Ontario

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. 

 

I LOVE CHOCOLATE – The Search for the Old Fashioned Easter egg.

 

I LOVE CHOCOLATE  - A Belgian Chocolate Easter basket and bunny with eggs

I LOVE CHOCOLATE – A Belgian Chocolate Easter basket and bunny with eggs


When I stepped through the door of I LOVE CHOCOLATE I became a child again; in my Easter bonnet, new dress and carrying a straw Easter basket. In the basket was a big chocolate Easter egg with and my name was printed neatly in icing. Easter is here and in my search for chocolate egg history, I asked the question,“Does anyone make Easter eggs and Bunnies – the old fashioned way?

 

 

My search for Easter egg history wowed me with information about traditions and the many people that are needed to harvest and produce chocolate. Easter will never taste the same.

Krista Byers has been making chocolates for her shop, I LOVE CHOCOLATE, in Fergus, Ontario, Canada, for 20 years. She told me that Easter is the second busiest season for her shop. She uses Belgian chocolate and her attention to high quality explains why the store was full of customers. A huge chocolate rabbit with a loaded basket stood high above all else in the shop and would be a prize for a child who won this years colouring contest. It held magic for a chocolate lover – a pure Belgian Giant Easter Rabbit. On one wall were baskets were full of filled chocolate Easter eggs, decorated with small icing ducks, reminding me of the large hollow chocolate eggs we used to love as children. http://www.ilovechocolate.ca

I LOVE CHOCOLATE owner Krista Byers stands beside the mold used to make the giant  Easter rabbit in her chocolate shop in Fergus, Ontario

I LOVE CHOCOLATE owner Krista Byers stands beside the mold used to make the giant Easter rabbit in her chocolate shop in Fergus, Ontario

WHY BELGIAN CHOCOLATE?

I LOVE CHOCOLATE uses Belgian chocolate for its confections, so I researched a bit of the history of chocolate made in this country. When Belgium colonized Congo, they began shipping cocoa beans from that country. Belgium became particularly famous for their chocolates in 1912 when they began making PRALINES – chocolates filled with a creamy white filling. Belgian chocolate continues to be famous for high quality. There are thousands of chocolate makers in that country who continue to making chocolate by hand, using old traditional equipment. The various mixtures made by Belgian chocolatiers result in rich, dark, flavourful chocolate, with a distinctive taste from Swiss and German chocolate. The difference in taste is in the beans and the blending ingredients used. Belgian chocolate has become popular worldwide.

A TASTE OF EASTER EGG HISTORY 

The eggshells of different birds have been adorned as a form of art long before the time of Christianity and adorned eggs have been found all over the world. The French and Germans introduced chocolate Easter eggs to Europeans in the early 1900’s, after a new mixture became available that could be poured more easily into molds. It was originally popular to mold a hollow chocolate egg and fill it with sugar covered almonds. Eggs were later decorated with marzipan and icing piped into ornate decorations. Easter eggs evolved through the years and changed in style, from ornate Victorian decoration to more whimsical designs. Now even chocolate dinosaur eggs have become trendy.

THE HISTORY AND MEANING OF EASTER  SYMBOLS 

There are many explanations for the symbolism of the Easter egg and rabbit. Here are a few facts that I found. Some believed the egg represented the stone that blocked the tomb of Jesus as well as the life within the egg, as new life. Easter, however, was an ancient pagan celebration of Eostre, the Anglo Saxon Goddess of Spring. Eostre befriended a hare, so rabbit symbolism existed long ago. Rabbits have traditionally been a symbol of spring and fertility. Eggs became popular fare at Easter because many years ago, they were on a list of foods that were forbidden to eat during Lent. Easter has many different animal and bird symbols in other countries. In Switzerland, a bird delivers Easter eggs rather than a rabbit. Easter, I learned is not a recent and Disney designed holiday. The roots of this celebration are ancient and meaningful. People celebrate Easter in many ways, but it remains an important holiday for many in Christian countries across the world. It is said that German immigrants brought the concept of the Easter bunny to America in the 1700’s, telling children to set out their hats and the bunny would bring them eggs on Easter morning. To learn more about the history of Easter celebrations and traditions visit the site www.history.com   At the White House, Easter is celebrated with the public in THE WHITE HOUSE EASTER EGG ROLL. This party has been celebrated for 136years, and in one of the events children to roll decorated Easter eggs across the White House lawn. To learn more about this event see: www.WhiteHouse.gov/EasterEggRoll

THE WORK BEHIND CHOCOLATE MAKING 

The creation of high quality Easter eggs and bunnies starts with the farmer in Africa or Central America who harvests the cocoa beans from trees. The growers and harvesters are the unsung heroes of the chocolate world. There are so many steps between picking the pods to the molding of the Easter delights that we take for granted with our “grocery shelf” mentality. The steps include: growing the cacao trees, harvesting the pods, fermenting pods, extracting and shelling the beans, roasting and grinding the nibs, (parts of the bean used to make chocolate) extracting the chocolate “liqueur,” and mixing other ingredients to make the chocolate creamy and smooth. That all happens before the chocolate is molded into shapes to decorate.

I learned so much after stepping through the doors of the I LOVE CHOCOLATE shop.  My Easter bunny is Krista Byers, chocolate maker.

Every time I take a bite of chocolate at Easter, I will remember the holiday’s roots, and all the people who have worked to bring the chocolate from the ground to make my Easter special.  

I LOVE CHOCOLATE BUNNY

I LOVE CHOCOLATE BUNNY

I LOVE CHOCOLATE  filled Easter egg

I LOVE CHOCOLATE
filled Easter egg