Agnes Ayre’s Notebook: Recipes from Old St. John’s


In the early twentieth century, Newfoundland trailblazer Agnes Marion Miller Ayre became an outspoken advocate for allowing women to vote. She was also an avid botanist and an accomplished artist who published a book, Wild Flowers of Newfoundland. One overlooked aspect of Ayre’s remarkable life was a recipe collection she wrote in a small notebook, starting in 1917. She didn’t bother with traditional recipes—not a boiled dinner or pan-fried cod to be found—but collected out-of-the-ordinary dishes for the time, along with ingenious ways of being frugal with leftovers. Intrigued by this historical document and curious about what exactly the lady of a middle-class household in World War I St. John’s would feed her family, Roger Pickavance and Agnes Marion Murphy (Ayre’s granddaughter) set about cooking all 140 recipes in the century-old notebook. Most worked well, some did not, and many would make a welcome addition to a modern cook’s repertoire. Pickavance and Murphy have reworked some recipes, filling in the blanks, simplifying steps, and offering ingredient substitutions where required. The result is a glimpse into the personal life of Agnes Ayre—and a cookbook full of delicious surprises.

This is the second cookbook authored by Roger Pickavance, the first being his acclaimed 2017 book, The Traditional Newfoundland Kitchen. He is a retired professor at Memorial University who has devoted his life to the study of Newfoundland cuisine. Agnes Marion Murphy is Agnes Ayre’s granddaughter and she inherited the notebook. Agnes was born and grew up in St. John’s, NL. Agnes attended Bishop Spencer College as had her grandmother, mother and sister. A graduate of Memorial University and the University of Guelph, she has retired from a career in potato breeding research and development with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Fredericton, NB. Agnes contributed to the release of more than 20 potato cultivars with improved levels of disease and pest resistance as well as several with brightly pigmented flesh. A long time Masters swimmer and recreational cyclist, she also enjoys the outdoors, reading recipes and cooking- especially her favourite vegetable, the potato.

Author Bio

Roger Pickavance

Roger Pickavance is a retired professor at Memorial University who has devoted his life to the study of Newfoundland cuisine. He is the author of four cook books:

  • From Codfish to Kippers: Creative Recipes for Fresh, Smoked and Salted Fish is his latest cookbook.
  • From Rum to Rhubarb: Modern Recipes for Newfoundland Berries, Fruits and Vegetables.
  • The Traditional Newfoundland Kitchen, nominated for the 2018 Heritage and History Book Award
  • Agnes Ayre’s Notebook: Recipes from Old St. John’s.

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