A changing church: A tale of two cookbooks

From tomato soup cake to Jamaican curried goat: In the last 50 years, the St. Margaret’s cookbook has become much spicier—and so has the church itself, writes the author. Photo: Ra2Studio
By on May 2, 2022
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In 1972, the “Women’s Auxiliary for Outreach” at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in New Toronto—a neighbourhood in southwest Toronto— published From Our Kitchen to Yours, a classic parish cookbook with the sort of recipes you might expect from the early 1970s: quick tomato aspic, salmon casserole, creamed pork chops, and tomato soup cake (to name a few). It offers a very bland diet. Sure, there is a teaspoon of paprika or garlic powder here and there. But for the most part it’s pretty much salt and pepper all the way. And, as for “diversity,” there are Danish meatballs (is it the ½ tsp of mace which makes it Danish?), Hawaiian chicken (this is the spiciest recipe in the collection, with garlic salt, ginger and mace), and “Western Chinese” casserole (complete with one package of Lipton’s onion soup mix!).

Fast forward to today and St. Margaret’s has produced a new cookbook, to mark the parish’s 115th anniversary.

It’s the “new Toronto community 2021 cookbook” (small letters intentional). The introductory message from the cookbook’s editor, Jannah Wigle (lifelong parishioner and recent PhD graduate!), states the book’s purpose: helping St Margaret’s “to continue providing key programs and services for residents in South Etobicoke, and beyond.” This cookbook includes a nostalgic section of excerpts from the 1972 book (as well as the 2006 cookbook produced when the parish turned 100).

And it certainly includes lots of “classics”: Great Granny’s pancakes, meat loaf, and my own contribution: a simple raisin pudding my family calls “radio pudding” because my grandmother heard the recipe on the radio but missed the title. (I grew up eating radio pudding for dessert in Etobicoke, not far from St. Margaret’s.)

But this new version also has chapati (East African flat bread), and curried cabbage (submitted by the parish priest of St. Margaret’s, the Rev. Jacqueline Daley). There is Nigerian jollof rice, Indian lentil dal soup with ghee, Iroquois three sisters soup, Nigerian egusi soup (which includes ground crayfish, dry fish, ogiri okpei, onugbu leaf, hot pepper, garlic, ginger, and uzuza leaf!), Bahamian fire engine, Jamaican curried goat, timan bagila, and Sri Lankan love cake. (And many more.) All of which make garlic seem quite tame.

Clearly the St. Margaret’s of 2022 is not the St. Margaret’s of 1972.

And it is not only the recipes which mark this change. It is also the content. The 1972 version dedicates an entire page to (yes) Beatitudes for the Housewives. (“Blessed is she whose daily tasks are a labour of love: for her willing hands and happy heart translate duty into privilege and her labour becomes a service to God.” I’ll spare you the other eight.) And it’s full of small advertisements from local businesses.

The new version, however, is a community cookbook in an entirely different way. Some of the recipes have been submitted by people who don’t attend the church but live nearby. Many are recipes used at St. Margaret’s to feed the vulnerable and the hungry. And instead of pious words for housewives, the cookbook is full of pictures of St. Margaret’s in service and mission to the community, depicting its weekly soup-to-go, its Christmas and Easter meals, its monthly community dinners.

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to come alongside St. Margaret’s as it celebrated its anniversary. One of my tasks was to delve into the archives and help tell the story of how the parish has changed and evolved. (Hence my discovery of the 1972 cookbook.) Order of the Diocese of Toronto honouree Rebecca Wang (who served as the parish organist and choir director for 50 years until her retirement in 2018) tells me that, in 1972, St. Margaret’s was a classic Anglican parish. The pews were full, the congregation and choir sang traditional Anglican music lustily, and all the women wore hats. Her family and one other were the only non-white people in the parish.

And what of St. Margaret’s today?

What I discovered is a simple yet elegant building, tucked among modest homes, in a diverse, working-class community. Many newcomers to Canada, all people of colour, mix (in the pews and in leadership) with those who are lifelong members. The building is seldom if ever empty but is, instead, constantly a place of respite, warmth, and sustenance for the community. The music is lively, with a definite Cuban feel, thanks to Rebecca’s successor, Pedro Quintana. There is so much going on, day by day, that the outdoor sign barely has space to fit it all in. Meeting budget is never easy but somehow by the grace of God and the generosity of many, there is just enough. “A community church and a community hub for all” is how St Margaret’s sees and bills itself.

The Church is changing. We know that. We can feel it. And at St. Margaret’s, I got to see it. On the ground. In the community. Worshipping. Gathering.

Feeding. Serving. Comforting. Gritty. Determined, Courageous. Real.

And, yes, wonderfully spicy!