Monday, June 30, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Latkes

Little known in Saskatchewan's history is the story of its Jewish settlers. Some of the first farming colonies were formed by Jewish immigrants from Europe, United States and South Africa. The first, New Jerusalem, was started in 1884. Other colonies followed: Sonnenfeld, Hirsch, Edenbridge, Wapella, Lipton.

Among the settlers were two young bachelors, David and Michael Usiskin, who left the urban poverty of London, England, to take homesteads at Edenbridge, northeast Melfort. Michael's story is published as Uncle Mike's Edenbridge: Memoires of a Jewish Pioneer Farmer, translated from its original Yiddish. He recounts how terribly hard they worked to clear the land, how little money they earned and how little they had to eat.

The most common dishes on their dinner table appear to be borscht, bread, potatoes and cabbage rolls, with the occasional wild rabbit. One winter, four bachelors lived together, one of whom liked to cook. But instead of breakfast, he gave them poems:

"Here's toast… pale as a ghost."
"The pudding is sweet… if only there was more of it to eat."
"Nourish yourselves with what you read, because the food is scarce indeed."

Interesting to note, according to Alan Anderson's Settling Saskatchewan, the ancestors of Saskatoon's Buckwold family also settled in Edenbridge, and today our city has the Sid Buckwold Bridge. No doubt plenty of potatoes were turned into this classic but simple Jewish recipe.

Potato Latkes
3 medium potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate. Mix in onion. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible by spreading on a tea towel or paper towel and pressing well.

In a bowl, whip together egg, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Stir in potato-onion mixture. Form patties about 3 inches wide.

Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet on high heat, until a shred of potato fries quickly. Carefully slip in latkes one at a time, cooking both sides to a crispy brown, 5–7 minutes. Serve topped with apple sauce or sour cream.

Do you have an old family recipe with an immigrant story? Send me a comment.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Kvass

On summer days, I recall my mom baking in the early morning and airing out the house before it got hot outside. In pioneer times, she might just as likely have moved the kitchen outside. Summer kitchens were a cool antidote to wood stoves and long hot days.

At the start of summer, the kitchen supplies were moved to a shed or lean-to where meals were cooked and eaten. Sometimes the summer kitchen had its own wood stove, but often the heavy cast iron stove was also moved out from the house.

In the cookbook Taste of Time (published by the Saskatoon Council on Aging) Eva Hazelwanter reminisces about the summer kitchen on her Doukhobor family farm near Petrofka Bridge.

She writes, "each summer pots and pans, etc. were moved a short way down the hill to the summer kitchen. It was a log structure with a corrugated tin roof that turned beautiful colours in the rain. Here we cooked and ate in the hot sun and escaped to the cool big house at night."

Today's equivalent might be the backyard barbeque. However, we might also imitate the Doukhobors and serve a refreshing cold cucumber soup called kvass. When the Doukhobors came from Russia in 1899, they were vegetarian so, no doubt, they had a broad repertoire of cold, vegetable dishes prepared with the bounty of their own prairie gardens. According to Eva, kvass was served for lunch with a plate of fried potatoes.

2 tbsp grated onion
1/4 cup fresh dill
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups grated cucumber
2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
2 cup water

In a bowl, mash together onion, dill and salt until the salt is dissolved and the juices run. Add cucumber, vinegar or lemon juice and water. The soup can be eaten immediately or refrigerated for an hour to let the flavours chill and meld. Before serving, stir in enough ice cold water to make a thin soup.

Do you have an ethnic recipe transplanted to Saskatchewan? Tell me! Send me a comment and follow at

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Johnny Cake

Cornmeal was sold in general stores in rural Saskatchewan, however, fresh corn was generally not grown until new varieties were developed that could mature in our short dry growing season. After that, just about every country garden had corn.

Homemakers were creative with corn in the kitchen, making corn bread, corn fritters, corn soup, corn pudding and, of course, fresh corn on the cob. The Manitou Pioneers Museum Centennial Cookbook includes a recipe for making imitation maple syrup by boiling corn cobs and brown sugar, concluding: "One can hardly tell the difference from genuine maple syrup. The corn cobs give it the maple flavour."

In the days before pharmacies, cough syrup was made by boiling corn kernels with honey and drinking the liquid. Old timers swore by it, as did this writer in the cookbook A Taste of Time: "It seemed to work. We survived whooping cough and many other illnesses."

Not everyone ate corn. My father recalls a hired man from Germany who refused to eat corn, disdaining it as pig food. No one seems quite sure where Johnny Cake got its name, but one thing is sure: many variations were found in old Saskatchewan recipe boxes.

Johnny Cake
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp melted butter

Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk egg with milk and butter. Pour liquid into cornmeal mixture and stir together. Spread in an 8 inch greased baking pan. Bake at 375F for 25 minutes. Serve with gravy, syrup or homemade jam.

Do you have an old Saskatchewan recipe with a story? Send me a comment! Follow at

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

Monday, June 09, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Scuffles

Trick question: How many early settlers to Saskatchewan came from Ukraine? Answer: None.

At the height of prairie settlement, prior to World War I, the country of Ukraine did not yet exist. According to Settling Saskatchewan by Alan Anderson, these settlers spoke different dialects and identified with their local regions:

"Ukrainian Canadians first considered themselves primarily as Galicians, Bukovinians, Ruthenians, and so on and secondarily possibly as Austro-Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Czechoslovaks, or Romanians. Only gradually did a common identity as Ukrainians emerge."

Just as ethnicities crossed borders, so did their cuisines. Perogie is a Polish word. The Ukrainian name for this popular dumpling is verenyky. Cabbage rolls (holubtsi in Ukrainian) were common among many cultures that settled Saskatchewan, from Croatians at Kenaston to Hungarians at Esterhazy to the Jewish colony at Edenbridge.

While we primarily think of borscht as Ukrainian beet soup, other cultures make it, too, some without beets such as Mennonite summer borscht with sorrel and sausage. The correct Ukrainian spelling is borshch.

In 2011, the national household survey found that, in Saskatchewan, 13.5 percent of people claim Ukrainian heritage, 24.9 percent English and 28.6 percent German, including Mennonites and Hutterites. So, why does Ukrainian cuisine loom so large in Saskatchewan? Why do we associate cabbage rolls and not Yorkshire pudding with community suppers and raise funds by selling frozen perogies and not German maultaschen?

And why do these delicious cinnamon crescents, associated with generations of Babas, go by the very un-Ukrainian name of scuffles?

2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
Sugar and cinnamon for rolling

Dissolve yeast in warm water. In a bowl, stir together flour, salt and sugar. Work in butter with your fingers. Combine milk, eggs and yeast. Add to flour, mixing well. Turn onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth. The dough will be sticky. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Divide dough in six parts, working with one part at a time. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon generously on the countertop, place dough on top and roll to a circle 1/8 inch thick. Cut the circle into 12 wedges, like pieces of a pie. Roll up each wedge from the wide end to the pointed end. Place 1 inch apart on lightly-greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Spudnuts

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. Let spudnuts rest for 15 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil at a depth of 2 inches to 360F. Working in batches, fry spudnuts until golden brown, turning to cook both sides and draining on paper towel. Sprinkle with sugar or glaze with vanilla icing.

(From up upcoming cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens.)


Monday, June 02, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Rhubarb Pudding

How did rhubarb get to Saskatchewan? Originally, rhubarb root was used as medicine. The stalks weren't eaten!

However, once sugar became less expensive in the 1800s, someone discovered that the stalks – when sufficiently sweetened – made a fine pie, pudding and jam. Apparently, this transpired in England. A taste for sweet rhubarb desserts spread to Scandinavia and northern Europe.

The first pilgrims brought rhubarb to North America, where it was known as the pie plant. Eventually, settlers from eastern Canada and the United States brought rhubarb here, where it was welcomed as one of the first "fruits" of spring.

In 1902, Hans and Kristiane Lien packed everything they owned into a rail car (including cattle chickens and a team of horses) and moved from North Dakota to a homestead near Weldon, east of Prince Albert.They had originally immigrated from Norway in 1893, worked hard but couldn't afford land in the United States. A free homestead in Canada was the answer to their dreams.

However, the move didn't go smoothly. The South Saskatchewan River was so high they could not cross it and so they spent a couple weeks living in a tent, tending their livestock and four little children, before reaching their farm.

Did they bring the "pie plant" with them? They certainly had a taste for rhubarb. This recipe for rhubarb pudding, written in Norwegian, was found among the keepsakes of Hans and Kristian's son and sent to me by their granddaughter, Irene Hagel of Choiceland.

Rhubarb Pudding
1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix flour and brown sugar. Rub in butter until blended. Put rhubarb in a buttered baking dish. Mix white sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over rhubarb. Press flour mixture over top and bake at 325F for 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Here's the original recipe as recorded in Kristiane's mix of Norwegian and English:

Bland godt 1 kop mel og 1/4 kop brunt sucker.
Rub ind 1/2 kop smor.
Put rhubarb ind i en smurt dish.
Og dros med en kop huidt sukken some har 1/4 teaspoon kanel.
Nu press over rhubarb deigen og bak i en.
Passe varme.

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

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Split Pea Soup with Crubeens

Pigs have four of them. Feet. No pioneer would let that go to waste. While there isn't a lot of meat on pig's feet, it is tasty meat and the bones thicken a pot of soup.

Crubeen is the Irish name for pig's feet. This recipe includes split peas and that most traditional Irish food, the potato. Each bowl of soup is topped with croutons made from day-old bread. Now that's frugal!

Crubeens boiling in the base stock.

Split Pea and Crubeen Soup,