Cookbook by 19th-century P.E.I. author revived

·2 min read
The adapted The Practice of Cookery is published as Mrs. Degairns's Kitchen. (McGill-Queen's University Press - image credit)
The adapted The Practice of Cookery is published as Mrs. Degairns's Kitchen. (McGill-Queen's University Press - image credit)

Given the reception Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns's The Practice of Cookery received when it first appeared in 1829, culinary historian Mary F. Williamson says a revival is long overdue.

"Oh, the praise!" Williamson told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"I've summarized some of the reviews of the book that appeared in literary magazines, [which] went into ecstasies."

Williamson has adapted and republished the book through McGill-Queen's University Press.

The Practice of Cookery received particular praise for being practical. Most cookbooks published at the time were designed more to dazzle than to be used, containing recipes best suited for use in grand houses with French cooks and kitchen maids.

Fleeing to England

Dalgairns was living in Scotland when she published her book, but Williamson traced her origins to Prince Edward Island.

She was born in 1788 on what was then still St. John's Island. She married Peter Dalgairns in 1808, but they left the Island two years later.

"He was supposed to stay there in Prince Edward Island, but he got involved in the first of his bankruptcies and then he had to flee to England because he owed his brother-in-law a ton of money," said Williamson.

Easily adaptable recipes

Food editor Elizabeth Baird helped Williamson update Dalgairns's recipes for 21st century cooks.

One of the notable aspects of the practicality of the book, said Baird, is that Dalgairns will provide several different versions of recipes using different ingredients to match up with what housekeepers might have available. The baking recipes were easily adapted to today's kitchens.

The Practice of Cookery was a top seller for 30 years, says Mary F. Williamson.
The Practice of Cookery was a top seller for 30 years, says Mary F. Williamson.(McGill-Queen's University Press)

And, said Baird, it's not just about recipes. Dalgairns's personality shines throughout the book.

"What I look for in a cookbook is the cookbook that has a voice. And there's definitely Mrs. Dalgairns in this book," said Baird.

"One of the things I really love about her fish chapter is that it has so many recipes for lobster, and I think that links her to her home."

The Practice of Cookery was a top cookbook in the U.K. for 30 years. In 1861, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was published, eclipsing everything that came before it with its colour plates, Williamson said.

But there has been new interest in 19th century cookery, and Williamson believes the time for Delgairns's return has come.

More from CBC P.E.I.