Saturday, April 19, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - American Pancakes

Early prairie cookbooks call these "American" pancakes because they were big and fluffy and made with buttermilk, as opposed to the thin crepe-like pancakes more common in Europe. A "stack" was a welcome breakfast among the cowboys who came north with the big ranching outfits like the Matador and Turkey Track that ran thousands of cattle in Saskatchewan. It's a thing of beauty!

American Pancakes
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp melted butter

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and sugar in a large bowl. In another bowl, whip together buttermilk, egg and butter. Pour mixture into flour and stir to a smooth batter. Fry pancakes on a lightly greased cast iron skillet, flipping when the top side is bubbly and the bottom is evenly browned. Serve with butter and syrup.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Oatmeal Scones

A few months ago, this column featured a recipe for bannock, a simple bread that has been cooked in Saskatchewan since the fur trade. Today, its "sister" bread: scones. Both originate in Scotland, a country that's had a profound impact on the history of Saskatchewan.

The first Scots came in the 1700s with the fur trade. They married aboriginal women, their children and descendants being of mixed blood or Métis. Among them was James Isbister, the Métis leader who founded Prince Albert.

In the 1880s, many more Scots began arriving. At the time, it cost an average $163 for a family to travel from Scotland to the Canadian plains. Most were too poor to afford even that. They made the journey thanks to the benevolent support of Lady Emily Cathcart, who lent each family $500 to make a new start.

In the census of 2011, almost 20 percent of people in Saskatchewan claimed Scottish descent, and there are some 400 place names that start with the Scottish prefix Mac or Mc, according to historian Alan Anderson.

As a traditional recipe, there is little difference between bannock and scones. They have the same basic ingredients and were cooked as a large flat round, the primary difference being that scones were scored before being popped into the oven.

The most popular food among the Scots was oatmeal, eaten at any time of day in many forms – porridge, cookies, puddings, haggis, stuffing for turkey, coating for frying and these traditional oatmeal scones.

Oatmeal Scone
2 1/4 cups flour
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup shortening (butter or lard)
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
Extra milk for brushing
Sugar for sprinkling

Mix 2 cups flour, oatmeal, salt and baking soda. With a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse sand. Toss in raisins. Pour in sour milk and mix together with a fork.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead briefly, adding the remaining flour as needed to produce a dough that is not sticky. Press into a circle 1 inch thick. Place on baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. With a knife, score the circle in quarters, then score each quarter in thirds to make 12 wedges. Bake at 400F for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned. Break apart on score lines.

Cranberry Jam
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen low-bush cranberries
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice

Heat sugar and water in a saucepan to a bubbling simmer, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved, add the berries and orange juice. Simmer. As the berries heat, they will pop and release their juices. You can help by pressing them with a fork or potato masher. Boil lightly until it is jammy, but not too jammy, as it will thicken further as it cools.

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

Monday, April 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Coconut Cookie

I inherited my grandmother's recipe box. It's stuffed full of hand-written recipe cards, some in my grandmother's perfect script and some in the hand of those who shared a recipe with her.

But nothing like the recipes handed down by Kate Turgeon. In 1928, Kate (née Kaminski) immigrated from Poland with her family and settled at Crystal Springs, near Wakaw. She took a job keeping house and cooking for a farmer, a widower with ten children.

When she quit, he asked her to marry him. And so, as her granddaughter says, "She went back to do for free what she had once been paid for." Kate added three more children to the family. That's a lot of mouths to feed! In the 1940s, she and her husband moved into town, where she shared recipes with her new neighbour, Mrs. Danchuk.

Kate wrote out the recipes, but since she didn't write English too well, she wrote phonetically in a curious mix of English and Polish spelling. Half cup is hef kop. Egg is eg. Cake is kiejk. Raisins are ryjzyn.

A teaspoon of cinnamon is "tispun cynamyn." Three cups of oatmeal is "3 kops outmil." She crosses both t and l so the instruction "roll into small balls" is written "rot do smat bot." Needless to say, deciphering her recipes is a delightful puzzle.

This recipe for "kokonat kuki" is probably not that old, but Kate's handwritten recipes are a treasure from a time gone by, reminding us of the many nations and languages that populated this land.

Coconut Cookie
1 cup butter or lard
1 cup white sugar or brown sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 pound coconut (450 grams)

Cream soft butter/lard with sugar. Mix in cream of tartar, baking soda, egg and vanilla until well blended. Sift flour overtop and stir in. Add coconut and mix briefly. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet, about the size of a walnut. Press tops with a fork. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, until just starting to brown and a finger pressed on top does not leave an indentation. Dat myk 7 do kuki. ( Makes 7 dozen cookies.)

Molasses Muffin

Mrs. Danchuk's Cake

Oatmeal Cookie

Kate in her garden at Crystal Springs, Saskatchewan, with husband Alfred and granddaughter Marjy.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ripe Bean Soup

In 1970, the Mennonite ladies of Aberdeen worried their old recipes were being lost to a younger generation. They wrote out their traditional dishes and published a cookbook called Mother's Pioneer Recipes, recalling a time when "mother made the best of what she had and what could be produced at home."

It was a century after the first Mennonites arrived in Canada in the 1870s. Though they spoke German, the Mennonites had been living in southern Russia, where they were successful farmers.In 1873, the Canadian government sent an agent to Russia to entice the Mennonites to western Canada. Today, that area is in the eastern pro-Russian part of Ukraine. Many answered the call.

They settled first in Manitoba and spread into Saskatchewan territory in the 1890s, first around Rosthern and then to Hague-Warman-Osler-Aberdeen and communities in between. Several years later, in 1924, Saskatchewan historian John Hawkes wrote that the Mennonite settlers were "among our most worthy, industrious and hard-working citizens."

Early cokbooks did not usually include recipes for traditional dishes that came with the various ethnic groups that settled Saskatchewan. For the most part, these recipes weren't written down but passed from generation to generation in the kitchen.We can thank the ladies of Aberdeen for writing down this soup recipe for posterity.

The word "ripe" seems to refer to dried beans, as opposed to fresh beans. The smoked pork hock was purchased at Prairie Meats.

Ripe Bean Soup
1 pork hock, smoked or salted
2 cups dried white beans
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
Sour cream for serving (optional)

Put pork hock in a stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 1 hour. Place peppercorns, bay leaf and star anise in a spice ball or sachet. Add the spices and beans to the pot, cover and simmer 2 hours, topping up with water if needed.

Remove pork hock. Add chopped onion and cook until the beans and onion are very soft, another hour. Meanwhile, remove meat from bone, chop and add to the pot. Remove spices. Season with salt as needed (this will depend on the saltiness of the meat). To serve, it is optional to stir a bit of sour cream into each bowl.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Scotch Eggs

Eggs were an important source of food for the pioneers. They were also money in the bank. Every farm family had a flock of hens, most often in the care of the women who sold the extra eggs in town, along with homemade butter and cream.
The eggs were packed into a bucket of oats for the bumpy wagon ride. The horses ate the oats before the trip back home. The resulting "egg money" was used to buy groceries and small luxuries such as new shoes, material for school dresses, piano lessons, garden seeds and household goods.

One farm wife, Bertha Riekman of Rosthern, saved up her "egg money" to buy a freezer, according to the book Egg Money: A Tribute to Saskatchewan Pioneer Women. "Egg Money" is also the name of a bronze statue at the Saskatoon Farmer's Market depicting a woman and her children feeding the hens, circa 1900. It recognizes the economic contribution of "egg money" to the wellbeing of the pioneer family.

"Like every member of the family, the woman had the satisfaction of knowing that the work she did was essential… Eggs and butter often set the family table and bought the family clothing," writes Kay Parley in her history of Moffat, near Wolseley, which was settled by Scottish immigrants, including her grandparents, in 1882-3.

Despite the name, Scotch Eggs are an English creation and were popular in Victorian times for breakfast, lunch, picnics and train travel.

Scotch Eggs
8 medium eggs, hard boiled
Flour seasoned with pepper and salt
1 lb seasoned sausage meat
1 egg, beaten
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Cool and shell the hard-boiled eggs. Roll each egg in flour, then coat with sausage meat, pressing well with hands and making sure there are no gaps. Roll in raw egg. Dip into bread crumbs, pressing the crumbs into the meat. In a saucepan, heat oil on medium high. Fry eggs until golden brown. Lift out and drain. Serve warm or cold, perhaps with gravy or chutney.

Note: Purchased sausage meat should be of good quality and lean. If you like, add extra flavour with finely chopped parsley and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Colcannon

For St. Patrick's Day, let's visit the site of Saskatchewan's one and only stage coach robbery. Early morning July 18, 1886, the coach was travelling from Fort Qu'Appelle to Edmonton when it was stopped by a bandit with a double barrelled shotgun. He made off with the mail bag and cash worth $30,000 in today's dollars.

The site of the stick up has been pinpointed just northeast of Lanigan, near the future site of Saskatchewan's Irish Colony. In 1905, a group of settlers arrived from Quebec and took homesteads there. They were recruited by Father John Sinnett, a Roman Catholic priest and immigration agent based in Prince Albert.

They called their town Sinnett and, since the settlers were of Irish decent, the area became known as the Irish Colony. More Irish settlers arrived from Canada, United States and Ireland, among them my great grandfather Jack McNulty from Ontario.

His daughter Josephine, my Grandma Jo, was so proud of her Irish heritage she cooked a feast on St. Patrick's Day to rival Christmas dinner. Of course, meals were more modest in the early days of the Irish Colony, and one can imagine the table set with a big pot of economical colcannon.

There are many variations on Irish colcannon. Use kale in place of cabbage and ham in place of bacon, or no meat at all. As for Saskatchewan's only stage coach robbery, the bandit got fourteen years but the money was never recovered. Perhaps it's buried in a pot at the end of the rainbow.

(Make some Irish Soda Bread with that!) 

2 lbs potatoes (3 large)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup warm milk
4 cups shredded cabbage
3-4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1/2 cup chopped onion or leek
3/4 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper
Chopped parsley or green onion to garnish

Peel, quarter and cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain. Mash with butter and milk, adding more milk if needed to make a smooth puree. Keep warm. Cook cabbage in boiling water for 10 minutes and drain. Cook bacon in a large skillet until soft. Stir in onion and cook until bacon is done. Add cabbage, stirring in salt and pepper, and cook a few minutes longer. Blend cabbage into the warm mashed potatoes. Garnish with chopped parsley or green onion.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Daffodil Cake

Flour was a staple in pioneer homes, and so was the flour sack. As soon as a frugal homemaker had emptied a 50 or 100 pound bag of flour, she turned the soft cotton material into tea towels, curtains, pillow cases and even underwear.

In the 1920s and 30s, many youngsters went to school in a shirt or dress made from a flour sack, and many dolls were dressed in clothes made from the scraps. Evenings were spent by the lantern adding touches of embroidery or a crochet edge to make a pretty apron, throw pillow or tablecloth. The flour sack was also used for picking berries, making down pillows and carting plates and cutlery to the field at harvest time.

Other foods were also sold in cotton sacks such as sugar, oatmeal and chicken feed, inspiring the colloquial term "chicken linen" for the versatile fabric. A good deal of effort was expended trying to bleach out the logos. Before long, food companies switched to washable ink or paper labels.

Next, they added colourful patterns to the fabric. From that point on, the seamstress picked out the chicken feed for the design she (or her children) wanted to wear. The scraps became rag rugs and patchwork quilts. In the 1950s, flour companies switched to paper bags and the era of "chicken linen" was over, to the relief of many school children, I'm sure.

Daffodil cake was frequently included in old time cookbooks, just one delicious way to get to the bottom of another flour sack.

Daffodil Cake
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 cup flour, sifted
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 heaping tsp lemon zest

Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add cream of tartar and vanilla. Beat to stiff peaks while adding 1 cup sugar 1 tbsp at a time. Sift flour and 2 tbsp sugar overtop and fold in, trying not to deflate whites. Beat egg yolks until thick, adding lemon juice and zest. Add one-third of the whites to the yolks and fold together. Spoon whites and yolks into an ungreased tube pan. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, until top of cake springs back when pressed.

If you wish, make a light glaze by mixing 1/2 cup icing sugar, 1 tbsp lemon juice, pinch of lemon zest and water, a drop at a time, until smooth. Do you have prairie recipe with a story? Send me a comment. Follow me at

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

Monday, March 03, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Yorkshire Pudding

As I stand at my kitchen window dreaming of spring, I imagine Sarah Pinder in her kitchen dreaming of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Sarah and Walter Pinder and their three children were Barr Colonists, among the close to 2,000 English settlers who arrived in Saskatoon in 1903. They were enticed to immigrate by Reverend Isaac Barr, who believed western Canada must remain firmly British, flying the Union Jack, singing "God Save the King" and, no doubt, serving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for Sunday dinner.

Walter managed to build a small log house on the prairie (most Barr Colonists spent that first winter in tents in Saskatoon and Lloydminster), but he completely underestimated how much food they would need for the winter months. By March, the food was almost gone. Breakfast and supper were a gruel of flour and water, lunch was stewed rabbit, bannock and tea. It was impossible to make bread because the dough froze in the pan. It was that cold, even in the house.

Walter hitched the horses to the sleigh for the long ride to Battleford for supplies. While he was away, coyotes ate the rabbits. Then it was just bannock and gruel. Not a Yorkshire pudding in sight.

By 1911, half the population of Saskatchewan claimed British heritage. Even so, Yorkshire pudding didn't catch on in the same way that more "foreign" dishes did. Think perogies and borscht. Give it a try, and give thanks for a warm house in March. (Cook roast beef and gravy.)

Yorkshire Pudding
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil

In a blender, combine eggs and milk. Gradually add flour, blending all the while. Blend in salt. Heat oven to 400F. Put 1 tsp vegetable oil in each cup of a muffin tin. Place pan in hot oven until the oil is sizzling. Blend batter again. Quickly pour batter into the muffin tin, a scant 1/4 cup per hole.

Bake 20-25 minutes until puffed and lightly brown. Do not open oven door while baking or the "Yorkies" may deflate. Serve hot with roast beef and gravy.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Vinegret

As we say farewell to the Russian Olympic Games, we can remember the welcome paid to 7,400 Russian immigrants who arrived in what would become Saskatchewan in early 1899. They were Doukhobors.

In Russia, they were persecuted for their religious beliefs – they were pacifist, vegetarian and refused to swear allegiance to any power lower than God. As the Doukhobors were packing, Canadian authorities were scrambling to welcome such a large number of immigrants at once. The answer was potatoes.

In the fall of 1898, government agents were buying up potatoes from Brandon to Regina. It was a very wet fall and many potato crops were ruined, reducing the volume and increasing the price. Potatoes purchased in the fall for 30–45 cents per bushel were $1.25 a bushel by spring. Estimates said they would need upwards of 10,000 bushels for food that winter and another 1,000 bushels for planting in Doukhobor gardens come spring.

Storage was an issue, as seen in this memo from December 1898: "Quantity potatoes stored in cellar public building here think require attention decaying smell through office very bad most unhealthy for officers and presume potatoes spoiling."

Most of the potatoes reached their destination. A year later, the Doukhobors had built fifty-seven communal villages and proved themselves to be successful farmers, particularly in potatoes. This salad of potatoes and beets came to Saskatchewan with the Doukhobors and is still popular in Russia.

2 potatoes
2 beets
3 carrots
2-3 pickles
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vinegar (opt)
Salt and pepper

Boil vegetables until cooked. Cool and peel. Chop vegetables and pickles. Mix with onion, oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Variation: add 1/2 cup sauerkraut.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Prairie Kitchesn - Roast Beef and Gravy

In traditional English kitchens, while the roast was cooking, the Yorkshire pudding dish was placed underneath to catch the dripping fat. When the roast was done, the Yorkshire pudding batter was poured into the hot pan and popped back into the oven. While that cooked, the roast "rested" and the gravy was made. As the Yorkies came out of the oven, the roast and gravy were ready for serving. Sunday dinner was on! Recipe for Yorkshire pudding.

Roast Beef and Gravy

2 1/2 pound beef roast
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp bacon fat or vegetable oil
1/2 cup hot water
6-8 small potatoes
2 onions, peeled and quartered
8 carrots, peeled
2 tbsp flour
1/4 cup water

Heat oven to 300F. On the stove, heat bacon fat or vegetable oil in roasting pan until hot. Pat roast dry with paper towel and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Brown roast in hot oil, turning to brown all sides. Pour in hot water. Cover and roast in oven 1 1/2 hours.

Add vegetables to the roaster and return to oven. If needed, add more water. (Not necessary if the lid fits tightly.) Roast another 1/2 hour, until potatoes are cooked.

Remove roast to a plate and cover with foil to "rest." Scoop vegetables into a bowl and keep warm. Place roasting pan on stove and heat on medium. Mix flour and water until there are no lumps. Pour into bubbling liquid and stir vigorously. Season with salt and pepper. Bubble lightly to a desired gravy consistency. If the gravy gets too thick, add a bit of water, stirring well, until you're happy with the consistency. Slice the roast beef and serve with Yorkshire puddings smothered in gravy.