History society cooks up pioneer fare

The people attending a recent meeting of the East York Historical Society were taken on a culinary adventure back to pioneer days.

Dorothy Duncan, the society’s former executive director, came to the meeting at the East York Civic Centre to talk about the history of pioneer foods and cooking.

The event focused on treats Duncan brought in for guests to sample. One of the most popular pioneer recipes that Duncan featured was a cookie with a somewhat cumbersome name: “the nice cookies that will keep good three months.” Duncan explained that this treat required only five ingredients.

“These would be the kind of ingredients that all housewives would have, no matter how rich or how poor the family was,” Duncan said. The five ingredients are brown sugar, butter, caraway seeds, flour and water.

“In a household where it was difficult to keep food around for more than a few days without spoiling, these cookies were the perfect treat because they lasted a very long time,” Duncan said.

Some other featured treats Duncan brought were sugarplums, shortbread cookies and ginger wafers. All of them require few ingredients.

“I really enjoyed the old cookie recipes,” said Kay Horiszny, an East York resident who was at the event.  “I enjoyed the sugarplums most.”

Many of the guests tried sugarplums for the first time and shared a memory of a past special food of their own – like Martin Rainbow, the historical society’s president, who recounted a recipe from his childhood.

“When I was a child, we used to have brown sugar sandwiches with butter,” Rainbow said. A few other guests remembered the those sandwiches too.

Duncan also featured her two books at this event. The first of these, published in 2003 and called Nothing More Comforting: Canada’s Heritage Food, is about pioneer recipes and the history behind them. Each chapter deals with a different Canadian ingredient such as maple syrup.

Canadians At Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore – A Culinary History of Canada is her second, describing the history of pioneers and their survival techniques. This book won a Golden Cuisine Canada Culinary Book Award from the University of Guelph.