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.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Strawberry Pudding

During World War I, which began in August 1914, the federal government created the Canada Food Board to increase food production and encourage Canadians to eat less flour, sugar, butter, eggs, pork and beef. Massive quantities of these foods were shipped to Europe to feed Allied troops and the civilian populations of Britain and France, who might have otherwise starved.

The Canada Food Board issued a directive to "proprietors of Public Eating Places" such as the University of Saskatchewan concerning the use of flour and sugar. No more than 2 lbs of sugar could be used per 90 meals served. The sugar had to be "yellow" not white (a cheaper form of sugar). For every 4 lbs of white flour, at least 1 lb of alternative flour (oatmeal, corn, whole grain, etc.) had to be used.

The directive admonished, "Do not serve bread and butter before the first course. People eat them without thought."

This recipe for Strawberry Pudding, which appeared in the Saskatoon Daily Star in August 1916, fit the times. It uses brown sugar and minimal butter and flour, while taking advantage of homegrown seasonal fruit. The original instructions were brief, assuming everyone knew how to steam a pudding. I did not. However, I tried it twice, once in a ceramic baking dish and once in small jelly jars, and it turned out well.

Strawberry Pudding
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup soft butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup sliced strawberries

Cream together brown sugar and egg, add butter, milk and vanilla. Blend well. Blend together dry ingredients. Mix into batter. Stir in strawberries.

Pour into a baking vessel that has been buttered on the bottom. It should be about half full as the pudding will rise. Cover with tin foil that has been smeared with butter.

Place in a cooking pot, add water to come half way up the baking dish and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover pot and simmer 2 hours. When cool, tip from mold and serve with whipped cream and strawberries.

Take a look at the food posters produced by the Canada Food Board at

This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

WWI Canada Food Posters

During World War I (1914-1918), the Canadian government formed the Canada Food Board to increase agricultural production and encourage frugality here on the home front. It produced a series of colourful posters driving these messages home.
As the above poster indicates, it was illegal to "hoard" foods that were in short supply. Flour, sugar, eggs, meat and fats such as lard and butter were sent to Europe in large quantities to feed Allied troops and civilians at home in Britain. Canadians were encouraged to eat less of them.   
Thirteen of these food posters produced during WWI can be viewed on the website of

The Canada Food Board also created a series of educational illustrations for newspapers. These panels included tips for reducing food waste and for using less bread, sugar, butter and meat. These panels can be viewed on the website of Ontario archives.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Potato and Apple Salad

One hundred years ago, this country was at war. World War I began in August, 1914, making a significant impact on agriculture and the daily diet.

Wheat was in high demand, much of it sent to feed our allies in Britain and our troops in Europe, for whom bread was a staple food. By 1917, the price of wheat had tripled to $2.20 a bushel. Farm families prospered. It was boom time in Saskatchewan.

We also sent pork, beef, butter and cheese to Europe, creating shortages here at home. Recipes published in the Saskatoon Daily Star reflected these shortages. Baked goods were made with less white flour and more oat, corn, rye and whole wheat flour, and less white sugar in favour of brown sugar, syrup and molasses.

There were fewer recipes for meat dishes and more for fish and beans. There were also more recipes for cooking and preserving garden vegetables and local fruit such as apples and berries. Recipes in 1914 such as fancy sandwiches and cheese fondue gave way in 1916 to recipes for baked brown bread and raspberry ice.

This frugal recipe for potato and apple salad appeared in the newspaper on August 28, 1916, along with recipes for curried crab, raspberry ice and whole wheat apple cake.

Potato and Apple Salad
6 tart apples
4 medium boiled potatoes
Juice of one lemon
Salad greens
French dressing

Core apples (peeled or unpeeled) and cut into cubes or thin slices. Marinate in lemon juice one hour. Cut cold potatoes into cubes or thin slices to match the apples. Lightly mix in apples. Serve on salad greens with French dressing.

Note that in 1916, French dressing was not the pinkish salad dressing in our stores today, but a simple blend of 2 tsp vinegar, 4 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. To that, I added 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 2 tbsp grated onion and a pinch of sugar.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wartime Apple Cake

This recipe appeared in the Saskatoon Daily Star on August 28, 1916, during World War I. War shortages had an effect on how we cooked at home. White flour was exported to Europe, so home cooks were encouraged to use more brown flour. Recipes focussed on local ingredients, such as apples and potatoes.

Like most recipes of that era, these instructions are not detailed. For instance, this recipe does not state the temperature of the oven. I'd say 375F. I haven't cooked this cake yet. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out!

Apple Cake
Put into a basin half an ounce of grated unsweetened chocolate, two cupfuls of brown flour, a handful of currants and half a teaspoonful of cloves. Make a cupful of sauce from sour apples and stir into it a large teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, add three parts of a cup of sugar and half a cup of sour milk. Then pour in the other mixture, beat well and bake in a modern oven for nearly an hour.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Beaver Stroganoff

As you throw another steak on the BBQ, consider the pioneers.

Their summer diets were largely vegetarian. With no refrigerators or freezers, it was impossible to butcher a pig or a cow as most of the meat would quickly spoil, and the chickens were better kept for eggs. The answer: wild meat.

In 1882, the Baines family arrived from Manchester, England, and would have starved on several occasions if not for wild meat. Fred Baines, who was a child at the time, recalled that "badger was an oily strong nauseating meat, it took a strong stomach to handle it. Personally, I prefer skunk or muskrat."

Of course, wild game fed prairie families for millennium, primarily the bison, but also beaver, rabbits, moose, prairie chickens, geese, gophers and the aforementioned muskrat and skunk.

Beaver was long considered a delicacy, but not by everyone. Artist Paul Kane didn't much like beaver when he travelled here in 1846: "It is a fat, gristly substance, but to me by no means palatable; the rest of our party, however, seemed to enjoy it much. The tongues were decidedly delicious; they are cured by drying them in the smoke of the lodges."

I wanted to taste the pioneer experience for myself. Thanks to a friend, I acquired a piece of beaver, cleaned and frozen, which I cooked in a traditional recipe for beef stroganoff, a staple of Hungarian settlers. It was amazingly delicious with local chanterelle mushrooms. If you don't have beaver, substitute beef. :)

Beaver Stroganoff
1 lb meat, trimmed of fat
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2-3 cups beef broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup sour cream

Boil beaver in water for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Slice meat against the grain into thin strips.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet. Cook onions until soft. Add meat. Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper. Sauté until meat is no longer pink.

Add mushrooms, 2 cups broth and Worcestershire sauce. Cover skillet and simmer two hours or more, adding more broth if needed, until meat is tender.

Before serving, stir in sour cream. Bring to a light bubble and remove from heat. Serve on noodles.

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Spudnuts

The annual Saskatoon exhibition begins today, and that means more than 50,000 spudnuts will be consumed over the week. Spudnuts are a summer tradition in this city, but their history goes way back.

The word "spud" is an old English nickname for the potato. As such, spudnuts are a doughnut made with potato as a main ingredient. Many of the European cultures that settled Saskatchewan brought a potato-based doughnut in their culinary repertoire. They used mashed potatoes, which produces a lighter fluffier doughnut than with flour alone.

In the early 1900s, spudnuts were introduced to the Saskatoon exhibition. For many years, they were made by volunteers, first by the Church of Latter Day Saints and then the Boy Scouts; Prairieland Park took over production a decade ago. As many as 90 employees are put to work making 45 batches of 200 spudnuts every day of the fair, rolling and forming each one by hand, according to Carl Schlosser, director of events at Prairieland Park.

Nowadays, he says, they do not use mashed potatoes but an exclusive (and secret) flour-dry potato mix. So, if you can't get to the Ex, you can enjoy some old-fashioned spudnuts at home.

2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup warm potato cooking water
1 cup mashed potatoes
3/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
3 – 4 cups flour
Vegetable oil or lard for deep frying

Dissolve yeast in warm potato water and let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Stir in mashed potatoes, milk, butter or oil, sugar, egg and salt. Add 3 cups flour and knead 8–10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed to form a smooth dough that is not sticky.

Place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough to oil all sides, cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and rise again until doubled.

Roll dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Cut with a doughnut punch, or cut in circles and work a hole in the centre with your fingers. Rest spudnuts 15 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil at a depth of 2 inches to 350F, when a drop of dough browns nicely but does not burn. Working in batches, fry spudnuts until golden brown, turning to cook both sides and draining on paper towel. Dip into sugar or glaze with icing.

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