Am celebrating the 143rd birthday of our grand beau pays with my favourite things: words and food. Specifically—words about food.
As far as I’m aware (not that I’ve done an extensive survey) I’m the only person I know who has a copy of The CanLit Foodbook—which, a few years ago, sprang into my arms from the ceiling high stacks at one of my favourite secondhand shops.
Why it’s taken me this long to crack it open, I haven’t a clue.
Assembled in the late 80’s by Margaret Atwood for P.E.N. International and The Writers’ Development Trust, it’s a collection of real and twisted recipes, essays, studies, poetry, fiction, thoughts and observations about food and eating and cooking, as well as reading and writing—about food and eating and cooking—from over a hundred Canadian writers. Or, as Atwood describes it: part cookbook, part “…literary symposium on the subject of food.”
The 200 or so pages are divided into sections [with illustrations by Atwood] such as: ‘Preprandial Prologue: Food as Metaphor’; ‘Cracked Dawns: Breakfast for Barbarians’; ‘Teatime; Strange Innuendoes Over the Cups’; ‘Eating People is Wrong: Cannibalism Canadian Style’; ‘Shindigs: Cocktail Parties, Weddings, Christmases, Funerals and Other Social Disasters’.
Each contribution receives its own brief preamble [again, by Atwood], such as ‘Graeme Gibson’s Right Way with Oatmeal’, about which she says:
Graeme Gibson learned to cook this in Scotland, and does indeed eat it while striding about the room.
Or her introduction to Salutin’s instructions on making toast and tea:
Playwright and journalist Rick Salutin used to have a phobia about cooking, until he mastered this recipe. After that, he went on to other culinary triumphs, such as Heating up Frozen Coffee Cake.
Margaret Laurence makes cauliflower soup, Timothy Findley serves fresh peaches and explains how to cream rodents, while Michael Ondaatje jellies them and Erica Ritter offers an essay on food and dating. There are foodish excerpts from known and not so known novels, precise directions for making Pierre Berton’s version of the perfect black Christmas turkey as well as corned beef hash; Catherine Parr Traill describes the means by which fish are caught and Alice Munro shares her recipe for Maple Mousse.
There is this from Paulette Jiles:
My aunts washed dishes while the uncles
squirted each other on the lawn with
garden hoses. Why are we in here,
I said, and they are out there.
That’s the way it is,
said Aunt Hetty, the shrivelled-up one.
I have the rages that small animals have,
Being small, being animal.
Written on me was a message,
‘At Your Service’ like a book of
paper matches. One by one we were
taken out and struck.
We come bearing supper,
our heads on fire.
And that’s just for starters.
Speaking of which, I’m going to begin the reading today with a piece by Mavis Gallant who writes about a meal with one of my favourite painters. And the cooking will begin with Rudy Wiebe’s ‘Warm Potato Salad’…
A happy ‘grand beau pays’day to one and all.
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