In the introduction to Waste Not Want Not: a Booke of Cookery - Some Interesting Recipes of Old Acadia, author E.F. "Ted" Eaton, answers his own question of why he's written yet another recipe book:
"Mostly because we feel that the culinary customs of our ancestors, with their very limited facilities, are now, and will be of increasing interest and concern to us as we deal with rising energy costs and perhaps shortages. Our forbears ate extremely well without the aid of micro-wave ovens or pressurised dairy products. Perhaps we have something to learn from them. Moreover our forefathers believed very firmly (and with reason) in 'waste-not, want-not' so that Dear Old Granny was well acquainted with the virtues of such things as heads, tails and tripe which we have tended to scorn in our affluence but which we'd better learn to use in the future."
The reference to "rising energy costs and perhaps shortages" caught my attention when I began to browse this 1978 recipe book, which I picked up on the weekend from the London Public Library annual book sale. 1978. It was 1978 when this came out. I was 23. Did I know anything about rising energy costs or potential shortages way back then? Several years earlier, I'd handed out flyers in high school about the evils of phosphates in detergents. I'd heard the term "appropriate technology" - a term that is not in fashion in 2011 but is still around through the .....and, for me, is still a sensible, understandable term.
I certainly didn't have much sense of the interconnections of political levels in one country, let along internationally ... heck, a lot of those interconnections were not even formed yet. Fossil fuels usage back then must have been a lot less than it is now - not just because there were fewer people worldwide but because the appalling levels of production and consumption of badly made, cheaply produced junk was nowhere near what it is now. Think your latest cell phone - Ipod - Ipad - computer anything - interactive game. Every one of them obsolete before it even reached the store you bought it from.
Yet here, in 1978, is a cookbook author talking about rising energy costs and potential shortages.
I wonder if this was a bold political statement on the part of an historian (Mr. Eaton seems to have had a connection to New Brunswick's King's Landing Historic Site), or just a dig at his contemporary society which wasn't cooking frugally, as did our great-grandparents.
Mr. Eaton would probably never have contemplated that someone - like myself - reading his book today, would have to investigate whether the Corn meal she uses to make Johnnycake is produced outside of Canada and whether the corn was grown using a genetically tampered seed developed to not die if doused by RoundUp herbicide (several times in a season) and equipped to kill any caterpillar that happens to hatch on its leaves. He might not believe that sometimes she has to be grateful that something is grown within two provinces distance. I hope he would be horrified to know that in New Brunswick and every province the number of family farms has decreased tremendously over the years and the production of food generally has become specialized (monocrop) so that farms - previously the most self-sufficient production units in society - have far fewer abilities than in previous times.
(I'll take a bit of heart in supposing that someone involved in farming could still fix more things that break than the average urbanite. I'd better take heart too in knowing that there is a trend happening for (especially younger) people to buy small acreages and begin small scale farming.)
Where was I going with this? Oh yes, that these days environmentalists and groups like those in the Transition Network are trying to help us "re-skill" - learn how to do things for ourselves again - and be more "resilient" - more adaptable and able to recover from negative changes. There is (finally) a realization that we are going to be living in times where there is not abundant fossil fuel, where we will have to be aware of the resources we use, where myriad adjustments will have to be made because of negative (if not disastrous) consequences of climate change.
Yep, to quote the driver of the Night Bus in Harry Potter: "It's going to be a bumpy ride."
After all that, I'd better leave you with the Johnnycake recipe:
1 1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cornmeal 1/2 cup maple syrup
4 tsp Baking Powder 1/4 cup melted butter or oil or shortening
1/2 tsp salt 2 eggs
Sift together the flour, corn-meal, baking powder and salt. Add liquid ingredients and the eggs, stir everything together only long enough to mix. Bake in greased and floured loap pan (11" x 7" x 1 1/2" at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Serve hot with butter.
Mr. Eaton notes that you'll get different results with different types of cornmeal and proportions of maple syrup to milk. You can also use honey in place of maple syrup, which will give a different flavour indeed.
If you are using maple syrup, please use the real thing, from a real farmer. If you use honey, thank the bees for millions of trips to make your honey. Make 3 or 4 pans of this at a time - if you've got the oven on, never bake just one little pan.
Enjoy the cooking.