This is the third post in a summer series exploring societal, community, and familial connections to food and food history. See the series introduction post here. An earlier version of this post appeared on The Canadian Cooking Chronicles, as part of a final project for an Archives Practicum class.
Whenever I look through a cookbook, I find myself examining the composition of the book as a whole. Whether cultural, regional, familial, or a mixture of these, each recipe within a cookbook plays a unique role in revealing a theme. The diversity between cookbooks mirrors the diversity and multiculturalism within the country. Pre-contact, there were a multitude of language and cultural variations between Indigenous nations, and today, there continues to be a growing diversity that adds to Canada’s narrative. Each community carries their own distinct cultural differences that extended to almost every aspect of daily life, including eating habits. As mentioned in my previous post on Pemmican, cultural distinctions that were once clearly recognizable can show signs of blurred lines when cohabitation or cultural domination takes effect.
In current day Canada,there is ample evidence for the wide range of cultures and backgrounds that compose the country’s population. Although this is not to say that the country has allowed for an overt display of these cultures or that Canada has embraced these differences, but that is a discussion for another time.
In pre-confederation Canada, the British and French were the dominant forces; even today, many parts of the country continue to be heavily influenced by these historical powerhouses. The dominance of these two groups in Canada result in many early cookbooks being categorized by culture, including the one looked at in this post: The New Galt Cook Book.
The following recipe is from The New Galt Cook Book, a recipe book published in 1898 and popular in English Canada, particularly the titular Galt in Cambridge, Ontario. When examining the cookbook, it’s clear that the women who compiled the recipes, Margaret Taylor and Frances McNaught, were heavily influenced by their British heritage. A majority of the recipes in this book are very traditional British favourites, including “shepherd’s pie”, “toad in the hole”, and, the recipe I chose to attempt, “Yorkshire Pudding”.
If you’ve been exposed to British culture, either through personal experience or the media, you may know that a popular English side dish is the Yorkshire pudding. Traditionally served with meat and gravy, this crisp and airy pudding has been a staple in England for centuries.
My personal fascination with British cooking shows has always left me curious of this little side dish, but I had never tried my hand at making it.
Four large tablespoonfuls of flour, one pint of milk, two eggs, a little salt;
Put the flour into a basin with the salt, and stir gradually to enough of the milk to make a smooth batter without lumps, add the rest of the milk and the eggs well beaten.
Bake in a shallow tin, under meat if preferred.
-Mrs. Richard Jaffray
One thing that I noticed as soon as I started reading through this cookbook was that the way the recipes were written had more semblance to a modern Western cookbook than the Traditional Indian Recipes From Fort George, Quebec. The exact measurements and somewhat detailed descriptions for preparation reflected the European heritage of English Canadians. However, the lack of fundamental elements, such as the temperature of the oven and the cook time, still placed it far off from the recipes that we have today.
I followed the recipe from Mrs. Jaffray almost exactly (I may have forgotten to beat the eggs before adding them to the batter), but everything was going well… until it came time to bake.
When looking at the recipe, there were a few issues that concerned me: it did not include a temperature, cook time, or any indication of when they would be done! I know that this was most likely due to the fact that the recipe was created in the time of wood-burning stoves, but me and my electric oven were worried.
I looked up a few reference recipes to give me an idea of what to do. The conclusion I came to was that Yorkshire puddings need a fairly high temperature, a moderate cook time, and crispy brown tops. With this information, I should have been ready to bake, but I hesitated…
I’ve watched enough episodes of The Great British Bake-off to know that putting Yorkshire pudding batter directly into a cold, unoiled pan was a recipe for disaster. Advised by Gordon Ramsay himself (or at least his recipe for Yorkshire puddings, which I used as a reference), I heated 1 teaspoon of oil in each section of the muffin tin before putting my batter in and cooking the puddings.
This may have been the most nervous I’ve ever been when baking. I sat in front of the oven for the entire time they were cooking thinking, “Will they rise? Will they fall? Will they leak everywhere and destroy my oven?”
To my amazement, they did rise, and brown, and do everything a good Yorkshire pudding is supposed to do! When I took them out of the oven after about 20 minutes at 425F, they were beautiful little golden puffs with squidgy middles.
Although they’re traditionally supposed to be eaten with meat and gravy, I decided to put my own spin on them. I took a sweet approach to the traditionally savoury food by dressing the puddings up as if they were pancakes. I popped some blueberries into the hollow middles, put syrup on top and voila!
I had some leftovers the next morning, so I put a pudding into the toaster and used it as a “biscuit” for an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, which was equally as delicious.
With the plurality of cultures apparent in present-day Canada, it’s hard to imagine still being so entwined with the British lifestyle. However, many British citizens and English-Canadians of 1898, both loyal to king and country, would have had cultural similarities apparent in their daily lives. The fact that this cookbook was a new edition of the original Galt Cook Book – with 40 subsections and over 700 recipes contributed by different women – speaks to the prominence of English-Canadian culture in numbers alone. The inclusion of traditionally British recipes in the cookbook, such as Yorkshire puddings, shows the influence that English culture had on Canadians of this heritage.
The lack of directions included in the recipe could further the notion that English food was still a prominent part of their daily lives. If there were no directions for the actual baking of this recipe, it could be presumed that the women attempting it were already familiar with Yorkshire puddings and their cooking process, most likely from their own experience with the side dish.
After discussing the “Yorkshire Pudding” experiment with my Archival Practicum class, it was clear that this delicious representation of British culture is still apparent at many a family gathering and Christmas dinner. So ingrained was it in the lives of a few classmates, that they never thought of the many families, including my own, who do not view the side dish as commonplace. The production of food and family memories connected to food can blur the lines between what is seen as distinctly Canadian and what has been adopted from other cultures. In this case, the foundational position of the British in Canadian history has resulted in the interconnectedness of a shared cultural experience for many citizens.
Sophie Hicks is an undergraduate history student at Algoma University. Her academic and research interests include food, gender, and political history, as well as examining the intersection of these areas.