As Winnipeg daily newspaper the Free Press marked its 150th anniversary in 2022, outside-the-box engagement efforts became a key part of the celebratory strategy.
You may have already read about the Free Press’s patron programme. Along with several unique benefits, this upgraded subscription tier also encourages those who sign up to be advocates of the newspaper and bring in additional subscribers.
On the content side, arts reporter Eva Wasney embarked on a massive project: She spent eight months compiling a community cookbook that includes 150 submitted recipes and in-depth features about the history of food reporting in the Free Press. It also includes deep dives on individual recipes and submitters.
The end product is Homemade: Recipes and Stories from Winnipeg and Beyond, a 200-page, full-colour cookbook capturing the enduring community that has cropped up over the newspaper’s 150-year history.
“The book starts with a journey through the Free Press archives, beginning in 1876 with the brief history of pemmican and continuing into the 1930s with a profile of a local homemaking celebrity whose personal life was less than proper. The timeline includes a feature on the newspaper’s roster of home economics journalists and concludes with a look at the impact of a long-running recipe sharing column,” Wasney said of the book. She noted nearly 400 recipes were submitted.
“The book is split into six chapters, each opening with a story about a Winnipegger and their favourite dish,” she said. “This reporting took me into home kitchens, local parks, community gardens, and fishing boats.”
The cookbook went on to sell out — 1,000 copies in less than three months — and spent five weeks on a local bestseller list. It even turned a small profit and won the Best Easy Recipes Book category at the Gourmand Awards 2023.
But the printed cookbook was only one aspect of how the Homemade project allowed the Free Press to engage its readers in new and different ways.
Two in-person events were tied to the release of Homemade: The first was a free book launch evening at a local bookseller that gave recipe submitters and newspaper readers an opportunity to meet Wasney in person (as well as grab a copy of the book). The next was a ticketed fine-dining experience, the Free Press Fall Supper.
In 2021, the Free Press hosted its inaugural fall supper event with a menu created out of a related editorial project. For the second fall supper, hosted October 1, 2022, the editorial project that inspired the menu was the Homemade cookbook.
Winnipeg Chef Paul Ormond spent weeks with the cookbook and built a four-course menu utilising (and elevating) as many different community-submitted recipes as possible. The menu was diverse and reflected the many flavours and cultures that live within Winnipeg’s food ecosystem: fried polenta with salsa and freshmade feta, tabbouleh with tandoori chicken and raita, Filipino-style pork belly and skillet cornbread, apple tart with blueberry drizzle.
Those who submitted recipes were offered discounted tickets to attend the supper, which is also a fundraiser for a local food bank, and cookbooks were on sale at a special discounted price.
In addition to the events, Wasney also started and maintains a Facebook group for the Homemade community she built. The group currently remains at more than 300 members and Eva continues a regular posting schedule, including call-outs for more recipes for future features in the Free Press.