Monday, November 24, 2014

Prairie Kitchen - Maple Cream Fudge

My grandma was proud of her fudge. She made two or three kinds of fudge to serve over the holidays, perhaps a custom she learned from her Scottish mother on the farm at Nokomis. Back in her mother's day, Christmas sweets and candy were an expensive extravagance for many prairie families. So they made their own.

Christmas preparations began early with the centrepiece of the meal – a turkey or a pork roast – raised on the farm. The pigs and poultry were butchered in November once the days dipped below zero since there was no freezer but the great outdoors. Many are the accounts of a farm wife keeping one turkey for her family and taking the remainder into town to trade at the general store for holiday baking supplies such as nuts, spices, candied peel (for the fruitcake) and white sugar. Fruitcakes were made in mid-November so they could "mature" before Christmas dinner, and a great variety of cookies were baked in advance and kept frozen for special meals.

However, when times were tough, as they were many years, Christmas was not always celebrated in fine style. Years later, Fred Baines recalled the first Christmases his family spent on the prairie after immigrating from England: "We did not celebrate in those days, but I remember, my mother cried at the poor dinner we had."

My grandma's recipe card for fudge is stained and well used, and the taste transports me back to the warmth and fragrance of her kitchen at Christmas time.

Maisie's Maple Cream Fudge
3 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup light cream
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

In a saucepan, mix all ingredients except vanilla and nuts. Heat on medium, stirring now and then, until sugar is dissolved. Continue heating on medium until the mixture comes to a full boil, stirring infrequently to ensure it is not sticking to bottom or sides of the pot.

Heat to soft ball stage or 238F on a candy thermometer. To test for soft ball stage without a thermometer, pour a small spoonful of fudge into cold water. Scoop up the fudge in your fingers; if it cools into a soft pliable ball you can work between your fingers it has reached the soft ball stage. If not, keep boiling and test again.

Once it reaches the soft ball stage, turn off heat. Allow to cool to 110F, cool enough to hold a finger in the fudge. Do not stir. Once cool, stir in vanilla and nuts, if using. Beat with a spoon until the fudge is smooth and no longer glossy. Spread into a lightly buttered 8x8 inch dish, smoothing with damp fingers. Cool completely and cut into squares.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Creamed Chicken & Mamaliga

What's your comfort food? Ask one hundred people and you might get one hundred different answers. For Lisa Lambert, it's Creamed Chicken, a Romanian recipe brought to Saskatchewan with her grandmother one hundred years ago.

"It's steeped in nostalgia," she says. "We crave the foods that hold good memories for us and I have very good memories of Granny cooking good food for us."

Granny Mary Wilchuck was a little girl (nee Gnesner) when she immigrated to Canada with her family in 1914 and settled in Southey. They came from an area called Bukovina which was, at that time, under the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the area was historically Romanian. So, while Granny Wilchuck considered herself Austrian and spoke German, their immigration papers listed Romania as the country of origin.

This bit of history illustrates how blurred ethnic origins can become through the centuries of shifting borders, and how this is often reflected in favourite family recipes. At 17, she wed a farmer almost twice her age, an arranged marriage. It was not a blissful union, according to Lambert, but Granny Wilchuck was always smiling when she cooked for her family.

In time, she taught this recipe to her British daughter-in-law, Marilyn Wilchuck. Lambert has included the recipe in her cookbook, Recipes I Stole from My Mum, noting that, as a child, she always requested it for her birthday dinner. Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, a corn meal porridge still popular on Romanian dinner tables today.

Creamed Chicken
5–6 lbs chicken parts
Water to cover
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 tbsp instant chicken bouillon
2 tbsp salt
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup flour
1 cup water

Cover the chicken in water in a large dutch oven. Add chicken bouillon, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove a small amount of broth and cool. Gradually stir sour cream into cooled broth. Return to the simmering sauce, stirring constantly.

Mix flour and remaining 1 cup water until smooth. Stir into sauce to thicken. Discard bay leaves. Serve over corn meal.

Corn Meal (Mamaliga)
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 cups yellow corn meal

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add salt and butter. Add corn meal gradually and stir constantly until thick. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until corn meal starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. Serve hot.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Bigos

Polish newcomers to Saskatchewan, whether 100 years ago or one year ago, have a soft spot in their hearts for bigos, a traditional winter stew.

Eva Sylwestrowicz, who grew up in northern Poland, remembers wonderful winter picnics when friends and family went into the woods by horse-drawn sleigh and ate bowls of bigos warmed over a bonfire. "Someone went ahead to prepare the bonfire," she says. "There was bigos and bread, vodka and wine. And hot chocolate for the children. It was a special time."

Eva came to Saskatoon in 1982, escaping communist Poland with her husband Thomas and their young children, Magda and Wojtek. Their journey is intriguing. Thomas, a physician, had gone to London, England, for a research fellowship but his family was not allowed to go with him.

On the pretext of entertaining his colleagues – and making a good impression – he asked Eva to send him his mother's silverware and the good linens. Thus they spirited some family treasures out of the country.

On a cold winter day, Eva and the children left for a vacation in Tunisia, an approved holiday destination, with nothing but a suitcase of summer clothes. They had to go to East Germany to catch their flight, but as soon as they got there, they changed directions for London and from there to Canada.

Bigos (bee-gōs) is considered better with each reheating. Leftovers are added to the pot creating a "perpetual stew" that lasts a week, ready to reheat for unexpected company or a winter picnic.

1/2 cup dried mushrooms
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika or 2 juniper berries, finely crushed
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup leftover roast meat
6–8 canned tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium cabbage head, shaved
1/2 lb sauerkraut
2 tbsp plum jam or honey

Soak mushrooms in boiling water to soften. Heat oil in a stew pot. Cook onion until soft. Stir in paprika or juniper berries, salt and pepper.

Add garlic and bacon. When bacon and onions are cooked, add the rest of the meat, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms and mushroom water.

Add enough cold water to almost cover the contents. Cover the pot and simmer for several hours, until the cabbage is meltingly soft. Stir in plum jam or honey.

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

Monday, November 03, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Molasses Cake

In 1897, Anna Pölsson packed her belongings and made the ocean voyage from Sweden to Canada to join her fiancé who had taken a homestead near Kamsack. They had not seen each other for 11 years.

Anna's family tried to dissuade her from making the trip. So much time had passed. It was so far away. Did she even know him anymore? But she was determined to keep the promise she had made to Nils.

"He wanted to work off his boat fare, and make her boat fare, and establish a homestead before she came. It took him 11 years, which I don't think was uncommon in those days," says Karen Priestley of Choiceland, Anna's great-granddaughter.

In Sweden, Anna had trained with a doctor and those skills served her well around Kamsack, where she delivered babies, set bones and tended the sick – even for animals. "People called on her because she was willing to take trade instead of money, while most doctors insisted on cash," says Karen. "I really admire her."

Anna raised seven children, survived two husbands, and passed on her recipe for molasses cake. According to Karen, it was an everyday cake, rarely iced except for company. Now-a-days, however, she always frosts it because that's how her children (Anna's great great grandkids) love to eat it. And she uses the microwave – proving that cherished old recipes still have a place in the modern kitchen.

Molasses Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup buttermilk

Cream butter well. Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition. Blend in molasses and eggs.

Sift together flour, baking soda and spices. Add to batter in three portions, alternating with buttermilk until well blended.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch cake pan and bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cake and ice.

Caramel Coffee Icing
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup cream
1 tbsp strong coffee (or 1/2 tsp instant coffee)
1 2/3 cup icing sugar

Put brown sugar, butter and cream into large glass measuring cup. Microwave for 40 seconds. Stir and microwave another minute or so until smooth. Add coffee. Blend well and cool. Beat in icing sugar to a creamy and spreadable consistency.

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