To consider pioneer living in Derby Township in the 1850s and 1860 from the point of view of Jean Stewart Fleming and her daughters, there may be no better resource than Catherine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide published in 1855. Traill wrote this guide explicitly to help women manage the difficult and unfamiliar conditions in Canada West in order to procure, harvest, and prepare foods for their families whether living deep in the bush or on a cleared farm. From her experience during her first twenty years in Canada , Traill could advise women on everything from salting pork, storing potatoes, making dandelion coffee, or furnishing a log cabin.
Titled Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide. Cooking with a Canadian Classic, this edition of 2017 from McGill Queen’s University Press was edited by Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas, both with academic and culinary credentials. It includes the 1854 first edition of Traill’s guide with explanatory notes, and an equally sized supplement providing background and explanation of the “foodways of the period”. The editors expand on Traill’s life and writings to describe the foods, availability of supplies, type of menus, measuring practices and tools, and much else to help the reader in the 21st century have a greater appreciation of the period. Moreover, the editors help the curious prepare historical recipes adapted to current materials and cooking arrangements.
Catharine Parr Traill’s general guidance on life and housekeeping in Canada West and her carefully written instructions on food stuffs and preparation show us how extremely capable pioneer women had to be to feed their families and survive themselves.
“The pioneer’ wife’s knowledge and capabilities had to extend far beyond the home, the kitchen and the promotion of gracious and thrifty living – ideally, she must also be competent in the garden, in the fields, with the animals, as nurse and mid-wife, as manufacturer of clothing, and in emergencies, she must have hands as strong and head as clear as a man’s”. [Quoted from Clara Thomas, “Happily Ever After”. (Pg xxvii)]
Traill provides practical advice on clearing the land – underbrush in the fall, and chop large timber in the winter, then pile appropriately to burn well. This advice she obtained from her brother Sam Strickland, and included in her book so that women, on whom so much fell, would know too. (p. 49)