Monday, September 29, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Apfelkuchen

A few days ago I was baking apfelkuchen while listening to a radio program on events in Ukraine. Both are inextricably tied to my German heritage.

In the 1770s, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire and captured vast territories along the Black Sea, what is today Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia put out a call across Europe for farmers to come work the land. My ancestors answered that call, settling in a German village on the Dnieper River which is today called Zmiivka.

Almost a century later, Canada began advertising across Europe for farmers and my German family packed up and moved again in 1890-93. Even though they had lived in Russia (now Ukraine) for several generations, they maintained their German culture and cuisine based on potatoes, apples, dumplings, noodles, sausages and pork.

At first, it might have been difficult and expensive to get apples in Saskatchewan. In 1914, a barrel of apples was $4.25 while a 100-lb sack of flour was just $3.40. Early varieties of apple trees could not survive our harsh winters, but in the 1920s the University of Saskatchewan began working on new varieties for our climate. Before long, apple trees were a common sight in rural farmyards.

My Grandma Ehman made the most of the apple orchard on our farm – crab apples for jelly and larger yellow apples for applesauce, apple pastries and apfelkuchen. I'm hoping to visit Zmiivka next year, but in the meantime, I'm travelling back in time with a big slice of grandma's apfelkuchen.

Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 apples, peeled and sliced

1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour

For the cake: Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and salt. Remove 2/3 cup of batter and reserve for the topping.

Press remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon.

Mix reserved batter with the remaining flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is light brown.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Shishliki

The Doukhobors who settled in Saskatchewan were vegetarians. Wink wink.

They became pacifists and vegetarians in Russia based on the principles of their spiritual leader Peter Verigin and his idol, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. However, not all eschewed meat, and for that we can be grateful because it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in our province: shishliki.

Shishliki is an old Russian recipe of marinated and grilled lamb. It's a specialty around Yorkton, Kamsack and Canora, where it's popular at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.

Traditionally, there are just three ingredients – lamb, onion and salt. Lemon may be added as a tenderizer if the meat is tough, but it is unlikely the first prairie Doukhobors ever saw a lemon or could afford one if they did.

Among the 7,500 Doukhobors who came to Canada in 1899 was the Zbeetnoff family, whose descendant Michelle (Zbeetnoff) Hughes of Norquay is publisher of Prairies North magazine. Even though she was raised in the bosom of her mother's Ukrainian family, she still makes the shishliki and piroshky (fruit pies) of her Russian Doukhobor grandmother.

"I want my children to be familiar with the old recipes because it's part of their heritage," she says. "Back then, it was subsistence living. Everything they had was by the hard work of their own hands."

And in this recipe, the hands are still at work. No spoon allowed! Pork or chicken may be substituted for the lamb.

2 lbs lamb (1 kg)
Pepper (optional)
1 big onion, sliced

Cut meat in 2-inch cubes. In a bowl, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, if using. With your hands, rub the seasoning into the meat. Mix in onion. Cover and refrigerate 3–7 days, turning the meat once a day. Thread meat onto skewers and grill.

Note: If you're feeding a crowd, use 50 lbs of meat, 20 lbs of onions, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup pepper.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens

My new cookbook is out!! Travel back in time and revisit Saskatchewan's history through the lens of food - what we ate, how we prepared it and how it shaped the province we are today.  More than 50 archival photos and 80 old-time recipes.

"This is a beautiful book on Saskatchewan cuisine." John Gormley, News Talk 650.

"Amy Jo is to be applauded for putting the province's food history into perspective in an engaging and entertaining style." Bill Waiser, author of Saskatchewan: A New History.

Available soon at all Saskatchewan bookstores.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Pulla (Coffee Bread)

In 1888, Jeremiah Kautonen took one look at the Qu'Appelle Valley and thought of home. The water and the woods reminded him of Finland. He built a log house and wrote a letter encouraging his friends to join him. Before long, the area was known as New Finland, the first Finnish settlement on the prairies.

Typical of the time, they relied on wild foods such as fish, deer, rabbits, prairie chickens and berries, especially high bush cranberries. They crushed wheat for porridge and grew root vegetables for winter meals.

One settler, Johan Lauttamus, built a mill from two heavy stones and ground whole wheat flour for the community. They were skilled cattlemen and the women made excellent butter, which they traded in town for basic groceries. Unique was their love of Finnish yogurt, which they called viili.

According to Hazel Lauttamus Birt, who wrote a history of New Finland, the starter culture was mailed from the Old Country: "A piece of clean cotton was soaked in the Viili and dried for mailing. When added to fresh milk and set aside overnight it re-activated."

She also writes about Finnish bread, which was flavoured with crushed cardamom and fortified with eggs and butter. The basic dough was used for buns, coffee bread, cinnamon rolls, fruit "pies" and Sauna Buns, which were eaten after the weekly sauna on Saturday night.

Pulla (Coffee Bread)
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 c scalded milk, cooled
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
4–5 c flour

1 egg, beaten
1/4 c coarse sugar
1/4 c sliced almonds

Dissolve yeast in warm water until frothy. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs and 1 c flour. Beat smooth with electric mixer. Beat in another 1 1/2 c flour. Add butter and beat until glossy.

Add more flour, using only as much needed to make a supple dough that does not stick to the fingers. Let dough rest 15 minutes.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8–10 minutes, or knead with an electric dough hook for 8 minutes.

Put dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Press dough with your fist to deflate. Cut in half and cut each half into 3 equal pieces.

Roll each piece under your palms into a "rope" of about 16 inches (40 cm). Braid three ropes together, forming two loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until double in size.

Brush the loaves with egg and sprinkle with sugar and almonds. Bake at 400F for 25–30 minutes.

You'll find more Finnish recipes transplanted to Saskatchewan on the website of Life in the New Finland Woods Vol. 1.

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

Monday, September 08, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Baked String Beans and Bacon

John Diefenbaker's mother was a pretty good cook. She could turn a prairie chicken and a few string beans into a delicious meal, and did so often.

The family had moved west from Ontario in 1903 when young Diefenbaker was seven. Their home near Fort Carlton (where Dief's father was a school teacher) served as a community centre and stopping point for locals, travellers and new homesteaders.

In his memoir One Canada (Vol. 1) Diefenbaker recalls North West Mounted Police officers stopping by: "No doubt it was coincidence but they usually arrived at mealtime." Indian folks dropped in for tea and Metis leader Gabriel Dumont visited "now and then" with a gift of game for the stew pot.

Their daily diet was typical for Saskatchewan at that time. Day to day, they ate rabbits, wildfowl and chickens. Vegetables were dropped off at their door (until they had their own garden) and the local Mennonites provided sausages and hams. They picked wild mushrooms and berries by the pail full. His mother, Mary, made excellent butter (with milk from their one cow) which she traded at the store for "occasional groceries" such as flour and prunes.

Several of her cookbooks – including Good Housekeeping's Favourite Recipes and Menus – is held at the University of Saskatchewan Archives. It's well used, frayed at the edges and splattered with the memories of cake batter and tomato sauce. It includes this recipe for baked string beans, which I halved, since I'm not expecting any police officers or Metis hunters to drop in for dinner.

Baked String Beans and Bacon
2 lbs string beans
6 slices bacon
1 1/2 cups light cream or thin white sauce
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

Thin White Sauce: On the stove, melt 2 tbsp butter in a small pot. Add 2 tbsp flour and blend well. Pour in 2 cups cold milk. Season with salt and pepper. Heat, stirring, until bubbling and thickened. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Cut string beans into one-inch pieces and cook in salted water until tender. Meanwhile, dice bacon and fry until crisp. Drain beans and add bacon, white sauce, salt, pepper and 2 tbsp melted butter. Place in a greased baking dish. Mix bread crumbs with remaining 1 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle over beans. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Check out more recipes from Mrs. D's favourite cookbook.

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

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Mrs. Diefenbaker's Cookbook

From the frayed edges and food spatters, I'd guess this was Mary Diefenbaker's favourite cookbook. Her son, John Diefenbaker, kept it after she died and donated it with his papers to the University of Saskatchewan Archives with the note "This is Mother's Cookbook."

These Italian recipes must have been popular in the Diefenbaker home because they have the appearance of being well used.

Mrs. D must have had a fondness for chocolate cake (or perhaps it was her son's fondness) because she clipped these recipes from the newspaper and pasted them into the back of the cookbook.
Here are a few more dessert recipes clipped from the Star Phoenix. Hey, I remember my grandma making those Butterscotch Ice Box Cookies!!
Here's another recipe from this cookbook, delicious green beans!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Granny's Cookies

Sometimes, the simplest recipes evoke a long and loving story. In 1914, Minnie Parry was a young single gal with a sense of adventure when she left England to work on her aunt and uncle's farm in Saskatchewan. Her Aunt Adeline had married a farmer near Silton (north of Lumsden) and was in need of help with domestic chores and childcare.

No doubt, the arrival of an eligible young woman attracted some attention as bachelors outnumbered potential brides on the prairie by two-to-one or more. Three years later, Minnie married Billy Wilson, a farmer just down the road originally of Ireland, and their son Leslie was born the following year.

Leslie married Blanche Ball, whose family ran a store in Silton. They settled on the Wilson farm, where at 90, Blanche still lives today, still baking Granny's Cookies on the old wood stove for her great-granddaughters, Domini and Ebony, aged 14 and 11.

"They are learning about the prairie, raising cattle, driving the half-ton truck in the pasture, finding crocuses in the spring, and cooking on the wood-burning cook stove in the farmhouse."

This story and recipe for Granny's Cookie was sent to me by Minnie's granddaughter, Dianne Wilson of Saskatoon, who learned to bake them on that same wood stove when she was a child. Like many simple old-fashioned recipes, it came with few instructions but much love, still a family treasure after five generations in Saskatchewan.

Granny’s Cookies
2/3 cup soft butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 – 2 cups flour

Cream butter and brown sugar well. Beat in egg. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Add enough flour to make a dough that is stiff enough to roll into a ball. Roll balls the size of a walnut. Place on baking sheet and press with a fork (dipped in flour) in a crisscross pattern. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

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