Monday, December 30, 2013

Prairie Recipes - Gingersnaps

Skating one evening at the Meewasin rink, I thought of Mattie Mayes. In 1910, Mattie, her husband, Joe, their children and grandchildren, together with a dozen other families from Oklahoma took up homesteads north of Maidstone. In many ways, they were like every other pioneer in those early days of Saskatchewan. In one way, they were quite different: Mattie and Joe were former slaves.

In 1908, Oklahoma became a state and passed new laws to discriminate against its citizens of African American descent, segregating the schools and taking away their vote. Devoutly Christian, the Mayes and their neighbours saw Canada as God's Promised Land.

It would be nice to think they didn't face discrimination in Saskatchewan, but that isn't true. Editorials said they were unsuitable as farmers. Some white neighbours refused to send their children to the same school. The Canadian government took swift measures to stop more Black Americans from coming north.

But they also experienced extreme kindness, often bonding with their neighbours of all ethnicities through the sharing of fellowship and food.

In the Maidstone community cookbook, Preserving Our Past for the Future, Claire Paton recalls as school children gathering to ice skate on a pond on the Mayes farm: "Without fail, Granny Mayes would appear in her crisp white apron to call us for hot chocolate and cookies before we departed home."

This recipe for gingersnaps is in the same cookbook, and I can imagine 90-year-old Granny Mayes serving them with love and tenderness to all the children in her Promised Land.

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cup flour
Pinch salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Note: shortening can be lard, butter or stick margarine, at room temperature. Cream shortening. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Sift and add dry ingredients. Form into little balls. Roll in sugar. Placed well apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes.

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Jam Tart

In 1883, there were just six houses in Saskatoon, population 70. Many residents still lived in tents or sod shacks. Of those six houses built in 1883, only one remains. It sits at the back of its original lot at 512 10th Street East, in the neighbourhood of Nutana. It's just 16 by 20 feet, with a kitchen/dining room and two small bedrooms.

The year after the house was built, it became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Trounce and their two children, originally from England. The Trounces quickly integrated into the social life of the fledgling community, as noted in an article published in Saskatchewan History in 1987:

"This house was the scene of innumerable social activities, especially parties on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, and is referred to in several early memoires and books."

Their first Christmas in this house was a celebratory affair. Mrs. Trounce noted the menu in a letter, which is held by Saskatchewan Archives. The meal began with beef steak pie, boiled and roasted potatoes, bread and butter and dessert: mince pie, apple tart, blanc mange (a custard), currant biscuits and open jam tart. Note, no green vegetables of any sort, which were in short supply in a prairie winter.

It is very likely Mrs. Trounce's open jam tart was similar to a version popular in England, which can be made with any type of full-sugar jam. Over the holidays, I will drive by Trounce House and think of those pioneers, so full of hope in their new home.

Open Jam Tart
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter
1/4 cup ice water
1 egg yolk
2 cup jam

Sift together flour and sugar. Add butter in small pieces. Cut in with a pastry blender, then use your hands to rub remaining lumps into the flour until resembling coarse sand. Work quickly to not warm the butter.

Mix ice water and egg. Pour into flour, mixing quickly with a fork then with your hands, pressing the dough into a ball. Do not knead like bread. Form dough into two balls, wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.

Roll one ball thinly between two pieces of well-floured wax paper. Use the wax paper to lift the pastry over a tart or pie plate. Trim the edges generously. Chill 30 minutes. Poke the pastry with a fork. Spread jam in pastry. If desired, decorate with cookie shapes cut from extra pastry. Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes, until pastry is nicely brown. Cool completely before cutting.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Night Oven Bakery under Construction

It's the coolest thing in the world to watch a brick wood-fired bread oven under construction, and even cooler to have it in your own neighbourhood (ie my neighbourhood of City Park in Saskatoon).

Every bread lovers' fantasy - a wood-fired bake oven - under construction at the Night Oven Bakery. The wood fire is lit inside that heavy door.
The 9 ft dome from another angle. The bread, pastry, pizza, etc. slides in that narrow opening.
Bryn the baker explaining how he set the bricks and will harden them off with a 3-day burn.
In another part of the bakery, a massive mill stone for grinding flour. Another identical stone will be placed on top. It will grind flour for the bakery and also custom orders for organic flour. 
Bryn chats with Wayne, a stone mason who is installing three chimney flues.

Bread pans waiting for their date with the oven.
Night Oven Bakery and Café is set to open end January
at 629b 1st Ave. North, Saskatoon.
Stay in touch at

Monday, December 16, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Butter Tarts

Settlers in Saskatchewan brought a lot of recipes with them from the Old Country, but not butter tarts. Food historians agree this holiday favourite is a Canadian invention. Some speculate it may be an offshoot of Quebec's sugar pie or the Scottish Border Tart. However, those confections are baked in a pie plate, while butter tarts are always the size of, well, tarts.

While establishing its Canadian origin, the experts can't agree on the recipe. There are many variations on the "authentic" butter tart. Raisins or currants? Nuts or no nuts? Walnuts or pecans? Custardy or runny? A bit of vanilla or a bit of rum?

It goes without saying that my Grandma O'Hara made the best butter tarts ever, bless her soul, and no Christmas dinner was without them. Sadly, I no longer have her recipe. Coming close is the butter tart made by Linda Boyle, who uses an old recipe from her mom. It was one of the tops picks in the recent Saskatoon Farmers' Market butter tart contest, for which I was a lucky judge.

Linda and her mother, Audrey, made 300 butter tarts every Christmas, freezing most of them in ice cream pails which Audrey pulled out during the year and took to work at a local construction company to share the "love" with the guys. One thing Linda and I agree on (as do many of you, I'm sure) is that gooey frozen butter tarts are the best of all.

Audrey Dunkinson's Butter Tarts
(make pastry here.)
3 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
4 eggs
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
24 tart shells

Place sugar, butter, vanilla and water in a saucepan and heat until melted. Meanwhile, beat the eggs. Stir 1 cup of melted butter mixture into the eggs, to warm the eggs, then pour back into the saucepan. Heat and stir until combined.

Place 8-10 raisins and 1/2 tsp pecans in each tart shell. Pour in the filling, to about half full. Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is nicely brown.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pie Pastry

I learned to make pastry from my mother-in-law, Alma. She learned from her mother, who made pies at a little cafe in Harvard, Illinois. A young man came to the cafe often for the pie and fell in love with the pie maker's daughter. Alma is gone now, but I still remember her soft white hands delicately crimping the edge of a beautiful pie.

As Alma taught me, technique is important. The butter, lard and eggs must be at fridge temperature and worked swiftly so they don’t warm up. Always refrigerate the dough at least an hour before rolling.

Pie Pastry
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lard
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup ice water

Fill a cup with water and drop in a couple of ice cubes.

Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut cold butter and lard into pieces, dropping them directly into the flour. Work into fine lumps with a pastry blender. Using your hands, work the butter and lard between your fingers and thumbs until the mixture resembles course sand. Work quickly.

Measure 1/2 cup of ice water. Mix in the egg and vinegar. Stir well.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid. Stir briskly with a fork, incorporating the flour and water as best you can. Then use your hands to press the dough into a ball, pressing the loose flour into the dough. Work quickly. Do not knead like bread. The dough may be crumbly, and that's okay.

Cut the dough into four quarters. Press each piece into a round shape, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling for your pie. Here's a recipe for a simple, rustic apple tarte.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Prairie Recipes - Pfeffernusse

Imagine doing all your holiday baking in a wood stove. First you have to chop the wood. But what if it's 1913 and you're living on the vast prairie where few trees grow? It was not uncommon for homesteaders to travel a day by horse and wagon to cut enough wood for winter. You hope.

If wood ran low, you would pay a few hard earned dollars for a load of coal. In a pinch, you might resort to burning railroad ties, items of furniture and even cow patties. Imagine cooking Christmas dinner on that!

Add to that, those old stoves didn't have a temperature guide. Skilled cooks could "guess" the oven temperature by placing a hand inside and counting how long they could hold it there. Twenty seconds might be just right to bake a cake.

Recipes didn't give an oven temperature. Rather, they used terms like slow (300F), moderate (350F), hot (400F) and quick (450F). Give or take 50 degrees. Given the temperature variability, it was impossible to say how long an item would take to bake. A recipe for cake might say "bake in a moderate oven until a knife comes out clean."

This little holiday cookie was brought to the prairies by settlers from Germany and northern Europe but has, it seems, largely disappeared from modern cookbooks. Pfeffer refers to its peppery spiciness. Nusse is a hard little nut. If you're using a wood stove, cook in a moderate to hot oven until lightly brown and no longer soft to the touch.

Pfeffernusse (Pepper Nuts)
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup soft butter
Grated peel of one lemon
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp black pepper
Powdered sugar for dusting (opt)

Cream eggs and sugar. Add butter and lemon peel. Mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder and spices. Add to the egg mixture. Blend just until incorporated.

With the fingers, roll small balls of dough about the size of a cherry. Place on a cookie sheet (greased or covered with parchment paper). Bake at 375F for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack. When the pfeffernusse are cool enough to handle, but still warm, toss in powdered sugar.

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

Gooo-zjere on Global TV

Nice French accent, Kevin! Actually, it's Gougere, a snappy little French party app that's quick to make a tastes great. Global TV's Kevin Stanfield and Eric Beck were in my kitchen cooking for the holidays. The segment aired on Global Saskatoon this morning.
Click here to watch. Thanks for stopping by, Kevin!

Cheddar Gougeres
1 cup water
6 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
Few grinds fresh pepper
1 cup flour
4 eggs
3/4 cup cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, heat the water with the butter, salt and pepper until the butter is melted and the water is just simmering. Dump in the flour all at once. Stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot and forms a ball. Remove from heat.

Beat the mixture with electric beaters or turn it into a stand mixer and beat 30 seconds to release the heat. Rest two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing quickly and thoroughly between each egg. Mix the two cheeses together. Add 3/4 of the cheese to the dough and mix in well.

Using a small spoon, scoop up walnut-sized balls of dough and place on baking sheets. Sprinkle each one with a bit of remaining cheese. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 375F and bake another 20-25 minutes. Puffs should be nicely browned. Eat warm or cool, with a filling or not.

Feel free to use different cheese, as long as it's a dry cheese. Traditionally the French use Gruyere and perhaps a couple teaspoons of chopped chives. A dash of chili powder or paprika added with the flour is nice, too. You can enjoy them just as they are, or break them open and fill the centres with chicken or ham salad. Bon appetit!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Chicken Paprika

The curious thing about pioneer food is the sheer diversity of recipes despite a short list of ingredients. Basic groceries included flour, sugar, baking powder, oats, raisins, a few spices, coffee or tea. Most everything else was grown, raised or picked on or near the farm.

Yet in the hands of skilled cooks, with their own ethnic flare, these simple ingredients were turned into the unique flavours of the Old Country. Take for instance, Hungarian cuisine. Spice it with paprika, throw in some poppy seeds, thicken with sour cream, add some dumplings, and you've got dishes to warm the heart of every ethnic Hungarian.

In 1886, thirty-five families arrived at Esterhazy Colony, most of them Hungarians already living in the United States, enticed by immigration agent Count Paul Esterhazy (that wasn't his real name and he wasn't a real count). It would become the largest Hungarian settlement in Canada.

In 1902, the "Count" was hired by the Canadian government to produce a 67-page brochure full of glorious descriptions, prosperous-looking photos and glowing testimonies from farmers already there. On the subject of winter: "peculiarly healthful, elastic, bracing atmosphere." Of summer: "warmed and lighted by an Italian sun."

Perhaps inspired by that pamphlet, the Chomos, Shivak and Herperger families came as a group to Saskatchewan from Hungary in 1906. Their descendant Jerome Chomos of Saskatoon recalls the creamy one-pot stews, poppy seed strudel, homemade noodles and palascinta crepes of his grandma, dishes still lovingly cooked in Esterhazy by his 93-year-old mother Alice.

Chicken Paprika
1 whole chicken, cut up
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp each vegetable oil and butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup sour cream

Pat the chicken dry with paper towel. Place 1/4 cup flour, salt and half the paprika in a plastic bag. Shake chicken in the flour so each piece is lightly coated. In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter on high. Cook the chicken, turning once until browned on both sides. Remove chicken to a plate. You may need to do this in two batches; use more oil-butter if needed.

Wipe most of the remaining fat from the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Cook the onions and garlic until soft. Sprinkle with remaining paprika and stir well. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a bubble, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Return chicken pieces to the pan. Cover. Simmer on low until the chicken is cooked, about one hour, turning chicken once. Stir the remaining flour into the sour cream. Gradually stir into the sauce, spooning over the chicken. Warm through. Serve with spatzle noodles.

Spatzle (Drop Noodles)
This recipe is from The Hungarian Cookbook, Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago, 1973

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup water
1/4 cup melted butter

Sift together flour and salt. In another bowl, mix the egg and water. Gradually add flour to the egg mixture, stirring until smooth. Batter should be very thick and break from a spoon instead of pouring in a continuous stream.

Boil a pot of salted water. Spoon batter into the boiling water by 1/2 teaspoonfuls, dipping spoon into water to prevent sticking. Cook one layer of noodles at a time; do not crowd. After noodles rise to the surface, boil another 5 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon. As they are cooked, put the spatzle into a bowl and toss with melted butter.

If you plan to make spatzle often, you might with to invest in a spatzle maker:

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