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.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grilled Fruit Kabobs

A twitter friend suggested I try grilling watermelon. Her timing was perfect... I was on tap to bring dessert... a grilled dessert... to a neighbourhood BBQ last night. Along with watermelon, I skewered chunks of strawberry, plum, banana and pound cake. While cooking on the BBQ, the skewers were basted with:

BBQ Fruit Marinade
1/2 cup honey
juice of 1 1/2 limes
2 tbsp finely chopped mint

The watermelon was crispy juicy charred, while the strawberries were almost jam-like, making a nice light dessert just right for the end of a mid-summer night's dinner party under a super moon.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Tourtiere

Some wag has just pointed out that Christmas is less than six months away. So, rather than cry in your BBQ, start perfecting this time-honoured Fransaskois Christmas favourite: tourtière.

Tourtière is a meat pie that came with settlers from Quebec and the Maritimes, where in olden times it was everyday fare. Here in Saskatchewan, the tourtière of old has been kept alive by women such as Rita Marchand of Vonda, whose family gets together in advance of Christmas to make as many as 100 pies, enough to freeze, share and bake for special dinners throughout the holiday season.

They use a recipe passed on by Mémère (Grandma) Lucienne Marchand, whose family moved from Quebec to Prud'homme in 1909. According to the family history, "Having lost her mother in 1908, she started making meals and (doing) household duties at a very young age." She was not yet 10.

According to Settling Saskatchewan by Alan Anderson, there were 32 French-speaking settlements in the province, some created by Métis and others by newcomers from Quebec, the Maritimes, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Between 1901 and 1921, the French-speaking population jumped from 2,600 to 42,000.

As with so many time-honoured recipes, there are many versions of tourtière. For 100 pies, the Marchand family starts with 60 lbs of meat. This recipe is pared down for one pie and is found in Saveurs et Savoirs 2, a tribute to the Francophone community of Saskatchewan.

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 clove chopped garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
a pinch of cloves
1/4 tsp sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mashed potatoes
pastry for a two-crust pie

Cook all the ingredients together except the potatoes, which are added at the end of cooking. Place the mixture in a pie shell, cover with the top crust (cutting vents in the top pastry) and bake in a 375F oven for 40–45 minutes.

Do you have a cherished recipe that came to Saskatchewan from somewhere else? Tell me at!

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Latkes

Little known in Saskatchewan's history is the story of its Jewish settlers. Some of the first farming colonies were formed by Jewish immigrants from Europe, United States and South Africa. The first, New Jerusalem, was started in 1884. Other colonies followed: Sonnenfeld, Hirsch, Edenbridge, Wapella, Lipton.

Among the settlers were two young bachelors, David and Michael Usiskin, who left the urban poverty of London, England, to take homesteads at Edenbridge, northeast Melfort. Michael's story is published as Uncle Mike's Edenbridge: Memoires of a Jewish Pioneer Farmer, translated from its original Yiddish. He recounts how terribly hard they worked to clear the land, how little money they earned and how little they had to eat.

The most common dishes on their dinner table appear to be borscht, bread, potatoes and cabbage rolls, with the occasional wild rabbit. One winter, four bachelors lived together, one of whom liked to cook. But instead of breakfast, he gave them poems:

"Here's toast… pale as a ghost."
"The pudding is sweet… if only there was more of it to eat."
"Nourish yourselves with what you read, because the food is scarce indeed."

Interesting to note, according to Alan Anderson's Settling Saskatchewan, the ancestors of Saskatoon's Buckwold family also settled in Edenbridge, and today our city has the Sid Buckwold Bridge. No doubt plenty of potatoes were turned into this classic but simple Jewish recipe.

Potato Latkes
3 medium potatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate. Mix in onion. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible by spreading on a tea towel or paper towel and pressing well.

In a bowl, whip together egg, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Stir in potato-onion mixture. Form patties about 3 inches wide.

Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet on high heat, until a shred of potato fries quickly. Carefully slip in latkes one at a time, cooking both sides to a crispy brown, 5–7 minutes. Serve topped with apple sauce or sour cream.

Do you have an old family recipe with an immigrant story? Send me a comment.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Kvass

On summer days, I recall my mom baking in the early morning and airing out the house before it got hot outside. In pioneer times, she might just as likely have moved the kitchen outside. Summer kitchens were a cool antidote to wood stoves and long hot days.

At the start of summer, the kitchen supplies were moved to a shed or lean-to where meals were cooked and eaten. Sometimes the summer kitchen had its own wood stove, but often the heavy cast iron stove was also moved out from the house.

In the cookbook Taste of Time (published by the Saskatoon Council on Aging) Eva Hazelwanter reminisces about the summer kitchen on her Doukhobor family farm near Petrofka Bridge.

She writes, "each summer pots and pans, etc. were moved a short way down the hill to the summer kitchen. It was a log structure with a corrugated tin roof that turned beautiful colours in the rain. Here we cooked and ate in the hot sun and escaped to the cool big house at night."

Today's equivalent might be the backyard barbeque. However, we might also imitate the Doukhobors and serve a refreshing cold cucumber soup called kvass. When the Doukhobors came from Russia in 1899, they were vegetarian so, no doubt, they had a broad repertoire of cold, vegetable dishes prepared with the bounty of their own prairie gardens. According to Eva, kvass was served for lunch with a plate of fried potatoes.

2 tbsp grated onion
1/4 cup fresh dill
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups grated cucumber
2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
2 cup water

In a bowl, mash together onion, dill and salt until the salt is dissolved and the juices run. Add cucumber, vinegar or lemon juice and water. The soup can be eaten immediately or refrigerated for an hour to let the flavours chill and meld. Before serving, stir in enough ice cold water to make a thin soup.

Do you have an ethnic recipe transplanted to Saskatchewan? Tell me! Send me a comment and follow at

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Johnny Cake

Cornmeal was sold in general stores in rural Saskatchewan, however, fresh corn was generally not grown until new varieties were developed that could mature in our short dry growing season. After that, just about every country garden had corn.

Homemakers were creative with corn in the kitchen, making corn bread, corn fritters, corn soup, corn pudding and, of course, fresh corn on the cob. The Manitou Pioneers Museum Centennial Cookbook includes a recipe for making imitation maple syrup by boiling corn cobs and brown sugar, concluding: "One can hardly tell the difference from genuine maple syrup. The corn cobs give it the maple flavour."

In the days before pharmacies, cough syrup was made by boiling corn kernels with honey and drinking the liquid. Old timers swore by it, as did this writer in the cookbook A Taste of Time: "It seemed to work. We survived whooping cough and many other illnesses."

Not everyone ate corn. My father recalls a hired man from Germany who refused to eat corn, disdaining it as pig food. No one seems quite sure where Johnny Cake got its name, but one thing is sure: many variations were found in old Saskatchewan recipe boxes.

Johnny Cake
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp melted butter

Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk egg with milk and butter. Pour liquid into cornmeal mixture and stir together. Spread in an 8 inch greased baking pan. Bake at 375F for 25 minutes. Serve with gravy, syrup or homemade jam.

Do you have an old Saskatchewan recipe with a story? Send me a comment! Follow at

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

Monday, June 09, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Scuffles

Trick question: How many early settlers to Saskatchewan came from Ukraine? Answer: None.

At the height of prairie settlement, prior to World War I, the country of Ukraine did not yet exist. According to Settling Saskatchewan by Alan Anderson, these settlers spoke different dialects and identified with their local regions:

"Ukrainian Canadians first considered themselves primarily as Galicians, Bukovinians, Ruthenians, and so on and secondarily possibly as Austro-Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Czechoslovaks, or Romanians. Only gradually did a common identity as Ukrainians emerge."

Just as ethnicities crossed borders, so did their cuisines. Perogie is a Polish word. The Ukrainian name for this popular dumpling is verenyky. Cabbage rolls (holubtsi in Ukrainian) were common among many cultures that settled Saskatchewan, from Croatians at Kenaston to Hungarians at Esterhazy to the Jewish colony at Edenbridge.

While we primarily think of borscht as Ukrainian beet soup, other cultures make it, too, some without beets such as Mennonite summer borscht with sorrel and sausage. The correct Ukrainian spelling is borshch.

In 2011, the national household survey found that, in Saskatchewan, 13.5 percent of people claim Ukrainian heritage, 24.9 percent English and 28.6 percent German, including Mennonites and Hutterites. So, why does Ukrainian cuisine loom so large in Saskatchewan? Why do we associate cabbage rolls and not Yorkshire pudding with community suppers and raise funds by selling frozen perogies and not German maultaschen?

And why do these delicious cinnamon crescents, associated with generations of Babas, go by the very un-Ukrainian name of scuffles?

2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
Sugar and cinnamon for rolling

Dissolve yeast in warm water. In a bowl, stir together flour, salt and sugar. Work in butter with your fingers. Combine milk, eggs and yeast. Add to flour, mixing well. Turn onto a floured surface and knead briefly until smooth. The dough will be sticky. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Divide dough in six parts, working with one part at a time. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon generously on the countertop, place dough on top and roll to a circle 1/8 inch thick. Cut the circle into 12 wedges, like pieces of a pie. Roll up each wedge from the wide end to the pointed end. Place 1 inch apart on lightly-greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Spudnuts

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. Let spudnuts rest for 15 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil at a depth of 2 inches to 360F. Working in batches, fry spudnuts until golden brown, turning to cook both sides and draining on paper towel. Sprinkle with sugar or glaze with vanilla icing.

(From up upcoming cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens.)