Nova Scotia Archives

What's Cooking?

Food, Drink and the Pleasures of Eating in Old-Time Nova Scotia


In creating this online treasury of cookery, the Archives' team who build these resources have had a wonderful time finding and digitizing approximately 1000 old handwritten or early printed recipes; they're presented here in the 'Collected Recipes' section. We've also digitized, in their entirety, seventeen cookbooks published in the province before 1950, and we've provided a list of all printed cookbooks held in the Archives' Library. Newspaper supplements containing recipes submitted by readers were popular in the mid-20th century, and so we've found and digitized four good examples, including one each from Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian publications.

If you're interested in background information about food, drink and the pleasures of eating in old-time Nova Scotia, you'll want to read our Brief History, taken from a variety of manuscript and published sources available at the Archives.

To add a splash of colour, we've included a link to our digitized lobster-label collection, and for those of you with a sweet tooth, we've digitized a collection of Moirs' Limited chocolate and candy recipes, shared with us by our colleagues at the NS Museum of Industry in Stellarton, NS.

Reading and interpreting old recipes, especially the very old ones, is challenging. For example, the ingredients are given by weight, and not by cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, Imperial or metric measure. To complicate matters further, the ingredients can be bizarre, calling for items such as 'pearlash', 'saleratus', 'isinglass' and a 'gill' of milk.* Once the 21st century cook has figured out what the ingredients are and the amounts needed, the baking challenge begins – what size pan, what oven temperature and for how long, when the recipe says only, 'Beat it well and bake in a quick oven'?

Under 'Modern Methods,' we've provided today's equivalents for several recipes that we've actually tried. We challenge you to do the same after you've finished exploring this cornucopia of Nova Scotia recipes, cookbooks, culinary images and food traditions.


*For those of you who are wondering….
pearlash = baking powder
saleratus = baking soda
isinglass = gelatin
gill = ¼ pint or ½ cup, liquid measure
mount guard = the dinner guests back in 1841 didn't know what it was, and neither do we!