Making & Shaping Canada's Culinary History - The 19th Century

Like most history, the history of food in Canada is precarious. A muddled mix of the immigrants that came before us, and the commercialization of recipes from our neighbours to the south.

Our history starts on a micro, local level. Canada’s culinary history started in the recipe books of homemakers. Scribbled, hand-written, and passed down through family, you can find the first recipe books in arithmetic and account notebooks across Canadian kitchens in the early 19th century. Collecting recipes became a source of pride for homemakers and they began sharing their collections among their inner circle, which now included liner notes,  dinner party menus, and seating arrangements for special occasions.

In 1877 The Ladies of Toronto, in collaboration with Chief Cities and Towns in Canada, released The Home Cook Book. Credited as one of Canada’s most popular early cookbooks, it reflected the times, it was handwritten and included the personalization of homemakers collections with the addition of blank pages at the end or between sections.

It wouldn’t be until 1896 that cookbooks started resembling modern recipes with a list of ingredients and detailed preparation instructions. Cookbooks like The Canadian Farmer’s Almanac and General Memorandum Book (1825), The Frugal Housewife’s Manual (1840), La cuisinière canadienne (1840), and The Female Emigrant’s Guide and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping (1854) became household items.

Due the lack of the copyright laws the most of these community cookbooks were compiled from American cookbooks. The Home Cook Book was found to be plagiarized from The Home Cook Book of Chicago. Save for one curious entry: Toronto Pie (which is actually a cake).

Only the Ladies of Toronto know the truth, but I thought I’d give it try, and thanks to the the curators of The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at UofT exhibit Mixed Messages Make and Shaping Culinary Culture in Canada, I can.

Toronto Pie

Mrs D.


1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ cups flour

1 tsp Cook’s Friend baking powder

Jam to taste

Added by Liz Ridolfo (curator at Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 lemon, zest


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F

  2. Mix all the ingredients, except the jam, by hand.Pour batter evenly into an 8 inch pan for 20 minutes.

  3. Check after 20 minutes and then every 5 minutes after that.When a toothpick comes out clean then it’s done.

  4. Wait for it to cool, then spread jam on top.

*Liz also recommended sweet whipped cream or custard along size the jam.

The exhibit runs until August 17. 


©2019 by BUONO Magazine.