“Frolics with Food”

A lecture by Mary Williamson and Fiona Lucas, 27 September 2007

Report by Lori Jamieson

Lori was a lapsed member of CHC who is now back in the fold.

Her identity remains a mystery, but the author of The Frugal Housewife’s Manual, published in Toronto in 1840, could certainly cook. With a Martha Stewart-esque interest in all of the ingredients, techniques and food presentation, her slim volume of 72 recipes and 28 entries of gardening advice was a bit different than some other British and American books available at the same time.

Known only as “A.B. of Grimsby,” the author of English Canada’s first home-grown cookbook captured the culinary landscape of the Niagara region of Ontario in the 1830s. Through her writing, we know something of the variety of ingredients that were available in the kitchen of an established farm: cinnamon and nutmeg, brandy and wine, poultry and other domestically raised meats, lemons, orchard fruits, cane molasses, and maple molasses. The recipes for jams, pickles, and catsups show us that life was not all a bland potato hash. They also sketch out the available equipment: jelly molds and pickle crocks, nutmeg graters and apple corers, weigh scales and a mortar and pestle.

CHC members gathered round two of the hearths at Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke on September 27 to learn about A.B. and to put some of her recipes to the test. Fricassee Pie was a meat and potato pie seasoned with broth and baked in a pastry crust that was served with boiled turnips and two tomato catsups, one smooth and one chunky. A Bird’s Nest Pudding of apples in custard was baked in the bake kettle. Liz Driver and several Volunteer Historic Cooks from the Inn supervised the preparation of the recipes and offered pointers on cooking in the open hearth. Also on the menu were A.B.’s caraway-flavoured shortbread cookies called Shrewsbury Cakes, and a Black Cake with currants, that were brought by Fiona Lucas and Mya Sangster.

While the foods were cooking and baking on the hearths, Mary Williamson and Fiona Lucas presented an illustrated talk on A.B.’s world, her publisher, her contemporaries in culinary writing, and her role in bringing a Canadian flavour to cookbook writing. They also explored the gardening section of A.B’s book, noting that she had borrowed from an 1835 manual originating in the Shaker community of Mount Lebanon that was sold with their seed packets. Mary and Fiona are collaborating on research about The Frugal Housewife Manual, with more work planned.

The tasting session, always the apex of a CHC meeting, did not disappoint. The meal was served in style in the dining area of historic Montgomery’s Inn, replete with tea and cider.

Although Mary and Fiona do not know how many were printed, only two original copies of The Frugal Housewife’s Manual survive: one at McMaster Library and the other at the Toronto Reference Library.

CHC Home

About CHC

Contact us


Upcoming events

Past events


Resources and links

Culinary queries