Just A Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors

CHC’s latest project is Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors, sponsored by a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors Program. Just a Bite is a collection of food memories from summers long past, a project to preserve and share youthful memories from the season between the summer and fall equinoxes.

A core committee created a booklet of questions to elicit these summer food memories:

Over the summer of 2021, the booklets were shared widely among seniors’ groups, cultural groups, clubs, institutions, associations and service organizations throughout Ontario. Sixty-eight booklets were returned. The collection of memories will ultimately serve as a repository of historical memories for future researchers.

The grant’s deadline for completion was February 28, 2022. For more information, contact us at justabite@culinaryhistorians.ca.

 

Just A Bite Report #1: Favourite Foods

By Fiona Lucas

Fresh strawberries and fresh corn on the cob. Most respondents reported these as their favourite summer foods as children and now. Raspberries, peaches, (new) potatoes, (new) green peas and tomatoes were close seconds. Others added cherries, blueberries, watermelons, carrots, and green beans. “Fresh” was the most popular adjective, as in “any fresh veggies from the garden” and “dripping with butter and salt!” Five said strawberry shortcake was their favourite dessert, and 17 identified potato salad as their favourite summer salad, with coleslaw next.

“Never met a fruit I didn’t like,” wrote Lynn Clelland, who lives in Renfrew. Most agreed, although Debra Netley of Whitby disliked peach skin. She loves peaches now, a change noted by many respondents who were once “not a fan” of such foods as salad, citron, cooked spinach, beets, turnips and liver fried with onions, but now concede adult appreciation.

Jellied salads got three disclaimers, liver got four, while a wide variety of foods, such as dill, maple syrup, warm milk and plaice are still rejected by one person each. Marilyn King of Listowel said, “my husband and his family expanded my diet by adding eggplant, puff balls, and squash.” Mary Williamson of Toronto “totally” disliked eggplant, while Annunziata Corsetti, also from Toronto, loved “eggplant fried in an egg and flour batter.” Today, Christine Stesky of Brockville loves her homemade concord grape juice, but as a child thought concord grapes were “slimy eyeballs.”

For Joseph Gray (Caledon), lima beans were “yuk!” but “barbequed hamburgers are very tasty with onions and tomatoes with a splash of our zucchini relish.” Hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages were mentioned frequently. Fifteen called hamburgers their favourite summer meat, and nine mentioned hot dogs. The “hard to match” flavours of their own family farm beef and chicken were definitely favourites, said Clelland, Lloyd Cook of Caledon, Eleanor McLaughlin of Beachburg and others.

Fish received little affection from these seniors, although for David George (Whitby) one question evoked a memory of “collecting cockles at the beach” before emigrating from Wales.

Even though Susan Hitchcock of Sydenham disdained “any fruit in a pie [because] fruit must be fresh,” memories of their mothers’ homemade fruit pies were popular, especially with homemade ice cream. Eleanor Aldus (Peterborough) recalled “[h]ome churned ice-cream made from our farm fresh unpasteurized milk and cream, topped with fresh strawberries from our garden between one of my mother’s fresh baked shortcakes.” Aldus also said her mothers’ wild blackberry and thimbleberry jams were “[a] special treat to be retrieved from the cellar shelves … during the winter months.”

“As a child,” wrote Barbara Rank of Cheltenham, “my first grapefruit with a cherry on top” was encountered “on the ship coming to Canada in 1951. I thought I was the Queen.” Ann Walker (Peterborough) regrets having no recipe for “Danka’s Bulgarian Lemon-Chicken Rice Casserole!” Gaetano Burgio (Virgil) wrote that as a boy in Italy “maccu (a fava-bean dish) was my favourite.” His mother strained the cooked favas into noodles; “we used to fry the leftovers … so good and crunchy!” She also made polpetti, battered and fried cauliflower patties to accompany barbecued fresh sardines. Brenda Stanbury reminisced about “polish sausage sliced lengthwise, barbecued with mozzarella cheese” in hot dog buns.

Joseph Gray provided my favourite joke: “I am on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it.” Ha! Ha!

Just A Bite Report #2: Family Foods
By Jennifer Meyer 


Esteemed culinary historian and CHC life member Mary Williamson sent in this image of her family enjoying lunch at Pipissewa in 1938.

Picnics featured prominently in this section on fun activities or events from summers long ago. Many varieties of picnics were mentioned, from church outings, family reunions, Sunday drives and school picnics in June to neighbourhood and park picnics with family and friends. 

Picnicking was a popular summer activity for both rural and urban dwellers, and a few, such as Rensje Aalbers, and from Roslyn and Gaetano Tom Burgio of Virgil, recalled picnicking before they immigrated to Canada as well. Burgio reminisced about eating outdoors and swimming both in the Niagara area in Ontario, and in southern Italy, and Albers harkened back to biking with neighbours to picnic and get ice cream when she was a child in the Netherlands. 

The foods for gatherings of all varieties were more often than not prepared by women: mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters. Becky Bender of Goderich recalled helping her aunt prepare noon dinners of corn, meat, potatoes and pie for her father’s threshing team. Joseph W. Gray of Caledon remembered “My mother used to make delicious tomato sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. I can almost taste them now as I am typing this.”

At Eleanor McLaughlin of Beachburg’s wedding in 1955, a dinner for about 30 was served on the family lawn. “Not sure what the menu was, but Mother & Sister & I prepared.” Ted Meyer from Waterdown reminisced about yearly parties to celebrate his father’s July birthday. “Mum and my sisters catered all the food. The veg trays were all our own produce we grew. We had a lot of traditional canapes … Mum also made Advocaat, a Dutch liqueur, from scratch … with Oude Genever [aged Dutch gin], eggs and milk. The best part was Mum let me lick the pot after!” 

Exceptions to this convention were cooking meat on an open fire or barbeque. For example, Theresa Kerr of South Bruce Peninsula recalled pork on a spit with a chicken while being basted and turned on a BBQ by the men in her family, “while wives made sides and kids played around the farm.” Peggy Parent of South River’s father built a firepit for barbequing meat for family reunions. 

Another widespread feature of summer gatherings was that dishes were brought or prepared by many participants. Annunziata Corsetti of Toronto’s family had an annual end-of-summer gathering, when each family brought homemade sweet and savoury dishes. Susan Hitchcok of Syndenham stated that “everyone brought something” for Sunday dinners at the family cottage. She wrote of hamburgers with Lipton onion soup, homemade potato salad and seasonal fruit pies. “Family reunions were the big summer events as a child. Every family brought enough food for themselves and everyone else, so there was an abundance,” recalled Marilyn King of Listowel. 

Camping elicited evocations of outdoors adventures. Debra McAuslan of Clinton shared that “the taste of food over open fire was so good!”, and Mary Williamson of Toronto reminisced about camping in Pipissewa in the late 1930s and early war years, when her mother cooked over an open fire. “BBQ was unknown . . . With rationing of butter, sugar and meat during the War, it wasn’t easy to create fun food.”

Ontario camping recollections are incomplete without mention of bug bites! Holly Diaczuk of Thunder Bay harkened back to a vivid memory of fishing in a “cedar strip canoe until dark,” then having to come back to set up a tent and fry the fish on a campfire, all while “the bugs ate us alive. That was a rough night!” 

The fun-loving Georges (Rosemary and David) of Whitby discussed “beer-ups”: post-rugby game parties featuring corn roasts and barbeques, though pig roasts were rolled out when overseas rugby teams visited. Susan Lindsay of Chatham also recalled food being a feature of weekly baseball games. 

The nicer weather of summer brought people together, and what seemed to matter most—aside from savouring the delicious, and often homegrown and homemade food was the break from routine, enjoying each other’s company and the sense of community and belonging that these summer gatherings brought. Hopefully that will never change.

Just A Bite Report #3: Family Foods

By Samantha George

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups, associations, clubs, and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the third in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

Among the responses to our question about specialty food preparation, mothers, grandmothers and aunts featured significantly high as food influencers. Most respondents provided memorable comments about the women in their lives cooking and teaching, while a few noted that mom was just not a great cook, and that home economics or cookery classes helped them learn to be cooks in the kitchen.

A few had comments about dad raising the children and making special custard dishes, or being responsible for “making the popsicles, once a fridge was acquired in 1961,” which was Gaetano Tom Burgio of Virgil’s special summer food memory.

Memorable or special summer foods fell into several significant classes; fruit pies were certainly remembered fondly, with recollections of gathering and preparing berries as part of this cooking adventure. Eleanor McLaughlin (Beachburg) wrote that “those warm apple pies were her [mom’s] specialty, baked in the morning for noon meal.” Rose Murray (Cambridge) ended her sweet memory with “we also picked the berries together.”

Several respondents, including those originally from the UK, reflected on the seasonality and food variety in the harvests of the summer season, and their work, often as children, to prepare for preserves, pickles and jams. “Blackcurrant jam, pear and pear slices in sugar solution. We always made dill pickles,” is a memory of Melodie Atanowksi (Courtice).

“I remember sitting on the back step with the grinder—grinding cucumbers for canning relish or chili sauce, boiling peaches to get the skin off for canned peaches, peeling pears, apples … lots of prep for winter eating,” writes Clinton, Ontario, native Debra McAuslan. Kathy Fowler of Oshawa, fondly mentions “Hollie’s pickle (cucumber pickle), pickled beets, applesauce, and chili sauce” as things her mother taught her.

The standout summer food memory is the salads: not green, leafy salads, however, but potato salads and macaroni picnic salads, or salads to feed a work crew or, as Diana Dundas (Bradford) writes, “salads for large numbers: jelly salads, potato, macaroni salads.” Murray Borer recalls that “my mother taught me to put a tablespoon of relish in [potato salad].”

Lynn Clelland of Renfrew says she spent most of her summers working with the men, but did make “a batch of homemade salad dressing, every Saturday morning.” Lorraine Green (Kitchener) says she “learned to make the favourite potato salad by watching, in her three-generation kitchen.”

This food memory question and the shared learning experience sparked commentary that we will see investigated in future stories. Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough sums up summer harvest foods succinctly: “the abundance of fresh food meant that there were many special summer foods to look forward to each year.”

Just A Bite Report #5: Seeds and Harvest

By Carolyn Crawford

In this blistering hot summer of 2022, we look at what Ontario seniors told us in the Just a Bite questionnaire about seeds and harvests in their pasts. Many respondents saved seeds, canned, preserved, froze, sold and shared much of Ontario’s summer produce which many had grown in their family gardens or farms. I have tried to include as many recollections as possible for you to enjoy.

Eleanor Aldus from Peterborough writes of her memories from the ’50s, “The cellar was lined with jars and shelves of pickles, relishes, canned tomatoes and fruit preserves nestled beside the bottles of maple syrup from the spring sap run … The Department of Agriculture issued information on safely preparing and freezing foods [and] new cookbooks now had a section on freezing and canning.”

Betty Bender of Goderich states, “I remember my mother poring over seed catalogues. She even wrote a poem about how much she enjoyed doing that.” Murray Borer (Renfrew) says that his family in Dundas “bought seeds from the hardware store” and that “tomato plants were traded [with his neighbour] for horse manure.”


Steele, Briggs’ Seed Co. garden guide for 1928, back cover (detail), Harris Litho. Co. (publisher), Humanities and Social Sciences department, Toronto Reference Library, Public domain.

Gaetano Tom Burgio, who moved to Virgil in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area from Italy said that “We would dry the seeds from the year before … We saved them in jars. My brother gave me wild fennel seeds from Sicily, Italy, and I grow them today in NOTL. They taste so good in sauce.”

Lynn Clelland, formerly of Brampton, now in Renfrew, still remembers “coming home from elementary school to the wonderful smell of chili sauce.” Barbara Cook (Caledon) said her father “shared with neighbours, friends and co-workers … they would fill his vehicle with veggies before he went to work.” Lloyd Cook, also of Caledon, recalls that “we preserved earlier on … Before we had our own [freezer] we rented three freezer lockers at the farm Co-op in Brampton and at Kaufman’s store in Inglewood.”

Joseph Gray (Caledon) also mentioned that “we did not have a freezer growing up but had a freezer locker in Brampton at the Peel Seed Co-op store, where other members stored theirs…. We each had an area that was like large wire cages that had padlocks on it so others could not borrow your supplies.” Also, “Mother preserved …  many jars of different jams, pickles, and fruits that we stored in our basement [and] we used to store [apples] on the front verandah covered with blankets to keep from freezing until it got really cold, then we hauled the bushel baskets full of apples down to our cellar. Many springs a few bushels of rotten apples were hauled back out.”

Elizabeth Glenney from Oshawa shares that while growing up in Newcastle, “the corn on the cob was boiled and wrapped in butcher paper and tied with butcher cord … and put in the freezer. My mother preserved peaches, pears, plums, cherries, tomatoes, grapes, and beets.”

Susan Hitchcock from Syndenham says “mom and dad would make homemade chili sauce, dill pickles, jam … Dad even tried his hand at homemade wine. We spent an entire weekend picking wild grapes near his family home in Stanleyville.”

Marilyn King, currently of Listowel, shared that her family’s harvest was sold at the Stratford Farmers Market. Her mother froze, canned and pickled, and made Dutch apple pie which they froze in quarters.

Debra McAuslan (Clinton) tells us about their cold cellar in the basement: “In what I think was an old cistern, my dad would bring in dirt, and the potatoes and carrots would be buried in the dirt. I remember digging them out for supper [and] mom always had a few crocks of pickles with a plate over them … I would lift the plate and sneak my hand in to get a pickle!”

Margaret McMahon of Gorrie writes that “seed potatoes were usually the eyes off last year’s crop if any potatoes were left.” She also recalls “we had elderberry bushes growing right outside the barn … but we had to get them before the birds did. Shaking the berries into the big garbage bags was always a fun day. Pie to follow! Extras were frozen for the winter months.” Ted Meyer in Waterdown says his “big family preserved a lot…. As we got older and had our own families, we would share and trade produce with each other; we all had our own gardens. It was a social event.”


“Return from the Insect Fair” advertising card from Rennie’s Seeds ca 1890, Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, Toronto Public Library. Public domain

Peter Myers speaks of growing up in a suburb of Winnipeg called St. Vital. He writes: “the Dominion Seed Catalogue arrived every winter…. The best product was corn right out of the garden, into the pot, and onto the table. Summer food.” He also writes that “a Native person would come with blueberries once a summer … and mom would buy enough for a pie. Wild blueberry pie!”

He further mentions the summer tastes of Saskatoon berries, chokecherries, wild plums and caragana blossoms that he ate as child: “very easy to pick and the nectar delicious. Caragana were introduced to the prairies and became a characteristic element of the of towns and cities as well, I am sure, of shelterbelts when the first farms matured and before all were removed in the expansion of the massive farms of today.”

Margaret Pearson from Milton recalls purchasing her seeds mostly from the store but “as a teen got them from the Agricultural Society for 4-H.” Eva Norman-Vestergaard from London tells us that “heritage [garden] seeds were saved each year … and Dad would store clean grain and corn in bins.” They also purchased their seed from Stokes, Dominion Seed House and Rennie’s Seed Annual. “Fruit tree cuttings for grafting came from neighbours and family,” she says. She created and included her own recipe for Elderberry Squares:

Elderberry Squares

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter

Use parchment paper in bottom of an 8″ x 8″ pan for easier removal and cleaning. Combine well the flour, butter, and sugar. Pat the batter into an 8″ x 8″ pan and cook at 325° F for 20 minutes.

Topping:

  • 3½ cups elderberries
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour 
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Cook elderberries, lemon juice, white sugar, flour, salt, and butter. Add mixture to top of crust and spread evenly. Bake at 325° F for 20 minutes. When cooled, chill in refrigerator, then freezer. Cut in squares and remove from pan.

Sherry Murphy of Toronto was raised in Boston and Florida. Her family picked mangoes and citrus fruits, which they sold. Her mother also preserved some oranges and made marmalade. Peggy Parent of South River says that her “dad donated lots of vegetables” to her mother’s church ladies’ groups to use as fundraisers. She remembered going to Midland (her hometown) Flour & Feed to purchase seeds by the pound.

Ruth Quast (Renfrew) states that her family “froze corn and peas, preserved the fruit, made apple pies and froze them—anything in abundance went to anyone who needed it.” She remembers that when the seed catalogue came in the mail, “It was almost as exciting as the Christmas catalogue—spring was coming!” Another Renfrew resident, David Reid, saved seeds “in hemp bags in a small mouse-proof wooden box that Grandpa had made.” The Reids “sold asparagus to the local hospital and apples in the community.” David notes that they did not have hydro until 1949, and they stored their frozen goods at the freezer plant in town.


Steele, Briggs’ Seed Co. garden guide for 1928, p. 6, Harris Litho. Co. (publisher), Humanities and Social Sciences department, Toronto Reference Library, Public domain.

Nancy West of Lakeside says her family sold their summer harvest “extra to neighbours and the local grocery store” and that her “grandparents’ place was well known for strawberries and raspberries that they planted in 1947.” She transplanted some to her current home and says that “the raspberries are great, but the old strawberry variety has no shelf life.”

Mary Williamson of Toronto shares with us many stories about wartime summer harvests. Her family grew their own small Victory Garden that had carrots and lettuce, and included an asparagus bed that her brother painstakingly dug for a month! She tells us that “rationing impacted the making of jams and jellies.” But her mother managed to take advantage of summer vacation time spent in Northern Ontario and cottage country; Mary recalls, “My mother would take a walk and, straying from the usual paths, look for blueberries and other wild fruits. She would gather them (with my help!) and take them back home where they would be boiled up into jam, with sugar acquired via the special sugar ration stamps.”

Mary’s uncles had a farm in what is now Burlington. She was “eager to help in picking fruit on their farms: mostly raspberries.” Mary wrote more of these summer food memories in an article she included in her Just a Bite booklet titled “Feeding the Family in Wartime,” which was first published in Edible Toronto issue 16 in the summer of 2011. She and her brother are pictured on its front cover picking raspberries. The article is based on a book she edited with Tom Sharp titled Just A Larger Family: Letters of Marie Williamson From The Canadian Home Front, 1940-1944.

Looking forward to the arrival of seed catalogues, planting, picking and preparing the harvest of fruits and vegetables, and doing these things as a family for themselves or for others, are prominently fixed in the memories of Ontario seniors.

Just A Bite Report #6: Family Road Trips

By Fiona Lucas

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups, associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the sixth in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

We asked: “Do you have family memories of road trips, such as to Niagara or the Holland Marsh, to get fresh produce or to pick your own sweet strawberries or apples?” Barbara Rank’s family had outings to both: “I remember going to Niagara + Holland Marsh for fresh fruit + vegetables.” Melodie Atanowski of Courtice wrote that “We made an annual trip to the Niagara fruit belt to get bushels of peaches.” Many respondents reminisced about these happy trips.

Ontario has several regions that supply the province with stone fruit, berries, and vegetables. Of the sixteen destinations named, Niagara was mentioned most. As Tom Gaetano Burgio said of his hometown: “It’s a beautiful place. We grow so many fruits and vegetables here, in our own yards or in the farms around us.”

“Local organizations organized truckloads of peaches from Niagara—these were frozen for winter desserts,” commented Lynn Clelland of Renfrew. Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough wrote: “Niagara fruit, including peaches, plums and cherries, were purchased at local stores in large baskets, freshly picked ripe, and shipped. The party line phone would buzz with the news that the fruit had arrived, and the rush to buy, eat, preserve and freeze began.”

“We bought peaches, apples, pears, plums every Wednesday at the Brampton Livestock Exchange where Niagara growers brought their produce,” said Barbara Cook. Ruth Josephs of Elmira: “Peaches came from our uncle’s farm/ orchard at Vineland [Niagara]. As we reached a certain age, each of us—only one per year—accompanied Dad on this awesome trip. The back seat of the car was removed to accommodate bushels of peaches, some for other families.”

Strawberries were the most popular pick-your-own fruit. Susan Hitchcock remembered “thinking I was going to die of heat stroke picking strawberries at the local pick-your-own.” For harvesting corn, “the best place was on the south side of Burnhamthorpe Road [in Mississauga],” said Ted Meyer. Several seniors lamented the loss of these farms. Rensje Aalbers of Roslyn wrote, “There’s one pick-your-own farm left. They start with strawberries, then raspberries, peas, beans, Saskatoons, sweet corn, squash.” Brenda Standbury of Utterson said, “My children loved it, as do my grandchildren now,” then added, “Sadly as the years went by, more and more farms disappeared to make way for housing, and we had to travel further away for pick-your-own farms.”

The abundance of wild fruit—blueberries, strawberries, crabapples, highbush cranberries, raspberries—from places like Rankin and Petawawa also elicited memories. “Once a year a carload of neighbours and children would head west on old Highway 15 to the Kaladar area and the Precambrian rock country to pick wild blueberries. Children were well warned not to wander far away, as there were bears in the area eating the berries. The car would return with pails of berries and blue-faced kids.” Some families preserved vast quantities of that summer bounty for the cold seasons. Eleanor McLaughlin’s mother did: “about 70 quarts of [wild] raspberries each year.” Also, her “Raspberry Vinegar was so tasty!”

For Roberta Anne Walker, now of Peterborough, family outings included crossing into Quebec for “summer trips to Île d’Orléans outside Montreal in the 1970s–’80s. You drove around the island and bought the fresh fruit in season from local orchards: strawberries, cherries, peaches, apples; local cheeses, fresh-baked bread, with local wine = a feast with a view!”

Some respondents provided recipes. Here’s one for pickled peaches from Mary Williamson’s mother:

Pickled Peaches (or Pears)

  • ½ peck peaches
  • 2 lbs. brown sugar
  • 1 pint vinegar
  • 1 oz stick cinnamon
  • cloves

Boil sugar, vinegar, and cinnamon 20 min. Dip peaches quickly in hot water, then rub off fur with towel. Stick each peach with 4 cloves. Put into syrup and cook until soft, not too many at once. 

 

Just A Bite Report #7: Family Barbecues

By Sherry Murphy

 

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups, associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the seventh in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

We asked: Did your family like to barbecue during the summer? Who did the barbecuing? Was it a family specialty? There were quite a few responses to the art of barbecuing, including a few who never had the opportunity (or even a barbecue), as some were too busy with work on the farm to enjoy a family barbecue.

I will start with Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough, who says she had no idea what a barbecue was until one day on a road trip her dad stopped at a store where hotdogs were cooking on a metal square with a grate on top, “so my dad got us all a hotdog each. So, I thought what a great idea for a family picnic. But our farm had such an abundance of food that we hardly ever had family picnics.”

Melodie Atanowski of Courtice says her dad used charcoal bricks with soaring flames so high that “we had to wait a long time before we could have our burgers and hotdogs.” Gaetano Tom Burgio from Virgil says that “in Italy we had a little wood-fired barbecue; my father would barbecue lamb chops and goat chops. Beef was rare. We did have veal cutlets at Christmas. Also, my dad had something similar to a hibachi where he did homemade sausage over the coals.” Shula Carmichael of Meaford said her father did the barbecuing.

Lynn Clelland of Renfrew writes, “Yes, barbecue was a Sunday picnic thing. Uncle always did the BBQs.” Annunziata Corsetti of Toronto reports that “family get-together was usually all summer long as there was always some sort of preserving or canning project of fruits and vegetables going on every weekend; after the work there was a barbecue.” Her son Don did all the cooking and barbecuing, mostly chicken, burgers, steaks and homemade sausages along with roasted sweet peppers; those that did not get pickled. Once he rented a barbecue to roast a whole pig, and “we had to take turns turning the crank on the spit to roast it completely; that took a long time, but it was work fun day.”

Pat Crocker of Neustadt said she had a charcoal BBQ, and her father would light it an hour before and grill hamburgers: “Although it took a long while for the coals to get hot, for my dad it was a big deal, and he loved it.” Holly Diaczuk of Thunder Bay writes “We had no BBQ, but dad made a smoker out of an old fridge, and he smoked those dreadful smelts and lake trout. This I thought was terrific! (Using what he had to make a smoker for food).”

Diana Dundas of Bradford said, “All members of the family enjoy barbecuing during the summer. It is usually the domain of all the males in the family, who say they love to barbecue.” David George of Whitby says, “we did barbecue all the time, mostly done by David.” Rosemary George also says her dad did most of the barbecuing but can’t remember any specialty. Susan Hitchcock of Sydenham writes that “our family would only barbecue hamburgers and hotdogs at the cottage. My dad made a homemade charcoal barbecue, and on windy days he fought that barbecue but never gave up. We may have eaten at midnight, but he would not give in.”

Noreen Mallory of Toronto reports, “Yes, Dad liked cooking that way, and he did it well. Mom did the cooking, but when it came time to barbecue, he was perfect. Also, mostly the BBQ was on the veranda, and so he would pass the cooked meat through the kitchen window!” Debra McAusian of Clinton writes, “when we barbecued, it was generally my dad who did the meat. Of course, after my mom did all the prep work and planned and prepared the rest of the meal.”

Ted Meyer of Waterdown said, “Not as a kid, but when I had my own family, we did a lot of barbecues (steaks, ribs and chickens, burgers and hotdogs).” Peggy Parent of South River says, “Dad built a keyhole fire pit and used one end to rake the coals into the BBQ. barbecuing was not such a big thing when I was a child.” Barbara Rank of Cheltenham says, “Sometimes, and a favourite of mine is onions and potatoes with butter wrapped in foil.”

Carmela Sannuto of Toronto reports, “Yes, we would BBQ in the summer months, My mom and dad would be doing the BBQ, Yes, it was our family specialty.” Brenda Stanbury of Utterson: “My dad was the King of the BBQ. We always had hotdogs and hamburgers, chicken legs and sausages.” Jean Steritt of Georgetown writes, “Yes, Mom did it. Usually the specialty was hotdogs and burgers.”

Just A Bite Report #8: Family Farms

By Samantha George

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Ontario Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups, associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the eighth in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

Of our participants in Just a Bite, 38% said they grew up on a family farm. Most were dairy farms, but participants added that they were a mix of everything, like laying hens, beef, pork, crops. One was a sugar maple farm. Some continue to be managed by the original families.

“My father had 140 acres and did mixed farming … wheat, oats, barley, corn, beans, sometimes turnips. He had a small dairy herd and marketed pigs and cattle,” wrote Becky Bender of Goderich.

Many answers, such as this memory from Theresa Kerr of Bruce Peninsula, showed how the whole family was involved: “I loved going to my grandparents’ farm to help harvest the wonderful foods. It was a mixed farm where a calf, pig and chickens were raised for our freezers. My Dad would butcher the large animals while some of us wrapped cuts in butcher paper and others tied and marked the packages with navy-blue wax crayon. You had to unravel the paper to expose the wax tips. It was a production line in gramma’s big square kitchen with a TV, sewing machine, couch, freezer and an old wooden stove. It was the heart of the home.”

Many responded that turnips were grown on their farm, some for eating and others as livestock feed. Other root vegetables were also prevalent, which led to mentions of the root cellar: “We had a root cellar under a building we called the Root House. We had two large bins on each side of the room with a walk down the centre. I hated going down there in the winter with a flashlight to get veg. We stored the carrots in a tub full of sawdust and the beets and turnips just in a tub on the floor. They did keep quite well,” reminisced Holly Diaczuk of Thunder Bay. Marilyn King of Listowel, Susan Hitchcock of Sydenham and Peggy Parent of South River all remembered root vegetables wintered in the cellar or basement.

The family garden was mentioned a lot, with such crops as radish, beans, peas, carrots, strawberries and raspberries. Most of these seem to have been for family use, as opposed to a market cash crop. Orchard fruits—apple, crab apple and pear—were mentioned most frequently. Cherry, fig, plum and greengage popped up in a few answers. David Reid of Renfrew mentioned black walnuts and butternuts. A memory of Joseph Gray (Caledon): “We did have spy apples trees in our orchard … we did have a few pear trees that I used to enjoy picking and eating and Mom used to preserve them in jars, which were very delicious in the winter.”

Many shared stories about being chased or frightened by roosters and geese. David Reid remembers learning to carry a pointed stick to defend himself. Peggy Parent recalled that the “geese used to chase me to the school bus and wait for me after school.” Several stories of being chased by fowl ended with a sentiment of vengeance,—”my dad took care of him,” gloated Nancy West of Lakeside—or, as Melodie Atanowki from Courtice said, “it was the end of him.” An amusing story about human-to-animal aggravation came from Jean Steritt of Georgetown: “We would torment the rooster at the door by yelling ‘cock a doodle do,’ and he would stamp his foot and charge to the door—we took great delight in shutting the door in his face.”

Our question about farm animals as pets and how farm kids grappled with befriending an animal who ultimately ended up on the dinner table prompted several responses. Vicky Poulos of Toronto shared that “we had cows, goats, rabbits, chickens and none was a pet.” Diana Dundas of Bradford said, “some spoke of their pets becoming Sunday dinner at the end of the summer. It was part of living and growing up on a farm.” Likewise, “as children we would have favourite animals. We grew to understand the purpose of farm animals and not to look at them as pets,” said Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough.

Debra McAuslan of Clinton shared a story: “For a few years we had three cows, which were bred and had calves. We (the children) of course named them and became attached. I used to go into the field and cuddle the one calf called Sleepy. Another calf was called Lester after Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the other Mary Ann after a newborn cousin. When Mary Ann was sold, we clued in that she was being sold for meat, and we (the children) refused to eat veal for years for fear we would eat Mary Ann.”

Diana Dundas responded on behalf of the Women’s Institute. “Tec We Gwill WI members are from a rural, farming community. Many of them grew up on farms, and some continue to farm / manage their family farms. Most helped on farms during harvest time or helped pick vegetables / fruit. Farms include dairy, beef, pig, chicken. They are small to medium-sized farms although a few families may manage / use / own multiple farms as a family.” This demonstrates the legacy of farming and the collective work environment her community has today.

Finally, to sum up this Just A Bite family farm storyline, David Reid shared this: “Yes. I grew up on the family farm, 500 feet from the back door was the barn I worked in, and 500 feet from the front door is my cemetery plot.”

Just A Bite Report #9: Chores & Competitions

By Sherry Murphy

This series asked: Were you expected to help with food-related activities and chores before or after school? Did you or your family members enter any food competitions at long-ago fairs? Did you win prizes, and for what?

In regard to chores, about 90% of participants said yes, of course, chores were a must! Mostly those that grew up on farms had a lineup of chores to do, usually after school. Some few participants had no chores; school was more important until Saturday-morning help in chores, baking or cleanup.

As for the second question, a lot of families on farms were involved in church or community fairs and 4-H Clubs toward end of summer and fall, so, again, 90% of participants did enter and win prizes.

Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough, who grew up on a large family farm and had many chores, said, “Every farm child had a routine after school and changed from school clothing to old farm clothing to join in the list of chores to be done.” It was a basic routine. Also, her entire family entered numerous competitions, and most of the children were involved with the 4-H Club, showing cows and calves and winning prizes.

Other children also showed ponies and goats. Then there were a few who had no chance of entering competitions because of the amount of chores to do! A good example is Gaetano Tom Burgio of Virgil, Ontario, who grew up on a farm in Italy and at a young age was responsible for many chores before and after school to maintain the olive oil trees, and ever-increasing attention to work sometimes took priority before school; no time for entering any fairs or competitions!

Most participants had many chores to be done, mostly in relation to prep of preserving and baking and gardening in order to enter their products into fall fairs or community clubs, so lots of showing of animals and baking and preserves as well as the flowers and produce; lots of prizes and blue ribbons.

Barbara Cook of Caledon had lots of responsibility at a young age for making dinner for the whole family, and later on preserved jams and baked pies, and every year entered many categories and won multiple prizes and cash—she could hardly believe it!

Nancy Corsetti of Toronto—who also grew up in Italy—had chores that took priority over school, but later in Toronto she would pick fruit and vegetables from farms and preserve everything you can imagine that was food-related produced. She never entered in any competitions, but did share her preserves with family and friends.

Joseph W. Gray of Caledon shared chores with the whole family as a team on a large farm. After chores came prep for showing farm animals at the 4-H Club. He won so many prizes that he became a judge for 4-H Calves Club for many years. Many others as young children were involved in 4-H Club, which is a wonderful organization for kids.

Mary Williamson of Toronto did not enter any completions that she can remember because CNE and fairs were shut down for four years during WWII, and she remembers school was more important and as well as some other chores for food prep involving the acceptable rations at the time.

Just A Bite Report #10: Beverages, Breaks & Bees

By Carolyn Crawford

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the tenth in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

This section of the questionnaire dealt with “Food from the Family Farm”; specifically, foods and beverages that respondents found refreshing during fieldwork, such as haying, threshing or at a barn raising. In relation to this, we asked “If you were not raised on a farm, did you ever work on a farm during summer break? Was it a neighbour’s farm or one outside of your community?” Finally, we wanted to know if your family kept bees, if you grew special crops for them, and if it was a hobby or for profit.

Of course, not all respondents were engaged in farming, but those who were gave many varied responses. Several people listed water as a main refresher when doing fieldwork and haying. Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough says, “cold well water was taken to the field during the day, often the job of the children. It was brought in a pail with a dipper to drink from.”

Melodie Atanowski of Courtice, says her “mother made a delicious cold drink with water, fruit slices and lemonade. We also made root beer from a kit which tasted exactly like the bottled variety.” “My mother used to make a drink of water, vinegar and sugar. This was all by taste,” says Gerd Hamilton of Thunder Bay. Eleanor McLaughlin of Beachburg, says, “Just plain water, often warm, with cookies.” Ruth Quast (Campbell) of Renfrew, shares that “nothing refreshed me more than a cold ‘tin’ cup of water from the pump house in the barnyard after piling a load of hay in the loft.” Dave Reid states that “a ginger and water drink” refreshed his family and that the drinks were kept cold in an eight-gallon can in the well. 

I am giving the last statement about water to my father, Lloyd Cook, who says, “we had an excellent fresh spring well on our farm. It was worth leaving the field to get a drink at it.” As a member of the third generation to drink from the well on that farm, I agree! We would have to line up, hurry and drink so that we could get back and be ready for the next wagonload of hay coming up from the field. Our turns drinking directly from the swing tap while knelt over it were too short! We wanted more, and I can still taste the cold, pristine, freshness of it to this day!

Other beverages were homemade lemonade and root beer, fruit juices, Kool-Aid and Freshie. Lynn Clelland of Renfrew, recalls “lemonade (from lemons) a soft drink—ginger ale at the end of haying—9 p.m. as a treat.” David Reid, of Renfrew, says they made a raspberry vinegar drink during haying (season).

Meals and snacks served on the farm during the haying season and throughout the summer varied. “A good hearty meal of potatoes, meat, vegetables, salad and home-baked bread and buns along with a tasty cake or pie refreshed me,” says Carmel Ann Bell of Selby. She continues, “As a child I drank milk, water and taste of tea.” Annunziata Corsetti of Toronto states that “we always prepared some juice, water and sandwiches to take a short break from picking at the farm, vegetables.”

Holly Diaczuk of Thunder Bay, remembers during haying and threshing, “being six years old and helping my sister make a meal for six farmers. I peeled potatoes and carrots. I think we did a big beef roast and we tried to make gravy (no luck—it was like glue). We just served the meat cut in slices. No one did complain though.”

Joseph Gray of Caledon, recalls, “we used to thrash and worked with two neighbours. Mother would send out tomatoes and egg-salad sandwiches and coffee for everyone working around 10 a.m. I can remember those tasty sandwiches very well, and they were a welcomed sight when one is working out in that heat. [For] haying it used to be ice-cold lemonade. Later when we were married [1960s] a cold beer hit the spot haying, late in the afternoon before we did our chores and milked the cows.”

David Reid says, “We never stayed in the fields to eat; we always came to the house for lunch.” Karen Sutcliffe, of Burk’s Falls, tells us “My mother cooked huge lunches for the team of men doing haying and threshing. My mom made her own lemonade and another juice.”

Ontario seniors who weren’t raised on farms had many stories to tell about working on neighbouring farms and working in rural areas during their summer breaks. Melodie Atanowski worked on a pick-your-own berry and apple farm in Brampton. Gaetano Tom Burgio of Virgil, “used to pick peas, almond, olives, and grapes [in Italy]. The almonds were far. At eight or nine years old, I would go for a week (home only from Saturday night until Sunday) and I made about $1 a day for 16 hours of work. We ate a little bit of minestrone (soup) and then we would sleep on hay.”

Barbara Cook of Caledon, tells us: “when I was about 14 or 15, I went to a farm near the north part of Caledon where I picked green onions, 12 little bunches which made a larger bunch and was paid 5 (cents) per big bunch. I earned about $20/week.” Lloyd Cook of Caledon, says, “I worked off the farm when I was older at the Brampton Livestock Exchange. They sold cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits, chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys.” Holly Diaczuk states that “when I was 13, my sister and I peel[ed] poplar trees and sold the wood in the fall, that was our summer job. Dad would fall the trees for us the night before. We both made almost $180; we thought we were rich too.”

David George of Whitby, worked on a farm [in Brigend, Wales] “but not for money. After the cows were milked, David would take them down to the river. The cows belonged to a local farmer, and David volunteered there with a friend, at the age of 10 or 11. After milking they moved the milk churns for truck pick-up. Their payment was [to] take whatever manure they wanted.”

Joseph Gray of Caledon, went over to his uncle’s farm to help him clean out his pig pens. “I did not enjoy doing that smelly job, but my dad said that my uncle needed my help because he was not able to do the heavy work. I was rewarded for my stinking job, because my uncle left me a little something in his will. It would not have been near as bad if they had been calves instead of pigs. I still do not like pigs, but ham and sausages are great to eat.”

Marilyn King of Listowel, tells us about her “first summer job at 14 years old was one-quarter of an acre of cucumbers grown for Bick’s pickles on our own farm. I made $1,000, which was a lot of money back then and I had a wonderful tan. It would take me all day and sometimes mom helped me finish when she got home from work. I picked every day because the smaller the cucumber the more money you received for them. I sent them away in 50 lb. feed bags. They were graded for size and then a cheque came.”

Margaret McMahon of Gorrie, mentions on her questionnaire that “when my family left the farm, I helped the neighbour ladies pick strawberries and clean eggs.” Peggy Parent in South River, recalls “picking strawberries with my mom and brothers for 5 cents a box. It was a good starting job.”

Brenda Stanbury of Utterson, says “I helped a friend who grew corn on the cob. My husband helped pick it and was taught to feel through the husks for uniform sized kernels. The ladies blanched the corn, cut the kernels off, bagged it and then froze it for use over the winter.” Roberta Ann Walker of Peterborough, “had a recreational farm from late 1970s to 2003. … We planted apple and pear trees there and often had a large vegetable garden for our own fruits and veggies plus friends.”

Mary F. Williamson of Toronto, remembers that “harvesting and picking fresh fruit and vegetables was something teenagers did for the war effort. They were assigned areas where they were to work and were paid accordingly.”

Only four respondents had a direct connection with beekeeping. Holly Diaczuk says, “when I was born in 1958 my dad did have bees. I know we had clover, but I don’t know if he grew it for them. I think he kept them until after my mother died. I think he shared the honey with the neighbors, but I don’t think he ever sold it for profit. We did have honey for a few years after he gave up the bees. I’m sure the beehives are still in the grainery [sic] on the old farm as my brother still lives there.”

Norah Hetherington of Oshawa, answered yes to keeping bees and that they had hay with clover. It was a hobby for her family. Carmela Sannuto of Toronto, had bees for a hobby as well, but didn’t grow any special crop for them. Nancy West of Lakeside, recalls, “My grandfather kept bees when I was a child. I think it was just for personal use in my time but could have been for profit when he was younger.

Both Joseph Gray of Caledon, and David Reid of Renfrew, talked about neighbours who had bees. Says Joseph, “we had a beekeeper in the area who would bring hives to our farms mainly because we grew alfalfa for haylage, and the bees loved their blooms. The beekeeper would give us some honey plus my favourite, honeycomb, very delicious! David Reid “did find a honeybee hive in a hollow tree on the edge of a field. We cut the tree and got the honey for ourselves. [Currently,] my neighbours have honeybees, and I let them know when I have buckwheat planted so we can both get some good buckwheat honey. The beekeeping neighbours also bring some hives to put near the sunflowers and clover fields.”

As I read through the questionnaires and what Ontario seniors recalled while working hard on farms during the hot summers in the past, I sensed that even as they worked, there were good times to be had and that there were great food memories to share!


Enjoying a carousel ride in about 1970 at the Lansdowne Fair in Eastern Ontario, which is almost 160 years old. Family photo courtesy of Sarah Hood. 
 

Just A Bite Report #11: Festivals & Fairs

By Fiona Lucas

Just a Bite: Summer Food Memories from Seniors was a questionnaire widely distributed during summer 2021 among seniors’ cultural groups associations, clubs and service organizations. CHC asked questions that invited the sharing of youthful memories. This column is the eleventh in a series to summarize the memories contained in the 68 booklets returned.

Ontario has long been jam-packed with summer festivals and autumn fairs. “These were such important social events for the community,” remarked Eleanor Aldus of Peterborough.

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was certainly the most popular summer festival. “We kids couldn’t wait to go to the CNE, but more for the rides and greasy food when we had saved enough money from fruit picking and bottle collection to be able to afford to go,” said Lorraine Green of Kitchener.

Pat Crocker of Neustadt informed us that “The CNE was a big deal in our family. Our dad always took us. We would plan to hit the food building around noon and loved going from booth to booth, lining up for samples.” Crocker was among many who singled out the Pure Foods Building as their favourite destination. Brenda Stanbury of Utterson amusingly admitted, “We ate so many food samples on every aisle that we didn’t have to buy lunch.”

Ah, those free samples were popular; many recalled them. Christine Stesky (Brockville): “My husband, a Canadian, grew up going to the CNE, and he loved being able to taste samples of foods from many cultures for free!” Only Barbara Cook (of Caledon) noted that Kate Aitken’s food demonstrations were a major draw for women.

Strawberry Festival (tea, luncheon or supper) was mentioned often, and Ribfest a few times. The Alliston Potato Festival, Elmira Maple Syrup Festival and Wellesley Apple Butter Festival were specified, while others were generic, as in church supper, picnic, bazaar or fair, or plowing match, or corn roast, and just “local fair.” Amazingly, among the 27 people who reminisced about fairs, they named 49 towns!


Slices of peach pie and angel food cake awaiting whipped cream at the Tec We Gwill Women’s Institute peach supper. Photo courtesy of Diana Dundas of Gwillimbury.

Their favourite festival foods? “Anything sweet,” laughed Debra Netley of Whitby—as in ice cream, candy floss, funnel cakes, Beaver Tails and the fresh mini donuts known variously as Tiny Tom, Tiny Town or Tiny Tim. I checked—they’re Tiny Tom and yes, they are addictively good when sugary and warm. “Yummmm!” summarized Peggy Parent, who also ate them at Eaton’s Annex in Toronto.

“Cotton candy was a once-a-year tradition,” remembered Pat Croker. Elizabeth Glenney, now living in Oshawa, said, “I can still taste the vanilla ice cream sandwich with a waffle top and bottom.” Hotdogs, corndogs, burgers and “blooming onion” (what’s that?) were barely mentioned.

Two-fifths of the 68 participants either supplied no answer or said “no” when asked about their attendance. I found this surprising, but then I realized that in my own almost-seven citified decades I’ve never been to a plowing match, corn roast or traditional rural fair. Becky Bender from Goderich said, “We never attended summer festivals, most likely because summer was the busiest time on the farm,” a note reiterated by others. “We went to any plowing match within driving range—so we could be back for [our farm] chores,” wrote Lloyd Cook of Caledon. Gaetano Tom Burgio of Virgil, who grew up in Italy, bluntly wrote, “they didn’t exist.”

But they sure existed and indeed continue to thrive in Ontario to this day!