Monday, December 15, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Candied Orange Peel

Back in the day, people made candy for Christmas. Bought candy was a luxury many of the pioneers could not afford, except perhaps a few pieces dropped into a child's stocking along with an orange.


Common is the story of a farm wife butchering the turkeys in November and trading them at the general store for Christmas baking supplies, including the ingredients for making sweets.

Fudge falls into this category. Two weeks ago, I included a recipe for Maple Cream Fudge from my grandmother's recipe box. This week, I'm presenting the technique for making candied orange peel in the Lebanese tradition.

Dora Nasser came to Saskatoon with three young daughters in 1963 when her husband, Karim, took a teaching position at the University of Saskatchewan. Back then, she couldn't buy some ingredients essential to Lebanese cuisine such as eggplant, lentils, ground lamb and olive oil. "I really missed the food. We didn't starve but we didn't have the things I craved," she recalls.

How things have changed. Now she can buy eggplant of various sizes and olive oil from several countries. As for lentils, Saskatchewan now grows more lentils than anywhere else in the world!

Her family Christmas includes turkey stuffed with rice and pine nuts, Lebanese shortbread and candied orange peel. She prefers to use Seville oranges, but other thick-skinned oranges will do. Leftover syrup can be used in making baklava (a Middle Eastern dessert), added to the punch bowl or served on ice cream.

Candied Orange Peel (see images below)
4-5 oranges
Water for boiling
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
Needle and thread

Lightly grate the oranges to take off the shine. Cut the stem and flower ends off each orange.

With a knife, score the peel into quarters, cutting through the peel from top to bottom. Peel each section off the orange including the white pith, then cut each section in half lengthwise. This makes 8 peels per orange. Boil orange peels in water until soft.

Put peels in cold water for a day or two, changing the water twice. Lay peels on a tea towel or paper towel to dry, pressing out excess water. I left the peels overnight.

String a needle with thread. Roll each peel into a curl and secure it by piercing it with the needle and thread. Continue until all the curls are strung together, pressed close so they cannot uncurl.

In a saucepan bring the 2 cups water, sugar and honey to a light boil for 10 minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Place the string of orange curls into the hot sugar syrup and boil on medium heat for 20 minutes or longer.

Cooking is done at the two drop stage: scoop some syrup with a cold spoon and pour it back into the pot. When the syrup rolls off the spoon in two side-by-side drops (as opposed to one stream) cooking is complete. Lift out the peels. Cool slightly and pull off string.


 
 

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Pumpkin Loaf

My friend Judy would make her Granny proud. Her Granny Martha Mae came to Saskatchewan from Ontario in the early days when her husband got a job on the railway. When he was killed in a rail accident, she raised their four children by scrimping and scraping by.

"She could make a meal from almost nothing. Absolutely nothing went to waste," says Judy who, like most of us, admires the tenacity and ingenuity of single moms like her granny in the days before family allowances and childcare. "Her front yard was all flowers and her back yard was all vegetables," says Judy. "She taught us that meals were special and to be thankful for the food we had."

In keeping with her granny's frugal pioneers spirit, Judy prepared this recipe for pumpkin loaf from scratch – starting with the pumpkin. "I'd never cooked pumpkin from scratch before, but it was easy. It baked just like spaghetti squash," she says.

Like old-time cooks, she adapted the recipe to the ingredients on hand, substituting half whole wheat flour, omitted the nutmeg and cloves (upping the cinnamon) and adding an extra 1/4 cup of cooked pumpkin because that's what the pumpkin yielded. No waste!

She took it to a potluck brunch with my book club, who cooked recipes from my new cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens. Other dishes included buttered eggs, perogies, Swedish meatballs, cranberry jam, oatmeal scones and gingerbread cookies. A meal to make a prairie granny proud.

Pumpkin Loaf
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 cup cooked pumpkin, mashed
1/4 cup melted butter
Brown sugar for topping

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Toss in raisins. Beat egg well and stir in milk, pumpkin and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in egg mixture. Mix just enough to blend. Pour into a greased loaf pan.

Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Bake at 350F for about 1 hour, until a knife inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Kutia

On December 24, many Polish, Ukrainian and Russian families will sit down to a traditional 12-course meatless Christmas Eve meal. The list of dishes may include perogies, borsht, mushrooms, fish and kutia, a dish of sweet boiled wheat with nuts, poppy seeds and honey.

Why include a dish of wheat for Christmas Eve? Back to pre-Christian times, even to ancient Egypt, wheat was considered a sacred grain because it provided bread – the staff of life – and symbolized death and rising again as the seed went into the ground and rose up as a young green plant. This symbolism entered the Christian faith in the wheat-growing lands of Eastern Europe, and from there, it came with the settlers to the wheat-growing lands of Canada.

Among those settlers were Anton and Anna Osiowy (o-sho-vee), Polish immigrants from Galicia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who homesteaded at Lemberg, near Melville, in 1897. Incidentally, Lemberg was the German name for a city in Galicia formerly known as Lwiw in the Polish Kingdom and currently Lviv in Ukraine.

In Ukrainian tradition, kutia is one of the first dishes served at Christmas Eve but in the Polish tradition of Anna and Anton it was served as dessert. Their great great grand-daughter, Annette Leniczek Stebner, remembers her dad fetching a bucket of wheat from the granary and the children picking out the chaff and weed seeds at the kitchen table. "It felt good to eat something we produced ourselves," she says, and still uses organic wheat from the family farm to make this treasured dish on Christmas Eve.


Anna Osiowy's Kutia
1 cup wheat seeds
6 cups water
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
Pinch salt
1 cup sugar or honey
Cream for serving

Soak wheat in water overnight. Without draining, bring to a boil, skimming the foam that rises to the top. Lower heat, cover and simmer, stirring now and then, until the wheat seeds burst open, about 4-5 hours. Stir in raisins, poppy seeds, nuts and sugar or honey. Heat through. To serve, scoop into individual bowls and pour on some cream.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Maple Cream Fudge

My grandma was proud of her fudge. She made two or three kinds of fudge to serve over the holidays, perhaps a custom she learned from her Scottish mother on the farm at Nokomis. Back in her mother's day, Christmas sweets and candy were an expensive extravagance for many prairie families. So they made their own.


Christmas preparations began early with the centrepiece of the meal – a turkey or a pork roast – raised on the farm. The pigs and poultry were butchered in November once the days dipped below zero since there was no freezer but the great outdoors. Many are the accounts of a farm wife keeping one turkey for her family and taking the remainder into town to trade at the general store for holiday baking supplies such as nuts, spices, candied peel (for the fruitcake) and white sugar. Fruitcakes were made in mid-November so they could "mature" before Christmas dinner, and a great variety of cookies were baked in advance and kept frozen for special meals.

However, when times were tough, as they were many years, Christmas was not always celebrated in fine style. Years later, Fred Baines recalled the first Christmases his family spent on the prairie after immigrating from England: "We did not celebrate in those days, but I remember, my mother cried at the poor dinner we had."

My grandma's recipe card for fudge is stained and well used, and the taste transports me back to the warmth and fragrance of her kitchen at Christmas time.


Maisie's Maple Cream Fudge
3 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup light cream
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

In a saucepan, mix all ingredients except vanilla and nuts. Heat on medium, stirring now and then, until sugar is dissolved. Continue heating on medium until the mixture comes to a full boil, stirring infrequently to ensure it is not sticking to bottom or sides of the pot.

Heat to soft ball stage or 238F on a candy thermometer. To test for soft ball stage without a thermometer, pour a small spoonful of fudge into cold water. Scoop up the fudge in your fingers; if it cools into a soft pliable ball you can work between your fingers it has reached the soft ball stage. If not, keep boiling and test again.

Once it reaches the soft ball stage, turn off heat. Allow to cool to 110F, cool enough to hold a finger in the fudge. Do not stir. Once cool, stir in vanilla and nuts, if using. Beat with a spoon until the fudge is smooth and no longer glossy. Spread into a lightly buttered 8x8 inch dish, smoothing with damp fingers. Cool completely and cut into squares.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Creamed Chicken & Mamaliga

What's your comfort food? Ask one hundred people and you might get one hundred different answers. For Lisa Lambert, it's Creamed Chicken, a Romanian recipe brought to Saskatchewan with her grandmother one hundred years ago.

"It's steeped in nostalgia," she says. "We crave the foods that hold good memories for us and I have very good memories of Granny cooking good food for us."

Granny Mary Wilchuck was a little girl (nee Gnesner) when she immigrated to Canada with her family in 1914 and settled in Southey. They came from an area called Bukovina which was, at that time, under the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the area was historically Romanian. So, while Granny Wilchuck considered herself Austrian and spoke German, their immigration papers listed Romania as the country of origin.

This bit of history illustrates how blurred ethnic origins can become through the centuries of shifting borders, and how this is often reflected in favourite family recipes. At 17, she wed a farmer almost twice her age, an arranged marriage. It was not a blissful union, according to Lambert, but Granny Wilchuck was always smiling when she cooked for her family.

In time, she taught this recipe to her British daughter-in-law, Marilyn Wilchuck. Lambert has included the recipe in her cookbook, Recipes I Stole from My Mum, noting that, as a child, she always requested it for her birthday dinner. Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, a corn meal porridge still popular on Romanian dinner tables today.


Creamed Chicken
5–6 lbs chicken parts
Water to cover
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 tbsp instant chicken bouillon
2 tbsp salt
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup flour
1 cup water

Cover the chicken in water in a large dutch oven. Add chicken bouillon, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove a small amount of broth and cool. Gradually stir sour cream into cooled broth. Return to the simmering sauce, stirring constantly.

Mix flour and remaining 1 cup water until smooth. Stir into sauce to thicken. Discard bay leaves. Serve over corn meal.

Corn Meal (Mamaliga)
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 cups yellow corn meal

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add salt and butter. Add corn meal gradually and stir constantly until thick. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until corn meal starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. Serve hot.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Bigos

Polish newcomers to Saskatchewan, whether 100 years ago or one year ago, have a soft spot in their hearts for bigos, a traditional winter stew.

Eva Sylwestrowicz, who grew up in northern Poland, remembers wonderful winter picnics when friends and family went into the woods by horse-drawn sleigh and ate bowls of bigos warmed over a bonfire. "Someone went ahead to prepare the bonfire," she says. "There was bigos and bread, vodka and wine. And hot chocolate for the children. It was a special time."

Eva came to Saskatoon in 1982, escaping communist Poland with her husband Thomas and their young children, Magda and Wojtek. Their journey is intriguing. Thomas, a physician, had gone to London, England, for a research fellowship but his family was not allowed to go with him.

On the pretext of entertaining his colleagues – and making a good impression – he asked Eva to send him his mother's silverware and the good linens. Thus they spirited some family treasures out of the country.

On a cold winter day, Eva and the children left for a vacation in Tunisia, an approved holiday destination, with nothing but a suitcase of summer clothes. They had to go to East Germany to catch their flight, but as soon as they got there, they changed directions for London and from there to Canada.

Bigos (bee-gōs) is considered better with each reheating. Leftovers are added to the pot creating a "perpetual stew" that lasts a week, ready to reheat for unexpected company or a winter picnic.


Bigos
1/2 cup dried mushrooms
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika or 2 juniper berries, finely crushed
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup leftover roast meat
6–8 canned tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium cabbage head, shaved
1/2 lb sauerkraut
2 tbsp plum jam or honey

Soak mushrooms in boiling water to soften. Heat oil in a stew pot. Cook onion until soft. Stir in paprika or juniper berries, salt and pepper.

Add garlic and bacon. When bacon and onions are cooked, add the rest of the meat, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms and mushroom water.

Add enough cold water to almost cover the contents. Cover the pot and simmer for several hours, until the cabbage is meltingly soft. Stir in plum jam or honey.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Molasses Cake

In 1897, Anna Pölsson packed her belongings and made the ocean voyage from Sweden to Canada to join her fiancé who had taken a homestead near Kamsack. They had not seen each other for 11 years.

Anna's family tried to dissuade her from making the trip. So much time had passed. It was so far away. Did she even know him anymore? But she was determined to keep the promise she had made to Nils.

"He wanted to work off his boat fare, and make her boat fare, and establish a homestead before she came. It took him 11 years, which I don't think was uncommon in those days," says Karen Priestley of Choiceland, Anna's great-granddaughter.

In Sweden, Anna had trained with a doctor and those skills served her well around Kamsack, where she delivered babies, set bones and tended the sick – even for animals. "People called on her because she was willing to take trade instead of money, while most doctors insisted on cash," says Karen. "I really admire her."

Anna raised seven children, survived two husbands, and passed on her recipe for molasses cake. According to Karen, it was an everyday cake, rarely iced except for company. Now-a-days, however, she always frosts it because that's how her children (Anna's great great grandkids) love to eat it. And she uses the microwave – proving that cherished old recipes still have a place in the modern kitchen.


Molasses Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup buttermilk

Cream butter well. Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition. Blend in molasses and eggs.

Sift together flour, baking soda and spices. Add to batter in three portions, alternating with buttermilk until well blended.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch cake pan and bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cake and ice.

Caramel Coffee Icing
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup cream
1 tbsp strong coffee (or 1/2 tsp instant coffee)
1 2/3 cup icing sugar

Put brown sugar, butter and cream into large glass measuring cup. Microwave for 40 seconds. Stir and microwave another minute or so until smooth. Add coffee. Blend well and cool. Beat in icing sugar to a creamy and spreadable consistency.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Savoury Spareribs

Ovens of the future will have a computerized touch screen that will display recipes, automatically heat to the right temperature and cook the required amount of time.
 
How far we've come in one-hundred years. Back then, the Home Comfort range boasted "modern" features such as ample capacity fire box, fire-proof asbestos lining, air-cooled housing and enamelled legs of "graceful, pleasing design." It even had a heat indicator based on a scale of one to nine.

However, none of the recipes in the Home Comfort cookbook indicate where on that scale the heat should be. That was "governed entirely by conditions, which can be ascertained after a few trials," while the optimal cooking time was based on the "good judgement and management of the cook." Imagine if today's cookbooks were based on trial and error!

The Home Comfort cookbook contains a few other gems of advice: empty the ashes once a day and, in extreme cold weather, drain the water reservoir at night or "look out for an explosion." As for baking, it advised the cook invest in a set of measuring cups (since using a teacup to measure sugar or flour was not scientifically accurate) and to become proficient in a basic cake before undertaking more complicated recipes.

After that, cooking was a snap: "A century ago, no cook was considered proficient under thirty years of age; today, thousands of girls have become fine cooks at eighteen or twenty."

Here's the recipe for spareribs, with a few modern updates.


Savoury Spareribs
1 – 2 lbs spareribs
Salt and pepper
4-8 small potatoes
4-6 apples

Heat oven to 375F. Bake spareribs one hour. Peel and quarter potatoes and apples. Season spareribs with salt and pepper; top with apples and potatoes. Bake one hour, or until meat and potatoes are cooked. If desired, broil spareribs for a few minutes to brown.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Italian Turkey Soup

Sometimes, the oldest and best recipes have no measurements and few instructions. That's because they are so classic and so iconic the cook can make them by heart. Take, for instance, the recipe for Gilda DiSanto's turkey soup which she learned at her mother's side growing up in Italy.

Gilda, her husband Luigi and two-year-old Carmelina came to Canada in 1964, joining his brother who was already in Saskatoon. Before leaving their village, Fresagrandinaria, Gilda dehydrated her homemade pasta sauce and packed it along so they would not be without in their new home.

She recalls the train ride across Canada, eating the spaghetti and white bread they were served onboard. "It was so bad. I cried, Oh my God!" she laughs.

After fifty years in Saskatoon, she still makes her own pizza and spaghetti sauce, putting up 100 jars of home-grown tomatoes every fall. Those tomatoes are a special ingredients in her turkey soup.

She begins with a whole turkey, turning it into several meals. However, the hand-written recipe (as passed on to her daughter Carm Michalenko) substitutes turkey wings for the whole bird. I've taken the liberty of adding ingredient amounts to the basic recipe, so feel free to take the "bones" and make this delicious peasant soup your own.


Gilda's Turkey Soup
Broth:
2 lbs turkey wings
2-3 celery stalks
3-4 carrots
2-3 potatoes
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 onion, quartered

Meatballs:
2 lbs ground turkey or beef
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp minced dried basil
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp salt and plenty of pepper
Orzo-shaped pasta, cooked
Leftover wing meat

For the broth, put turkey wings in a pot, cover generously with water and boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Peel vegetables, cut in half and add to the pot with tomatoes and salt. Cook until the meat falls from the bone. Strain and reserve broth. Separate bones and meat.

At this point, you can make a meal of the meat and vegetables removed from the broth.

Put the bones in fresh water with the onion and boil again until the broth is golden. Strain and mix the two broths together.

To make meatballs, combine ground meat, egg, parmesan cheese and herbs, seasoning salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, until the meat is smooth and silky. Roll into meatballs about the size of a marble. Drop into boiling water and scoop out when cooked, about two minutes.

Reheat the turkey broth, tasting and adding more salt if needed. Add meatballs, cooked pasta and any leftover wing meat. Buon appetito!

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Flapper Pie

What on earth is Flapper Pie? My guess is you either a) have no idea, or b) have warm and fuzzy memories of eating your mom's or your grandma's Flapper Pie.

The Canadian Food Enclyclopedia describes it as "graham-crusted, custard-filled pie and long-time Prairie favourite." However, it did not originate here.

Graham crackers were invented in 1829 by Sylvester Graham, an evangelical minster in New Jersey who preached a vegetarian, low-fat, low-sugar diet rich in whole grains. By 1900, his cracker was being sold commercially by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which promoted it as good food to take on long journeys, such as that of pioneers moving west. A recipe for Graham Cracker Pie was included on the package.

Indeed, it was a good pie for farming pioneers because the key ingredients – eggs, cream, butter, flour – were readily available on the farm. However, the name remains a mystery to me: when did it become Flapper Pie? One might surmise it happened during the flapper era of the 1920s, but why and by whom?

Before long, Flapper Pie had made its way into the hearts and cookbooks of families across the prairies, a staple at fowl suppers and baby's first pie. There are different versions of the basic recipe, some with less sugar, some with cream of tartar (to firm the meringue) and some with cinnamon in the crumb crust.

Flapper Pie
Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

Filling:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Meringue topping:
3 egg white, room temp.
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch cinnamon

Mix crust ingredients. Scoop out 2 tbsp and set aside. Press crumbs into the bottom and sides of a pie plate. Bake at 375F for 8 minutes and cool.

For the filling, blend sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir a spoonful into the egg yolks, mix quickly and pour back into the saucepan. Boil for two minutes, stirring, until quite thick. Stir in vanilla. Pour filling into graham cracker crust.

For the topping, whip egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually pour in sugar while whipping to stiff peaks. Spread meringue on filling, ensuring it touches the crust all around. Mix the reserved 2 tbsp graham crumbs with cinnamon and sprinkle over top.

Bake at 375F for 6-8 minutes, until meringue is toasty brown. Cool pie and refrigerate a few hours before cutting.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)