The Dessert-First Author Whose Books Defined Canada’s Treats

Jean Paré, one of the best-selling cookbook authors in the world, sold more than 30 million cookbooks by the time she retired in 2011.Credit…via Amanda Lovig Hagg

From a small Alberta farming town where she worked as a caterer, Jean Paré began a new career path as a cookbook author at the age of 54. And when the male-dominated industry of the day refused to print her first cookbook, dismissing the recipes as too sweet, she founded her own publishing company.

Ms. Paré went on to publish more than 30 million copies, becoming one of the world’s top cookbook authors. She died last month at the age of 95 in Edmonton.

After leaving the catering business, Ms. Paré’s next move was to write a series of more than 200 cookbooks called “Company’s Coming.” The series, which she wrote for 30 years until her retirement in 2011, included titles like “150 Delicious Squares,” “Muffins & More and “30-Minute Weekday Meals.”

Christina Morales, a food reporter at The Times, wrote an excellent obituary about Ms. Paré (pronounced “Perry”) and her fascinating trajectory from home cook to author with a hand in shaping perhaps millions of Canadian kitchens with her unfussy recipes.

[Read: Jean Paré, Best-Selling ‘Everyday’ Cookbook Author, Dies at 95]

I asked Christina to share some details about Ms. Paré’s life that didn’t make it into the obituary. Here’s what she sent me:

With recipes including four-ingredient coconut rolls and Nanaimo bars, Ms. Paré’s first cookbook, “150 Delicious Squares,” was something of an ode to her sweet tooth. It has sold more than 14 million copies.

[Read: A Bite-Size Square of Canada’s History, Culture and Craving]

The book was rejected by publishers, apparently for its abundant sugary recipes, but another dynamic was also at play: gender.

“In producing ‘150 Delicious Squares,’ she was meeting a need for every mother or housewife to be able to have this collection of squares that they could take out to a bridge club or a picnic for Boy Scouts,” said Liz Driver, a curator at Campbell House Museum in Toronto. Ms. Driver spent more than two decades researching the history of Canadian cookbooks, and compiled what the University of Toronto Press said is the “definitive history and bibliography of Canadian cookbooks” printed between 1825 and 1949.

But the popularity of such recipes was most likely lost on the men leading the publishing industry of the day, Ms. Driver told me.

“What do they know about what women want in a recipe?” she said.

In her study of Canada’s cookbook heritage, Ms. Driver said community cookbooks, particularly in rural areas and among women’s or church groups, were a popular format for locally disseminating recipes and were commonly sold during fund-raisers.

Ms. Paré spotted an opportunity, within this culture of sharing recipes, to establish her business.

“Her books were a hybrid between the community cookbooks that everybody knew, and the big publishers’ general cookbooks,” Ms. Driver said. “And that was the kind of innovation that she brought about.”

The place of her prolific recipe collection in Canada’s culinary heritage revives the question of what, exactly, is Canadian cuisine.

[Read:Canada Letter: How We Cook, Eat and Drink]

The answer seems to lie in a patchwork of regional culinary traditions, from the Irish influence in Newfoundland cooking to the authentic Ukrainian cuisine found in the Prairies, said Lesley Chesterman, a Montreal-based pastry chef and restaurant critic turned cookbook author.

She bristles at the fact that people would dare call poutine, crowned a national dish of Canada, anything but an invention and the pride of Quebec alone.

The gastronomic scene in major Canadian cities is evolving, spurred by imported tastes from immigrants and by so-called big city chefs returning to open restaurants in their hometowns, Ms. Chesterman said.

The needs of Canadian home cooks are also evolving. Ms. Chesterman said that while Ms. Paré was lesser-known than someone like Jehane Benoît, considered to be Canada’s Julia Child, both women probably benefited from a cookbook market that, unlike today, wasn’t particularly saturated.

“There was no Ina Garten as competition back then,” she said.

Trans Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with President Biden, left, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, center, this week in Mexico City.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveled to Mexico City for a two-day summit between Canada, the United States and Mexico. In his public remarks, Mr. Trudeau emphasized economic cooperation on the continent, though political watchers say that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, has shown little interest in building ties with Canada.

  • If you’re stuck on ideas for your next Canadian travel destination, consider the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The region was featured in The Times’s 52 Places to Go in 2023 (as was the Vjosa River, for which I am named, but that’s a farther trek from Canada).

  • After an online vote among its members, the Girl Guides of Canada settled on a new name for one of its branches: Embers. The branch, for girls ages 7 and 8, was previously called Brownies. The organization vowed to rename it after current and former members who are people of color said that the name had caused them harm.

  • Michael Snow, the Canadian painter, musician, photographer, sculptor and filmmaker, died last week in Toronto. He was 94.

Vjosa Isai is a reporter-researcher for The New York Times in Canada. Follow her on Twitter at @lavjosa.

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