Former longtime York bibliographer explores culinary history in new book

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Mary F. Williamson
Mary F. Williamson

A new book by Mary F. Williamson, culinary historian and former longtime bibliographer in the York University Libraries, explores 19th century cuisine that marries elements of Acadian, Indian, Mi’kmaq and Scottish cooking and offers readers a taste of the past, along with exciting recipes newly adapted for the modern kitchen.

The book, Mrs. Dalgairns’s Kitchen: Rediscovering “The Practice of Cookery, will be released on March 15 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Williamson, who was with York from 1970 for 25 years as a fine arts bibliographer in the York University Libraries, retired in 1995, and has since been the author, editor or co-editor of several books.

In this book, Williamson offers an enticing history of the seminal cookbook The Practice of Cookery and provides a practical guide for readers and cooks with an intimate look at the tastes and smells of an early 19th century kitchen.

When The Practice of Cookery first appeared in Edinburgh and London editions in 1829, reviewers hailed it as one of the best cookbooks available. The book was unique not only in being wholly original, but also for its broad culinary influences, incorporating recipes from British North America, the United States, England, Scotland, France and India.
Mrs Dalgairns Kitchen coverCatherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns was born in 1788. Though her contemporaries understood her to be a Scottish author, she lived her first 22 years in Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown was home for much longer than the 12 years she spent in London or her mere six years’ residency in Dundee, Scotland, by the time of the cookbook’s first appearance. In Mrs. Dalgairns’s Kitchen, Williamson reclaims Dalgairns and her book’s Canadian roots.

During Dalgairns’s youth, the popular cookbook author would have had experience of Acadian, Mi’kmaq and Scottish Highlands foods and ways of cooking. Her mother had come from Boston, inspiring the cookbook’s several American recipes; Dalgairns’s brothers-in-law lived in India, reflected in the chapter devoted to curry recipes. Williamson consults the publisher’s surviving archives to offer insights into the world of early 19th-century publishing, while Elizabeth Baird updates Dalgairns’s recipes for the modern kitchen.

More information on the book can be found here.