Jean Paré, Best-Selling ‘Everyday’ Cookbook Author, Dies at 95
Jean Paré, a cookbook author who taught millions of Canadians how to cook with her series of more than 200 self-published cookbooks called “Company’s Coming,” died on Dec. 24 in Edmonton, Alberta. She was 95.
Her death, in a hospital, was confirmed by her granddaughter Amanda Lovig Hagg. She did not specify a cause but said that Ms. Paré’s health had been deteriorating for about a year.
Ms. Paré wrote her first cookbook in 1981, when she was 54. The book, “150 Delicious Squares,” a collection of some of her most popular dessert recipes from her nearly two-decade career as a caterer in Vermilion, Alberta, was a smash, selling about 1.5 million copies.
By the time she retired in 2011, more than 30 million copies of her cookbooks had been sold, including more than a million in the United States, making her one of the world’s top-selling cookbook authors. But even as her publishing empire expanded and the books became ubiquitous in kitchens, they retained the homey quality of recipes for everyday cooking from a regular Canadian mom.
The recipes were easy to follow and used common, affordable ingredients. Ms. Paré insisted that her books have a flat binding so readers could easily lay them on their counters, and she wanted realistic pictures of the recipes.
“Her golden rule of cooking is to never share a recipe you wouldn’t use yourself,” Ms. Lovig Hagg said.
Ms. Paré (pronounced “Perry”) began catering in 1963 after a divorce left her as a single mother with children to support. She became known for her “midnight lunches” at parties she catered, trays of dessert squares brought out near the end of the celebrations.
Dozens of partygoers would ask for her recipes, she told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. Several times a night, she said, she would hand-write the recipes for desserts like brownies, matrimonial date squares and Nanaimo bars, a three-layer Canadian specialty.
“People used to ask for recipes so much, and I’d always give it to them, and finally they started asking, ‘Why don’t you put these out in books so we don’t have to ask you all the time?’” Ms. Paré said. “So that seemed to be the thing to do.”
Her son Grant Lovig encouraged her to pursue the idea and offered to help her “throw a business together,” he said in an interview. On the weekend after their conversation, he drove about an hour from his home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to his mother’s house in Vermilion. By the time he arrived, he said, she already had 50 recipes ready.
“My grandma could write a recipe when she’s wasn’t in the kitchen,” Ms. Lovig Hagg said. “She could envision it so realistically. She can be on an airplane or in a movie and jot down a recipe. She was able to create and dream up meals like that. It’s a bit like magic.”
Ms. Paré was born Jean Shirley Elford on Dec. 7, 1927. Her parents, Edward and Ruby (Locke) Elford, owned a general store in Irma, Alberta, a small farming community about 335 miles north of the U.S. border.
Her passion for cooking came from her mother, her family said. Ms. Elford encouraged her in the kitchen, and during the Great Depression she always had something ready in the kitchen for anyone in need. That kindness inspired the title for Ms. Paré’s series, “Company’s Coming,” a phrase her mother used in the 1930s when hungry homeless men arriving by the Canadian Railway looking for work approached their home. Her mother always fed them.
After Ms. Paré divorced her first husband, Clarence Lovig, she opened a cafe, where she met Larry Paré, an electrician who was a customer there and who loved her apple pies with a slice of Velveeta cheese. He became her second husband.
In addition to her son Grant and granddaughter Amanda, Ms. Paré is survived by three other children whom she had with Mr. Lovig — Lyall and Brian Lovig and Gail Lovig-Eskelson; three stepchildren, Robert Paré, Maxine Sweeney and Larry Paré; and 49 other grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
Ms. Paré’s first catering job was in 1963, when she agreed to make dinner for more than 1,000 people celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vermilion School of Agriculture, now called Lakeland College. As the catering business grew, she sold the cafe.
Book publishers weren’t interested in her first cookbook because it was exclusively desserts at a time when “people don’t eat sugar anymore,” they told Grant Lovig. So he and his mother created their own company, Company’s Coming Publishing Ltd.
Neither of them had any publishing experience. “It was a really big risk,” Mr. Lovig said. “But ignorance is bliss and we were enthusiastic, and we believed in it.”
Ms. Paré had a knack for creating recipes and improving existing ones, and she read cookbooks from cover to cover. By the time she started compiling her recipes for a book, including those she’d collected from her mother and grandmother, she had amassed thousands.
The cookbook would have been “three feet between the covers,” Mr. Lovig said. They decided to publish several books themselves, organized by topic.
The first one, the one that publishers had rejected as too sugary, has sold more than 14 million copies.
“150 Delicious Squares” was the launching pad for Ms. Paré’s career as cookbook author, publisher and, it turned out, marketer and saleswoman. She loaded boxes of books in the trunk of her Oldsmobile and traveled to rural towns, calling small stores, pharmacies, gift shops and even a lumber store to ask if they would sell her book.
She was a pioneer behind a Canadian trend of selling books “where people are every day, rather than just in bookstores,” said Pat Beilman, the national account manager for the company that now owns the series, Canada Book Distributors.
As the “Company’s Coming” brand grew, Ms. Paré worked with a staff to develop recipes in a test kitchen they called “the recipe factory.” As supermarkets arrived and ingredients became more readily available, the recipes changed, too. The company grew to more than 100 full-time employees, including recipe developers and testers, a nutritionist and a food economist.
But Ms. Paré continued to test the recipes herself and give final approval.
She also plugged in jokes, called “Paré’s Pointers,” throughout her books. “While at a church pot luck supper, eat lots. Food for the soul has no calories,” she wrote under a recipe for lemon smacks.
Ms. Paré and Mr. Lovig sold their business to Canada Book Distributors after she decided to retire in 2010 at 83. The company reprints Ms. Paré’s most popular titles and has added new books to the series.
Ms. Paré was “a Canadian culinary icon” who “made mealtimes more manageable for millions,” the Canadian food writer Julie Van Rosendaal wrote in a tribute.
“Perhaps most importantly,” she added, “she has made us feel more capable in the kitchen, emboldening us to feed ourselves and each other — one of the highest forms of love.”
Sara Bonisteel contributed reporting.