Books and Literature

Treasures from the Old Book and Paper Show

Yesterday morning, bright and early, I took the streetcar halfway across town to attend the Old Book and Paper Show, hosted at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on Christie at St. Clair. The show was scheduled to open at ten, but when I walked in shortly thereafter, the hall was already buzzing with eager browsers and the booths were packed with people and an incredible range of wonderful paper-related things.

This was another first-time event for me. I’ve had a very serendipitous life discovering interesting old books and sometimes other paper treasures at book sales, yard sales, and in random boxes discarded at curbside. I’ve always maintained a large library at home, made up of books kept for research, teaching or pleasure reading, but suppose I have not really considered myself a Collector of books or paper ephemera. Although there are the 1940s issues of Chatelaine Magazine I snap up whenever they appear; and the nineteenth and twentieth century promotional cookbooks and kitchen-related pamphlets; and vintage books on animal husbandry, hunting and trapping, interior decor; and …

So maybe I have become a Collector after all.

At the Old Book and Paper show, I browsed the booths counter-clockwise, and was fortunate to arrive almost immediately at the delightfully-named The Book Not Mad, whose proprietor had laid out a very good selection of Canadiana, garden books, tame and therefore rather sweet erotica, and—catnip for me—old cookbooks and food-related promotional pamphlets. I rifled through those, and—with an eye on the clearly inadequate amount of cash I’d brought—bought three books.

The first, Better Cooking and Baking, was published by Robertshaw-Fulton Controls Canada in 1956. I had never heard of Robertshaw-Fulton before, but have learned that the company produced thermostats and other controls for electric heating elements. Many of the recipes—for apple pie, mushroom casserole, tomato soup cake (yes: it sounds awful, but midcentury cookbook enthusiast and TikTok recipe tester B. Dylan Hollis says it’s not half bad with the right frosting)—are familiar fare in mid-century cookbooks. Where Better Cooking and Baking differs, however, is in that the recipes are divided into two principal sections: Oven Cooking, and Range Top Recipes. Along the way, readers—who may be new to electric cooking—are also instructed in Correct Placement of Pans in Oven and shown schematic illustrations of stovetop sensing elements for stovetop burners. The cookbook has delightful photographs, which include lovely now-vintage oven and serving ware, and includes very helpful guides to kneading bread, shaping rolls and preparing pastry. I am guessing this cookbook was given away at trade shows and possibly also came free with the purchase of electric ranges containing Robertshaw-Fulton controls. 

My second purchase from The Book Not Mad was Tasty Meals for Every Day, issued by Canada Packers under the Maple Leaf Products banner in 1933. By 1933 the Depression was well advanced, and many of the recipes in Tasty Meals for Every Day are geared toward “economical meals.” There are, for example, plenty of recipes calling for chopped or ground meats, and many of them involve meat cooked in and with vegetables in order to stretch a dish to feed an entire family. The recipes are credited to “Margaret H. Rees, Dietician” who, according to Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 (2008: 756), worked for Canada Packers and created or compiled recipes for at least one other company cookbook. I am guessing that this promotional cookbook was given away at public events like the Canadian National Exhibition

I bought this cookbook for two reasons. First, Canada Packers operated out of the Junction-area Union Stockyards (at Keele and St. Clair) until 1983. The Stockyards—located less than a kilometre from my house, albeit on the other side of the proverbial tracks—has been developed into housing and large format retail spaces since the 1990s, although at least one slaughterhouse remains in operation, for now. The second reason I bought Tasty Meals for Every Day was because it includes handwritten recipes on the endpapers—my very favourite thing to find in an old cookbook. The recipes in my copy are an (unlabeled) chocolate cake recipe, which includes allspice and mace; ‘Chocolate Cream Filling or Blanc Mange;’ ‘Boiled Icing,’ Chocolate Frosting,’ and ‘Divinity Fudge.’ From these handwritten recipes, and from the grease marks in the cakes and pastries section of the cookbook, it seems pretty clear that the woman who received this cookbook kept it not for the meat recipes but for the desserts. 

My third find at The Book Not Mad’s booth was this intriguing, vest pocked-sized A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails. The book is undated but was produced before 1932 and possibly prior to 1926, when the company (sold to industrialist Harry C. Hatch in 1923) was renamed Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts in a merger (note: the Distillery District’s Distillery Heritage website lists the date as “circa 1928”). Toronto-based Gooderham & Worts Distillers was located in what is now known as the historic Distillery District: after production shut down in 1990, the site (named a National Historic Site in 1988) remained largely vacant until it was redeveloped into galleries, shops and condos that have maintained most of the site’s nineteenth century industrial architecture. 

I’m not quite sure what to make of this little book. Prohibition wasn’t formally repealed in Ontario until 1927, and remained in effect in the US until 1933. In Quebec, however, Prohibition lasted only until 1921, and G&W (or HWGW, as the company became known) exported enthusiastically to the province. I have seen reference to a bilingual, 1930 edition of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, which obviously would have been distributed in la Belle Province (a digitized copy can be viewed here), so I am guessing that my edition (which includes a couple of mixed drinks with French names) would also have been made available in regions to which G&W could legally have exported alcohol. At the same time, the names of many of the mixed drinks—American Beauty, Astoria Cocktail, Bronx Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail, Millionaire Cocktail, New Orleans Gin Fizz, Saratoga Cocktail, etc.—seem very American, very Jazz Age, meaning the book might have been subtly marketed to bootleggers’ American customers … or at least to Canadian drinkers who wanted to feel like they were consuming illicit beverages in a Detroit speakeasy. 

In America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops (Oxford University Press, 2011), my favourite historian, Christine Sismondo, writes of the relationship between Canadian distillers and American drinkers during Prohibition in the US, 

Prohibition was effectively a farce in Canada. The country had no equivalent to the Webb-Kenyon Act, which had prohibited the shipment of alcohol from wet to dry states. Several distillers, most notably the Seagram Company, under the control of entrepreneurial Samuel Bronfman, took immediate advantage of this legal oversight and began building a mail-order alcohol empire within Canada. When America went dry, Canadian suppliers such as Bronfman saw the potential for sales south of the border and began ramping up production, ignoring ethical concerns. As Harry Hatch, president of Hiram Walker [Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts], put it, “The Volstead Act does not prevent us from exporting at all. It prevents somebody over there from importing. There is a difference.” 

This means it was entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails could have found its way into a few American vest pockets prior to 1933. Which makes one wonder: had Jay Gatsby been carrying one, would he have survived George Wilson’s bullet? 

Fun Fact 1: A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails includes a recipe for “Flu Cocktail,” which seems very of its post-1918 Influenza Epidemic era. In case anyone wishes to try it in the Covid era, it calls for 

  • 1 dash of Jamaica Ginger
  • 1 teaspoonful of Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoonful Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1 glass of G & W “Four Roses” Rye
    Stir together and serve in same glass

Fun Fact 2: I paid $15 for my copy of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, and thought it a fair price, but see that the book is considered scarce, and the couple of copies available online are listed for over $400 CDN. Yikes. Well; I guess I’ll drink to that. If you don’t want to spend the money on a print version, you can read a digitized copy online here

From another seller’s booth I bought this 1941 copy of Emergencies in War, prepared by the Canadian Red Cross Society. The booklet was produced during the Battle of Britain (1940) and Blitz (1940-1941), during which Nazi warplanes carpet-bombed civilian as well as strategic targets in efforts to force Britain to submit to German terms (the same approach Russia has used in its targeting of civilian populations in Ukraine in 2022). Emergencies in War assumes its Canadian civilian readers may well find themselves under direct attack, and seeks to prepare them accordingly, with advice on dealing with shock, bleeding, burns and other wounds. It includes chapters on Psychology of Emergencies — noting, “fear is an implement of war” — and Air Raid Precautions.

A very relevant example from the Psychology of Emergencies chapter is the reported use of noise to terrorize civilian populations:

Fear has played a large part in the progress of the present war to date. Hitler, realizing that fear is the most powerful and deep-rooted instinct in human nature, has repeatedly, and successfully, and without conscience, made use of it to achieve his conquests. For instance, note how he has made use of loud noises to produce fear. German dive-bombers have sirens placed on their wings, and German bombs have vanes which make them scream as they descend. The masses of civilian population in Poland, Holland, Belgium and France broke into frenzy in the face of dive-bombers roaring down at 600 miles an hour, with sirens wailing, bombs screeching and machine-guns blazing, and swarmed on to the highways, effectively blocking them to fast manoeuvering of allied armaments. 

For this chapter alone, the book is excellent, and—it must be said—timely, more than eighty years later. This, incidentally, is a subject I will shortly have much more to say about over at The Space Between Us. 

My favourite finds at the Old Book and Paper Show were 1930s and 1940s issues of Canadian Home Journal, a woman’s magazine that ran from 1905 as The Home Journal (and 1910 as Canadian Home Journal) until 1958. Middlebrow Canada describes the CHJ as similar to Chatelaine Magazine, but in browsing the issues I bought yesterday, I’d say the CHJ is notably lighter weight in terms of the issues it addressed. Where Chatelaine, even in the thirties but definitely by the forties, is usually proto-feminist in orientation, and tackles social issues intelligently and pretty much head-on, the CHJ takes a softer approach, foregrounding stories and serialized novellas in which traditional themes are advanced and including (at least in my reading so far) much briefer non-fiction articles that tackle their subjects somewhat in passing. Where CHJ has it over Chatelaine, however, is in its visuals, which are wonderful. Chatelaine covers are very good, but look at these CHJ covers! I just love them. 

I hesitate to mention advertisements, because far too often ephemera resellers rip ads out of old magazines and sell them individually as tear sheets. I don’t get this at all. It seems to me that the ads lose their value when removed from their context, particularly the record the magazines, their format, design, articles and advertisements offer of the era in which they were published. Ads can be scanned, which I suppose would undercut much of their resale value. And yet—advertisements are emblematic of the mass production era, and maybe it would be better to enjoy them that way. 

Still, have a gander at this gorgeous advertisement for Congoleum Gold Seal Rugs! Isn’t it incredible? I would die—positively die! (only metaphorically, of course)—to have this kitchen! 

So endeth my day at the Old Books and Paper Show. There was so much I didn’t have a chance to enjoy, especially the numerous boxes of old photographs and postcards at various vendors’ tables. They were utterly swarmed with people and I didn’t want to push in. I was also, if I am honest, experiencing information overload. Also, the vendor from whom I bought the Canadian Home Journals had tons and tons of old magazines (including old Vogues) and catalogues (Eaton’s, Canadian Tire, etc.) I would have loved to look at longer. Maybe next time. It was a fun event, and I’ll definitely go to the next one. 

Treasures from the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair

It’s November, and the air is velvety soft. Misty evenings precede gentle mornings, each more beautiful than the one before. At night the moon rides high in the trees, and all day the leaves, unusually beautiful this fall, detach themselves, one at a time, and drift down to rustle in the gutters.

Milo tiptoeing through the tombstones

It is a fall right out of Gray’s Elegy, and every front garden—still decorated for Hallowe’en, no one quite ready to break the spell—has the quality of a country churchyard. Stones askew in the tangled grass; leaves and lichen adorning gnarled roots and twisted branches like memento mori. November is a melancholy month, bringing with it the season of perpetual twilight. And yet: the light, so low on the horizon, illuminates the undersides of things.

Yesterday I rode downtown in the exquisite air to attend the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair. I left early, because I wanted to visit some friends at the Art Gallery of Ontario; namely, the paintings and sculptures in the Thomson Collection. I’ve recently gotten an AGO membership, part of making good on a first-year-of-retirement goal of focusing on inclination and not only necessity, and it’s my intention to visit the Gallery (and not only the Thomson Collection) as often as possible.

Ken Thomson tickles his ivories

I do have a soft spot for the Thomson works, however. Ken Thomson was my first employer when, as a teen, I wrote for the Oshawa Times. And I felt another kind of affinity when, in 2004, five small ivory figures, on loan from the Thomson Collection, were stolen from the AGO. After their recovery several weeks later, Thomson clutched the ivories to his chest and told reporters he would sleep that night with the sculptures laid out in his bed. “They mean so much to me,” he said; adding, “people wouldn’t understand that perhaps unless they were collectors themselves and had a very special affinity with something that they possess that virtually became part of them.”

I am not, of course, a collector of ivories. But I have strong attachments to resonant objects, places, times and loved ones both living and dead. My grandfather’s portable Underwood typewriter, a gift years ago from my mother, which sits beside some of my father’s favourite books in a bookcase in our home library. My collection of hag stones, found mainly in gravel bars along Duffin’s Creek. And books, of course.

Recently we acquired, via curbside score, a lovely old glass-doored china cabinet that now houses my collection of antiquarian domestic manuals; guides to deportment and etiquette; books on gender and sexuality; interior design, architecture, landscape and gardening; and old cookbooks. I’ve been collecting these kinds of books since first buying a copy of Woman: Maiden, Wife, and Mother (1898) at a yard sale for a dollar in 1997—a remarkable, proto-feminist book that advocates for women’s full partnership in society even in the late Victorian era. I love what these volumes reveal about the culture and norms of their era, for good as well as ill. [I love all kinds of quirky old books, having volumes on phrenology, and patent medicine, and … oh: just all kinds of weird topics, but will write about these another time.]

Every day or so I open the doors of my new-to-me cabinet and visit my old books, breathing in their distinctive smell of cellulose and smoke (more here about the fascinating science of historic odours) tracing the gilt on their spines, and browsing their instructions, say, on invalid cookery or Accompanying a Lady to the Theatre. Each book contains a story, made up not only of the material within its covers but also of the story of the book’s history as an object. I have always been interested in marginalia, and inscriptions and bookplates, and laid-in papers, and notes scribbled in the end-papers (recipes, calculations, reviews, reminders). I am also interested in how books have traveled over time, including how they have come to the place—a book sale, and yard sale, a box of books set out at the curb—where I first encountered them. Some of my oldest books have journeyed across the ocean in steamer trunks, while others have remained in the same city, passed down through inheritance until, at some point, being discarded or sold. Each one is a treasure, and I am well aware of being only a custodian along their journey.

This has been my first year attending the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair and, after two years of bookish events being affected by pandemic-related shutdowns, it has been a particularly good fall for book, publishing and literary events. The Fair felt like a homecoming event for antiquarian book aficionados, many of whom clearly knew one another. I am not entirely sure I belonged there: I am not a large volume (nor large budget) buyer of books, and my collecting is undisciplined and sometimes haphazard. I just like books. But I did chat with The Monkey’s Paw proprietor Stephen Fowler, and was pleased to make the acquaintance of the owners of The Scribe Bookstore, a new (since 2021) antiquarian bookshop located in Toronto’s east end. I also visited with booksellers I have bought from over the years, including Attic Books (of London ON) and Contact Editions (which seems to have sold much of its stock to Karol Krysik books, operating out of the same location, but running a separate booth at the Book Fair this weekend). Two booksellers I would have loved to see were Steven Temple of Steven Temple Books, formerly of Queen Street in Toronto (now based in Welland), and the late, lovely Nelson Ball, poet and bookseller.

I bought a few treasures at the Fair, including the following:

Toronto Survival Guide (Holy Trinity Church, 1973), a remarkable—and apparently now very scarce—guide to low-budget living in seventies-era Toronto. Edited by Brian Grieveson, of Rochdale College fame (and author of the memoir Rochdale College: Myth and Reality; 1991) and publisher of Charasee Press (and introduced by none other than then-“tiny, perfect mayor” David Crombie!), the book is geared toward hippies, Draft Dodgers and folks ‘Goin’ Down the Road.’ Its practical chapters, on topics including Accommodation, Food, Legal Rights, Education, Recreation and Transportation, provide a vivid picture of the city’s counter-cultural interests in this era. The book includes medical advice for drug dealing with drug overdoses, STDs and pregnancies; information for gay Torontonians; a discussion of labour rights; a list of entertainment establishments; a guide to local bookstores that even, in the book’s fine print, fills more than a page; random insertions of Grieveson’s poetry, and illustrated instructions for making furniture out of salvaged material. It’s really a remarkable book, one I’d heard about but never seen. I’m totally hepped to add this to my library. [P.S. Apparently—according to a 1973 issue of  University of Toronto student newspaper The Varsity—the Carling-O’Keefe Brewery had planned to sponsor the book, and paid some costs, but eventually backed out on the grounds that the book’s content was aimed mainly at “transients under 30.” Holy Trinity Church covered remaining costs and absorbed the loss—perhaps one reason why the book is so scarce now.]

Canada’s Greatest Crimes (Harlequin, 1958). Written by noted Canadian pulp writer Thomas P. Kelley (of The Black Donnelleys fame), this book includes lurid accounts of crimes, the facts “a matter of record,” the descriptions reportedly “accurate in every detail.” This may (or may not) be so, but Kelley certainly went for the sensational, writing in the introduction that the chapters “present the cream of bizarre crimes” and “reveal stories of murder and of mass murder; cases of diabolical cunning and unbridled sex, so fantastic as to seem incredible.” Fitting, one supposes, given that Harlequins, like other pulps of their era, were sold in newsstands, drugstores and bus stations to travelers looking for light (and often lurid) reads. The chapter titles are evocative: “While Satan Smiled,” “The Corpse Went Wandering,” and “Wild Women and Dr. Buchanan.” I myself was not immune to Kelley’s sensationalized approach: I bought the book because one of the stories, “The Toronto Terror,” sounded too exciting to leave behind. I’ve only begun reading, but if the pathetic fallacy that forebodes so heavily in the chapter’s introduction—

On a raging fall night, over a hundred years ago, a flash of lightning split a Canadian sky and lanced downward to illuminate a small cabin in Northern Ontario, as well as the fields and thickly wooded area around it.

—is any indication, I’m up for a roller-coaster ride.

I have an enduring love for twentieth century interior design books, from the Edwardian period through to the 1950s or so (or, if I am honest, right up until the kitschiest and most hideous 1970s). How to Decorate and Light Your Home (Coward-McCann, 1955) is, as its title suggests, a double-header of a book. It is also a bit of a Trojan Horse, having been co-written by an engineer with the General Electric Company, then in the midst of the Live Better Electrically advertising campaign it ran in concert with Westinghouse. Reportedly one of the most effective mass marketing campaigns of its era, Live Better Electrically spurred homeowners to purchase and install electrical appliances in hopes of winning recognition as a Medallion Home.

Recently at a yard sale I happened to buy a copy of The Electric Cook Book (1960), presumably produced as part of the same campaign, which similarly extolls the virtues of electrical appliances. The cookbook is emblazoned with the Live Better Electrically slogan and logo and makes explicit the view that electric living is “gracious living.”

The Live Better Electrically campaign may seem ridiculous six decades after its heyday, but in 2022 homeowners are being urged to landfill natural gas powered appliances, particularly stoves, and switch to electrical heating, on the grounds that natural gas appliances contribute more carbon gases and emit noxious fumes (e.g., nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide) than their electric counterparts. Perhaps the ongoing campaign, delivered in the hectoring, moralistic language of far too much contemporary environmental activism (before the shouting begins let me say I note this with dismay as a person very deeply committed to environmental preservation, and as a person, incidentally, who line-dries all her laundry, but who cannot quite see the environmental merit in tossing her four year-old gas stove), would have more success if it took a page or two from the Living Better Electrically campaign of yore.

My final treasure from the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair was Social Dynamite; or, The Wickedness of Modern Society, an 1888 book compiled from the discourses of T. DeWitt Talmage, an American preacher, orator and supposed social reformer. Speaking of hectoring, Social Dynamite thunders at its readers against sin and social evil, with illustrations of “unfortunates” brought to ruin by licentious living. At the same time, it must be noted that the book also reads like a rather enthusiastic field guide to sin, with chapters like “Evil Companions” (this one includes the note, “No One Goes to Ruin Alone”–how comforting!), “Dark Deeds,” “The Babylonain Feast,” “High License, “Profanity, Drunkenness and The Social Evil” (I hastened to look up The Social Evil in this veritable encyclopaedia of sin, but, sadly, remain unclear whether he means drunkenness, prostitution, self-abuse, sodomy or all the above — but it seems Brooklyn was the place to go, with its streets “now night by night rivaling upper Broadway in its flambouyant wickedness.”), “Immoral Literature,” “The Theatre.” No evil is overlooked–not even Mormonism, Dancing or “Society Women.”

I love these old moralizing books, seemingly unvarying in their overuse of colourful description that must have made the sins their authors warned of seem thrillingly alluring to late Victorian readers.

Social Dynamite has already found a home in my cabinet of old books, and the other treasures will shortly be shelved with their kin.

Holding Tight and Letting Go

One of my Christmas gifts was a copy of The Faddon More Psalter: The Discovery and Conservation of a Medieval Treasure (John Gillis; National Museum of Ireland, 2021). The Faddon More Psalter is a circa 800 CE book of psalms dug out of an Irish bog in 2006. This is remarkable in itself, but more remarkable still is that the book, despite being very degraded after having spent more than a millennium in a bog, was nonetheless intact enough for its conservators to reconstruct much of its structure and portions of its text. Two important discoveries during this process were, first, that the psalter remained in its original jacket (reportedly a very rare finding for a surviving early medieval codex, as most were rebound over the centuries) and, second, that its leather jacket contained fragments of papyrus, evidence of cultural and trade linkages to the eastern Mediterranean.

Of all the fascinating analysis in Gillis’ illuminating book, the subject that interests me most is how the psalter ended up in the bog in the first place. Gillis considers the possibility that the psalter had gotten into the bog inadvertently, perhaps dropped by an errant monk or lost during flight, before determining, based on available evidence, that the book was likely deposited intentionally.

But if so, why? Why would someone deliberately bury (or sink, as seems closer to the case) a holy book in a relatively remote corner of a bog? Gillis discounts the possibility that the psalter was concealed from marauding Vikings or hidden during local conflict, given that its simple cover and humble contents made it unlikely to have been considered a material treasure — or threat. It could have been stolen and buried out of malice–but the presence of a leather satchel and calfskin pelt (used, it is inferred, to cover the psalter) at the find site suggest more tender motivations. With this in mind, Gillis posits a third option: that of a ceremonial burial or votive offering. Speculating, Gillis suggests the psalter could have been buried as a deathbed request: perhaps a monk, nearing the end of his service on Earth, asked that the psalter be buried near the place of his ministry.

However the psalter ended up in the bog (and Gillis suggests we will likely never know), its deposition seems to have reflected one of the most consequential and bifurcated kinds of choices: between holding tight and letting go. And its discovery, similarly, highlights the paradox of its deposition. Had the psalter been held onto, like the dozens of other psalters that would have been in use at monasteries then operating in the region, it almost certainly would not have survived to the present day. Conflict, migration, fire, wear, indifference, revisionism, and time itself have done away with most ancient books. To read about the lost libraries of Alexandria is to feel some tug of the tides that sweep writing and ideas away, but most books vanish quietly, without fanfare or mourning. Even books that have survived have often done so only in greatly altered form. Medieval codices were regularly reworked into new books, and the study of fragments has become an exciting subset of medieval studies. But it is exceedingly uncommon for an early medieval book to survive in its original form, thus the paradox that deposition in the bog–letting go–was the reason the Faddan More Psalter survived.

What people hold tight to and what they let go of is a subject of considerable and longstanding interest to me, and has more recently become a major focus of my research. Why do we keep the things we keep? Why do we throw so many other things away? What forces (perhaps beyond our control, as forces so often are) compel us to leave things behind, and what hold do those things–abandoned, taken, lost, destroyed–retain on our souls? What are the consequences of holding on when we should let go–or letting go when we should be holding on?

It is a strange time for our culture, one in which the holding or persistence of an object receives so much less attention than the cycle of its manufacture and marketing and its disposal or repurposing. Objects, like people, are now in seemingly constant motion–and we seem to notice them only when, suddenly, they stop. Hence, perhaps, the widespread public fascination with the saga of the Ever Given, a Japanese/Taiwanese/Panamanian/German cargo ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal in March of 2021, blocking nearly 400 container ships and holding up billions of dollars in trade–a potent metaphor, in multiple ways, of globalization, the state of the pandemic, and concerns about the contradictions of consumer capitalism.

I am very interested in what happens in moments when the movement of things pauses, and this is one of the reasons why I find the Faddan More Psalter so fascinating. Through its discovery and the process of its conservation, the book has become a kind of still life: a moment snipped out of the tapestry of time. As such, it is not only a revelation (of book history, of early medieval religious culture in Ireland, of the nature of trade and communications networks prior to 1000 CE) but also a meditation (on vanishing and persistence, of time itself, and of the consequences of keeping or letting go). The mystery at the heart of the Faddan More Psalter–what it meant to its possessor; how (and how long) it was kept; why it was deposited in the bog; what it can mean to its contemporary conservators and viewers–is the most enduring thing about it, so close to the heart and yet as ineffable as a thing can be.

Image source: National Museum of Ireland, via Brent Nongbri’s Variant Readings.

Gardens in their Seasons

This morning when I woke up, the house was cold. I went around, closing windows and doors. The sunrise was fuchsia, signalling a change in the weather, a shift in the season.

At mid-morning the air is cool and breezy. There are cardinals in the cedars, and finches at the feeders. The east-facing tips of the trees are turning colour, and the gutters are littered with leaves.

For breakfast I had wild apple sumac jelly on toast. A warm treat on a chilly morning. A good day for seasonal tasks of keeping: sorting the mittens and scarves, decorating the front porch for Thanksgiving, making a rustic apple pie. Rosh Hashanah begins tonight at sundown: Shanah tovah um’tukah to all who will celebrate.

The picture above is from an old book, Gardens in their Seasons, published in 1912 (my copy a 1919 reprint). This is a charming, gently instructional book, written for young readers and wonderfully illustrated. I bought my copy at The Monkey’s Paw moving sale in the spring, and have kept it on my desk ever since, consulting it nearly as regularly as one would a book of days.

Of fall, the book notes, “Autumn has come; it is the time of ripening. [….] The hush and the stillness of late summer has been broken.” During this season, the book explains, the trees and flowering plants expend the last of their energy generating seeds to be spread by passing creatures or the wind. Readers are invited to “gather the prettiest and the best of the coloured leaves of the autumn,” to press into biscuit tins between layers of sand to dry and preserve their rich colours.

There is melancholy in the air, when soft days give way to chilly nights and the moon rises silently above the trees, overseeing this time of gathering in, this season of contemplation.

Reading: The Women’s Patriotic League Cookery Book, 1918

Years ago for a dollar at a yard sale, I bought this well worn copy of The Women’s Patriotic League Cookery Book, published in Brockville (Ontario, Canada) in 1918.

1918 was the final year of the First World War and the cookbook, according to its publishing note, was produced “for the benefit of Red Cross Work.”

During the First World War, Women’s Patriotic Leagues sprung up in cities and towns across the British Empire; in Ontario, there was also a Six Nations Women’s Patriotic League, funded by the Grand River Territory in support of the allied war effort. Women’s Patriotic League activities focused on direct and indirect war efforts ranging from knitting socks for soldiers, fundraising for Red Cross activities, educating housewives about food conservation, supporting families whose loved ones were fighting overseas, and maintaining morale in war-wearied regions.

My cookbook, which sold for $1 in 1918, is filled with “tried and true” recipes standard for the era. But it also has features that make it unique.

First, my copy includes numerous handwritten recipes, most in pencil but a few in black or blue ink. This is a cookbook collector’s dream: to find a handwritten record indicating how the book was used, and when, and by whom. My book has no owner’s name, unfortunately, but the names of many of the women who supplied the recipes written in by hand are included; e.g., “Mrs. garland’s [sic] drop cookies,” “Edie De Wolfe” (“A good Molasses Cake”), “Blanche’s ice box rolls,””Lemon pudding – Stella’s,” “Mrs. C. C. Cooke” (“Xmas Cake”), “Mrs. Jas Davidsons” (“Cake,”) “Aunt Cecha’s [??] Cookies,” “Marie McWilliams” (“Tomato Sandwich Filling”), etc.. Researching these names would almost certainly help indicate how they were connected, likely through a church or other community network in the Brockville or Leeds County region of Ontario.

The handwritten recipes, which list specific oven temperatures suited to the use of an electric range with thermostat (there are also two handwritten “icebox cookie” recipes), also indicate that this book was likely updated by hand for at least two or three decades, even as technological changes may have made some of the 1918 instructions (e.g., “bake in a moderate oven”) seem dated.

Nearly all the handwritten recipes are for desserts or pickles, and as a result it seems hardly surprising that the printed pages with bread, cake and pickle recipes are the ones that appear most used, at least judged by spills and annotations. A few of the printed recipes in other sections have checks beside them, indicating they had been tried and approved, and others have handwritten annotations and substitutions. But for the most part this cookbook reads like a compendium of community events and social gatherings at which fancy cakes–and their recipes–would have been shared.

A second feature of this cookbook that stands out is the section of War recipes, mainly involving substitutions for white flour and refined sugar. The section is prefaced by the following rhyme–

“If you would be healthy, wealthy and wise,
Eat less meat, waste less wheat,
Cut down on sugar and pies.”

–intended, presumably, to bring food conservation beyond the immediate imperatives of supporting the war effort and into the broader domain of frugality and physical health.

There is a lengthy introductory text in the War Recipes section summarizing some important procedural differences between bread made with white flour and baked items made with whole wheat, rye, oat, barley and rice flour or meal, or with potato (mashed or in starch form). It is an intriguing read a century later, at a time when alternative flours are appreciated for their nutrient advantages and lower glycemic index numbers. Indeed, the 1918 recipe for Sweet Potato Muffins (flour, baking powder, salt, mashed sweet potatoes, milk, water, egg) reads like a pared-down version of this contemporary recipe produced by the Canadian Living Test Kitchen in 2009!

The War Recipes section also includes a recipe for Canadian War Cake, which appears to be a simplified fruit cake:

Canadian War Cake

One cup brown sugar, 1 cup water, 1 1/2 cups seeded raisins, 2 tablespoonfuls lard, 1 teaspoonful cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoonful cloves, 1/2 teaspoonful salt.

Boil together for five minutes and cool. When cold stir in 1 teaspoonful soda dissolved in a little warm water. Add two cups flour sifted with 1/2 teaspoonful baking powder.

Baking instructions are not indicated, but I am guessing this is a cake that would be baked in a “moderate oven” for 25 minutes, in keeping with the other recipes.

In all the years I’ve owned this cookbook, I have never yet baked from it. But a surprising number of the recipes seem strikingly current, and when there is time during the summer, I plan to test out a few, such as this one:

Fried Egg Plant

Cut a nice egg plant in thin slices, lay in salt water two or three hours, then steam until tender. Make a better of 2 eggs, 1 teacupful sour cream, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1/2 teaspoonful soda and flour to thicken. Dip the slices of egg plant into the batter, fry till a light brown in boiling lard. Serve hot.

I might even, I suppose, give Canadian War Cake a chance.

The Women’s patriotic League Cookery Book is reportedly a hard-to-find book in print, but for those interested, the complete text is available online here, thanks to Archive dot org and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

[Text and images not to be reused without permission and attribution.]