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.)

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.

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

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

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