Pre-1867 recipes for a 2017 Canada Day picnic

Written by: Dodi Newman Photos by: Larry Newman

Picnics in 1867 were grand affairs that lasted most of the day. There were speeches, games, and food—lots and lots of food! Drink, much of it alcoholic, flowed like water. To celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, I’d like to suggest a bill of fare that is somewhat adjusted for today’s appetites: Fowl à la mayonnaise, tourtière au porc frais, various breads, Ontario and Québec cheeses, Indian tea cake, rich trifle, and “red mounds of strawberries.” This will serve 8 to 10 people. You could flesh it out at will—check out “A Bill Of Fare For A Picnic For 40 Persons” in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

The recipes all date from before 1867 and might well have been used in Ottawa in 1867. They are from Isabella Beeton’s Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management of 1861 (; La cuisinière canadienne, Montréal, L. Perrault, 1840, said to be the oldest Canadian cookbook, as archived by Library and Archives Canada,; The Canadian Settler’s Guide, 1855 by Catherine Parr Traill (; and Out of old Ontario kitchens by Christina Bates. To each recipe, I added some notes on how I adapted and prepared it.


Fowl à la mayonnaise

Isabella Beeton: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

[….] Cut the fowl into neat joints, lay them in a deep dish, piling them high in the centre, sauce the fowl with Mayonnaise [….], and garnish the dish with young lettuces cut in halves, water-cresses, endive, and 4 hard-boiled eggs: these may be sliced in rings, or laid on the dish whole, cutting off at the bottom a piece of the white, to make the egg stand. [.…]. The sauce should not be poured over the fowls until the moment of serving.

I boned a cold 3 1/2 pound roast chicken, removed the skin, cut it into evenly sized pieces, and “sauced” it with 1 cup home-made mayonnaise (not that hard and delicious!) thinned with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, juice of 1/2 lemon, and 1 tablespoon dry vermouth. Use your favourite recipe for roast chicken.


Tourtière au porc frais

La cuisinière canadienne,

Des Pâtés ou Tourtières.

Il n’y a que ceux au porc frais, qui se cuisent avec de la pâte [pâte brisée] au fond du plat; dans tous les autres, on n’en met généralement qu’environ une bordure de quatre doigts, tout autour du plat; puis on y place la viande avec partie du jus, jusqu’a la bordure, il faut employer un plat creux, et on suivra du reste les directions ci-dessous.

Au Porc frais.

On hache le porc frais fin avec ognon et assaisonnement, on le fait revenir dans la poële, ensuite dans un plat garni de pâte que l’on couvre de pâte […] laissant une ouverture au milieu, pour un bouquet de pâte, que vous leverez avec soin, quand le pâte sera cuit pour jetter un peu jus que vous aurez conservé; ce qui empêchera votre pâté d’être sec.

Recipes for tourtière go back hundreds of years in Québec. They can be served hot or at room temperature. This is the only recipe I could find that is reliably at least as old as Canada. The author is singularly silent on how to season the tourtière. If you have a family recipe à l’ancienne, by all means use it. I use the recipe for Tourtière de ma grand-mèrein Lorraine Boisvenue’s Le guide de la cuisine traditionnelle québécoise instead, using only pork. That touch of cinnamon is magic!


Indian Tea Cake

Catherine Parr Traill

A 1 pint basinful of Indian-meal sifted, 4 well-beaten eggs, a teacupful of butter melted, a cupful of sugar, a tablespoonful of treacle or molasses (this is not indispensable), a tablespoonful of caraway seeds or a cupful of currants; a teaspoonful each of ginger and nutmeg grated, and half a teaspoonful of salt. Dissolve a teaspoonful of soda or salaratus in some milk and mix into ingredients to a pretty thick batter; bake in a stove pan, in a brisk oven.

My adaptation for today’s kitchen

  •  2 1/2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 rounded teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 rounded teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup milk or buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Generously butter an 8” cast iron frying pan. Preheat the pan in the heating oven, do not let the butter turn brown.

Wash the currants in hot water, dry them well on a dish towel, dust them lightly with flour, shake off the excess flour, reserve.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cornmeal, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt until they are well mixed. Add eggs and melted butter and continue beating for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the milk (or buttermilk) in a slow stream, beating until well blended. Gently stir in the floured currants. Pour the batter into the hot frying pan. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350ºF, and bake until the cake begins to shrink from the pan, about 15 minutes. Place on a rack to cool. This is best on the day it is made.

Alternatively, bake this in a 9-inch-square cake pan which does not need to be preheated; it will take 5 to 10 minutes longer to bake.


Rich Trifle

Veronica F. Stennet’s Manuscript Cookbook, circa 1866, as quoted by Christina Bates.

Makes two 8” trifles

Eight sponge cakes [equal to two 8” sponge cakes], 4 oz. of macaroons, 4 oz. ratafia [almond flavoured biscuits], 3 oz. sweet almonds, grated peel of large lemon, pot of raspberry jam, 1/2 pt of sherry, 3 wine glasses brandy, 1 pt of rich custard [or more].

For Whip: 2 pt. cream, whites of two eggs, 1 glass white wine, 3 oz. loaf [granulated] sugar. Place cream, sugar, wine and egg whites into a bowl and whip them to a froth, then put the sponge cake at the bottom of a trifle dish, then the macaroons and ratafia, and pour over wine and brandy. When well soaked grate over them the peel of a large lemon and then add almonds blanched and cut into thin shreds and add jam. Pour over whole a rich custard and pile whip over top. Ornament with [candied] fruits of any bright colour. [For thicker whip, omit wine.]”

Trifles are first cousins of tipsy cakes, a more descriptive name for this dessert. I made them with almond macaroons (but without the “ratafia”), 1 pint raspberry jam, 1 cup semi-sweet sherry and 1/2 cup brandy. I used blanched, sliced, roasted almonds. I omitted the “the whip” and topped the trifle with lightly sweetened whipped cream instead. Use your favourite recipes for sponge cakes (preferably three or four days old, all the better to absorb the sherry) and the “rich (boiled) custard.” It is indeed a rich (and boozy) trifle!


Bon appétit!