Monday, April 28, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Lefse

In 1970, the Norwegians of Birch Hills and Weldon decided to hold an annual festival to celebrate their cultural heritage. It's called "Syttende Mai" or May 17th, the national day of Norway when it became an independent country. The day features music, ethnic costumes and a potluck of Norwegian foods.

Birch Hills was the first Norwegian community in the province dating back to 1894, according Settling Saskatchewan by Allan Anderson. Other strong Norwegian communities still exist around Melfort and in the area of Hanley, Outlook and Elbow. The first Norwegian settlers came from the United States, primarily from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and the Dakotas, which was a typical pattern for settlers of Scandinavian descent.

By 1925, one-third of Norway's population had immigrated to the United States. Many of them subsequently moved to western Canada. By 1921, one-third of Norwegians living in Canada were born south of the border, and many more had come directly from Norway. In the census of 1911, there were 7,600 Norwegians in Saskatchewan. A decade later, that had quadrupled to 31,000.

That's a lot of lefse and lutefisk (a type of fish). Other Norwegian foods include krum kager and sandbakkels (types of cookies) and open faced "smorbrod" sandwiches of smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, ham, cheese and cucumber. Traditionally, lefse is not made with potatoes. However, that is the most common version found in prairie cookbooks.
It's usually spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar and rolled up like a cigar. It's good with maple syrup, too.

2 cups flour
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups mashed potatoes
1/2 tsp salt

Mix everything to a smooth dough. Wrap and rest 30 minutes. Break off nubs of dough and roll to a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick. The size of the circle may depend on the size of your skillet. Lightly grease a skillet, heat on medium and cook lefse one at a time, turning when the top is bubbled and the bottom has lightly browned. Lefse freezes well so make a big batch.

Do you have a favourite recipe brought to Saskatchewan by the pioneers? Send me a comment. Follow me at

Lefse cooking in a lightly-oiled skillet.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cooking on CTV - Clafoutis

Prairie Berry Clafoutis
2 tbsp butter
3 eggs
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups mixed Saskatchewan berries
(fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp flour

Heat the oven to 350F. In the oven, melt the butter in a cast iron skillet or large pie plate, making sure the butter doesn’t brown.

Put the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt into a blender and blend until smooth. With the blades running, gradually add 1 cup of flour and mix well. Remove the buttered pan from the oven and pour in the batter.

Toss the berries with the remaining tbsp of flour. Scatter the fruit over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre of the custard is set. Serve warm, perhaps with a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Ranch-Style Baked Beans

It seems every old cowboy movie had a camp cook serving up a mess of baked beans. I can see John Wayne eating them now...

So, it's fitting that when I asked rancher Art Unsworth for a recipe from the annual Murraydale Stampede Picnic, he sent a recipe for baked beans. The Murraydale Stampede Picnic, held south of Maple Creek in July, started in 1909 and has been held every year since. Three generations of the Unsworth family have been involved. Their story is not uncommon for pioneers – colourful, tragic and successful.

Sam and Lillian Unsworth and four children left England in 1895, settling in Ontario for a couple of years before travelling by covered wagon to Oregon. Sam took up sheep farming. However, after their daughter died tragically, they could no longer bear to live there.

In 1907, they packed up the wagons and moved to Saskatchewan, establishing a ranch near the Cypress Hills where they raised sheep, cattle and Clydesdale horses – and fifteen children. Art, the youngest grandchild of 43, remembers the Murraydale Stampede Picnic when he was a little boy, when the ladies outdid each other with fried chicken, cold roast beef, potato salads, homemade buns, rhubarb and pumpkin pies and, the special treat, fresh-churned ice cream.

And, of course, baked beans. The original recipe calls for salt pork; nowadays, it’s just as likely to be made with wieners.

Ranch-Style Baked Beans

1 lb (450 grams) white beans
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 cup molasses
3 cups water
1/2 lb (225 grams) bacon, diced
2-3 onions, finely chopped

Soak beans overnight. Drain, wash and boil beans in water until tender. Drain. Mix brown sugar, salt, pepper, mustard powder, molasses and water. Pour over beans. Stir in bacon and onions. Cover and bake at 250F for 7–8 hours, checking now and then and adding more water if needed. Remove lid for the final two hours of baking.

Variation: if you have a leftover ham bone, boil it with the beans, then use chopped ham in place of bacon.

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

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 & Cranberry Jam

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 and/or your fingers, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse sand. Toss in raisins.

Pour in sour milk or buttermilk 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 a 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. Enjoy with cranberry jam. Low bush cranberry grow in the forests of Saskatchewan so this jam was easy and economical to make. And still is!

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

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.

(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.