‘PRESERVING A HUSBAND’
Be careful in your selection; do not choose too young and take only such as have been raised in good moral atmosphere. (Some insist on keeping them in a pickle while others keep them in hot water – bear in mind this makes them sour, hard and usually bitter.)
Even poor varieties may be made sweet and good by garnishing them with patience and flavor with kisses to taste; then wrap them in a mantle of charity – keep warm with a steady fire of domestic devotion and serve with peaches and cream. When thus prepared they will keep for years.
– From Personal Recipes: Cloverdale, B.C., compiled by the Evening Women’s Association of Cloverdale United Church
More than 50 years ago, a local church group published a book of recipes dedicated to the modern home, and, by extension, the modern homemaker.
Personal Recipes: Cloverdale B.C., was compiled by the Evening Women’s Association of Cloverdale United Church. It was part fundraiser and part outreach – a lifeline in the kitchen when so many meals were prepared at home. Trusted recipes were passed down, new ones eagerly swapped and shared.
“Of course, nowadays, they just go to Google,” quips former executive member and past treasurer Barbara Atchison, one of the project sponsors at the helm, and who still lives in Cloverdale, where she remains an active member of the church.
“We needed to earn some money, and we thought that might be a good way to do it,” says Atchison.
Despite the inclusion of a decidedly tongue-in-cheek husband preservation recipe, the book offered practical advice on home meal preparation, covering everything from cooking terms and roasting times to appetizers, meals and desserts.
“In our Home Today, as always, life is centred around our Kitchens,” reads the introduction of the book, conveniently spiral-bound to lie flat on the kitchen counter top, within easy reading range of the cook.
“It is with this thought in mind that we, the Sponsors, have compiled these recipes. Some of them are treasured old family recipes. Some are brand new, but every single one reflects the love of good cooking that is so very strong in this country of ours.”
In the late 1950s, Cloverdale was hardly a remote outpost far from modern conveniences like a well-stocked grocery store, Atchison says.
But many of the labour and time-saving shortcuts we now rely on, from frozen dinners to microwaves, had yet to percolate into the average suburban kitchen.
“There just wasn’t the selection of prepared foods in the grocery aisle to buy,” she says.
Home economists advised planning the week’s meals in advance, and to shop accordingly. Most items on the family dinner menu were homemade.
Now in her 80s, Atchison, who has MS, doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen anymore. And her Bethshan Gardens apartment isn’t equipped with a stove. But her copy of Personal Recipes remains close at hand. It’s kept in a large Ziplock baggie to keep the pages together – the plastic coil spine broke to pieces long ago.
As with any cook book that stands the test of time, the pages are curled and favourite recipes are smeared with grease and stains.
She’s proud to have helped create something that lived on in the kitchens of Cloverdale for decades.
“Yes,” she admits with a laugh. “People keep those sort of things.”
The Evening Women’s Association was an auxiliary of the church.
There was a daytime W.A., too, led by Gladys Stewart, whose pastry recipe is still used by church members to bake the hundreds of blueberry and apple pies that are sold to the community each year and remain an important fundraising tool for church projects.
“In most cases we either had young children or we were working, and of course, couldn’t go in the daytime, so we went to the evening group,” says Atchison, who kept her job at the Royal Bank even after getting married, making her the first woman in Cloverdale to do so.
“I was told that I was the first woman in Cloverdale that continued to work after I was married. I’ve been told that,” she says, eyes widening. “At that time, they’d think, ‘Oh, a married woman, she won’t be dependable. When, in fact, they’re more dependable.'”
Members of the afternoon group were “great caterers” who were in demand when the Cloverdale Cooperative Association met at Shannon Hall.
“Those were the days when you could bring food to a place. Now we wouldn’t be allowed,” she says, referring to today’s Food Safe rules.
The Evening Women’s Association realized a Cloverdale United Church cook book would be a solid seller.
It turned out to be a lot of work sorting through all the recipes. “I think they were all handwritten. I don’t think anybody even had a typewriter then.”
There were recipes for preserves, relishes, appetizers, casseroles, cakes, breads, meat, fish and poultry. They have fun names like Lazy Housewife Pickles, Never Fail Fudge and Tomato Soup Cake.
The instructions on How to Cook Pheasant begin with a parenthetical aside: “How to use what your husband brings home from a hunting trip.”
Atchison, who would later run a sporting goods store with her husband, provided several recipes of her own, including Nine Day Sweet Pickles, which takes a full nine days to prepare.
She marvels at the time that once went into home cooking and preserving and can’t imagine anyone putting in that much effort today.
“No, we want instant gratification.”
The book also includes recipes for pies, pastries and cakes – lots of cakes, a reflection of a different era’s tastes and habits.
“I think we’re a lot more health conscious (now). We don’t bake a cake and eat it all in two days.”
The submissions were mailed off to North American Press in Kansas City, MI, which organized and typeset the book. When the books arrived months later there was an error. “Somebody left something out!” The corrected page was added to each copy by hand before the books could be sold to friends and church mates.
A copy has since found its way to the Surrey Archives, where staff think the book was published in the early 1960s, but Atchison disagrees; she says the two women’s associations were amalgamated in 1962, therefore, “It had to be [published] in the late 50s.”
Contributors’ names were included with their recipe – though it’s interesting to note married women were identified with the honorific, “Mrs.,” while single women are credited with just their given and last names.
Atchison muses not as many younger women are joining the women’s church group as once did.
“They’re all working in far more higher intensity jobs, with more responsibility. And their families keep them running to sports somewhere.”
These days, Cloverdale United Church remains focused on community, with a strong emphasis on baking delicious, homemade fruit pies that are made in large groups, necessitating baking bees where dozens of pies are made in batches.
Atchison remains involved, purchasing ingredients and watching for bargains on fruit, but she misses the action in the kitchen.
“[It’s] the fellowship of doing anything with your hands where your mouth can just go!”
She fondly recalls the day there were at least 23 people in the kitchen.
When the phone rang with another sale, the women were all were laughing and chatting so loudly they couldn’t hear it.
“They were having so much fun.”