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Nothing More Comforting: Canada's Heritage Food

by Dorothy Duncan
ISBN: 1550024477


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A Review of: Nothing More Comforting, Canada∆s Heritage Food
by Margaret Dragu

This slim attractive volume is a collection of thirty-three "Country Fare" columns from Century Home Magazine written by Dorothy Duncan. Duncan is a history and food expert with many roles in the heritage, museum and culinary worlds. She lectures internationally on Canada's culinary history and is a Fellow of the Canadian Museums Association. Each of the thirty-three columns republished here celebrates an individual ingredient or food that is a regional Canadian specialty. These include rhubarb, potato, ginger, fiddleheads, salmon, smoked sausage, cranberries, beets and more.
Dorothy concentrates on Canadian settlers' and First Nations' use of regional ingredients. She enthusiastically shares her pleasure in the taste and versatility of regional food and her joy of discovering local history. There are many excellent quotes and recipes from heirloom cookbooks, pioneer diaries, and heritage encyclopaedia like St. Luke's Cook Book, published in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1910 to support their fundraising drive for a new church organ. I tried and loved their Blueberry Cake recipe:

"One pint flour, one cup milk, one-fourth cup butter, one cup sugar, one cup berries, two teaspoons baking powder: cream sugar, butter and flour; add fourth of cup of melted butter, fold through and put in white of one egg; last flour, berries, milk."

Dorothy Duncan thoughtfully fills in the missing method and details that are rarely included in these older cookbooks. Any pioneer woman worth her salt peter could put up jam, smoke sausage, and clean fowl with very little written direction unlike we microwave modern urban peasants who must be reminded to actually remove the cardboard packaging before cooking.
I enjoyed reading the medicinal uses of mustard (a cure for hysterical swooning and gout), cranberries (diuretic, urinary infections), cabbages (deafness, drunkenness and abscesses) and especially the onion. To cure earache from The Household Guide or Domestic Cyclopedia published in 1894:

"Take two or three good sized onions. Peel them and cut in thin slices. Lay the slices on a cloth and heat until hot. Bind this to the head, letting it expand beyond the ear at least one inch all the way around."

This earache cure with the onion poultice recipe makes me thankful for antibiotics.
Dundurn Press gives each of Duncan's food ingredients the star treatment with an elegant black and white line drawing by artist Jennifer Scott. Every one of Scott's food portraits is a little jewel. Duncan gives each food ingredient a germane quotation from such diverse sources as A.A. Milne, Shakespeare and the Holy Bible. Not surprisingly, Duncan's writing style sometimes strays into heirloom cook book and church bulletin speak when she hopes that corn may "continue to be an important part of our everyday life for the next eighty thousand years" and encourages readers to "inject mushroom magic in your cooking," search for tomatoes "to savour the succulence of the season" and simply to "bring back the beet."
Nothing More Comforting is a fun read cover-to-cover but can prove a useful kitchen companion as a seasonal source of recipes. This book is a well-chosen gift for any Canadian history buff or home cook.
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