Julie Van Rosendaal reunites 1928 cookbook with original owner's family, 91 years later

When she came across an Alberta cookbook published in 1928, Julie Van Rosendaal did what any cookbook collector would: she tried a few recipes. Then when the story aired on CBC Radio, she heard from relatives of the original owner — and returned it to them.

For aficionados, there's no greater thrill than stumbling across an old cookbook

This recipe book, originally published in 1928, was returned to the family after they heard CBC food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal talking about it on the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

Driving through Nanton last weekend, I popped into an antiques store and came across a well used copy of The United Farm Women of Alberta Cookbook, barely held together by strips of aged fabric tape and stuffed full of handwritten recipes.

Originally published in 1928 (mine was a second printing, in 1930) it was one of the earliest cookbooks in Alberta, a collection of recipes submitted by farm wives from across the province. It went through nine reprints and sold 125,000 copies. (At the UFA headquarters in Calgary, the copy in the archives is taken out only occasionally, and it's literally handled with cotton gloves.) 

The United Farm Women of Alberta was established in 1915 as an auxiliary to the United Farmers of Alberta; under its own direction, the group campaigned for the rights of women and farmers, and addressed issues of education and public health.

What I didn't count on, after talking about my discovery on Tuesday's edition of The Calgary Eyeopener, was that I would hear from the distant relatives of the original owner, but that's exactly what did happen.

So I arranged to meet up with Ryan Doherty, the great son-in-law of the book's original owner, E.H. Sears, and hand it back.

Flapper pie was one of the recipes Julie van Rosendaal tried out when she came across an old copy of The United Farm Women of Alberta Cookbook, which was originally published in 1928. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

It's just so cool to see an old treasure like that returned to the family. 

There aren't very many old cookbooks left. They're falling apart, they're obviously very well used. There are so many cookbooks now — we have the Internet — and it's just not the same as a hand-written recipe.

And I really treasure my grandmother's hand written recipes — and so to get these back to the great great grandmother's children now is really cool.

Ryan thought so too.

"It's a good reminder how important food is in our lives," he said. "This cookbook is such a beautiful way of celebrating that.

"There's a lot of people who are going to cherish this book."

Ryan Doherty looks through a recipe book that originally belonged to one of his wife's distant relatives (Rebecca Kelly CBC)

The book is a treasury of recipes and instructions for the homemaker at a time when more attention was paid to domestic respectability. Recipes for cakes, breads and preserves, written with brief and vague instructions, which was the style at the time (a basic cooking knowledge was assumed, and not everyone had regulated ovens and standard measures) are bound alongside ads for local products and services.

Here are a few gems from the book — and from the newspaper and food package clippings tucked inside.

Sardines and egg salad. (Julie Van Rosendaal)
A recipe for rhubarb pie, as well as custard. (Julie van Rosendaal)
Rhubarb quick pie. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.