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.)

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