The Oldest Thanksgiving Desserts

 

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Well written history books describing the earliest cookery in North America always include the very important role of indigenous peoples in helping new settlers learn about the foods of the New World. Fascinating, is the marrying of the two cultures and the dishes that were turned out as a result. In the bookFood – The Gastronomic Story by Evan Jones talks about the early incorporation of corn and beans into the diets of the pilgrims. The indigenous peoples taught the settlers how to grow beans, using tall corn stalks as a pole. An early dish that was taught to the settlers was msickquatash, a corn/ bean dish eaten by the Indians, (although the use of the name Indians is currently considered to be by most, inappropriate in Canada, it was used in the writing of this book and is still widely used in the U.S.)

The first American Thanksgiving dinner is widely believed to have been in 1621, and consisted of venison, roast duck and roast goose, clams eels, wheat and corn breads, leeks, watercress, wild plums, homemade wine. Not a turkey or pumpkin pie in sight. Settlers from Britain in the New World used corn and incorporated it into their style of cooking. As time passed and the Thanksgiving feast changed, desserts such as the two following were served. Indian pudding is a very old dish and is included in many old cookbooks. It demonstrates the use of corn(in the form of corn meal, to make what was considered a sweet dessert often served on Thanksgiving.

Indian pudding is a very old dish and is included in many old cookbooks. The Fort George Bill of Fare includes a receipt that was from the Pocumtuc Housewife: A Guide to Domestic Cookery by: Several Ladies 1805.

Indian Pudding 

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  • 4 cups milk
  • 5-7 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 3-4 tbsp. molasses
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon or ginger
  • Heat 2 cups of mile to almost boiling, and add cornmeal and stir well. Add in molasses, salt and spices and mix together. Pour into a large greased baking dish and pour in remaining milk. Bake at 325 degrees for about two hours, stirring often.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-forward two hundred years. I baked a traditional Indian Pudding using modern corn meal, molasses and a gas oven instead of an open-hearth fireplace. When I tasted the dessert, it tasted bland to my highly sugarized tastes but I topped it with some molasses and whipped cream and it tasted like fine custard with substance.

Thanksgiving Pudding 1 from the Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1917

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  • 4 cups scalded milk                 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups rolled crackers         1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar                                1 ½ cups raisins
  • 4 eggs                                            ½ grated nutmeg

Pour milk over crackers and let stand until cool; add sugar, eggs slightly beaten, nutmeg, salt, and butter; parboil raisins until soft, by cooking in boiling water to cover; seed, and add to mixture; turn into buttered pudding dish and bake slowly two and one-half hours, stirring after first half-hour to prevent raisins from settling ; serve with Brandy Sauce.

Brandy Sauce

  • ¼ cup butter                       Yolks 2 eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar     Whites 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons brandy       ½ cup milk or cream

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, then brandy very slowly, well beaten yolks, and milk or cream. Cook over hot water until it thickens as a custard, pour onto beaten whites.

Fast forward 100 years. I baked a Thanksgiving pudding 1 and found it to have an interesting taste that was moist with much of the taste from the raisins and sauce. But there is an appeal to adding a simpler dessert to the Thanksgiving feast and remembering our roots and times when food was appreciated more because of the work that went into growing and preparing each dish. It was a time when convenience in the kitchen and the luxury of so many easily acquired ingredients was not a part of  people’s lives.

 

 

 

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Historic Thanksgiving Menus for Prisoners and Presidents in U.S.

 

 

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State dining room at the White House 

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Dining Room in Alcatraz set for a festive occasion – Courtesy of National Park Service 

Strangely enough, the meal on the trays of the inmates at the Alcatraz prison in California and on the grand tables of the Presidents of the United States historically contained many of the same main dishes. The food traditions of Thanksgiving have remained basically the same for the past two hundred years, with regional differences, on many tables across North America. It is common to cook turkey with dressing, potatoes, root vegetables, and pumpkin pie as part of the Thanksgiving meal.

 

History.com defines the widely accepted beginnings of the celebration of Thanksgiving. “In 1621, The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.”

It is a strong tradition wherever you are in America to have a fine meal on Thanksgiving to show appreciation for the harvest or just to celebrate the holiday.

Alcatraz Thanksgiving Menu from Alcatraz Dining Room 

Alcatraz was a maximum security prison built on an rocky island off the coast of San Francisco. From 1934 to 1963, 250 prisoners at a time were held within this penitentiary. Alcatraz is now a National Historic Site visited by thousands of visitors a year. The dining room is now an empty space full of silent memories of the Thanksgivings shared by inmates.

The prisoners on Alcatraz ate Thanksgiving dinner on their metal trays, in the dining room, and white sheets were repurposed as table cloths. A prisoner was considered to be fortunate to have a job in the kitchen assisting the cooks and much of the kitchen staff was comprised of prisoners. The cutlery was humble and counted, lest it be stolen as a weapon and especially the knives were watched closely in both the kitchen and in the dining room.

Men being punished for their disruptive behaviour while in the prison were held in solitary confinement, for a maximum of 19 days and the restricted diet was part of the punishment. The cells were dark and meals were served three times a day through a small window and eaten in the cell. A typical dinner was served at noon that consisted of ½ bowl of soup, 1 bowl of tea and four slices of bread. However, even in “solitary”, Thanksgiving was celebrated, as illustrated by the noon dinner served on Thanksgiving Day, November 28,1946 to the prisoners in solitary confinement.

  • Peanut Soup
  • Roast Turkey with Celery Dressing
  • Candied Sweet Potatoes
  • Giblet Gravy
  • Buttered Peas
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Fresh Grapes
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Hot Biscuits
  • Bread, Oleo (margarine), coffee

A Thanksgiving menu from The White House Cook Book by Mrs.F.L.Gillette and Hugo Ziemann dated 1877

In the White House the presidents and their families have always dined on fine historic china, with the best linens and silverware on the table. The tables and chairs were built of the best wood and skilled chefs cooked their meals. Service was formal and servants would have brought each course separately to the table. Here is a sample menu from a Thanksgiving feast at the White House, prior to 1877.

  • Oysters on a half shell
  • Cream of Chicken Soup
  • Fried Smelts
  • Sauce Tartare
  • Roast Turkey and Cranberry Sauce
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Baked Squash and Boiled Onions
  • Parsnip Fritters
  • Olives
  • Chicken Salad
  • Venison Pastry
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Charlotte Russe
  • Almond Ice Cream
  • Lemon Jelly
  • Hickory Nut Cake
  • Cheese
  • Fruits
  • Coffee

Both Presidents and prisoners have enjoyed their annual Thanksgiving dinner for many years and it is almost certain that each person had memories of their childhood festivities however grand or humble.

 

 

 

A Bite of School Lunch History

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An image from early 1900’s of children eating school lunch in Britain 

As long as children have attended school farther than their little legs could carry them home for a mid day meal, the school lunch has existed.

The quality and quantity of lunches has varied over the years and both creativity and lack of creativity have made those lunches memorable for most school children.

When I asked Mary, aged 88, to remember her school lunches, she thought for a while. She remembered the one room schoolhouse in Nova Scotia with the pot bellied wood stove to keep them warm in the winter.

“We carried a glass bottle of stew and there would be a pot of water warming on the stove where we could heat our lunch.” She went on to explain that she also had a memory of sandwiches.

“Ours were made from home-baked bread and I was jealous of my cousin Shirley who had sandwiches made from store bought bread.”

She remembered her green metal lunch box with the two handles on top.

Children sometimes brought ingredients for a stew from home and the teacher would put them all in a pot to simmer while teaching.

I remember my school lunches from the 1960’s of bologna or peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big clumps of hard butter. An apple, and a cookie rounded out those lunches packed in waxed paper, neatly folded on the top and put in a brown lunch bag.

In the new millennium, lunches have changed in North America, and vary from ready prepared foods to a movement towards very carefully made, nutritious meals.

Lunch boxes are covered with images of cartoon images that promote popular culture.

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School Lunch as a status symbol

Repeatedly, when I asked others about what they ate for school lunches, the topic of “what others ate,” was raised.

Kris, a friend of German background was sent to school with liverwurst and beetroot sandwiches on brown bread. She remembers being mocked by the others who had white bread, with peanut butter or cheese slices on their sandwiches.

Helen, raised in Prince Edward Island, came from a large family and remembers being teased for bringing sardine sandwiches for lunch.

“Beans” was the nickname for a little guy who simply brought a can of beans to school and ate it cold from the can.

Children have a long tradition of trading food. It seems that “The grass is always greener on the other side of the street,” applies to school lunches as well.

It has long been a childhood custom to hide food that embarrasses or throw it in the garbage.

In the book “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, school lunch bread is mentioned. The cylindrical loaves baked in apple juice cans were the most frequently cooked loaves by the author’s mother.

“They were our regular sandwich bread. While other kids had peanut butter and jam sandwiches made with slices of soft “boughten” bread, we had thicker round sandwiches filled with peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise, or with cheese and lettuce. The firm, moist even crumb of my mother’s bread held its own and never softened into sludge or mush. At the time, we wished we had white bread sandwiches like everyone else. Only later did we realize how lucky we were.”         

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Kids from a school on Kingston Rd. near Highland Creek (in Toronto, Ontario) eat lunch in 1908 

Lobster for Lunch? 

There was a time on the east coast of both Canada and the United States when lobster was so plentiful that it was often the cheapest meat available. The children who took lobster and crab meat in their rolls and sandwiches were considered to be “too poor” to have a sandwich made with bologna or others fillings. Often the lobsters had washed ashore, offering a different taste from our live cooked luxury lobster now.

Residential Schools in Canada

Much has been written about the food served to the children in the residential schools for our indigenous children. From 1880 to 1996, many indigenous children were required to attend residential schools. Although the care they received varied, much evidence indicates that the children were malnourished, poorly fed and some children were the subjects of dietary experiments. Many adults raised in residential schools, have reported accounts of hunger, and the poor quality and monotony of the food they were served.

The American Woman’s Cookbook- The Lunch Box chapter 

An entire chapter is devoted to The Lunch Box in the American Women’s Cookbook, first published in 1938. This cookbook demonstrates the move towards a more scientific approach to cooking. Although this chapter is not focused only on school lunches, it demonstrates what was considered to be a nutritious and interesting boxed lunch.

The opening sentence for the chapter, The Lunch Box states: “As much care is needed in selecting and preparing the food for the lunch box as for the other meals served to the family.”

Menu Suggestions include the following:

Peanut Butter , Bacon and Lettuce Sandwiches,  Cauliflowerlets,  Carrot Sticks,                 Hard Cooked Egg,  Gingerbread,  Grapes,  Milk

Oven Baked Beans, Catchup,  Boston Brown Bread Sandwiches with Cream Cheese Filling , Cole Slaw, Applesauce, Milk

In a paragraph about packing the lunch it is suggested that food should all be wrapped separately in waxed paper and if possible packed in the order that the food will be eaten. Those were examples of lunches prepared with time and care.

School Lunches in other countries

There are countries that have a tradition of including the noon meal as part of the school day. Countries such as India, England, France and Finland have a history of providing lunch programs for all school children. Since 1879, all children in France, have been fed a hot meal for lunch that includes foods designed to give them an appreciation of traditional foods and proper table manners. In Finland, school lunch for all children has been provided since 1947 and they have a formula for plating the food that states that one half of the dish must be filled with vegetables, one quarter a starch and one quarter a meat or protein replacement. In many ways feeding the children together ensures uniform nutrition for at least one meal a day, and takes away the status in foods for children, introducing them to foods they may otherwise never try.

England has had lunch programs for many years. Ruth, who was raised in England remembers as a young child, walking 10 minutes from her school to a large dining room to eat a hot lunch. She has less than enthusiastic memories of her boarding school lunches from the time she was eleven, consisting of such food as fish, potatoes, peas, and a pudding.

An Old Green Lunch Pail

In my workshop is a small green metal lunch pail with two top handles. It is full of nails and screws that date back to the 1940’s. That must have been my mother’s green lunch pail. I think of all the meals packed by the loving hands of my grandmother. Since writing these words on my blog, I plan to retrieve that lunch pail, empty the nails, wash off the dirt. The chipped paint I will leave as a reminder of the many lunches that travelled in that little box.

It will now be used as a lunch pail again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherbrooke Village – N.S. Jailhouse dining.

I was visiting Historic Sherbrooke Village in Nova Scotia to experience tastes of the past, so imagine my surprise when I was led to the town jailhouse for a cooking experience.

HISTORIC SHERBROOKE 

We walked from the Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia of today and into yesteryear almost without noticing. Part of the village has been spared modernization and Historic Sherbrooke Village has been created. Man has lived on this land along the St. Mary’s River since our Mi’kmaq nation; and was also settled by the French and eventually by the English who named the town Sherbrooke in 1815.

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Sherbrooke Village 

In 1969, the Sherbrooke Village restoration project and part of the village was preserved to give us all the privilege of visiting the town as though it were the 1860’s.  Those were the days of sailing ships trading between Britain and the West Indies as well as farming, fishing, cutting and milling timber. In 1861, a gold rush hit the area and the opening of 19 mining companies caused a boom.

There are 80 buildings in the historic part of the village, with 25 open to visitors. It takes little imagination to return to history, as the costumed visitors and interpretive staff bring the village to life. The Hands on History program allows visitors of all ages to wear clothing like those of the 1860’s while visiting Sherbrooke. Hundreds of costumes are available in all sizes to be worn by the visitors. The class system was very much evident in the clothing style differences.

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The author dressed for the Hands on History program by Durba Smith and Phyllis Jack

 

“It feels different, the minute you put the big hooped dress on,” said one visitor participating in the program. As I put on my costume, I immediately stepped into history.

Visitors can explore the blacksmith and printing shop, drug store, clothier, pottery studio, general store, woodworking shop and even an Ambrotype photography studio. Farm animals, gardens and the sawmill help us to learn about how the townsfolk  provided for each other.

AND NOW FOR THE FOOD

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The Jailhouse in Sherbrooke from the 1800’s to 1968

Karen Pye played the part of the jailer’s wife the day I visited the jailhouse in my big hooped skirt. She was busy cooking cinnamon buns and taught me about the jailer’s family and the interesting house that was used as a jail in Sherbrooke until 1968. From the outside the large, frame house looked like any other. Some bedrooms were turned into cells, barred windows and all, but the family lived in the same house as the prisoners. Many of those spending time behind bars were mischief makers who had ridden their horses through the town or were found drunk in the ditch. This was a Temperance town and alcohol use was not looked upon kindly. The jailer was paid a meagre salary so earned extra cash by working at the saw mill, gold mine or lumber camp. As well as cooking for the prisoners and her family, the jailer’s wife would sew to earn an extra income. The family and prisoners ate the same food prepared in the kitchen by the jailer’s wife.

The jailer’s diet back in the 1860’s consisted of such food as bread, stews, fish, soups, hodge podge (a mixture of garden vegetables cooked with cream) and cooked garden vegetables.  Sugar and molasses cookies, ginger cake and occasionally cinnamon buns are examples of the sweets served at the jailer’s home. Of course, preserves were made to allow fruit and vegetables to be used year round.

Karen whipped up the cinammon buns with the ease of an expert. As she mixed, she recited the amounts, although I know the jailer’s wife of the past was using tea cups to measure and could do it with her eyes closed.

“Measure 4 cups of flour, and mix in 2/3 of a cup of shortening with two knives,” Karen told me while demonstrating. She added a dash of salt, 2 fresh eggs and 1 cup of buttermilk, beating until  the dough was smooth.  Of course the cast iron wood stove was heating all the while. The jailer’s wife would have been proud of her stove.

When all of the ingredients were beaten to a smooth consistency, she would pat the dough into a square and use her rolling pin to even the top. She covered the whole surface with butter that she had churned the day before, sprinkled the surface with brown sugar and topped it all with cinnamon. Karen then rolled the dough up lengthwise and ended up with a long roll. She carefully cut pieces and placed each one on a baking sheet.

“How do you know the temperature of the oven?” I asked her. She told me that she would put her hand inside the oven and if she could hold it there and count slowly to seven it would be the right temperature for cinnamon buns. A slightly lower temperature was used for bread and she could regulate the temperature by opening the oven door a crack.

While the buns were spreading their irresistible odour throughout the house, we greeted visitors with Scotch cakes. Later Karen was busy making butter. She explained that the once the milk and cream were separated, the cream was skimmed off the top and put in a butter churner. Family members often took turns beating the cream to butter with the wooden paddle that was pushed up and down.

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Karen Pye Churning Butter 

Not a bad deal being a lawbreaker in the 1860’s with tastes that came from that kitchen.

After all the work at the jailhouse, I went down to the Sherbrooke Village Tea Room for a lunch reminiscent of the meals that would have been served in the past. Fish cakes, baked beans, home baked bread, gingerbread, and many more traditional dishes were served. Afternoon tea is also served in the tea room. Although the eatery is now modernized inside, an old photo shows that building was once a hotel and restaurant and it looked much the same in days of old. To bring the tastes home to cook in my kitchen, I picked up a collection of hand printed recipes held together by a string. The print shop on site prints each page by hand and they are sold at the gift shop.

Nova Scotia’s Historic Sherbrooke remains as a living piece of history – a gift so we will all remember how much work went into cooking and living in the past.

For information-www.sherbrookevillage.novascotia.ca

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The Sherbrooke Hotel – then and now, tasty, home cooked meals are served reminding us of tastes of the past  

 

 

Wilno’s Kashub Polish Food History

We could have easily driven past Wilno on Highway 60 that leads to Ottawa, Ontario. However, as the first Polish settlement in Canada, the small town of Wilno was my taste destination.

The Wilno Tavern is well known for serving excellent Polish food. And the town itself has a story of Canada’s history to tell.

The settlers, who arrived in the Wilno area in 1858, were from the Kashubian (Prussian) part of Poland and their ancestors living in the area celebrate their unique culture to this day. It is said that they loved this part of the country because it reminded them of their homeland. They joined the Irish and German settlers also making this area their new home.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Wilno rang with the sounds of Polish lumbermen on their way to enjoy hearty meals after weeks of work at the lumber camps, located in what is now Algonquin Park. A thriving railroad between Arnprior and Parry Sound moved lumber from the area as far west as the prairies.

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The Wilno Tavern Restaurant

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A diner enjoys his dinner under the old Exchange Hotel sign

What is now known as the Wilno Tavern has been serving food for over 100 years. Historically it was named the Exchange Hotel and was located across from the train station where as many as 20 trains a day passed through, creating a need to feed and accommodate travellers. Over the years, different owners have run the hotel and restaurant and the current owner Corinne Higgins has owned the tavern since 1981. She is very devoted to maintaining the Kashub/Polish roots of the community through the food served in her tavern. She explained that the food now served is different from the original Kashub diet of the settlers, who changed their eating habits with time to include different types of Polish food.

A true Kashubian feast is celebrated on Labour Day each year, when chicken dinners are served at St. Mary’s Church to over 2000 people. The meals consist of boiled chicken, potatoes and vegetables, reflecting the more traditional Kashub diet. Chicken, pork and pickled fish dishes were served in the homeland, as well as potato pancakes, dill pickles and dried apples. Eventually Polish food such as pierogi, cabbage rolls and sauerkraut became part of the diets of those living in the Wilno area.

Another Kashub celebration is held each year on Labour Day weekend at the recreated Kashub historic village in Wilno. Log buildings, adorned with painted trim, in the traditional style of painting, gives visitors a feeling of what is was like to live in the past. The traditions of dancing in the clothing of the past, and music provide entertainment for visitors to the annual festival. Across the road, at the Wilno Tavern, cooks are busy serving up Polish fare.

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Buildings at the Historic Village in Wilno

We were anxious to try some Polish fare at the Wilno Tavern and sat with the Corinne Higgins, the current owner who gave us a feel for the history and the food she serves.

“There was no time to be delicate,” Corinne explained when describing the unique appearance of the pierogi (also spelled perogi). She went on to explain that back in the day, cooks were making pierogi to serve to hungry lumberjacks and large families. They formed larger, rounded shaped pierogi to produce faster results in the kitchen, much different from the smaller, crescent shaped pierogi we are used to eating now. The filling was cheddar cheese, bacon and potatoes, adapted from what was available in Canada, rather than the sauerkraut, dried mushrooms and cottage cheese that may have been used as filling in the Kusab region of Poland.

Our hearty dinner began with a starter plate of Śledzie that included pickled fish, and rye bread with sour cream and tomatoes on the side. The pickled fish had a sharp and pleasing bite.

Our main course was a huge combo plate including a large cabbage roll, a round pierogi, mashed potatoes, a Polish sausage and sauerkraut. This was too much food for a man and woman who hadn’t chopped wood all day.

IMG_1098I was presented with a copy of the Canadian Kashub Cookbook, compiled as a project by the Wilno Heritage Society. This recipe book is full of traditional Kashub recipes as remembered by the community fondly recalling the dishes their grandmothers taught them to cook. To read this book is to get a true sense of the food history of the Kashubs.

I tried the Squash Bread, a 1908 recipe that was contributed anonymously.

From the Canadian Kashub Cookbook

  • 2 cups cooked squash
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 cups very warm milk
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 yeast cake
  • flour (enough to knead)

Mash the squash with a potato masher. Stir in the sugar, salt and butter into the hot milk.

When cool, put in the yeast and as much flour as will make a dough that can be handled. Put on to a baking board and knead for 15 minutes. Return to the bread board and let it double in its bulk. Knead again. Shape into loaves, raise and bake in a 350 F for 45 to 55 minutes.

Kashub Polish Canadian history lives on in the town of Wilno, Ontario. Don’t drive through without a taste. 

 

Fiddlehead Nursery- Edible Landscaping

“Take a bite and tell me what you taste,” invited Ben, bending down and picking a leaf from a plant I did not recognize.

“Wow, that taste takes me to places I have never been” I said.

A slow smile spread over Ben’s face as if he had opened a new world to me, and he had.

I was visiting Fiddlehead Nursery, Edible Landscaping, just south of Kimberly, Ontario, and this was no ordinary garden business. Ben Caesar, Kelly Hopkins and their daughter Harriet live in a traditional red frame farmhouse in the Beaver Valley, and run Fiddlehead Nursery on their property which is set against a stunning backdrop of escarpment cliffs.

Ben was inspired by the British technique of forest gardening, a method of designing edible landscapes that mimic the structure and diversity of natural ecosystems. The magic of Ben’s nursery is that it has been created in harmony with the environment. Growing land is carved out of the rocky landscape in this area. This growing method promotes the belief that edible landscapes can be grown anywhere. And Ben is here to prove that it can be done.

When I first stepped into the garden I saw a circular tangle of plants. The garden seemed to grow in front of my eyes, as we tasted leaves and flowers while Ben told me the origins and history of each plant. He grows plants from all parts of the world, as well as those indigenous to the area.

I began to see the unique shapes and textures of the leaves, the flowers that were in bloom, and the individual tastes and smells of the leaves. The garden became like a painting and although Ben would give all the credit to nature, he was the artist that had planted the seeds, blended the colours and created a masterpiece from what was once a patch of dirt.

As a blogger about food history, I asked Ben about the historic “roots” of his plants. He was very knowledgeable about the use of the plants he grows, both in Canadian and international food history. Some of the greens Ben grows can be traced back to being used for making salads and other foods as far back as the time of Pompeii.

As we wandered through Ben’s garden he pointed out plants that were foraged and eaten by our early First Nation’s community. Ben harvests from his plants with the same respect our First Nations peoples have always used to collect plants. He harvests only enough from the plant to allow it to thrive in the future.

EATING THE PLANTS GROWN IN FIDDLEHEAD NURSERY. 

THE CHINESE ARTICHOKE produces many edible tubers underneath each plant. Originating in China, they were exported to France in the 1800’s to the village of Crosne which translated means Chinese Artichoke. This recipe for preparing Chinese Artichokes is included on the website http://www.fondation-louisbonduelle.org

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)

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Chinese Artichoke tubers- photo by Ben Caesar

  • 1 kg Chinese artichokes
  • 40 g butter
  • Parsley
  • ½ clove garlic
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • Put a handful of coarse salt on a tea towel and rub the Chinese artichokes to remove the dry skin. Wash thoroughly under the tap.
  • Heat some salted water in a large saucepan and add the Chinese artichokes as soon as the water boils. Leave to cook for 15 minutes.
  • Like potatoes, Chinese artichokes should not be crunchy. As soon as they have finished cooking, cool them with cold water and dry them.
  • Then brown them in a frying pan with the butter. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Wash the parsley, peel the garlic and chop them finely together.
  • Sprinkle over the sautéed Chinese artichokes just before serving.

SALAD GREENS 

There are numerous plants grown at Fiddlehead that provide leaves or flowers that produce excellent salad ingredients.  Pansy flowers and leaves are edible, as are bellflower and daylily flowers. The leaves of columbine, bronze fennel, sorrel, sedum, musk mallow, chocolate mint, sweet cicely, anise hyslop, and scozonera are all edible and make for an interesting salad with a richer taste than the iceberg lettuce we often resign ourselves to buying at the grocery store.  Historic records show that green salads were eaten by early European settlers to Canada. For example, greens and flowers were grow for medicinal and culinary use at Fortress Louisbourg by the French in the 1700’s.

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 Fiddlehead Nursery Perennial Salad-  recipe and photo by Ben Caesar 

  • 10 sorrel leaves                                      * 10 musk mallow leaves15 leaves of sedum ‘Autumn Joy’                                            *   25 chocolate mint leaves
  • 10 musk mallow flowers                       *  small handful of sweet cicely leaves
  • 10 pansy flowers                                     * 20 anise hyssop leaves
  • 3 daylily flowers                                      *  10 scorzonera leaves
  • 8 peach-leaved bellflower flowers
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp red wine vinegar (or other vinegar), salt and pepper to taste.

LOVAGE is a perennial celery that originated in Eastern Europe and is used widely as a soup base.

There is record of Mark Twain’s friend suggesting ingredients for a Lovage Soup using veal shank, tomatoes, carrots, onions,  potatoes and six stalks of lovage.

SEA KALE

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Streamed and blanched Sea Kale shoots – photo by Ben Caesar

BERRIES 

Fiddlehead Nursery also grows berry and fruit trees and many are propagated from cuttings.

CHOKEBERRY is a berry bush that grows berries that were used by our First Peoples to make pemmican. The Metis were particularly known for their pemmican, a food that was eaten by those working in the fur trade. Buffalo meat was cut in strips and hung to air dry or over fires, then pounded into a powder. The powder was put in a skin bag and buffalo fat and at times various berries were added to give extra flavour. Chokeberries can also be used to make delicious jams.

SASKATOON BERRY is a berry that is indigenous to Canada and grows across the country. It was used as a food by our First Peoples and is beginning to regain popularity. The red berries are tasty from the bush and also make excellent jams.

Ben is knowledgable about the history and uses of the plants he grows and sells at his nursery. He is also an excellent cook and makes use of the plants he grows when making meals.

Keen to share his knowledge with aspiring gardeners, Ben offers a series of workshops once a month during growing months. Designing an Edible Landscape teaches participants how to incorporate a wide variety of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennial vegetables, salad greens and edible flowers into a beautiful, low maintenance, organic garden. Plant Propagation for the Hungry Gardener is a workshop that teaches participants how to start edible perennials from seeds and plant and root division. Each person takes home a plant that they have learned to divide.

Also popular are garden tasting tours that give visitors ideas of which plants they might like to purchase from the nursery and include in their own landscapes.

Ben has created a number of edible landscapes on private properties and has planted one at the Beaver Valley Cidery, a business in the same area as Fiddlehead Nursery. He offers consultations to those wanting to begin edible landscaping on their property.

Fiddlehead Nursery is introducing a way of gardening, that allows us to use the land we have, to grow organic foods that do not appear on the grocery store shelves. Many of these foods have been eaten for centuries by people all over the world.

For more information about Fiddlehead Nursery –  www.fiddleheadnursery.ca

Crow’s Feet, An Acadian green East Coast Delicacy

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Crow’s Feet, also called Sandfire Greens, Samphire Greens.

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The produce stand in Nova Scotia that introduced me to Crow’s Feet.

“Crow’s Feet, Lettuce, Raspberries,” read the sign in front of the garden stand at the side of the road in Nova Scotia. I almost cycled by, but wheeled in to talk to the two women behind the stand.

“What on earth are Crow’s Feet?” I asked curiously, giving away the fact that I was “from away.”

Their eyes lit up and they showed me a bag of odd looking greens. Crow’s Feet are a plant that is picked from the marshy areas at the side of the ocean, they told me. The greens are long and spindly and look, well – like Crow’s feet.

The vegetable stand women told me with great enthusiasm how to cook the greens, which I snapped up in a hurry, as it turns out that they are a great delicacy, and very popular. Turns out Crow’s Feet have been popular since the Acadians settled this area.

“Just fry them in butter with some garlic and add lemon if you want.”

“Then pull them off the woody stalks.”

Which I did that evening and this was a wild find that was out of this world.

After some research I found that this was a food that was foraged and eaten commonly by the Acadians that settled Canada’s east coast. They dined well back in the 1700’s and developed prosperous farms, using dykes to irrigate and lived from the land much more successfully than early settlers from other countries. They were eventually driven off their lands by the British and were forced to settle in the United States or live hidden in the forests. Their farms were burnt or taken over by the British.

Crow’s Feet, I learned are also known by other names. The Acadians called them Tétines de Souris, which translated to mouse nipples.

In my favorite book about cooking, in times past from Nova Scotia; Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, Marie Nightingale has a recipe for Sandfire Greens, another name for Crow’s Feet. They are also known as Samphire Greens.

Here is a recipe from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale

Sandfire Greens

In early spring these greens appear on the fertile marshes of the Bay of Fundy and are delicious.

Cut off the roots and wash well. Cook until tender in small amount of water. Cool enough so that they can be handled, and remove woody centers by grasping stem and pulling gently. Reheat with butter. Add a few drops of vinegar, if desired.

I noticed the Crow’s Feet advertised for sale from trucks, at the side of the road and at market stands. But the biggest surprise was to find Crow’s Feet for sale at a grocery store in a small Nova Scotia town. The chalkboard outside advertised Crow’s Feet.

“Do you know what Crow’s Feet are?” I asked the young woman at check out?

“ No, I know that we sell them, but I don’t really know what they are,” she said politely.

“Well,” I said, “They are delicious, and you should try them sometime, but be sure to take out the toenails.”

I smiled and walked off.

Big Spruce Brewing brews history

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Jeremy White and Sarah MacKay of Big Spruce Brewing pose by their Silver Tart Beer.

Jeremy White put a taster glass of The Silver Tart beer in front of me. I found the pink colour curious, but was even more curious about the story because… Jeremy had used “history,” (as if it were an ingredient,) in the making of this beer. 

The Silver Tart – Big Spruce Brewing 

Jeremy began his organic microbrewery in Nyanza, Nova Scotia in 2013. He was working at developing different brews when Lorna MacDonald, a summer theatre director, approached Jeremy about producing a beer to be served in conjunction with an upcoming production. The Belles of Baddeck portrayed some aspects of the life of Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone,) and his wife Mabel

Rather than just slapping a unique label on one of his beer bottles, Jeremy decided to base his new brew on some fact of historical significance.

After searching in the museum archives, Jeremy learned that Alexander Graham Bell enjoyed drinking raspberry cordial made from shrub. Making shrub is an old method of preserving overripe fruit. It is used as a base for a refreshing drink. (see recipe at end of article.) Jeremy experimented with different fruits, but he found the best taste to add to his beer was a raspberry flavour.

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The Silver Tart is a refreshing raspberry touched beer, inspired by Alexander Graham Bell’s love of Raspberry Codial.

When completed, it was named The Silver Tart, rhyming with the name of Graham Bell’s first plane – The Silver Dart.

Jeremy says, “It has become the summer rage of craft beer.” This beer is produced using the same methods as the others but before completion he adds 120 lbs. of raspberries to each vat for another 10 days of polishing.

As I sipped my sampler on a hot East Coast day, refreshing and tart were the tastes I sensed. I could envision Alexander Graham Bell sipping Raspberry Cordial with his beloved wife on their lawn overlooking the Bras D’Or Lakes.

The Tip of the Spear  

In 2013, the site of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, celebrated its 300th anniversary. This fortress (fort and town,) was one of the busiest ports in North America and was originally built by the French in 1713 and taken over by the British for the last time in 1758. During its glory days, the French upper class enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle but the lower class lived with the basic necessities of life. Beer played an important part in their daily diet, and as it was a safer option it was consumed more often than water.

The Mi’kmaq First Nations peoples drank spruce tea and taught early settlers to use spruce to prevent the disease known as scurvy, that had killed so many during the early days of settlement.

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The Tip of the Spear is a brew that was created for the 300th anniversary of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Again, the Big Spruce Brewing company was approached to produce a custom beer to be served for the anniversary. Sold in a unique brown bottle, the story of the original Louisbourg brewery is on the back of the bottle.

Jeremy started to research and found information in old records that supported his plans to base a beer on a fact of history.

The brewery at Fortress Loiusbourg made spruce beer and in the 1750’s records inform us that 4000 barrels were produced for the garrison of 2000 troops. The records that were written by the French were highly detailed and were destroyed by the British when they took over the Fortress, however, fortunately a second set of every record kept was sent to France. Those records paint a vivid picture of life in the Fortress.

Beer was originally made by using black spruce tips, that were collected from mid June to mid July. They were mixed with molasses and fermented in barrels.

Big Spruce was able to recreate a beer reminiscent of the flavours of the brew that soldiers drank in the 1700’s – a valuable contribution to the 300th anniversary.

Recipe for Spruce Beer

Spruce Beer – from the Hannah Jarvis Cookbook, health remedies, c.1811. By Hannah Jarvis.

Boil some spruce boughs whiteout bran till the water tastes sufficiently strong of the spruce. Strain the water and stir in two quarts of molasses to half a barrel. Work it with yeast. When sufficiently worked bung it up or bottle the contents.

Recipe for Fruit Shrub  

Use 5 cups of fruit that is overipe but not mouldy. Add 4 cups of sugar to the mashed fruit and let sit 24 hours. Strain juice from the mashed fruit. Add an equal amount of red wine vinegar and bottle. Store for 4 weeks. This mixture is delicious added to cocktails or soda water and ice.

 

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Highland Village, Cape Breton Island Oatcakes, Tea and Fiddle Music

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In the Highland Village, a stone home represents life in the Hebrides Islands in Scotland in the early 1700’s before the migration of settlers to Cape Breton in search of a better life.

We climbed the hill against the strong wind to visit the woman who lived in the stone hut with a grass covered roof. She was showing us what it was like to be living in Barra Lake in the Hebrides Islands, Scotland, in the 1700’s.

It felt like we were deep in the heart of Scotland, but I was visiting the Highland Village in Iona, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The village is a living museum that portrays the life of the Scottish and follows the immigrants journey across the ocean to Cape Breton Island. As many as 30,000 settlers left Scotland for a better life in the new world in the late 1700 and early 1800’s. The early Scottish settlers struggled to make their way in the new world, but rather than continue their lives as slaves to their landlords in Scotland, they sailed to Cape Breton and were gifted parcels of land. When they first came their lives were very difficult. They lived on fish, ice fishing in the winter. Gathering berries and wild plants helped them to survive until their gardens produced. Eventually, they became established farmers and are now part of the fabric of Cape Breton Island, with their Gaelic traditions still very much a part of the culture.

“What do you eat?” I asked the ancient woman in the stone hut representing life in the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland.

“Potatoes,” she replied, “potatoes and more potatoes.”

She told us that sometimes they also had smoked fish, bannock (bread made of flour and water), oats and any berries they could find.

Nettle roots were mixed with water and eaten. She told us that she couldn’t afford salt to preserve the fish, so the fish was eaten smoked, fresh or not at all.

“Belly’s pretty empty,” she said, “shallow whiskey will make an empty belly feel full.”

She went on to complain about mistreatment from the landlord.

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Interpretive staff offers oat cakes and tea while we enjoy music in the kitchen of a Scottish home in Cape Breton Island.

We walked on to visit a frame house, representing the life of Cape Breton Scottish settlers later on in the 1800’s we could see a happier, more prosperous way of life.

The house was simply furnished but with enough rooms for comfort. The farming family had a cozy kitchen with a fireplace. Time slowed as we entered the kitchen for a visit and a feeling of nostalgia took us back to life in the 1800’s.

Tea was poured and we helped ourselves to a plate of oatcakes (see recipe at the end of the article,) and a seat in front of the blazing open hearth fire. Soon we heard a story about a “goings on” in the village. Then a young woman grabbed her fiddle and played a mournful gaelic tune, while we looked out the window to the sun shining on the lake beyond. A bare footed girl stood and began a step dance.

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Enjoying a fiddle tune and step dancing in the kitchen of a Scottish home in the Cape Breton Highlands at the Highland Village. IMG_1160.jpg

It was a taste of life in times when there was less noise. I could hear the slow ticking of the clock and the birds singing through the open window. A time when people entertained themselves with a cleilidh (a social visit, often involving music.)

The Scottish spoke Gaelic, a lyrical language that seemed to blend well with the music. It was a language with a long history. At school, the children were taught English and punished for speaking their mother tongue causing the language faded.

Food was simple in the time of the early settlers. Oatmeal had been an important part of their diet in Scotland and they missed oats when they first arrived. They were forced to use rough flours ground with stones. When they began to grow and grind oats they could return to baking their beloved oatcakes. The tradition of cooking White Pudding was continued in Cape Breton. It originally consisted of suet meat and oatmeal cooked in a cow’s stomach.

Other homes in The Highland Village portray a time when life was more prosperous and settled. Hot tea biscuits were on the kitchen table of a home with a wood stove, an invention that made life easier. Spruce buds sat waiting to be turned into a home brew made by boiling the buds with sugar, molasses and raisins. Toasted bread or yeast might be added.

The Highland Village (www.highlandvillage.novascotia.ca )is situated on the hillsides of Cape Breton overlooking the Bra d’or Lakes. Eleven buildings represent different aspects of Scottish life from the 1700 to 1900’s. In each home a costumed character tells us a story as if we had just dropped in for a chat giving us a peek into their lives.

“Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” is a book written by Marie Nightingale that tells us of the roots of food in this province. She shared history and recipes that were brought with the Scottish.

On page 159, she writes about how the Scottish used “real” oatmeal and no sweetening. This old recipe from Pictou County used oatmeal ground at the Balmoral Grist Mill still grinds oatmeal today.

Pictou County Oatcakes (courtesy of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens) by Marie Nightingale

  • 2 cups oatmeal          ¾ cup shortening
  • 1 cup flour                   ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup brown sugar     ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine dry ingredients and cut in shortening. Dissolve baking soda in the boiling water and add, continuing to mix with a knife. Mold with the hands into a long wedge. Slice off and bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

 

 

Eskasoni Cultural Journey-Mi’kmaq cookery

 

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Cooking Four Cents Bread over the fire

Over the fire, I held a stick wrapped with bread dough. Not unlike roasting a marshmallow, the bread turns brown and puffs up on the stick.

A Mi’kmaq Interpreter is teaching us to make Four Cents Bread as part of the Eskasoni Cultural Journey www.eskasoniculturaljourneys.ca on Goat Island, in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Four Cents Bread was made traditionally as an inexpensive; take anywhere bread that was made with three simple ingredients.

Four Cents Bread

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  •  Water, as needed to make a dough texture.

This bread could be cooked by forming the dough into a disc shape and cooking over the fire on a metal sheet or by wrapping it around a stick and cooking it directly over the fire. And… it was delicious.

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Interpreter at Eskasoni Cultural Journey shows visitors a loaf of Four Cents Bread cooked as a disc over a fire

 

To learn about the Mi’kmaq ways of the past on an Eskasoni Cultural Journey, we walked on a path with views of the lake through the forest. At different spots along the path, an interpreter in traditional Mi’kmaq attire greeted us. They spent time telling us of their traditional customs and ways. We learned of how they hunted moose and other animals, made and heated their homes through the long winters, made baskets and clothing, sang and danced, played games and lived a self sufficient life. A life that should not be forgotten.

The land provided all the food needed. Flag root was chewed, spruce buds made tea to help fever and sore teeth and many plants, roots and berries were collected for food

The Cape Breton Mi’kmaq fished the waters for the many gifts of the sea. In the Bras D’or Lakes, huge inland salt-water bodies of water there were many fish. Eels were and still are a coveted delicacy. They were fished by using a torch to attract them in the night. Eels were then baked, fried or used in stews soups.

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Sugar serves Eel stew to guests at the Eskasoni Cultural Centre

When we returned to the cultural centre, I felt honoured to be served a bowl of eel soup, made by a woman named Sugar that morning. She shared with me her simple recipe of eel, cut in pieces, potatoes, onions and broth from cooking the mixture. Picturing a slimy, black eel cutting through the water did not match the fine taste of the tender, tasty flesh I pulled away from the bone.We ate it with Lu’sknikn bread and fresh strawberries.

After our meal, Sugar showed us a centuries old game, played with sticks, dice and a wooden bowl. It is still popular today. As she showed us, someone pointed out an eagle. Sugar stopped what she was doing, looked up and quietly sang a chant.

“A very good sign,” she told us, “when an eagle flies over.”

The food I tasted that day was made with all the care and using the flavours and methods of the past. It is a Mi’kmaq custom to give thanks daily for what the land has given them. I felt a deep, heartfelt privilege to learn the food customs of our First People.

Recipe for Lu’sknikn Bread – recipe courtesy of the Eskasoni Cultural Journeys

  • 4-6 cups of flour
  • 5 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 2 cups of water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl
  • Part dry ingredients in the centre and 2 cups of water
  • Mix ingredients together (adding more water if needed)
  • Form dough to fit frying pan
  • Add vegetable oil to frying pan and pre-heat over medium high temperature
  • Place dough in frying pan (adding more oil if needed)
  • Cook until golden brown and then turn over.