By Colin Rier, a McGill undergraduate studying food history and summer 2018 Goodman Intern. Read more about his internship here: http://news.library.mcgill.ca/introducing-the-goodman-intern/.
Certain cookbook authors immediately garner interest and respect amongst cookbook historians. These are authors like Edna Lewis, Julia Child, and Isabella Beeton. In Quebec, the name that looms over all others is Jehane Benoit (1904 – 1987), one of the greatest cookbook writers in Quebec and Canadian history.
Most people know of Jehane Benoit through her series of microwave cookbooks, but her other publications are less well unknown. Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) houses many of her works, but first we must tell the amazing story of the author herself.
Born and raised in Quebec, Benoit went to Paris to pursue her love of food. She graduated from a four-year food science course at the Sorbonne before training at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. This level of food education is very high, even by today’s standards. It is even more remarkable because she accomplished this in the first half of the 20th century. At that time there were significant barriers for women to study at these schools.
Upon moving back to Montreal, Benoit opened The Salad Bar near the Musee des Beaux-Arts au Montréal in 1935. A notable restaurant for the fact it was one of the first vegetarian restaurants to open in Canada. Above the restaurant, she operated an eponymous cooking school and began to establish a reputation as a great teacher of cooking technique.
Her time as a cooking instructor introduced her to recipe writing. In 1940, Benoit wrote her first cookbook titled Chocolate Around the Clock. The Fry-Cadbury Chocolate Company published the book as an advertising effort.
This was the first of many advertising cookbooks that Jehane Benoit would go on to write in her career, though this was the only book which she wrote under her maiden name of Patenaude.
The book stretches the uses of chocolate, from the familiar to the less traditional. The items featured range from chocolate cookies to chocolate pineapple rice. The recipes carry the classic style of Benoit: exacting recipes with a gentle voice. Unlike the books published at the end of her career, her first books did not go on large printing runs. McGill is one of few university libraries to own Chocolate Around the Clock. A truly rare Canadian culinary gem!
Jehane Benoit followed her first book with a sequel: 70 New Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes. McGill RBSC is home to both a French and English copy of this work as well. From these two initial volumes she would go on to produce her most honoured works, including the Encyclopedia of Canadian Cuisine, and of course the microwave cookbooks. These cookbooks, published before Benoit reached fame in Canadian foodways, are available for consultation during opening hours.