Profile: Martha Molina Steers

Recipe for Generosity

The Steers family donates a collection of cookbooks that mirrors food trends over the past 50 years

Written by: Pat Morden

When Martha Molina Velez Steers, ’51 stepped into a food lab at Brescia for the first time, she had never cooked before.

A native of Colombia, Martha came to Brescia to study the emerging field of Dietetics. At home, her large family had a cook, so she had no experience in the kitchen.

After graduation, she returned to Colombia and started the first-ever hospital-based dietetics program there. Then she married Canadian Barry Steers, and her life took a different turn. Barry joined the foreign service, and the young family began a peripatetic life that took them to postings around the world. Wherever they went, Martha quickly became the heart and soul of the ex-pat community, entertaining regularly.

“My mother was a recipe follower,” says daughter Sara Steers, who served on the Brescia Council of Trustees from 2004 to 2012. “She believed recipes were the best way to entertain, and she entertained in support of my father’s career.” At each posting — Singapore, Greece, Israel, Bermuda and beyond — she also learned the cuisine of the host country.

Cookbooks were a natural way to pursue her interest — she read them voraciously, not only to plan menus, but also to feed her curiosity about the history and background of various foods. Soon, family members were bringing her cookbooks whenever they traveled, and there were new books under the Christmas tree each year. In later years, she continued to collect, often following celebrity chefs like the Galloping Gourmet, Martha Stewart and more recently, Lucy Waverman. “She had a most eclectic interest in cooking,” says Sara. “From Osso Bucco to bread and butter pickles, she wanted to know about all of it.” There are more than 850 cookbooks in the collection.

Among favourite family recipes were Chinese fried rice and Singapore-style curry, both recipes she learned from a cook while posted to Singapore, and Pike Chowder, an interpretation of Bermuda Fish Chowder using fish caught near the family cottage east of Ottawa.

The Steers family have made several generous gifts to Brescia, so it was no surprise that Martha wanted the collection to go the University. After her death in 2016, Sara and her brothers offered the books to the library, together with a donation to ensure that they could be restored, preserved and catalogued. Director of the Beryl Ivey Library Caroline Whippey explains the impact that the donation will have on the students and the programming at Brescia. “The Steers cookbook collection adds a new and unique dimension to the Library,” says Caroline Whippey, Director of the Beryl Ivey Library. “Foods & Nutrition students, as well as those studying in other programs, will be able to learn about and try cuisines and culinary trends from around the world. It’s also an opportunity to welcome the local and research communities into our library.”

Sara says the collection provides a fascinating window into food, cooking and social trends from the 1960’s to now. It also reflects Martha’s warm and hospitable nature. “My mother made food, hearth and home the centre of her life and her family. The collection is an expression of that — the core of who she was.”