Ginnie and the Cooking Contest – Catherine Woolley

Around age 8, I discovered this series of rather insipid books starring best friends Ginnie and Geneva, and recently re-read them for their kitsch value. Ginnie lives a few blocks away from Main Street, U.S.A., and her favourite hobbies include cooking, babysitting and mystery-solving. Her butchy comrade-in-arms Geneva prefers sporting dungarees and climbing trees.

In this novel, a local newspaper announces a cooking contest open to “all girls in the county between ten and sixteen,” which starts a frenzy of experimental culinary activity among Ginnie and her friends. Boys can’t/won’t enter the contest, but Peter Ladd, the requisite Boy [Scout] Next Door who is just waiting to blossom into one of Ginnie’s teenage maltshop suitors, is always willing to act as taste-tester. (During one of Ginnie’s practice dinners, he devours three pork chops and four helpings of sweet potatoes at one sitting. Peter Ladd, I salute thee.)

For foodies, the book offers insight into the menus and recipes of 1950s suburbia (in which gelatin plays a prominent role). It may also inspire young readers to try their hand at cooking. Woolley has a flair for description and nicely invokes the simple, alchemic pleasures of the kitchen: Ginnie inhales the golden vanilla fragrance of her layer cake, beats egg whites to stiff perfection for soufflé, lays her palm against the hot, floury bottom of a homemade bread loaf.

But the recipe Ginnie ends up choosing for the contest sounds positively gag-inducing: a chicken loaf containing “tender white meat of chicken, whipped cream, olives, almonds, and flavouring.” Yecch. Egads. Sadly, Nigella Lawson is still decades away.

Reading Age: 8 to 10

Rating: B-, but fun to read nonetheless


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