Do you have a food-history question? Pose it to the members of the Culinary
Historians of Ontario and see what information arises! Questions should
be emailed to:
We will post the answers on the web site.
Here are some of the queries that we've tackled over the years. Please note that the answers are not necessarily
definitive and that some of the most interesting questions often lead
to on-going discussions in the pages of our newsletter.
World War II rationing
You list a recipe [in the Newsletter index] for “Citron.” We wonder if it is a recipe for a green melon-sized squash which old friends call “Citron.” Can you tell us something about this hard flesh “Citron” squash (pictures attached) with which our friends make candied squash in a heavy sugar syrup?
(Query sent to CHC email address, September 2005)
The recipe in the newsletter is called “Citron Preserves,” and comes from an 1898 edition of The New Galt Cook Book, compiled by Margaret Taylor and Frances McNaught of Galt, Ontario. The citron in question is the citron melon, which is a variety of watermelon. The citron melon is inedible raw, but is excellent for candying, and very pretty if the flesh and rind are cut into fancy shapes before being preserved, as the Galt recipe suggests.
The name citron makes us think of citrus fruit, and it most likely acquired the name because it is treated and used in a very similar manner to a citrus fruit of that name that is native to the Middle East and Mediterranean. As that fruit produces little juice but has a very aromatic rind, the rind is traditionally candied, and in England and North America was and is frequently used in fruit cake and similar baked goods, or as a decoration on desserts such as trifle.
Probably the earliest recipe for candying the citron melon is in the first cookbook compiled in the United States, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796. The recipe is titled “The American Citron,” suggesting that the recipe’s origins were North American; however, this kind of attribution is not necessarily reliable. Watermelons are believed to have originated in Africa. This recipe calls for “the whole of a large watermellon [sic]” to be cut into pieces and simmered in a strong sugar syrup for several hours. Interestingly, a cookbook that is sometimes claimed to be the first Canadian cookbook, The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery (Kingston, 1831), has a recipe for “American Citron” that is obviously adapted from American Cookery. The Kingston Cook Not Mad was in fact an edition of a work from Watertown, New York, which borrowed extensively from Amelia Simmons’s work, sometimes repeating the recipes word-for-word, at other times making small, or even significant changes. In the case of this recipe, the adaptation differs from the original in several ways, which suggests that the author/adaptor probably was not familiar with the citron melon and therefore did not understand the context for the recipe. The Cook Not Mad recipe only calls for the rind of the watermelon to be candied, and uses a weaker syrup.
The melon in your photograph does indeed appear to be a citron melon, and your friends are following centuries of tradition by candying it.
What's the meaning of "sace" in this quote from Authentic
Letters from Upper Canada (Toronto: MacMillan of Canada, 1953, p.
Dec. 1832, settler Thomas Radcliffe, Upper Canada, to father Thomas
Radcliffe, Dublin: "The Canadians call potatoes, vegetables, pickles
and preserves, by the indiscriminate appellation of sace, and think
themselves badly off if they have not sace in all its varieties, at
(Newsletter, Winter 1995, No. 3)
Another letter in the same book provides a near answer. With amazement
at the language and attitudes of their new "Yankeeish" servant,
cook Bridget Lacy wrote to Mary Thompson in Ireland (Dec. 1832): "Sace
is everything you could name - potatees [sic], vegables [sic],
butter, pickles and sweetmeats - they're all called sace - only mustard,
pepper and vinegar is not", and, it is "everything in the
world, but meat..." (p. 135)
According to The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historic Principles
(1967), dialectical variants of the word "sauce" include sarce
and sass. Sace seems to be another pronunciation, as understood by these
two Irish immigrants to Upper Canada. Sandra Oliver in Food History
News (Summer 1989, p. 5) says that various cooked fruits and vegetables
can be called "sauce" when referring to 18th- and 19th-century
American foods. But "mustard, pepper and vinegar is not" because
they're not cooked. Apparently New England settlers brought this broad
and generic meaning to Upper Canada with them.
Recent English immigrant Susannah Moodie had a similar question, as
she reported in Roughing it in the Bush (1852): "Sarce!
What is sarce?" Her incorrigible neighbour Betty Fye proceeded
to explain how to make apple sarce.
What is Muscovado sugar?
(Newsletter, Autumn 1995, No. 6)
Muscovado is crude, raw sugar. It is "the raw material from which
the British sugar-bakers chiefly made their loaf, or refined lump"
sugar (Chambers Encyclopedia, 1778-83). First the juice is extracted
from the cane, purified, evaporated to a syrup, then crystallized. "[N]ext
[it is] conveyed to the curing house, where the treacle is completely
drained; in which dry state [it] is called raw, or muscovado, sugar:
thus it is sent to Europe, where it is subsequently refined." (Domestic
The earliest shipments of muscovado arrived in Upper Canada during the
1790s via England. As refined sugar decreased in price, low grade sugars
like muscovado were less in demand. For example, in its exhaustive sugar
essay, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica mentions it not at all.
Muscovado was sticky and dark brown as some residual molasses clung
to the sugar crystals. It was packed into barrels because it was too
moist to maintain a cone (loaf) shape. Gravity often pulled the remaining
molasses to the barrel bottom, so the lowest layer swam in molasses
"Muscovado" derives from the Spanish word "mascabado"
which means unrefined and low quality.
What is orgeat?
(Newsletter, Spring 1996, No. 8, and next issue)
Orgeat (or-jee-at) was a sugared milk beverage with pulverized almonds
or originally barley. Brandy was frequently added. The English word
derives from the old French, specifically Provençal, for barley:
"orjat". Like noyau and punch, it was a "party drink",
in fact, "A necessary Refreshment at all Parties," wrote Mary
Randolph in The Virginia Housewife (1826).
What foods were rationed in World War II, and why?
Rationing didn’t begin until the war was well under way, and as the war progressed the amounts of rationed food that were allowed went down and up. The main problem for housewives was shortages of foods of all kinds, and many women – at least in the cities – welcomed even more rationing because it ensured that vital foods were at least available in small quantities. Rationing stopped food hoarding - there were stories of families and bakeries stockpiling butter in their cellars so that there was none available in the stores. Price controls kept prices down, but didn’t ensure availability.
Another big problem as far as imported foods were concerned, such as vegetables, and oranges and other fresh fruits, was that access to U.S. currency was severely restricted. Canned foods became very scarce as much of what was available was being sent to the troops. Sugar rationing – the first food to be rationed – began on Jan. 26, 1942, with 3/4 lb. per week per person. The amount was reduced in April to 1/2 lb., and at the same time tea and coffee rationing began. This was "voluntary rationing"; the books of ration stamps were introduced in June of 1942. But already meat was hard to find. A 20% tax was levied on sweets, and voluntary rationing was extended to bacon, pork and cheese. By August tea and coffee were on the formal ration list: a mere 1 oz. per week per person! Butter rationing began in late December, with an allowance of 1/2 lb. per week per person. Meat was put on the ration list in May of 1943 at 2 lb. per person. Consumers were complaining that little could be found in the shops; most pork was being sent overseas. During the summer of 1943 the prices of local fruits rocketed, but more sugar was permitted to housewives for preserving and bottling. In September, store-bought jams and jellies were rationed. Food shortages of all kinds persisted through 1943. It certainly made it difficult to plan a traditional Christmas dinner. Unless you were prepared to canvas every store in your wider neighbourhood, many of the basics were unobtainable.
Note: The above "Answer" is a brief summary about rationing, by Mary F. Williamson, extracted from letters written by her mother during the Second World War.
For the centennial of our newsletter (www.calhort.org), I'm investigating whether the recipes I have for Tomato Jam were originated during the war, due to lack of real fruits to make jam. Do you have any information on this? I've heard people say that gardeners could grow tomatoes themselves, so used them instead of the scarce fruits. By the way, the jam is lovely! One of them tastes like spiced plum jam, the other has ginger/lemon.
(From the Calgary Horticultural Society, 2007, question/answer reprinted in Culinary Chronicles, Winter 2008, No. 55)
(By Liz Driver, Past President, and author of Culinary Landmarks, 2008)
I hadn't heard the war-time idea about Tomato Jam until your email, so I went to check my bookshelf to see whether recipes for Tomato Jam appear before the war.
In The Galt Cook Book, Toronto, 1892, there is a recipe for Tomato Preserve in the Fruit chapter, between Pumpkin Preserve and Blackberry Jam. It has the following ingredients:
7 lbs tomatoes, 1 quart vinegar, and 4 pounds sugar, which are "put together for five days," then boiled until tomatoes "are done;" the tomatoes are then skimmed out and the juice boiled down to half the quantity, with 1 ounce cinnamon and 1 ounce allspice.
In Tried and Tested Recipes, by the Ladies' Aid Society of Talbot Street Baptist Church, London, Ontario, 1912, I found two recipes for tomato preserves:
"Twelve large tomatoes, six lemons, three-quarters pound sugar to pound of tomato. Peel and cut tomatoes fine. Put lemons through grinder or cut very fine (I grated mine, it is nicer.) Boil all gently until it begins to go to the bottom, which will be about two hours." -- Mrs. Fred. Brown
This is whole tomatoes, preserved in a sugar syrup, flavoured with ginger root and two lemons.
I subsequently noticed that Catharine Parr Traill in The Female Emigrant's Guide, Toronto, 1854–55, has a tomato preserve recipe, in addition to a reference to dried tomatoes.
"To three pounds of fresh ripe tomatoes, add the juice, and finely cut peeling of two lemons; boil together with some sliced ginger for one hour, then add 4 lbs. of lump sugar, and boil half an hour longer. This looks like a fine West India preserve."
Although there were Tomato "jam recipes before World War I, it may be true that the preserve gained popularity during the war because of a shortage of tree fruit.