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.)