Monday, December 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Jelly Salad

Almost ten years ago, in spring 2005, I began writing this food column in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. This is my last installment.

Back in 2005, my husband and I had embarked on an eat-Saskatchewan adventure to source almost all our food within the province. Over the years, I highlighted many of those foods – wild, cultivated and processed – that Saskatchewan has to offer, as well as the recipes and food traditions cherished by those who call this province home.

It sparked two books, Prairie Feast in 2010 and Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens in September, both of which owe their genesis in no small part to the opportunities this column has given me. In the new year, I'm heading to Europe to research another book, a history of wheat, for which I received a Canada Council writers' grant. New adventures await…

Looking back over the past ten years, I observe one significant gap in the subject matter of this column: jelly salad. Jelly salads are iconic in Saskatchewan, if not on the modern dinner table then in our fondest memories of fall suppers and holiday meals.

In my family, no Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner passed without my mom's jelly salad. However, my all-time favourite Jell-o concoction is made by my brother's mother-in-law, Enid Burton of Saskatoon. At her dinner table, it is served with the turkey but is also good as dessert. We call it Pink Stuff. So I sign off today with a Jell-o recipe and wish you merry adventures in the kitchen and a prosperous New Year.
"Pink Stuff" Jell-O Salad
1 large box strawberry Jell-o powder
2 cups boiling water
2 cups dream whip
1 1/2 or 2 cups mini marshmallows, plain or coloured

Stir Jell-o with boiling water until powder is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate until Jell-o is jiggly but not set. With an electric mixer, beat in cool whip until well incorporated. Stir in marshmallows. Refrigerate until mealtime.

(This article was first published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

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.

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
2 lbs turkey wings
2-3 celery stalks
3-4 carrots
2-3 potatoes
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 onion, quartered

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
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

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.)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ghormeh Sabzi

A century ago, immigrants came to Saskatchewan to escape state and religious persecution, to give their children a better life and to start anew. That hasn't changed with time.

Iran Yousefi came to Canada from Iran seventeen years ago to raise her daughter in a peaceful secular society where women can succeed on their own terms. Back in Iran, she was a veterinarian and microbiologist. In Toronto, her first "survival" job was in a pizza joint. "I had always wanted to learn how to make pizza, so it was exciting for me," she says.

Seven years ago, she moved to Saskatoon so her husband, Dr. Farzin Kasmaiefar, could re-certify as a family physician. In Saskatoon, it was difficult to find some ingredients needed for popular dishes from Iran such as khoresht ghormeh sabzi (herb stew) and fesenjan (chicken and walnut stew).

"That was quite a change for me, as someone who loves to cook my traditional recipes," she says. For instance, the stew below is traditionally made with a herb called tareh, but here she uses the green part of a leek (the part most other recipes discard).

Fresh fenugreek is also not readily available (although she has found it recently at Superstore). As for other exotic ingredients such as dried lemons, they can be purchased in the new Pars Market on 8th Street E.

Who knows, perhaps a century from now, gormeh sabzi or fesenjan will be just as at home in Saskatchewan as Hungarian goulash or Russian shishliki.

Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch fenugreek or 1 tbsp dried
1 leek, green part only
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb beef (450 g) in 1 inch cubes
4 dried lemons or 1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
1 can kidney beans, drained

Chop greens quite fine. For the leek, use the tender green part (not the hard outer leaves). Wash greens in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Heat a large skillet on high. Add greens and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated. Add half the vegetable oil and cook until greens are turning brown. The volume of greens will reduce considerably.

Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a stew pot. Add onion and cook until soft. Stir in turmeric. Add meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn up heat and cook until browned.

If using dried lemons, poke each lemon with a fork and add to pot with the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in cooked greens. Cover and cook for about one hour.

Half way through cooking add kidney beans and, if using, dried fenugreek and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. The stew is done when the meat is tender. Serve on rice.

Add a Persian tomato salad and Persian barbari bread.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Apfelkuchen

A few days ago I was baking apfelkuchen while listening to a radio program on events in Ukraine. Both are inextricably tied to my German heritage.

In the 1770s, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire and captured vast territories along the Black Sea, what is today Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia put out a call across Europe for farmers to come work the land. My ancestors answered that call, settling in a German village on the Dnieper River which is today called Zmiivka.

Almost a century later, Canada began advertising across Europe for farmers and my German family packed up and moved again in 1890-93. Even though they had lived in Russia (now Ukraine) for several generations, they maintained their German culture and cuisine based on potatoes, apples, dumplings, noodles, sausages and pork.

At first, it might have been difficult and expensive to get apples in Saskatchewan. In 1914, a barrel of apples was $4.25 while a 100-lb sack of flour was just $3.40. Early varieties of apple trees could not survive our harsh winters, but in the 1920s the University of Saskatchewan began working on new varieties for our climate. Before long, apple trees were a common sight in rural farmyards.

My Grandma Ehman made the most of the apple orchard on our farm – crab apples for jelly and larger yellow apples for applesauce, apple pastries and apfelkuchen. I'm hoping to visit Zmiivka next year, but in the meantime, I'm travelling back in time with a big slice of grandma's apfelkuchen.

Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 apples, peeled and sliced

1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour

For the cake: Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and salt. Remove 2/3 cup of batter and reserve for the topping.

Press remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon.

Mix reserved batter with the remaining flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is light brown.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Shishliki

The Doukhobors who settled in Saskatchewan were vegetarians. Wink wink.

They became pacifists and vegetarians in Russia based on the principles of their spiritual leader Peter Verigin and his idol, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. However, not all eschewed meat, and for that we can be grateful because it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in our province: shishliki.

Shishliki is an old Russian recipe of marinated and grilled lamb. It's a specialty around Yorkton, Kamsack and Canora, where it's popular at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.

Traditionally, there are just three ingredients – lamb, onion and salt. Lemon may be added as a tenderizer if the meat is tough, but it is unlikely the first prairie Doukhobors ever saw a lemon or could afford one if they did.

Among the 7,500 Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 was the Zbeetnoff family, whose descendant Michelle (Zbeetnoff) Hughes of Norquay is publisher of Prairies North magazine. Even though she was raised in the bosom of her mother's Ukrainian family, she still makes the shishliki and piroshky (fruit pies) of her Russian Doukhobor grandmother.

"I want my children to be familiar with the old recipes because it's part of their heritage," she says. "Back then, it was subsistence living. Everything they had was by the hard work of their own hands."

And in this recipe, the hands are still at work. No spoon allowed! Pork or chicken may be substituted for the lamb.

2 lbs lamb (1 kg)
Pepper (optional)
1 big onion, sliced

Cut meat in 2-inch cubes. In a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, if using. With your hands, rub the seasoning into the meat. Mix in onion. Cover and refrigerate 3–7 days, turning the meat once a day. Thread meat onto skewers and grill.

Note: If you're feeding a crowd, use 50 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of onions, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup pepper.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens

My new cookbook is out!! Travel back in time and revisit Saskatchewan's history through the lens of food - what we ate, how we prepared it and how it shaped the province we are today.  More than 50 archival photos and 80 old-time recipes.

"This is a beautiful book on Saskatchewan cuisine." John Gormley, News Talk 650.

"Amy Jo is to be applauded for putting the province's food history into perspective in an engaging and entertaining style." Bill Waiser, author of Saskatchewan: A New History.

Available soon at all Saskatchewan bookstores.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Pulla (Coffee Bread)

In 1888, Jeremiah Kautonen took one look at the Qu'Appelle Valley and thought of home. The water and the woods reminded him of Finland. He built a log house and wrote a letter encouraging his friends to join him. Before long, the area was known as New Finland, the first Finnish settlement on the prairies.

Typical of the time, they relied on wild foods such as fish, deer, rabbits, prairie chickens and berries, especially high bush cranberries. They crushed wheat for porridge and grew root vegetables for winter meals.

One settler, Johan Lauttamus, built a mill from two heavy stones and ground whole wheat flour for the community. They were skilled cattlemen and the women made excellent butter, which they traded in town for basic groceries. Unique was their love of Finnish yogurt, which they called viili.

According to Hazel Lauttamus Birt, who wrote a history of New Finland, the starter culture was mailed from the Old Country: "A piece of clean cotton was soaked in the Viili and dried for mailing. When added to fresh milk and set aside overnight it re-activated."

She also writes about Finnish bread, which was flavoured with crushed cardamom and fortified with eggs and butter. The basic dough was used for buns, coffee bread, cinnamon rolls, fruit "pies" and Sauna Buns, which were eaten after the weekly sauna on Saturday night.

Pulla (Coffee Bread)
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 c scalded milk, cooled
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
4–5 c flour

1 egg, beaten
1/4 c coarse sugar
1/4 c sliced almonds

Dissolve yeast in warm water until frothy. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and 1 c flour. Beat smooth with electric mixer. Beat in another 1 1/2 c flour. Add butter and beat until glossy.

Add more flour, using only as much needed to make a supple dough that does not stick to the fingers. Let dough rest 15 minutes.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8–10 minutes, or knead with an electric dough hook for 8 minutes.

Put dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Press dough with your fist to deflate. Cut in half and cut each half into 3 equal pieces.

Roll each piece under your palms into a "rope" of about 16 inches (40 cm). Braid three ropes together, forming two loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size.

Brush the loaves with egg and sprinkle with sugar and almonds. Bake at 400F for 25–30 minutes.

You'll find more Finnish recipes transplanted to Saskatchewan on the website of Life in the New Finland Woods Vol. 1.

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

Monday, September 08, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Baked String Beans and Bacon

John Diefenbaker's mother was a pretty good cook. She could turn a prairie chicken and a few string beans into a delicious meal, and did so often.

The family had moved west from Ontario in 1903 when young Diefenbaker was seven. Their home near Fort Carlton (where Dief's father was a school teacher) served as a community centre and stopping point for locals, travellers and new homesteaders.

In his memoir One Canada (Vol. 1) Diefenbaker recalls North West Mounted Police officers stopping by: "No doubt it was coincidence but they usually arrived at mealtime." Indian folks dropped in for tea and Metis leader Gabriel Dumont visited "now and then" with a gift of game for the stew pot.

Their daily diet was typical for Saskatchewan at that time. Day to day, they ate rabbits, wildfowl and chickens. Vegetables were dropped off at their door (until they had their own garden) and the local Mennonites provided sausages and hams. They picked wild mushrooms and berries by the pail full. His mother, Mary, made excellent butter (with milk from their one cow) which she traded at the store for "occasional groceries" such as flour and prunes.

Several of her cookbooks – including Good Housekeeping's Favourite Recipes and Menus – is held at the University of Saskatchewan Archives. It's well used, frayed at the edges and splattered with the memories of cake batter and tomato sauce. It includes this recipe for baked string beans, which I halved, since I'm not expecting any police officers or Metis hunters to drop in for dinner.

Baked String Beans and Bacon
2 lbs string beans
6 slices bacon
1 1/2 cups light cream or thin white sauce
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

Thin White Sauce: On the stove, melt 2 tbsp butter in a small pot. Add 2 tbsp flour and blend well. Pour in 2 cups cold milk. Season with salt and pepper. Heat, stirring, until bubbling and thickened. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Cut string beans into one-inch pieces and cook in salted water until tender. Meanwhile, dice bacon and fry until crisp. Drain beans and add bacon, white sauce, salt, pepper and 2 tbsp melted butter. Place in a greased baking dish. Mix bread crumbs with remaining 1 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle over beans. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Check out more recipes from Mrs. D's favourite cookbook.

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

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Mrs. Diefenbaker's Cookbook

From the frayed edges and food spatters, I'd guess this was Mary Diefenbaker's favourite cookbook. Her son, John Diefenbaker, kept it after she died and donated it with his papers to the University of Saskatchewan Archives with the note "This is Mother's Cookbook."

These Italian recipes must have been popular in the Diefenbaker home because they have the appearance of being well used.

Mrs. D must have had a fondness for chocolate cake (or perhaps it was her son's fondness) because she clipped these recipes from the newspaper and pasted them into the back of the cookbook.
Here are a few more dessert recipes clipped from the Star Phoenix. Hey, I remember my grandma making those Butterscotch Ice Box Cookies!!
Here's another recipe from this cookbook, delicious green beans!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Granny's Cookies

Sometimes, the simplest recipes evoke a long and loving story. In 1914, Minnie Parry was a young single gal with a sense of adventure when she left England to work on her aunt and uncle's farm in Saskatchewan. Her Aunt Adeline had married a farmer near Silton (north of Lumsden) and was in need of help with domestic chores and childcare.

No doubt, the arrival of an eligible young woman attracted some attention as bachelors outnumbered potential brides on the prairie by two-to-one or more. Three years later, Minnie married Billy Wilson, a farmer just down the road originally of Ireland, and their son Leslie was born the following year.

Leslie married Blanche Ball, whose family ran a store in Silton. They settled on the Wilson farm, where at 90, Blanche still lives today, still baking Granny's Cookies on the old wood stove for her great-granddaughters, Domini and Ebony, aged 14 and 11.

"They are learning about the prairie, raising cattle, driving the half-ton truck in the pasture, finding crocuses in the spring, and cooking on the wood-burning cook stove in the farmhouse."

This story and recipe for Granny's Cookie was sent to me by Minnie's granddaughter, Dianne Wilson of Saskatoon, who learned to bake them on that same wood stove when she was a child. Like many simple old-fashioned recipes, it came with few instructions but much love, still a family treasure after five generations in Saskatchewan.

Granny’s Cookies
2/3 cup soft butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 – 2 cups flour

Cream butter and brown sugar well. Beat in egg. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Add enough flour to make a dough that is stiff enough to roll into a ball. Roll balls the size of a walnut. Place on baking sheet and press with a fork (dipped in flour) in a crisscross pattern. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Strawberry Pudding

During World War I, which began in August 1914, the federal government created the Canada Food Board to increase food production and encourage Canadians to eat less flour, sugar, butter, eggs, pork and beef. Massive quantities of these foods were shipped to Europe to feed Allied troops and the civilian populations of Britain and France, who might have otherwise starved.

The Canada Food Board issued a directive to "proprietors of Public Eating Places" such as the University of Saskatchewan concerning the use of flour and sugar. No more than 2 lbs of sugar could be used per 90 meals served. The sugar had to be "yellow" not white (a cheaper form of sugar). For every 4 lbs of white flour, at least 1 lb of alternative flour (oatmeal, corn, whole grain, etc.) had to be used.

The directive admonished, "Do not serve bread and butter before the first course. People eat them without thought."

This recipe for Strawberry Pudding, which appeared in the Saskatoon Daily Star in August 1916, fit the times. It uses brown sugar and minimal butter and flour, while taking advantage of homegrown seasonal fruit. The original instructions were brief, assuming everyone knew how to steam a pudding. I did not. However, I tried it twice, once in a ceramic baking dish and once in small jelly jars, and it turned out well.

Strawberry Pudding
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup soft butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup sliced strawberries

Cream together brown sugar and egg, add butter, milk and vanilla. Blend well. Blend together dry ingredients. Mix into batter. Stir in strawberries.

Pour into a baking vessel that has been buttered on the bottom. It should be about half full as the pudding will rise. Cover with tin foil that has been smeared with butter.

Place in a cooking pot, add water to come half way up the baking dish and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover pot and simmer 2 hours. When cool, tip from mold and serve with whipped cream and strawberries.

Take a look at the food posters produced by the Canada Food Board at

This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

WWI Canada Food Posters

During World War I (1914-1918), the Canadian government formed the Canada Food Board to increase agricultural production and encourage frugality here on the home front. It produced a series of colourful posters driving these messages home.
As the above poster indicates, it was illegal to "hoard" foods that were in short supply. Flour, sugar, eggs, meat and fats such as lard and butter were sent to Europe in large quantities to feed Allied troops and civilians at home in Britain. Canadians were encouraged to eat less of them.   
Thirteen of these food posters produced during WWI can be viewed on the website of

The Canada Food Board also created a series of educational illustrations for newspapers. These panels included tips for reducing food waste and for using less bread, sugar, butter and meat. These panels can be viewed on the website of Ontario archives.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Potato and Apple Salad

One hundred years ago, this country was at war. World War I began in August, 1914, making a significant impact on agriculture and the daily diet.

Wheat was in high demand, much of it sent to feed our allies in Britain and our troops in Europe, for whom bread was a staple food. By 1917, the price of wheat had tripled to $2.20 a bushel. Farm families prospered. It was boom time in Saskatchewan.

We also sent pork, beef, butter and cheese to Europe, creating shortages here at home. Recipes published in the Saskatoon Daily Star reflected these shortages. Baked goods were made with less white flour and more oat, corn, rye and whole wheat flour, and less white sugar in favour of brown sugar, syrup and molasses.

There were fewer recipes for meat dishes and more for fish and beans. There were also more recipes for cooking and preserving garden vegetables and local fruit such as apples and berries. Recipes in 1914 such as fancy sandwiches and cheese fondue gave way in 1916 to recipes for baked brown bread and raspberry ice.

This frugal recipe for potato and apple salad appeared in the newspaper on August 28, 1916, along with recipes for curried crab, raspberry ice and whole wheat apple cake.

Potato and Apple Salad
6 tart apples
4 medium boiled potatoes
Juice of one lemon
Salad greens
French dressing

Core apples (peeled or unpeeled) and cut into cubes or thin slices. Marinate in lemon juice one hour. Cut cold potatoes into cubes or thin slices to match the apples. Lightly mix in apples. Serve on salad greens with French dressing.

Note that in 1916, French dressing was not the pinkish salad dressing in our stores today, but a simple blend of 2 tsp vinegar, 4 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. To that, I added 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 2 tbsp grated onion and a pinch of sugar.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wartime Apple Cake

This recipe appeared in the Saskatoon Daily Star on August 28, 1916, during World War I. War shortages had an effect on how we cooked at home. White flour was exported to Europe, so home cooks were encouraged to use more brown flour. Recipes focussed on local ingredients, such as apples and potatoes.

Like most recipes of that era, these instructions are not detailed. For instance, this recipe does not state the temperature of the oven. I'd say 375F. I haven't cooked this cake yet. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out!

Apple Cake
Put into a basin half an ounce of grated unsweetened chocolate, two cupfuls of brown flour, a handful of currants and half a teaspoonful of cloves. Make a cupful of sauce from sour apples and stir into it a large teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, add three parts of a cup of sugar and half a cup of sour milk. Then pour in the other mixture, beat well and bake in a modern oven for nearly an hour.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Beaver Stroganoff

As you throw another steak on the BBQ, consider the pioneers.

Their summer diets were largely vegetarian. With no refrigerators or freezers, it was impossible to butcher a pig or a cow as most of the meat would quickly spoil, and the chickens were better kept for eggs. The answer: wild meat.

In 1882, the Baines family arrived from Manchester, England, and would have starved on several occasions if not for wild meat. Fred Baines, who was a child at the time, recalled that "badger was an oily strong nauseating meat, it took a strong stomach to handle it. Personally, I prefer skunk or muskrat."

Of course, wild game fed prairie families for millennium, primarily the bison, but also beaver, rabbits, moose, prairie chickens, geese, gophers and the aforementioned muskrat and skunk.

Beaver was long considered a delicacy, but not by everyone. Artist Paul Kane didn't much like beaver when he travelled here in 1846: "It is a fat, gristly substance, but to me by no means palatable; the rest of our party, however, seemed to enjoy it much. The tongues were decidedly delicious; they are cured by drying them in the smoke of the lodges."

I wanted to taste the pioneer experience for myself. Thanks to a friend, I acquired a piece of beaver, cleaned and frozen, which I cooked in a traditional recipe for beef stroganoff, a staple of Hungarian settlers. It was amazingly delicious with local chanterelle mushrooms. If you don't have beaver, substitute beef. :)

Beaver Stroganoff
1 lb meat, trimmed of fat
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2-3 cups beef broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup sour cream

Boil beaver in water for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Slice meat against the grain into thin strips.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet. Cook onions until soft. Add meat. Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper. Sauté until meat is no longer pink.

Add mushrooms, 2 cups broth and Worcestershire sauce. Cover skillet and simmer two hours or more, adding more broth if needed, until meat is tender.

Before serving, stir in sour cream. Bring to a light bubble and remove from heat. Serve on noodles.

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Spudnuts

The annual Saskatoon exhibition begins today, and that means more than 50,000 spudnuts will be consumed over the week. Spudnuts are a summer tradition in this city, but their history goes way back.

The word "spud" is an old English nickname for the potato. As such, spudnuts are a doughnut made with potato as a main ingredient. Many of the European cultures that settled Saskatchewan brought a potato-based doughnut in their culinary repertoire. They used mashed potatoes, which produces a lighter fluffier doughnut than with flour alone.

In the early 1900s, spudnuts were introduced to the Saskatoon exhibition. For many years, they were made by volunteers, first by the Church of Latter Day Saints and then the Boy Scouts; Prairieland Park took over production a decade ago. As many as 90 employees are put to work making 45 batches of 200 spudnuts every day of the fair, rolling and forming each one by hand, according to Carl Schlosser, director of events at Prairieland Park.

Nowadays, he says, they do not use mashed potatoes but an exclusive (and secret) flour-dry potato mix. So, if you can't get to the Ex, you can enjoy some old-fashioned spudnuts at home.

2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup warm potato cooking water
1 cup mashed potatoes
3/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
3 – 4 cups flour
Vegetable oil or lard for deep frying

Dissolve yeast in warm potato water and let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Stir in mashed potatoes, milk, butter or oil, sugar, egg and salt. Add 3 cups flour and knead 8–10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed to form a smooth dough that is not sticky.

Place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough to oil all sides, cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and rise again until doubled.

Roll dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut with a doughnut punch, or cut in circles and work a hole in the centre with your fingers. Rest spudnuts 15 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil at a depth of 2 inches to 350F, when a drop of dough browns nicely but does not burn. Working in batches, fry spudnuts until golden brown, turning to cook both sides and draining on paper towel. Dip into sugar or glaze with icing.

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