you that I’d found yet another great addition to my vintage-cookbook collection on our last visit. I like to check out the local second-hand stores, especially since a woman I met in the Tweed Home Hardware told me about finding a set of copper pots in one of them. (Sadly for me, another set has yet to materialize.) My most recent find was Vol. 2 of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, and what made me decide I had to fork out the 50¢ or whatever it was for it was not the photos of limp broccoli dishes with all manner of gloppy sauce on them, or those of (utterly unsuccessful) efforts to make cabbage dishes (translation: cabbage wedges with more gloppy sauce) look elegant – though those were of course very appealing.

No, it was the section on “Canadian Cookery,” and most especially the inclusion of one classic dish known, of course, to every Canadian household: Roast Snow Goose.


But if you’re interested – well, stop by the Manse and I’ll give you the recipe.

The Montreal “casseroles” and the Queensborough chivarees

The “casserole” protests are taking place nightly in Montreal. (Image by Jérémie Battaglia ( via vimeo. Photo used by permission.)

If you’ve been following the news about the student unrest in Montreal, you’ll have heard that this past week a new twist emerged in the protests. Each night at 8 p.m., people all over the city emerge onto their porches, balconies and lawns, or head into the streets, and for half an hour or so bang on empty pots and pans (casseroles, in French) as a noisy but peaceful way of saying that they’re unhappy with the provincial government – over its stand on raising university tuition fees, but perhaps even more so over its emergency law that sets some rules for protest actions against the tuition increase. This is what it sounds like (or at least did, from our front balcony last night):

Casseroles in Outremont, May 25, 2012

The casserole protest was an idea born in the 1970s in Chile, when ordinary citizens unhappy about shortages of goods would beat on pots and pans to indicate that there was nothing in those pots and pans to cook. You can read about that here.

What’s the connection between all this and Queensborough, you ask? Well, as I was reading a story by the Montreal Gazette’s Jeff Heinrich about the casserole protest, I was struck by this sentence:

“There’s an even older tradition in New Brunswick called ‘le tintamarre’ (itself inspired by the medieval French custom of ‘le charivari’ – banging pots and pans as a wedding celebration).”

What Jeff, urban-type reporter that he is, might not know is that in parts of rural Canada – or Ontario, at least; or Queensborough, at the very least – the word “charivari” became “chivaree” and the old French tradition continued, at least into the early part of the second half of the 20th century.

I confess I was never part of or witness to a chivaree – no doubt because of my being a little kid – but growing up in Queensborough in the 1960s and early ’70s I frequently heard that one had taken place in the village and environs. My understanding of what would go down is this:

A newly married couple just returned from their honeymoon would be minding their own business in their own home. Under cover of darkness in the middle of the night – because that’s when the couple would be expected to be sleeping or, perhaps more to the point, enjoying “marital relations” – a group of friends and neighbours would arrive (perhaps in the back of one or more pickup trucks?) banging pots and pans and generally making as much noise as they possibly could. I confess I do not know what happened after the couple was rousted from their bed; were they taken away for a celebration somewhere? Did the celebration happen on the premises? Was there food and/or drink involved? Music? Costumes, even? Perhaps some readers will know more about that. What I do know is that a noisy and merry time was had by all, and everyone eventually went home happy, the newlyweds having been sufficiently disturbed/embarrassed/fêted.

And here’s a word to add to your vocabulary: a couple who had undergone the chivaree treatment were said to have been “chivareed.” You have to love that.