Monday, October 07, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Harvest Cakes

The harvest is almost over, but that would not have been the case 100 years ago. Many pioneers did not have the manpower to harvest their own fields and they could not afford a threshing machine. Instead, they had to hire a threshing crew and wait their turn. It was not unusual to be harvesting well into October and even November. 

A threshing crew consisted of fifteen or more men who cut the grain, gathered it into sheaves and hauled it by wagon to the threshing machine. The demand for extra help at harvest was so great that shipping companies and rail lines lowered their fares so that British men could come to Canada to work. For instance, 12,000 Brits came for the harvest of 1923, of which 80 percent did not go home, according to the Saskatchewan GenWeb Project online.

It was noisy, dusty, heavy work. No doubt, they worked up huge appetites for which they were fed three solid meals a day, plus coffee breaks, by the farm women.

This recipe for Harvest Cakes was included in the Pion-Era Cookbook No. 2 published in 1967. It was submitted by M. Purdy of Saskatoon, no doubt of British heritage, who notes, "This recipe was my great grandmother's. They were made for the mid-morning and mid-afternoon lunches for the harvesters, served with coffee."

The brief instructions say "make a soft dough as for biscuits" and "bake in a quick oven." I have revised it to take out the guesswork. If you're not feeding a crowd, you can halve the recipe.

Harvest Cakes
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Stir in sugar. Cut the shortening (hard butter, margarine or lard) into small chunks and mix into the flour with a pastry blender and your fingers. Rub the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the raisins.

Pour in the buttermilk, stirring briskly with a fork to combine. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly, about 30 seconds. Roll the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch and cut with a round cookie cutter. Bake on a cookie sheet at 375F until lightly brown, 12-15 minutes.

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This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

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