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In memoriam: Canadian food maven Carol Ferguson

September 4, 2018 — 

Award-winning food writer and editor Carol Ferguson, who inspired generations of Canadians to appreciate both domestic and international cuisine, has died after a brief illness at age 79. As the first food editor of Canadian Living, she created, commissioned, selected, and tested thousands of recipes for the monthly magazine, starting in 1976.

Alumna Carol Ferguson [BScHEc/59].

Alumna Carol Ferguson [BScHEc/59].

Ferguson developed the original “no-fail” pastry recipe that appears on bricks of lard and shortening, and in 1992, she co-wrote the landmark book, “A Century of Canadian Home Cooking, 1900 to the 1990s,” detailing the origins and evolution of Canadian foods. Over the course of half a century, she influenced a generation of well-known food writers, including Anne Lindsay and Bonnie Stern. She also earned many honours, including a Canadian Food Writers’ Award as Magazine Writer of the Year in 1985.

Born in Humboldt, Sask., the daughter of a nurse and an agricultural equipment dealer, Ferguson (née King) grew up watching her Scottish grandmother make cakes, scones, and shortbread served with tea. After graduating from the University of Manitoba, she accepted a job in Toronto developing and testing recipes for Canada Packers, Canada’s largest food processor.

Ferguson recalled the 1960s as an exciting time for Canadian cuisine. Canadians became acquainted with French cooking through American chef Julia Child; meanwhile, they were demanding quick and easily prepared food. Ferguson went on the road holding cooking classes. She also co-hosted cooking shows and produced food commercials for television.

In her early days at Canadian Living, the test kitchen was her own kitchen in Toronto’s suburbs; here, dinner for her family could be a new recipe that wasn’t good enough for the magazine. Ferguson edited and co-edited more than 12 cookbooks including the iconic Canadian Living series, through which she introduced Canadians to ingredients such as lemongrass and balsamic vinegar, and provided tips on cooking a turkey. 

From 1996 to 2000, Ferguson was food and nutrition editor at Homemaker’s; subsequently, she developed and taught courses in food writing at George Brown College and co-authored “The New Canadian Basics Cookbook,” released in 1999. She claimed to have visited every province at least once a year.

Canadian food, in her view, meant regional specialties such as salmon and butter tarts, along with adapted ethnic dishes including pad thai and salade niçoise. Ferguson lamented the public obsession with calories and fat; her own comfort food from childhood, she confessed, was roast chicken and lemon pudding as well as her Granny Findlay’s saskatoon-berry pies.

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