22 March 2013

Dining with Mister Dressup

Air Fare: The Entertainers Entertain
Allan Gould
Toronto: CBC Enterprises, 1984

Okay, so I never dined with Mr Dressup, but I did once break bread with Knowlton Nash. Both idols of sorts, they're just two of the forty-one CBC names found in this artifact of better times. Imagine, our public broadcaster once published books. Air Fare is not its greatest achievement – Northrop Frye's The Educated Imagination was a CBC publication – but it is good fun.

The concept here is simple: Allan Gould profiles some of the Mother Corp's better-known employees, who in turn share their favourite recipes.

I purchased my copy last December in preparation for a resolution that would've had me cooking up a storm in the New Year. What dinner guest wouldn't be impressed by Lister Sinclair's Lamb Chops Champvallon or Gerard Parkes' Funghi Alla Panna?

Ten weeks into 2013, I've tackled just five. Thus far, the only disappointment has come in the form of Martha Gibson's hand-moulded Tuna Cutlets: pasty post-war comfort food.

The best comes from Mr Dressup, Ernie Coombs, himself:

Pasta with Clam Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium cheese clove, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
2 5 oz. cans baby clams, minced
Parsley, chopped
Optional wine, grated Romano cheese
Sauté garlic in olive oil until dark brown, then discard. Add green pepper and onion to oil, and sauté until soft. Toss in a splash or two of white wine, then add the clams and their broth. When the sauce is thoroughly heated, scatter the chopped parsley onto it, and serve over your favourite pasta. Grated cheese may be added at this point.
Serves 4
Make sure the children are in bed, then open a bottle of Soave or dry Orvieto.
Tony Aspler provided the wine tip, but I'm left wondering about the parenting advice. After all, Mr D didn't appear to have any qualms about having son Chris around during the cooking.

Pasta with Clam Sauce is delicious, but what I like most about Air Fare are the 110 photographs of these CBC employees at work and home. Take Marketplace co-hosts Bill Paul and Christine Johnson. Bill was the first to get a computer, but Christine still had the better phone.

Though I'd seen corners of Clyde Gilmour's record collection before, this further glimpse was appreciated.

Who wouldn't want to scan Knowlton Nash's bookcase? Look, he has a copy of John Ralston Saul's Baraka! Just like me!

Meanwhile, Pierre Berton gives yet another lesson in self-promotion.

The profiles – "served up with the delicious humour of Allan Gould", says one ad – are for the most part  forgettable: "Let's get something straight, right off the top: Dennis Trudeau is not related to Him." CBC types already knew – and who but CBC types were going to be buying this thing?

Donning my publishing hat, I'd say my greatest problem with this book lies in the title: Air Fare is all too easily misread as Air Farce – a problem made worse by putting Luba Goy on the cover. As a reader and longtime CBC type myself, I take issue with the subtitle: The Entertainers Entertain. I've never thought of Knowlton Nash, Bill Paul, Christine Johnson or Dennis Trudeau as entertainers – and certainly not Mr Dressup. Today's CBC on the other hand...

Object: An 8½"x10" paperback, 16o pages in length. Though it enjoyed only one printing, that run numbered 20,000 copies. As I say, an artifact from better times.

John Murtagh's cover design owes more than a nod to that 'eighties staple The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Access: WorldCat records just seven copies in Canadian libraries, the beleaguered Library and Archives Canada included. Decent used copies are out there and can be purchased online for as little as $5.45.


  1. I remember my kids watching MR. DRESSUP.

    1. My favourite television show as a pre-schooler, topping The Friendly Giant and Chez Hélène.

    2. Last week Judith Lawrence, the puppeteer behind Casey and Finnegan, celebrated her birthday in the same building as our library. I heard applause, and a guest came tearing in to tell us that Judith had brought the puppets out for a performance. It was over in minutes, and since I was working, I missed it. I'm still disappointed!

  2. I think I spot Al Jolson and Judy Garland in Mr. Gilmour's record collection. Jolson was very popular with people of his generation even up to the sixties.