- Denise Roig (Author)
Butter Cream: A Year in a Montreal Pastry School. Signature Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Elizabeth Driver (Editor)
Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Nathalie Cooke
While these two books could not be more different in size and scope, they are both culinary memoirs of a kind that address a growing fascination with Canadian foodways and what they reveal about who we are.
Neither one of these is a cookbook, although recipes do punctuate both. Elizabeth Driver, for example, offers recipes by way of introducing each province's foodways: "Cod Tongues in Cream Sauce" for Newfoundland; "Bloaters on Toast" for Nova Scotia. Denise Roig's chapters detail her struggles to perfect a particular dish or ingredient, often concluding with the recipe itself: Alfred's French Meringues, for example, Génoise, Ganache, and Italian Meringue Butter Cream.
Roig's Butter Cream is the memoir of one year spent completing the French pastry program at Montreal's Pearson School of the Culinary Arts. The year unfolds in 251 pages of breathless present tense. Readers accompany Roig to the pastry classroom or "lab" by day and to her kitchen for the late nights of baking homework, vicariously taste blissful mouthfuls of cream, and witness the endless race to fit everything in when one is mother, wife, writer, and student. The narrative voice is unabashedly autobiographical: the "I" narrator has authored the same collections of short stories as Roig herself. Classmates and teachers appear under their own names in the book and the acknowledgements. I was struck by her candour-confessions of exam jitters, of being the oldest student in a class of youngsters, even of earlier bouts with an eating disorder. Rather than being a confession, it is a memoir. But while memoirs are typically written by famous people who move in circles of equally famous and therefore interesting people, Butter Cream is a memoir of interesting people, told by someone who simultaneously signals and diminishes her expertise-perhaps uneasy with the genre's need to engage readers through the celebrity of its author? While Roig points to the extraordinary tenacity and talent of Montreal chefs-those at Pearson, in their own bakeries or Montreal's top restaurants and hotels-the climactic moments of the book have to do with triumphs in the classroom, gestures of friendship, and the emerging dynamic of a group that starts the academic year as a heterogeneous bunch and becomes, through dint of trial, error, and bomb scare, a team.
If Butter Cream is a memoir of a year in the life of a student and her classmates, Culinary Landmarks, like a memoir, chronicles the way Canadian cookbooks can best be understood in the context of their time and place, and the company they keep.
Elizabeth Driver's Culinary Landmarks chronicles 125 years of Canadian cookbooks in its 1257 pages, tipping the scale at about ten pounds (five pounds more than the maximum weight for my kitchen scale). Driver began the project in 1990, a year after she published her A Bibliography of Cookbooks Published in Britain, 1875-1914, and travelled across the country to libraries, museums, and the homes of private collectors, turning up information on 2,276 Canadian cookbooks. It is the first and only comprehensive bibliography of Canadian cookbooks. Its thoughtful introduction, extensive acknowledgements detailing librarians, collectors and scholars, detailed citation information and annotative notes are a treasure chest. Driver's organizational scheme, where cookbooks are catalogued first by the province and next by date of their publication, establishes a framework on which subsequent discussions of Canadian cookbooks will be built. Section introductions situate culinary history within the context of confederation and cultural history, even in the case of a province or territory boasting few cookbooks, like the Yukon Territory's one cookbook, or the Northwest Territories' two. What was the first cookbook published in English? 1831, The Cook Not Mad, or O.1: O (for Ontario) and 1 (for the first cookbook published in Ontario). What were the first locally authored cookbooks in French and English? 1840, La cuisinière canadienne, henceforth to be known as Q3.1; and also 1840, The Frugal Housewife's Manual or 02.1. The organizational scheme allows and invites readers to easily identify new additions to the corpus. Ironically, the more successful this bibliography is in prompting such responses, the more quickly it will become outdated. University of Toronto Press would do well to ask Driver to issue annual s, and to release the book on a CD to facilitate easy searching, not to mention portability. Culinary Landmarks is itself a landmark in bibliographical scholarship and an invaluable research tool for those working in the area of food studies broadly, and Canadian women's, culinary, and social history more specifically.
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MLA: Cooke, Nathalie. Culinary Memoirs. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #201 (Summer 2009), Disappearance and Mobility. (pg. 184 - 185)
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