Terceira, Azores – History of food sharing

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Top above is a photo of an Imperio chapel on Terceria and below, a pot of Alcatra 

In the previous post I described a cooking lesson I had taken on  Terceira Island to learn to make a traditional meat dish, Alcatra. I am grateful that I had this experience just a month before the COVID 19 virus changed the world. There is a history of food sharing and taking care of those in need on Terceira that is relevant for us all in this new chapter in history.

Festivals are frequent on the island of Terceira starting around Easter and continuing  throughout the summer and early fall. There is Carnival in February and March, The Holy Ghost Festival April/ May, Sanjoaninas in June and street bullfighting (on a rope) everyday somewhere on the island throughout the summer and into the fall. There seems to be endless festivities for  a small island, 30 kilometres in length and 17 kilometres in width. This is an island with an old soul and rich spirit.

A History of Sharing on Terceira

There are many versions of the traditional stories that are representative of the spirit of charity.

One tale is about Queen Isabel of Aragon who lived in 13th century Portugal.  Many people were starving and Queen Isabel would take a basket of bread and walk outside the castle walls to give the bread to the poor. The King was not tolerant of this charity and caught her leaving the castle one day. He forced her to reveal the bread to the onlookers in the court and as she reached in to bring out the bread, it turned into roses. After that the Queen was able to open the gates of the castle to feed the poor. So goes the legend. These legends are still very much a part of the folklore of  the Azores.

An important part of island culture is the Holy Ghost Festival, also called The Holy Spirit Festival, celebrated in many parts of the world by the Portuguese diaspora.

I have included descriptions of parts of the festival that are relevant to the food traditions and the custom of sharing. Farmers have historically donated beef to the festival. There is a strong tradition of caring for those in need on the Azores.

The Holy Ghost Festival starts after Easter and continues for the next eight weeks. It includes processions, the crowning of a symbolic queen or emperor and religious ceremonies in the Churches and feasts.  A Bodo is an large scale public event held at the eighty-six Imperios (small chapels) around Terceira. All are brightly painted, ornate chapels, used only during the Holy Ghost Festival.  A procession from the church ends at the Imperios and food gifts are left in front of the church. Ornate sugar confections in the shape of birds and other food goods are specially made for  this day. The food is distributed and a portion is given to those in need.

Above photos show Imperios – colourful small chapels used only during  festivals. 

The Função is a private event during the celebration that involves the preparation and sharing of a symbolic meal amongst groups of friends and family. Just as the Thanksgiving dinner in North America most often includes a turkey, the Função serves food that is traditional to this celebration. Holy Ghost Soup (sometimes called Holy Spirit Soup,) is served with bread. Although it is called a soup it is served as pieces of meat on a plate, with a broth used to soak bread cooked with mint leaves. On the island of Terceira Holy Ghost soup is also served with alcatra, a beef dish that includes onions, herbs and red wine and is cooked in a clay pot. Wine and sometimes a sweet rice dessert are added to the feast.

The sharing of food during the Holy Ghost Festival, represents a strong spirit of equality and community sharing that has existed on the islands of the Azores for many centuries and remains strong today.

Our guide for a day long food/history tour Darcio of Sea Adventures, told us of how the island of Terceira pulled together when the American government recently closed an air base on the island. He said that many people were suddenly unemployed, losing their homes and livelihood. Darcio described how the whole island pulled together and built special homes for those who had lost theirs and donated food for those who needed help.

He told me that if you make a friend on Terceira, you make a friend for life. The pride of sharing and maintaining traditional food customs are strong on Terceira.

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Darcio – a very skilled guide working for Sea Adventures on Terceira explains the history of the Island. He also talked about the strong spirit of giving and taught us about the food history of Terceira.

 

My next posts will highlight culinary practices used during difficult times in history, lest we forget that this is not the first. Wars, the Spanish Flu and other times of adversity have rocked the world before the COVID 19, and we can learn lessons from the past.

 

 

Alcatra on Terceira

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Antonio Câmara from Pro Island Tours (pictured above with his son), picked up seven enthusiastic students from the lobby of our hotel. We were ready to learn how to cook traditional food from Terceira. He packed us all into his Land Rover and sped across the countryside of Terceira, one of the islands of the Azores.  We wondered where he was taking us, but enjoyed the bumpy ride quietly, until we stopped at our destination. The setting for our cooking course was to be held in a park. A stone shelter with tables and benches looked welcoming amongst the moss covered ground and high trees of the forest that climbed up the mountain behind us.

A large stone open fireplace and wood oven held a raging fire. We were going to prepare a traditional beef dish, Alcatra and bake bread, both to be cooked in the wood fired oven.

“Let’s get started,” said Antonio, right away. This feast would take awhile to put together and cook. He and his son assistant were well prepared with all the ingredients ready on a large round table made from a giant tree stump.

First the Bread

We added the bread ingredients to a large bowl, first mixing the yeast with salt, sugar and a little warm water. Baking powder, olive oil and then the flour were added. Now Antonio did once own a pizza shop, so that explains why he could just “feel” the amounts of each ingredient to be added.

“More,” “more,” “more,” he instructed confidently as the ingredients were added.

It reminded me of how the women of the island would have, and maybe still do cook; measuring by “feeling,” rather than cups. The ingredients were mixed, kneaded and formed into round loaf shapes and put in the bowls to rise. It was a rather damp and chilly day so the bowls were put inside the shelter and covered with a heavy blanket, a rising technique I had never seen.

And Now for the Alcatra

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The enthusiastic cooking group from Goderich, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, holding their clay cooking pots called Alguidar.

Next we would make the Alcatra, a very popular traditional meat dish served on Terceira. Different versions can be made with beans or fish, but can never be made in the same clay pot as the beef version. High quality grass fed beef is readily available on Terceira and using good beef is considered to be important to the success of this dish.

Antonio put a large unglazed clay pot called a alguidar in front of each of us. It looked something like a big clay flower pot with no hole in the bottom. The first time it is used, it must be soaked for two or three days before making the Alcatra, we were instructed. We coated the inside of the pot with pork lard. The importance of using an unglazed pot, he explained, was so the tastes and clay become one. The heat radiates through the clay on all sides of the pot giving an even heat during the cooking process. Traditionally they would put the pot in the wood oven to cook all night, and let the heat die off gradually.

We greased our pots, chopped the onion, and chopped one clove of garlic, (Antonio adds a cube of bouillon,) put it all in the pot and covered with hunks of fatty bacon. We cut and laid large pieces of beef (from a rump roast,) with the boniest pieces on the bottom, filling the clay pot to the top. The pot we used held about 2.5 pounds of beef. Spices added were: 10 whole allspice cloves, 10-12 whole black pepper cloves, a dash of cayenne, and clove leaves. The pot was then filled with red wine right to the top. A little white wine can be added as well. The pot was covered tightly with aluminum foil tucked in around the edge and was ready for the oven. If cooking this in an electric or gas oven, it should be put in a cold oven and allowed to heat gradually.

Walking up into the woods we picked some wild ginger leaves to hold our loaves of bread during the cooking process. Ginger plants are not indigenous to the island and now grow voraciously. What looked like large orange flowers were pods left after the blooms had died. The leaves were large and glossy.

When the bread had risen and it was ready for the final bit of kneading , we finished by rolling it into a circular shape with our hands and made shallow cuts on the top surface. We sprinkled flour on the washed leaves and added the loaves, now ready to place in the oven. (see image above)

Loading the wood oven with our food was a process. The burning embers were pushed to the back of the oven. The temperature needed to be correct. Antonio’s elders taught him to put his hand in the oven after the fire had been blazing for hours. He was taught that if you could say the rosary before having to pull your arm out from the heat, the oven was ready. Antonio just seemed to know by feeling when the oven was ready for loading.

We carried the clay pots to the oven with long metal poles that held the pots – a bit of a balancing challenge. When they were all in place we pulled the loaves of bread on ginger leaves onto a long handled wooden paddle and carried them to the oven, giving a little jerking motion to push the loaf into the oven. We placed the bread closer to the front of the oven as they needed less time to cook.

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A cooking student carries her Alcatra to the wood oven

Antonio had cleverly brought a few pre-cooked pots of Alcatra from a previous class to heat in the oven so that when our bread was finished we could enjoy a feast. The Alcatra we put together continued to cook in the oven for a future class to enjoy. Antonio told us that in the past, Alcatra was stored without refrigeration. The fat congealed on the top of the cooked pot, he assured us, and it would keep for months. Not something to try at home, but an interesting bit of history.  It was finally time to taste our results.

We feasted on succulent, tender pieces of beef in a wine and spice sauce that resembled no dish I have ever tasted. The clay in the pot and the grass fed beef must make the taste extra special. Alcatra is traditionally eaten with bread to soak up the juices and we enjoyed our loaves hot from the oven. Antonio added salads and a local liqueur called Grappa making it a perfect Azorean feast. He and his son proudly shared their cooking talent and traditions with our group. We also dined as if we were a family from the island enjoying an outdoor picnic in their beautiful park surrounded by thick, bright green moss and giant ferns.

I headed out that day with my new clay pot under my arm ready to conquer the world with my Alcatra. Life couldn’t have been better and little did we know that in a few weeks a virus would overtake the world.

Thanks to Antonio Câmara and his son for a memorable lesson in cooking in the tradition of the Azores. Their touring company is Pro Island Tour – proislandtour.pt

A few days later we toured the island with another guide and after dining out on another Alcatra dish our guide told us that no one in the world could cook like his grandmother. He went on to add that it was because of the love she put into it.

That was the passion and care I felt from those cooking all of the traditional foods we tasted in the Azores.

My next post will discuss briefly the interesting history of charity and sharing of Alcatra at the Holy Ghost Festivals – still popular today.

 

 

O Forno- A Bakery on Terceira preserves pastry history

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Bolos D. Amelia

It was a special food history  discovery day when I was invited into the kitchen of the famous O Forno Pastelaria (bakery) in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira island. This island in the Azores is part of Portugal and carries on the tradition of baking exceptional pastries in their own unique style. Since the fifteenth century, Terceira has had a  history of being a safe harbour for ships crossing the Atlantic, travelling to and from many trading destinations. The islanders had access to spices and foods that otherwise would have remained unknown to them. 

While visiting I wanted to learn about the traditional pastries of the island.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to watch Dona Amélia tarts being made by one of the pastry cooks, helped and overseen by the esteemed owner of the O Forno Pastelaria, Ana Maria Pereira da Costa. Dona Amélias are baked daily at 6:30 a.m., but Ana Maria had arranged a special mixture to be baked at 11 so I didn’t need to rise at the crack of dawn.

Dona Amélia cakes look plain beside some of the other fancies and normally I would pass them by. But these little bundles of sweetness are more than just a taste of heaven; they tell a story in the ingredients.

The story of the cakes is articulately told on nicely packaged boxes of D. Amélias.

First of all, there was the good land. Then the people came and start sowing cereals. Later on they brought the precious spices of exotic tastes and strange scents from East and West Indies.

In typically Portuguese way, they mixed it all with magic and wise hands. They made new and delicious recipes.

When D. Amelia, the last Portuguese Queen, visited the island for the first time, the inhabitants made very special cakes which took her name- D. Amélia– in her honour.

History tells us that when the people of the island learned that the Queen would visit in 1901, the bakers set to work to create a cake as a gift that would tell the story of their island. Because Terceira was a major port for trading , they had access to many spices and exotic ingredients from far off ports. Each ingredient in the cake represents an ingredient from Terceira, or goods from a trading ship that had landed in their waters.

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Ana Maria joins Cristina Fernandez to begin making D. Amelia cakes. Below Cristina adds molasses to the eggs, then the corn flour followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.

The simple batter consists of finely ground corn flour grown on the island, eggs and butter from the fields, molasses, raisins, and cinnamon from trade routes, salt and baking powder, with confectioners flour on the top.

When the Queen tasted the cake, she was enamoured by the taste and they named the cake in her honour. It is most common now to make Dona Amélias in the form of small cakes and it is a traditional delicacy of the island.

The owner of the bakery, Ana Maria, is a woman of short stature, but of mighty ambitions. She was raised by parents who owned a bakery several blocks from the current location of her shop. Ana Maria became a teacher but as her life progressed she needed more income to raise her children and opened her own bakery, thirty three years ago. I was told that Ana Maria has collected the old recipes of the island women and of the convents of the island and uses those recipes to bake her pastries. In the past, the nuns would bake and sell sweets to bring in income to support their convents. Although we had no common language, Ana Maria showed me the pastries in the showcase that had originated from the recipes of the convents.

She holds a great deal of culinary history in her mind and has a strong pride in the traditions of the island.

The bakery is located on Rua de S. João, one of the old cobblestoned streets of Angra do Heroismo, a city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the patio patrons can enjoy their food while looking at the historic buildings and people passing. Inside the shop bustles with activity. There are a few tables and counters, and a long showcase of labeled pastries at the end of a glassed in kitchen.  On the wall is a display of framed articles that have been written about the pastry shop in many languages. I spotted a framed recipe. Later I learned that was handwritten by Ana Maria’s mother many years ago.

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The recipe for D. Amelias handwritten by Ana Maria’s mother.

Ana Maria’s shop, O Forno, bakes the pastry history of Terceira each day and keeps the traditions alive.

If you are in Terceira do not walk by this pastelaria without stopping in to enjoy a taste of history.  There is a story behind the interesting names of some of those sweets. If you are not in Terceria, look up a recipe for Dona Amelia cakes online and try baking a new taste.

When we search, we find.

 

 

 

 

Black Creek Pioneer Village “Nelson’s Buttons” Meringues

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Amy Scott, interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village demonstrates how to beat meringue by hand.

They seemed too delicate to bake in a wood fired oven.

“Surely they will melt,” I thought as I pushed the baking tray of delicate meringues into the hot wood fired oven. I was participating as an apprentice for the day in the kitchen of The Halfway House Inn at Black Creek Pioneer Village and learning to bake as if in the 1860’s. (Read the previous blog entry for the full story.)

My Black Creek experience took me down a rabbit hole of food history as I learned about a delicate sweet that I would not suspect to have existed in the 1860’s.

Amy Scott, an experienced interpretive staff, guided me through a full morning of baking. When we finished our hearty breads, rolls and cakes, Amy surprised me by announcing that we would make meringues.

Meringues are considered a French specialty by many, and a recipe appeared in a cookbook written by Francois Massialot as early as 1692. I found a recipe in a 1925 cookbook entitled French Home Cooking by Claire de Pratz. It describes the simple but exacting process of beating eggs and sugar and dropping tablespoons of the mixture on papered baking sheets to be cooked for about 50 minutes.

Even earlier in 1602, an English receipt book by Lady Elinor Fettiplace includes a recipe called “White Biskit Bread” that fits the description of a Swiss style meringue. Her receipt (recipe) calls for one and a half pounds of sugar, a handful of flour and twelve beaten egg whites. But with some digging, I learned that one claim states that the confectionary originated in a village in Switzerland – Meiringen. Italy has also laid claim to the world of meringue.

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Elinor Fettiplace included a meringue recipe called White Biskit Bread in her recipes from the early 1600’s.

The recipe used by the interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village originates from a cookbook named Gentility and Economy Combined by George Read that dates back to 1850. He names meringues “Nelson’s Buttons”.

Amy broke two egg whites into a bowl and handed me a whisk. She told me that we would be beating those eggs for awhile because it was going to take a lot of beating to turn these whites into fluff by hand.

We took turns and when some white peaks appeared, I learned that we would gradually add confectionary sugar a tiny bit at a time and continue to beat and beat. The success of our meringues depended on a thorough beating.

Adding some red colouring gave them a pink tint and peppermint extract the subtle flavour.

Wrangling the meringue mixture into a piping bag was not easy and then we squeezed out Nelson’s buttons onto the papered baking sheets. Making them a uniform size and shape took some practice.

We baked them in the wood oven for just short of an hour, which proved a bit too long but baking in a wood oven is not an exacting science. The result was divine bites of sweetness.

It was rewarding to master a baking skill that dates back to the 1600’s in England and Switzerland. Below is a recipe to try for Nelson’s Buttons shared by Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Read, George. Gentility and Economy Combined. London: Thomas Dean and Son, 1850, p. 84 [section 2].

PEPPERMINT DROPS, ANOTHER WAY.

Mix a pound of powdered and sifted loaf sugar with the whites of three or four eggs; add ten or twelve drops of the oil of peppermint, beat them up well, and drop them out on writing paper, with a small pipe and bag attached to it, the same as for Savoy biscuits.

NELSON’S BUTTONS, are a large sort of peppermint drops, and coloured on the top. Make as the last, and drop them on paper.

Method:

Standard

Modern Equivalent Peppermint Drops

2 Cups
 5-10 Drops

3 Cups 10-12 Drops OR:
1 tsp

Ingredients

Superfine White Sugar, Egg Whites,
 Oil of Peppermint OR:

Peppermint Extract OPTIONAL: Pink Food Colouring

Metric

500 ml
 3ml- 10-12 Drops OR:

5 ml 5-10 Drops

Whisk egg whites (in a copper bowl if available) until they form stiff peaks. Slowly whisk sugar into whites until entirely incorporated.
Add peppermint flavouring and food colouring and blend in well.
Pipe the mixture onto paper-lined sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a slow oven (275° F) for 35-40 minutes (put into bake oven after bread and cookies have been baked, for 40-50 minutes), until lightly browned and the bottoms will come off the paper without breaking. Yields about 60 buttons.

Black Creek Pioneer Village Apprenticeship – Toronto

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“Put on the apron,” said Amy, “and we’ll get started”.

Dressed in garb of the1860’s, a long dress with a white apron and bonnet, Amy had the fire going in the bake oven beside the open-hearth fireplace and already had a good start on her sour dough bread production. Amy Scott is an interpretive staff member of the Black Creek Pioneer Village with many years of experience in cooking food using historic methods.

Earlier, as I walked up to the Halfway House Inn, I passed a tinsmith’s shop, general store and an old farm. I imagined I was living in the 1860’s. I looked up and saw a high-rise apartment building in the not too far distance and remembered my place in history. Black Creek Pioneer Village was developed on the site of the old Stong family homestead and keeps Toronto’s rural history alive in a now developed part of the city. There are more than forty old buildings, some original, others moved to the site with costumed interpretive staff to show how life was lived in the past.

Amy and I were cooking in the kitchen of Halfway House Inn originally built at Kingston Road and Midland Ave in Scarborough in 1847 by Alexander Thompson.

It was a coach stop for farmers taking their goods to the downtown markets and commercial travellers such as manufacturers from Montreal. The bedrooms were upstairs and a large dining room was on the main floor, where travellers sat at one large table and were served meals, family style. There was a tavern as well. There were no menus in this Inn. Guests were served meats, vegetables and lots of homemade bread and desserts.

I had signed on to spend a day as an apprentice in the kitchen and we baked as if we were serving bread to a room full of hungry travellers back in time.

The fire was burning away in the brick oven and it was easy to tell that Amy had many years of fire building knowledge. She kneaded her bread, added wood to the fire, washed her hands and got right back to kneading the bread.

As she worked, she kept track of all her ingredients and mine, the fire temperature, talked to visitors coming and going, and instructed me in my baking education.

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Amy Scott Interpretive staff at Black Creek, tests the temperature  in the wood stove

My first project would be a loaf of white bread. I added all ingredients, learned her kneading method and we put it in front of the oven to rise with the sour dough loaves she had rising. White flour was the norm at that time, she told me. Next was a lesson in making braided loaves and buns. The recipe from the past called for a “starter”, so I learned a new technique in bread making. The tricky part was learning to do a braid with three flopping strands of bread dough. I have always wondered how that was done and there I was, doing it for myself. Amy showed me several techniques so I turned out both buns and small loaves and then we placed them in a warm corner to rise. Just when I thought I had learned a day’s worth of baking, we were onto the next recipe. After all, if it were the 1860’s, we would be feeding a dining room of hungry mouths.

As visitors from 2019 dropped into the Inn, Amy would stop what she was doing to tell them what was baking, and about the history of the Inn.

Amy gave me a choice of baking Lemon Cake or Spice Cake. I have made a spice cake before, but not without my trusty electric mixer beside me. My mixing arm had a good workout and we poured the batter into a baking dish.

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Mixing a spice cake by hand. How I missed the mixer.

We headed over to the wood stove to remove the fire from the brick oven. With a long metal rake Amy began to slide the red-hot ashes down a chute on the bottom of the oven. It looked easy when Amy was doing it but when she handed me the rake I realized it took years of experience to make that tough job look easy. Determining the temperature was our next step. Amy put her arm in and began to count, and invited me to do the same. If you could count to five before the heat forced you to pull out your arm, it was roughly one temperature, counting to three would be another. She knew by touch how hot the oven would be inside, an admirable and old skill.

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Amy puts  braided buns in the oven.

We put our baked goods in the oven with a long handled paddle and with a sharp pull the pans released into the oven.

With a sigh of satisfaction, I looked forward to a break while the bread and cake baked.

The front door of the Inn opened and in came a group of curious visitors, drawn by the smell of baking bread. After learning about the history of the Inn, they were eager to come back to buy some of Amy’s lemon cookies and bread when they came out of the oven.

“Now,” said Amy, “We’ll start the meringues.”

There was to be no rest for the weary, especially not with this recipe.

 

We separated a few eggs and she instructed me to beat the whites to a stiff meringue. Without a mixer. Just as I thought my shoulder would never recover, Amy took over and then another interpretive staff also took her turn. Once we had a nice meringue, we added sugar, one spoonful at a time and beat it for a while. We added some red colouring and peppermint and piped it onto the cookie sheets like delicate little stars. They would go in the oven when the bread came out. All was choreographed perfectly.

Mid afternoon, the baking was pulled out of the oven and proudly displayed on the cooling table. I had learned so much that day and to my surprise Amy packaged up my baking to be taken home to share with my family.

I took away an important lesson from the apprentice experience at Halfway House Inn. Those that cooked in kitchens of the past, worked very hard to produce the delicious foods that they ate.

Thanks to Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto for this experience. Watch for a recipe in the future.

If you are interested in becoming an apprentice for a day in the skills of the village here is the link.

http://www.blackcreek.ca

 

 

 

 

 

Dining at Memory Lane 1940’s Heritage Village, Nova Scotia Cookhouse Style.

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I scooped the baked beans into a bowl and spread molasses over the moist brown bread. This was going to be dining east coast style at it’s best.

From the minute I walked into the old Hosking General Store I noticed the shelves were stocked with nothing familiar. When I walked out through the back door, I was thrown back to 1940 in the community of Lake Charlotte, Nova Scotia.

Memory Lane Village was created in the year 2000 as a solution to losing important heritage buildings that were to be torn down along the eastern shore. The various buildings were relocated to one site and now show us what life was like along the coast in the 1940’s. Visitors can drop into eighteen buildings including a home, schoolhouse, church, store, prospector’s cabin and fisherman’s shed. If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, you can enjoy a drive around the village in a 1928 Model A Ford, – a slow drive reminding us that life did not move as quickly back then.

Electricity did not arrive in Lake Charlotte until 1945, a surprising fact that caused me to pay special attention when I visited the icehouse, especially important to the community before refrigeration.

The most impressive part of the Village is that an army of 200 volunteers works to keep the village running. None of them will forget that era, because they live it and learn when they are helping with the village. And they love to visit the cookhouse for lemonade and a homemade cookie. Some of the volunteers dress in period costume. This added to the atmosphere, and it felt that ghosts of the past were with me. Special events are planned each summer with canning demonstrations, clam digging and musical events.

I dined with history in the cookhouse located in the village. There was a choice that hot summer day between a hot meal or a cold plate.

The food brought back memories of the meals that were served in my grandmother’s kitchen in Nova Scotia. These are timeless east coast meals and are still served regularly in kitchens in this part of Canada.

The hot meal began with a hearty soup, moved on to baked beans and homemade brown bread with molasses (if you choose to add molasses). The cold plate was made of salad, slice of ham, chow-chow, a hard boiled egg, tomatoes, brown bread, and of course molasses. Both meal options included cookies, gingerbread, and a rhubarb dessert with coffee or tea or lemonade. Visitors eat on benches at long tables just like the hungry lumbermen would have done. I peeked into the kitchen to see a table covered with loaves of brown bread right from the oven. Of course we scraped our plates, following the rules as posted on the walls.

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Loaves of homemade bread in the kitchen of the cookhouse
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The rules were followed in the cookhouse

To bring the buildings to life, we borrowed a tablet programmed with information and interview videos with people who lived in this area back in the forties.

In one film clip, a man who had lived and worked in the lumber camps explained that the cookhouses in that area fed and housed the lumbering crews or the gold miners who stayed in bunkhouses above the cookhouses. The baking pans were purchased from army surplus after the war.

He remembered the cook waking up at 5 am, preparing a breakfast of bacon, beans, eggs, toast, coffee and tea and having it all ready for the men at 6 am. There were rules of behaviour in the cookhouse and nobody dared break the rules – their meals depended on it. After the men ate they took their plates to the front, scraped them and put them in the pan ready to be washed.

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A Cookhouse hero holds a loaf of bread

A coastal garden demonstrates how and what food was grown in the 1940’s to feed a family. Being largely self sufficient, they depended heavily on growing and preserving food to feed themselves summer and winter. Fishing was an important part of life in this area and a clam factory shows us where workers canned clams, lobster, and herring.

The icehouse was filled with blocks of ice stored between layers of sawdust. When a family needed ice for their icebox, big scissor-like tongs were used to move the ice.

The Webber House shows us how a home was transformed after electricity arrived in the 1940’s. I was alone in the house when I visited, but my imagination filled it with life. Fully furnished as it would have been in the forties, it felt as though the family had left the home unlocked and gone for a drive, but would be back soon. Red long johns danced on the clothesline drying quickly in the sun and wind.

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I imagined Mrs. Webber would be making homemade doughnuts later that day. I am including a recipe from an American recipe book dated 1938 called:

The way to a man’s heart – The Settlement Cookbook 

Doughnuts

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar 
  • 2 tbsp. melted fat 
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp.nutmeg
  • 1tsp.soda
  • 2tsp. baking powder
  • about 1 quart flour  
  • Beat eggs, add sugar and shortening; mix rest of dry ingredients, combine the two mixtures with the milk. Place in refrigerator overnight to make a lighter dough and use ½ cup less of flour. Knead slightly, pat and roll into ¼ inch thickness, cut or shape into form, fry in deep hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar.

I left the Memory Lane Heritage Village feeling a new appreciation for the 1940’sr gold miner. It was a filling experience to eat lunch like a lumberjack. This village is a memory and a gift given by the workers and volunteers from the Lake Charlotte community in Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

Ross Thomson House and Store Museum Shelburne, Nova Scotia

 

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“We use every part of the dandelion here,” said Greta Mossman standing proudly beside Mya Chidiac.  They were dressed the part of women who lived in the 1700’s. The passion and knowledge Greta had for discovering the food secrets of the past was impressive.

I was visiting the Ross-Thomson House and Store Museum on a quiet street in a Shelburne where the old homes have preserved Nova Scotia’s past.

Back in 1785, George and Robert Ross escaped the American Revolution, and established their international trading business in Shelburne. They ran a store inside the large warehouse that they built to house the goods that came from the ships. They traded lumber and fish for tobacco, salt and other goods. Part of the warehouse was their home, furnished to show how their family would have lived at that time.

Back to Greta and her dandelions. I remember my father spraying and digging to get every last dandelion out of his lawn but Greta spoke of the dandelion as though it were a weed of great value. She told me of the earthy taste of dandelion root coffee, and offered me a recipe card that she had handwritten with a quill pen and ink. The petals were used to make dandelion jelly and the leaves could be used as a green for salads. Cooking back then was all done in the huge open-hearth fireplace that was surrounded with cast iron pots and pans for every function. There was a reflector oven for roasting meat in front of the fire and even a waffle iron with a long handle to reach into the coals.

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Greta Mossman shows off the waffle iron

In the warehouse was a display of what appeared to be ropes. Surprisingly, it was twists of tobacco leaves and Greta showed me how it was cut and sold by the inch to be smoked in clay pipes. A very large barrel in the storeroom is the oldest barrel in Nova Scotia dating back to 1760 and held 1,100 pints of port wine from Porto, Portugal. Below Murray Hagen stands by the barrel that once held port and Greta shows the ropes of tobacco.

 

When the butter was churned in Shelburne, it would be put in a container and stored in the community well to keep it cool. Each family had their own container.

The day I visited, Greta was busy making Rose Water. She showed me the petals that had been boiled and how pink the water had become. This water was then used for cooking or preserved for using on the skin. Heating vinegar until warm and adding it to jars of the purple flowers made chive Blossom Vinegar. After storing for two weeks, the mixture was strained and the flowers discarded and aromatic vinegar remained to be added to dressings. A garden was growing beside the house to provide the family with the vegetables and herbs that they would eat fresh or preserve during the summer and fall to use during the long winters. Insect repellent was made using the herb, Lemon Balm. Those secrets of the past could be useful to avoid using the chemicals of today.

 

The interpreters at the Ross Thomson House always have a cooking project that opens up the kitchen door of the past to visitors and helps them to learn old culinary recipes for such tastes as mushroom ketchup, fairground lemonade and hard tack biscuits. Hard tack biscuits properly made would last a long time and were a staple of long sea voyages in the past.

When it was haying time, Switchel was made, a 1700’s version of an energy drink for the farmers working the fields.

Here is the recipe to try the next time you are out haying in the fields or alternatively mowing your grass.

  • Switchel
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of molasses
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • Mix all ingredients over low hear until sugar dissolves. Let cool and serve warm diluted with water.
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    Recipe card handwritten by interpretive staff Greta Mossman using a quill and ink

Ross Thomson House puts another piece of the historic puzzle together, showing us how a merchant ran his business and home in the 1780’s, thanks to the hardworking staff who search to find creative ways to show us how it was to live back in time.

 

Spam Museum – Austin, Minnesota

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This was no ordinary museum, but a big bite of food history. We walked in the door and a plastic lea with an attached foil vacuum packed sample was put around our necks as we were greeted to the SPAM MUSEUM in Austin, Minnesota. A few minutes later we were served delicate tooth-picked cubes of pepper- flavoured Spam, very tasty and not my childhood memory of Spam.

I remember camping meals made with slices of Spam fried up with chopped canned potatoes. We loved it then, but really, do people continue to eat SPAM these days?

Yes, was the answer and I was in for a big lesson in SPAM’s past, present and future. We learned about the origins of the canned wonder, the history, the wartime relevance and how it has grown in use through time. It has become a bit of an international cult food and exhibits showed it’s culinary use in many countries.

The museum in 2016 and averages 330,000 visitors a year . There is a themed gift shop in the museum, but surprisingly, no eatery. We learned on our tour that when the museum was built, a decision was made not to serve food made with SPAM so that the diners and restaurants in town would also benefit from visitors to the museum. Many of the restaurants serve special dishes made with SPAM on their menu.

Hormel Food Corporation has produced the canned meat throughout the years and now sells a whopping 90 million cans a year. I looked and sure enough, it is sitting pretty on grocery store shelves almost everywhere.

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George Hormell’ s original store

Spam during the War

During WW11, 133 million cans of SPAM were sent to Russia and Great Britain to feed the troops. Apparently Great Britain paid their bill, but Russia never did pay theirs in full. Canned meat was a revolutionary way to get protein that could be cooked in many ways in difficult places, during the war.

SPAM was credited by noteworthy politicians for helping feed the troops. They went so far as to say that it was one factor that contributed to their success in winning the war.

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Display of the use of SPAM in WW11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is SPAM made?

I was surprised to learn the ingredients in a can of SPAM. Here are the contents:

  • Salt
  • Water
  • Potato Starch
  • Sugar
  • Pork -shoulder and thigh
  • Sodium nitrate (keeps it pink and prevents spoilage)

All ingredients are mixed together and cooked in the can.

The museum displays include computers with recipes that could be chosen and send to the visitor, a military display, some history memorabilia, a mock factory setting where the visitor can experience making SPAM, a display of how various custom made flavours of SPAM are shipped to other countries and displays of international dishes that are made using SPAM. SPAM sushi took my interest, and I was sure to send myself several unusual recipes from the computers. There are games, a trivia centre and a special children’s area. A SPAM train circles above the museum on a track and it takes 18 minutes to travel from beginning to end.

In the gift shop are SPAM related items one could never dream of such as 15 flavors of SPAM and gift packs for sale, as well as T-shirts, hats, even instruments made of the cans.

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Heidi Neitzell (left) and Crystal Conner are two employees at the SPAM gift shop in the Museum

I left the museum with a smile on my face and yes, two cans of SPAM under my arm.

One very popular SPAM recipe comes from Hawaii and is a popular snack and lunch item.

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SPAM Musubi – Popular in Hawaii

Grill a slice of SPAM and brush with a mixture of equal parts soya sauce, mirin sauce and sugar. Take a SPAM can, line with plastic wrap and press rice into the bottom of the can, drop a piece of SPAM into the can. Turn upside down and wrap in a strip of Nori (dried seaweed). This SPAM treat can be found at corner stores all over Hawaii.

Come on, give it a try!

 

 

 

 

Boudin Bakery Sourdough in San Francisco

 

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There was something very different about the taste of the sourdough bread when I took a bite of my sandwich at Boudin’s on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. And that was just the beginning of an amazing American food history story that can actually be tasted today.

When you taste the sour dough bread at Boudin’s Bakery in San Francisco, you are eating a piece of bread made with Mother Dough, (or starter) that dates back to 1849.

Don Propstra, (pictured above) who works at the Boudin Museum is a passionate and skilled storyteller. When he told me the story of the Boudin’s and their sourdough bread-it came to life.

Isidore Boudin and his wife Louis Marie emigrated to California from France arriving in 1849, back when it was a difficult journey across the oceans on large sailing vessels. Their chosen route took them around South America. As luck would have it, gold was discovered in 1848 in San Francisco, then known as Yerba Buena was then part of Mexico. It  had a population of 500 that grew into a booming gold rush town of 25,000. The couple opened their bakery on Dupont Street and began baking bread using the same recipe to make the sourdough starter they had used in France. Each day they would save one quarter of their dough as the starter for the next day’s bread. They noticed that the taste was different and could not understand the reason. The gold miners loved their bread and lined up outside the bakery door to pick up their loaf for the day, before they headed out to pan for gold.

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An old photo of the original San Francisco bakery.

Their son, also named Isadore, remained in France to learn to become a baker and eventually travelled to America to work at his parent’s bakery. He soon married Louise Erni and became the second generation to take over the business. By 1873 the Boudin Bakery was delivering bread by horse-drawn wagon. Customers awakened to a fresh loaf of sour dough bread hung on a nail on the front door of their homes each morning.

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A wagon used to deliver bread can be seen in the Boudin Museum.

The third generation of Boudins had four children. When her husband died suddenly Louise Boudin took over the business. She was an accomplished business woman who was far ahead of her time.

When the earthquake of 1908 hit San Francisco, the bakery survived until the fires began. Louise Boudin saw the fire coming and put her sourdough mother in a wooden bucket and left just before the bakery burnt to the ground. She was able to rent a large barn on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and expanded the business. Her children eventually took over the business, making this the fifth generation of Boudins to bake sourdough bread in San Francisco. During the mid 1930’s, there was a revolution in bread making. It was the beginning of the Wonder Bread era and the bakeries could not compete with the mass-produced, highly processed bread. The Boudin Bakery was on the verge of bankruptcy until one of the bakers offered to buy the business, promising to keep using the original mother dough from 1849 and baking in the same tradition.  Now a growing chain, the Boudin name has taken on many new enterprises.

Boudin, until recently had been a family business since it’s beginning in 1849. But more importantly the bread is made from the same mother dough that was started in 1849, back in the days of the gold rush. So every bite is full of history.

Don Propstra, who was giving me my tour of the museum and bakery, told me that there are only four ingredients in the sourdough made at Boudin – flour, water, mother dough and salt. There is no milk, butter, sugar or eggs. When tested in the 1970’s to discover the composition of the bread it was learned that the wild yeast that was in the air in 1948 and something known as lactobacillus were unique to this mother dough. So unique that it was given the name of Lactobacillus San Francisco. It also explains the wonderfully sour and unusual taste of the bread.

“One crazy fact,” said Don, “is that each loaf takes three days to make.”

I believed him after he showed me the process from beginning to end looking through the glassed-in room where the bread is baked.  A huge stainless steel vault contains the precious mother dough and each day a percentage is saved for the batch to be turned into bread the next day.

The story of this bakery is a true taste of history that is celebrated in the flagship store and museum on Fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco. Even the paper bag used to package the bread celebrates the history with the story printed on the bag. The last sentence reads:

“Today, we bake a slice of history into every loaf of our Sourdough, starting each day’s bread with a portion of the original Gold Rush mother dough, which has been divided and replenished with flour and water each day for over 150 years.”

And… The bread is delicious.

 

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The modern bakery still uses the original mother starter from over 150 years ago.

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