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Cooking History

Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen

Rediscovering "The Practice of Cookery"

edited by Mary F. Williamson

contributions by Elizabeth Baird

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
History, Canadian, Books & Reading
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

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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.

Catherine Emily Callbeck Dalgairns was born in 1788. Though her contemporaries understood her to be a Scottish author, she lived her first twenty-two years in Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown was home for much longer than the twelve 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, Mary Williamson reclaims Dalgairns and her book's Canadian roots. During her 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 nineteenth-century publishing, while Elizabeth Baird updates Dalgairns's recipes for the modern kitchen.

Both an enticing history of the seminal cookbook and a practical guide for readers and cooks today, Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen offers an intimate look at the tastes and smells of an early nineteenth-century kitchen.

About the authors


Mary F. Williamson has retired as a fine-arts bibliographer and adjunct faculty in graduate art history at York University. She co-authored Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), and her recent writings on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century cookery have appeared in Covering Niagara: Studies in Local Popular Culture (WLU Press, 2010) and The Edible City (2009).

Tom Sharp is the younger of the two boys who came to live with the Williamsons in Canada. He had a civil service career in trade policy and was awarded the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1987. He was an elected local councillor in Guildford, Surrey, a governor of two local schools, and a citizens? advice bureau member.


Mary F. Williamson's profile page

Elizabeth Baird has been helping shape Canada's culinary landscape for more than three decades. It was the cookbook Classic Canadian Cooking, Menus for the Seasons, published in 1974, that started her career in food writing. Elizabeth's column, "Canadian Cookbook" was a weekly feature in the Toronto Star, she was the food editor for Canadian Living magazine for 20 years and she has authored and co-authored many cookbooks, including the popular Whitecap title Canada's Favourite Recipes. Elizabeth continues to write a weekly column, "Baird's Bites", for the Toronto Sun and is a volunteer historic cook at Fort York. Bridget Wranich is one of the founders of the Culinary Historians of Canada and the program officer at Fort York. Her work and contribution to the food scene has been profiled in many newspapers and magazines, including the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. She is a feature speaker at almost every historical food event in Toronto and an expert in the cooking processes of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Elizabeth Baird's profile page


  • Short-listed, Culinary Narratives

Editorial Reviews

"Before Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management there was Mrs Dalgairns's The Practice of Cookery. Williamson provides a new context for understanding a popular cookbook and culinary author of the early nineteenth century and re-establishes Dalgairns's text in the firmament of English-language culinary writing and publishing." Elizabeth Driver, author of Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825–1949

“Thanks to Mary Williamson, those who enjoy both scholarly and hands-on experiences in culinary history will relish this treasury and its Canadian connection.” Culinary Historians of Canada newsletter

“[Mrs Dalgairns’s Kitchen] highlights an overlooked classic that should appeal to the general reader and so should the selection from the book of original recipes modified by Elizabeth Baird for twenty-first-century cooks. The attraction of attention to this under-appreciated author is most welcome.” Petits Propos Culinaires

"Williamson has succeeded in telling an engaging story about Dalgairns's life and the life of her remarkable cookbook. She gives readers an illuminating 'behind-the-scenes' glimpse of how this cookbook came to be and how it evolved over time with revisions and subsequent editions both in Britain and North America. Mrs Dalgairns's Kitchen provides a lively, informative, and layered culinary context, and readers will appreciate the care Williamson has taken in tracing everything from changes in kitchen utensils and cookware to cooking terminology." Shelley Boyd, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and co-editor of Canadian Culinary Imaginations

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