Monday, July 28, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Buttered Eggs

What did a dozen eggs cost in the 1880s? In summer, about 10 cents. In winter, 50 cents to $1. What's that in 2014, adjusted for inflation? Approximately $2.30 in summer and $11 to $23 in winter!

The old prices come from George Ballantine, whose family moved from Ontario to Prince Albert in 1880. In the 1950s, he filled out a questionnaire called "What did Western Canadian pioneers eat?" which is now held by Saskatchewan Archives at the University of Saskatchewan. According to George, his family was so poor that, by the age of 11, he was working fulltime in a grocery store, so he knew the cost of basic foods.

Why did the price of eggs differ from summer to winter? Back then, most farmers kept hens and many in town did, too, so there was no shortage of eggs in summertime. However, come winter, hens lay many fewer eggs, so they were scarce.

The pioneers employed various interesting methods to keep eggs for winter. George reports that, in his home, eggs were covered in grease and stored in salt in the cellar. Others report keeping eggs imbedded in frozen wheat, packed in chopped oats, soaking in a brine of salt and quick lime or buried in an equal weight of bran and salt.

No doubt, there were many rotten eggs. But those that survived would make a cake, pancakes or scrambled eggs on a cold winter's night.

Buttered Eggs
2 tbsp butter
4 eggs
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp cream
Sprinkle of chopped parsley

Melt butter in a frying pan on medium low heat. In a bowl, scramble eggs lightly and season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pan. Cook eggs slowly, lifting and stirring until they are just cooked but still moist. Remove from heat. Stir in cream. Tip the eggs into a serving dish. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with buttered bread or toast.

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Jodekager

Have we forgotten the pleasure of picnicking? Long before the convenience of mosquito spray and portable grills, prairie folks were quick to pack a picnic and enjoy a pleasant meal outdoors in the company of family and friends.

Many occasions called for a picnic: rodeos, sport days, end-of-school parties, church gatherings, Canada Day, 4th of July (a good many homesteaders were American), berry picking and harvest time.

With the arrival of automobiles, picnicking became an outing in itself. Community picnics often included a rare treat: ice cream made on site, the children taking turns churning the handle of the ice cream maker. Of course, the cream came right from the cow.

In summer 1915, Julie Feilberg packed a picnic for a family outing. The occasion: her husband, Ditlev, has discovered a "forest" not far from their homestead at Nokomis, which was such a novelty they hitched the horses to the wagon and went to see it.

In a letter home to Denmark, Julie noted that the trees were not much bigger than a "Danish hedge" but it was the first time her boys had climbed trees since coming to Canada. Their picnic included egg sandwiches, bread and butter, citron marmalade, layer cake, rhubarb pudding with cream and these traditional Danish cookies.

Jødekager are still popular in Denmark, especially at Christmas time, but are also quite at home in a prairie picnic basket.

1 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar, separated
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Cream butter with 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cardamom.

Gradually mix flour into butter mixture until well blended. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and rest on the counter for one hour.

Working in batches, roll the dough on a floured surface. To prevent sticking, cover dough with floured wax paper. Roll to a scant 1/4 inch. Cut cookies and place on a baking sheet. Combine the scraps and roll again.

Mix cinnamon and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Brush cookies with egg white and sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake at 375F until the edges are just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

Do you have a prairie recipe with a story? Tell me!

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Split Pea Soup

I'm cleaning out my pantry, which explains why I'm making a pot of split pea soup in July. Or maybe I'm just channeling next winter with a hearty soup and a travel guide to Greece. Whatever the motive, this soup is so easy to make, there's really no recipe:

Boil one smoked ham hock in water until the meat is just about falling from the bone. (I bought the ham hock at Prairie Meats in Saskatoon.) Cook two cups yellow split peas in water (green peas are good, too) with one chopped onion and a bay leaf until the peas are soft. (I did this in a crock pot.) In a soup pot, combine split peas and the meat from the ham hock. Also a few chopped carrots. Top up with water and cook until the carrots are done. Season to your taste with @ 2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Done! Like most soups, it's better the second day.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Saskatoon Berry Tart

It's often said that European settlers learned to eat maple syrup and corn bread from the native inhabitants of North America. Here on the prairies, we must add saskatoon berries to that list.

Saskatoon berries have been an important food source on the prairies for thousands of years. Saskatoons were mixed with bison to make pemmican. They were also crushed and dried in cakes that stored well into winter, when they were eaten raw, reconstituted with water or crumbled into a stew called rababoo. The hivernants of the fur trade survived on bison and berries, and the first homesteaders considered themselves lucky if there was a stand of saskatoons nearby.

In the early days, berry picking was a social event. Families and neighbours picked together, packing a picnic and making a day of it. In her history of Moffat, near Wolseley, Kay Parley recalls picking berries with down-to-earth nostalgia:

"Berry picking meant being stung by nettles, scratched by branches and thorns, harried by flies and mosquitos in sweltering heat, but it was endured patiently because the treats of the year depended on berry picking days."

Yes, pemmican and rababoo have disappeared from our cookbooks, but they have been splendidly replaced by saskatoon berry pie, crumble, jam, syrup and even wine. As Parley writes, "Who wouldn't endure a few days of discomfort for treats like that?"

This recipe is not particularly old, but the primary ingredients would have been available in pioneer days.

Saskatoon Berry Tart
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cold butter
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vinegar
2 1/2 cups saskatoons, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup cream

Blend 1/2 cup sugar and flour. Cut butter into small pieces. Work butter into flour with a pastry blender and/or your fingers until it resembles coarse sand. Work quickly so as not the warm the butter.

Mix milk and vinegar. Pour into flour. Blend with a fork and knead briefly. Do not overwork. The dough will be crumbly and stick together when pinched.

Press dough into a tart pan, spreading evenly with your fingers across the bottom and up the sides. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Toss berries with almonds and sugar. Spread into tart shell and return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Whisk egg and cream. Pour evenly over berries and bake another 15 minutes. Cool before slicing.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

A twitter friend suggested I try grilling watermelon. Her timing was perfect... I was on tap to bring dessert... a grilled dessert... to a neighbourhood BBQ last night. Along with watermelon, I skewered chunks of strawberry, plum, banana and pound cake. While cooking on the BBQ, the skewers were basted with:

BBQ Fruit Marinade
1/2 cup honey
juice of 1 1/2 limes
2 tbsp finely chopped mint

The watermelon was crispy juicy charred, while the strawberries were almost jam-like, making a nice light dessert just right for the end of a mid-summer night's dinner party under a super moon.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Tourtiere

Some wag has just pointed out that Christmas is less than six months away. So, rather than cry in your BBQ, start perfecting this time-honoured Fransaskois Christmas favourite: tourtière.

Tourtière is a meat pie that came with settlers from Quebec and the Maritimes, where in olden times it was everyday fare. Here in Saskatchewan, the tourtière of old has been kept alive by women such as Rita Marchand of Vonda, whose family gets together in advance of Christmas to make as many as 100 pies, enough to freeze, share and bake for special dinners throughout the holiday season.

They use a recipe passed on by Mémère (Grandma) Lucienne Marchand, whose family moved from Quebec to Prud'homme in 1909. According to the family history, "Having lost her mother in 1908, she started making meals and (doing) household duties at a very young age." She was not yet 10.

According to Settling Saskatchewan by Alan Anderson, there were 32 French-speaking settlements in the province, some created by Métis and others by newcomers from Quebec, the Maritimes, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Between 1901 and 1921, the French-speaking population jumped from 2,600 to 42,000.

As with so many time-honoured recipes, there are many versions of tourtière. For 100 pies, the Marchand family starts with 60 lbs of meat. This recipe is pared down for one pie and is found in Saveurs et Savoirs 2, a tribute to the Francophone community of Saskatchewan.

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 clove chopped garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
a pinch of cloves
1/4 tsp sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed potatoes
pastry for a two-crust pie

Cook all the ingredients together except the potatoes, which are added at the end of cooking. Place the mixture in a pie shell, cover with the top crust (cutting vents in the top pastry) and bake in a 375F oven for 40–45 minutes.

Do you have a cherished recipe that came to Saskatchewan from somewhere else? Tell me at!

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