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Rediscovering 1967’s Northern Cookbook – recipes from Canada’s Far North

The Northern Cookbook was last published in 1999

We recently came across an obscure 1967 out-of-print cookery book called the Northern Cookbook edited by Eleanor Ellis and published by Canada’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development department, which has since been renamed as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

It’s a curious but valuable record of cuisine from Canada’s Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that comes with a real 1960s flavor.

The book is worth hunting down just for its wild game section. Recipes include barbecued bear, roast polar bear, rib roast of caribou, baked stuff caribou heart, elkburgers, and roast leg of dall lamb (a dall is a mountain sheep), lynx stew, jellied moose nose, sweet pickled beaver, fried muskrat, and broiled squirrel. There is a warning against eating the liver of polar bears due to toxic poisoning.

The wild fowl section includes a series of ptarmigan recipes. The sea mammal sections include six recipes for seal, and the jams section features eight rose hip recipes.

The influence of the 1960s is shown as traditional dishes are given a “cosmopolitan” makeover – Hawaiian caribou (yes, there’s pineapple in there), moose chili con carne, reindeer goulash, and prairie chicken in cream. It also contains traditional European recipes with no relevance to Canadian aboriginal cuisine such as rice pudding, French bread, custard, and cheese and onion dip.

Although the Northern Cookbook was intended to preserve and record traditional Far North dishes, the influence of white Canadians, most probably from Toronto, is evident.

The edible wild plants section is surprisingly long and detailed considering the short duration of the summer in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The list includes scurvy grass, willow tips, and alpine bistort.

The Northwest Territories is a huge but sparsely populated area of Canada. It borders Nunavut to the east and Yukon to the west. Its summers are short and cool, while winters are long and hard with daytime lows typically around  −40 °C. First Nations and Inuit peoples account for close to half of the population.

To some people, the idea of eating seal, whale, bear, beavers and other reindeer may seem cruel and unappealing. But these animals have been part of the First Nations and Inuit diet and culture for thousands of years.

The Northern Cookbook has a section where recipe tips appear to have been submitted to book’s publisher.

“Boiled porcupine: Make a fire outside and put the porcupine in the fire to burn off the quills. Wash and clean well. Cut up and boil until done.”

This section has some of the simplest and most genuine recipes – boiled frozen fish, boiled bone grease, and cabbage in blubber fat – where there are no ingredient amounts or cooking times, just simple instructions.

Dried and canned vegetables are frequently mentioned due to the lack of fresh vegetables in this part of the world. There’s a detailed section on hunting regulations.

The book uses the term ‘Eskimo’ (who are now known as Inuit) and illustrations of First Nations people that may be considered stereotypical today.

The Northern Cookbook is out-of-print. It was reprinted several times in the 1970s and then McClelland & Stewart reprinted it in 1999. Only 30 copies are listed for sale on AbeBooks.com, making it a rather obscure title. An updated version, without the dated illustrations, surely deserves to be brought back into print. Prices start at around $20.

Barbecued bear – one of many recipes featuring animals from the Northwest Territories.

Every calorie counts when the summer is so short

One of the recipes submitted for publication

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