12/04/2013 01:55 EST | Updated 02/03/2014 05:59 EST

Rose Murray updates classic Christmas cookbook with more history, new recipes

TORONTO - "Rose Murray's Canadian Christmas Cooking," first published in 1979, has stood the test of time, with recipes for roast turkey and goose, side dishes, fruitcakes, pies, plum puddings, cookies and other sweet treats favoured for holiday gatherings.

Back in print for the first time in 10 years (after being reprinted in 1990 and 1998), the guide to festive fare has been revised and updated by Rose Murray, with a few new recipes plus more tales gleaned from the food writer's copious research into Christmas lore.

"I've tried to address every kind of need in terms of what you serve during the holidays," she said in a telephone interview from her Cambridge, Ont., home.

A chapter at the end features six menus for such holiday feasts as a French-Canadian Christmas, a traditional Christmas dinner, an early Canadian Christmas dinner, brunch, open house and a New Year's dinner.

"Many people will have traditions from their own family, but if you don't have those traditions this is a nice way of starting them," Murray said.

When compiling the book originally, Murray did a huge amount of research into Canada's Christmas traditions, canvassing the country and picking the brains of relatives and friends. "In those days, I didn't have the connections with professional food people across the country," she noted.

Times have changed. Murray has been a key player in the Canadian food scene for almost three decades, turning out a dozen cookbooks and writing for magazines and newspapers, teaching cuisine at various colleges and cooking schools and making television and radio appearances.

"Canada's Favourite Recipes," co-authored with Elizabeth Baird and published last year, recently won the 2013 Taste Canada Food Writing Award in the best general cookbook category.

For her Christmas research, "I went all over the place to every library going and I looked at things like letters home from the early settlers to their families, mainly in Britain, sort of the middle of the 19th century, those letters and what they expected here in Canada at Christmas and diaries and people like Catharine Parr Traill, the Martha Stewart of the 19th century, and John Langton," she explained.

Langton, a settler whose letters describe life at Sturgeon Lake in Ontario in the 1830s, tried to make plum pudding one Christmas, even though ingredients were scarce, Murray writes. Although it was "a decided failure," he reported that the pudding was eaten anyway.

She also includes the story of Paul Kane, an artist from Ireland, who wrote about having Christmas dinner at Fort Edmonton in 1847. Despite a lavish meal served by visiting First Nations people consisting of "boiled buffalo hump, boiled buffalo calf, dried moose nose, white fish, buffalo tongue, beavers' tails, roast wild goose, piles of potatoes, turnips and bread," Kane lamented there were no "pies, puddings or blanc manges."

Murray said she was happy to be able to add some more of this research into the new edition published by Whitecap Books, featuring the origins of customs from Scottish, British, German, Ukrainian, Icelandic and French settlers.

"When I did the research on Christmas, the emphasis was on the fact that it was mostly a Christian celebration, but it was also a secular one and a lot of the customs had nothing to do with the Christian aspect, but everybody joined in and celebrated for one reason or another, so it was a very big event in Canada and it started to take form as it is today — well, except for all the commercial part of it — but it started to take form in the middle of the 19th century with Prince Albert and Victoria and we had the German influence there.

"So you get all of these cultures coming together and they started the tree culture and England picked up on it and you would find all kinds of treatises about how you would decorate your tree and that sort of thing."

Despite its slim size, the cookbook contains about 150 recipes (a few are variations).

For this edition, Murray added Latkes after the Jewish husband of a friend brought the potato pancakes last year as an appetizer to a gathering. Cranberry-Oat Muffins and Brie and Prosciutto Bread Pudding are new, as is Christmas Marmalade, a recipe shared by creator Jesse Lauzon of Springridge Farm near Milton, Ont.

Nuts and Bolts, from Baird, is another new recipe. "I have Spiced Nuts, but they're a little bit more for adults, so I thought nuts and bolts would be a good kid thing."

On Christmas Eve, Murray's family traditionally enjoys raw oysters on the half-shell and tourtiere. The menu on Christmas Day includes turkey and all the trimmings along with Rutabaga Puff and Whipped Potato Casserole from her cookbook.

The first edition was dedicated to Murray's two children and this one is dedicated to her two grandchildren, who live in Orillia, Ont. "They like to cook with Granny and we've done a lot of things together."

Murray has a theory from writing the book about why Christmas is so important in Canada.

"We're in a northern climate and Christmas is sort of in the middle of the dark short days, dark evenings, cold, windy, and it's kind of nice to have a pleasant event to plan and look toward and so on.

"As long as you keep it pleasant and don't get too stressed out about it," she added.