Monday, December 22, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Jelly Salad

Almost ten years ago, in spring 2005, I began writing this food column in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. This is my last installment.

Back in 2005, my husband and I had embarked on an eat-Saskatchewan adventure to source almost all our food within the province. Over the years, I highlighted many of those foods – wild, cultivated and processed – that Saskatchewan has to offer, as well as the recipes and food traditions cherished by those who call this province home.

It sparked two books, Prairie Feast in 2010 and Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens in September, both of which owe their genesis in no small part to the opportunities this column has given me. In the new year, I'm heading to Europe to research another book, a history of wheat, for which I received a Canada Council writers' grant. New adventures await…

Looking back over the past ten years, I observe one significant gap in the subject matter of this column: jelly salad. Jelly salads are iconic in Saskatchewan, if not on the modern dinner table then in our fondest memories of fall suppers and holiday meals.

In my family, no Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner passed without my mom's jelly salad. However, my all-time favourite Jell-o concoction is made by my brother's mother-in-law, Enid Burton of Saskatoon. At her dinner table, it is served with the turkey but is also good as dessert. We call it Pink Stuff. So I sign off today with a Jell-o recipe and wish you merry adventures in the kitchen and a prosperous New Year.
"Pink Stuff" Jell-O Salad
1 large box strawberry Jell-o powder
2 cups boiling water
2 cups dream whip
1 1/2 or 2 cups mini marshmallows, plain or coloured

Stir Jell-o with boiling water until powder is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate until Jell-o is jiggly but not set. With an electric mixer, beat in cool whip until well incorporated. Stir in marshmallows. Refrigerate until mealtime.

(This article was first published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Candied Orange Peel

Back in the day, people made candy for Christmas. Bought candy was a luxury many of the pioneers could not afford, except perhaps a few pieces dropped into a child's stocking along with an orange.

Common is the story of a farm wife butchering the turkeys in November and trading them at the general store for Christmas baking supplies, including the ingredients for making sweets.

Fudge falls into this category. Two weeks ago, I included a recipe for Maple Cream Fudge from my grandmother's recipe box. This week, I'm presenting the technique for making candied orange peel in the Lebanese tradition.

Dora Nasser came to Saskatoon with three young daughters in 1963 when her husband, Karim, took a teaching position at the University of Saskatchewan. Back then, she couldn't buy some ingredients essential to Lebanese cuisine such as eggplant, lentils, ground lamb and olive oil. "I really missed the food. We didn't starve but we didn't have the things I craved," she recalls.

How things have changed. Now she can buy eggplant of various sizes and olive oil from several countries. As for lentils, Saskatchewan now grows more lentils than anywhere else in the world!

Her family Christmas includes turkey stuffed with rice and pine nuts, Lebanese shortbread and candied orange peel. She prefers to use Seville oranges, but other thick-skinned oranges will do. Leftover syrup can be used in making baklava (a Middle Eastern dessert), added to the punch bowl or served on ice cream.

Candied Orange Peel (see images below)
4-5 oranges
Water for boiling
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
Needle and thread

Lightly grate the oranges to take off the shine. Cut the stem and flower ends off each orange.

With a knife, score the peel into quarters, cutting through the peel from top to bottom. Peel each section off the orange including the white pith, then cut each section in half lengthwise. This makes 8 peels per orange. Boil orange peels in water until soft.

Put peels in cold water for a day or two, changing the water twice. Lay peels on a tea towel or paper towel to dry, pressing out excess water. I left the peels overnight.

String a needle with thread. Roll each peel into a curl and secure it by piercing it with the needle and thread. Continue until all the curls are strung together, pressed close so they cannot uncurl.

In a saucepan bring the 2 cups water, sugar and honey to a light boil for 10 minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Place the string of orange curls into the hot sugar syrup and boil on medium heat for 20 minutes or longer.

Cooking is done at the two drop stage: scoop some syrup with a cold spoon and pour it back into the pot. When the syrup rolls off the spoon in two side-by-side drops (as opposed to one stream) cooking is complete. Lift out the peels. Cool slightly and pull off string.


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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Pumpkin Loaf

My friend Judy would make her Granny proud. Her Granny Martha Mae came to Saskatchewan from Ontario in the early days when her husband got a job on the railway. When he was killed in a rail accident, she raised their four children by scrimping and scraping by.

"She could make a meal from almost nothing. Absolutely nothing went to waste," says Judy who, like most of us, admires the tenacity and ingenuity of single moms like her granny in the days before family allowances and childcare. "Her front yard was all flowers and her back yard was all vegetables," says Judy. "She taught us that meals were special and to be thankful for the food we had."

In keeping with her granny's frugal pioneers spirit, Judy prepared this recipe for pumpkin loaf from scratch – starting with the pumpkin. "I'd never cooked pumpkin from scratch before, but it was easy. It baked just like spaghetti squash," she says.

Like old-time cooks, she adapted the recipe to the ingredients on hand, substituting half whole wheat flour, omitted the nutmeg and cloves (upping the cinnamon) and adding an extra 1/4 cup of cooked pumpkin because that's what the pumpkin yielded. No waste!

She took it to a potluck brunch with my book club, who cooked recipes from my new cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens. Other dishes included buttered eggs, perogies, Swedish meatballs, cranberry jam, oatmeal scones and gingerbread cookies. A meal to make a prairie granny proud.

Pumpkin Loaf
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 cup cooked pumpkin, mashed
1/4 cup melted butter
Brown sugar for topping

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Toss in raisins. Beat egg well and stir in milk, pumpkin and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in egg mixture. Mix just enough to blend. Pour into a greased loaf pan.

Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Bake at 350F for about 1 hour, until a knife inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

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

Monday, December 01, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Kutia

On December 24, many Polish, Ukrainian and Russian families will sit down to a traditional 12-course meatless Christmas Eve meal. The list of dishes may include perogies, borsht, mushrooms, fish and kutia, a dish of sweet boiled wheat with nuts, poppy seeds and honey.

Why include a dish of wheat for Christmas Eve? Back to pre-Christian times, even to ancient Egypt, wheat was considered a sacred grain because it provided bread – the staff of life – and symbolized death and rising again as the seed went into the ground and rose up as a young green plant. This symbolism entered the Christian faith in the wheat-growing lands of Eastern Europe, and from there, it came with the settlers to the wheat-growing lands of Canada.

Among those settlers were Anton and Anna Osiowy (o-sho-vee), Polish immigrants from Galicia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who homesteaded at Lemberg, near Melville, in 1897. Incidentally, Lemberg was the German name for a city in Galicia formerly known as Lwiw in the Polish Kingdom and currently Lviv in Ukraine.

In Ukrainian tradition, kutia is one of the first dishes served at Christmas Eve but in the Polish tradition of Anna and Anton it was served as dessert. Their great great grand-daughter, Annette Leniczek Stebner, remembers her dad fetching a bucket of wheat from the granary and the children picking out the chaff and weed seeds at the kitchen table. "It felt good to eat something we produced ourselves," she says, and still uses organic wheat from the family farm to make this treasured dish on Christmas Eve.

Anna Osiowy's Kutia
1 cup wheat seeds
6 cups water
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
Pinch salt
1 cup sugar or honey
Cream for serving

Soak wheat in water overnight. Without draining, bring to a boil, skimming the foam that rises to the top. Lower heat, cover and simmer, stirring now and then, until the wheat seeds burst open, about 4-5 hours. Stir in raisins, poppy seeds, nuts and sugar or honey. Heat through. To serve, scoop into individual bowls and pour on some cream.

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