As It Happens·New

Depression-era recipes prove a pandemic hit for Toronto YouTube chef

A Toronto YouTube cooking celebrity has found a recipe for success in recreating Depression-era dishes for his delighted new audience amid the pandemic. 

'Food is very important to us as a society, it brings us together,’ Glen Powell, host of Glen & Friends, says

Glen Powell, host of YouTube channel Glen & Friends Cooking, says Depression-era recipes have helped boost his subscribers during the pandemic quarantines. (Submitted by Glen Powell)

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A Toronto YouTube chef has found a recipe for success in recreating Depression-era dishes for his delighted new audience during the pandemic. 

Glen Powell, host of the Glen & Friends Cooking channel, found renewed interest in a 1932 recipe for peanut butter bread and says besides its simple ingredients, the video's popularity might have more to do with the pandemic.

For 13 years, Powell has been plugging away on his YouTube channel, whipping up burritos, brewing ginger beers, and baking key lime pies in three different ways.

But recipes like the peanut butter bread, which was recently reported on by Maclean's, are behind a recent spike in new subscribers, he told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

Glen, you're going to have to be honest with us. How does peanut butter bread actually taste? 

I found it surprisingly good. I wasn't totally convinced when I first saw the recipe. I thought, "Oh, this is going to be one of those ones that don't turn out, but I'm going to make it, because who knows?" And I really did enjoy it.

Although, if you read the comments under the video, lots of people like smooth peanut butter. So I'm not going to get into that argument. It is essentially banana bread made with peanut butter. I think bacon would go really well in it. 

Over 170,000 views that video has had on YouTube. What do you think made people so excited about peanut butter bread?

That video had been up for about a year before the pandemic started, and just as the pandemic [restrictions] started here in North America, it started to get traction. 

I think that's partly due to people spending more time at home and wanting to try something new. A lot of people wanted to bake bread, but [they] fear yeast and kneading, and this just seemed like an easy alternative that used ingredients that most people have in their kitchen already.

Why would someone have developed this recipe? What's behind the story behind this? 

This is from the Five Roses Cook Book, the 1932 edition. This is the time period between World War I and World War II. We're in the Depression. People are looking for something that has high nutritional value, but low cost and is easy to make. 

I think that led to the development of this recipe and the inclusion in the cookbook. In the cookbooks in this series that came out during World War II and after, this [recipe] disappears.

Anybody can whip it this up and it's inexpensive. I think that is the keyword there, too.

The Five Roses Cook Book was first published in 1913. (Submitted by Glen Powell)

What kind of food was coming out of Canadian kitchens in the 1920s and '30s from all of the community cookbooks that we have?   

Definitely very simple cooking. And most of the community cookbooks are about desserts. I think that most homemakers at that time period knew how to make the savoury dishes. 

They had their repertoire, and the celebratory or the baking dishes — you know, cakes, desserts — were the things that got passed around. So most of these cookbooks that I'm working from really do look at baking as the main body of work.

As for the savoury dishes, you're looking at things that today sometimes you would think are expensive. You know, in the 1930s, canned fish, canned mussels, oysters, lobster appeared in a lot of dishes that were regarded as cheap or poor-people food. I hate to say that — you know, poor people food — but some of the books themselves describe that as the selling feature. 

Why do you think these recipes and your YouTube videos have been so popular in these past few months?

Food is very important to us as a society. It brings us together. 

With so many people apart, they really enjoy watching Julie and I cook something and taste it. And there's that camaraderie of, you know, sitting there with [me] and countless other humans watching this video. 

Also because people are at home and they're not eating out at restaurants as much, they're trying dishes. And most of the Depression-era dishes that we do on Sunday mornings are very simple and easily obtainable. 

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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