Category Archives: traditions

Tried, Tested and True

Hello, my name is Kristin. I am a cookbook addict. 😁

My cookbook collection.

Some people might ask why anyone would use a printed cookbook anymore. With the internet’s omnipotence and recipe apps galore, who needs one measly collection?

But it’s not just the recipes I love. The stories behind the recipes and the communities they come from are what really satisfy me.

Although I appreciate the mastery of the cookbooks I have from professional chefs, my most cherished ones are those from community groups, full of family favourites and garnished with household hints.

I found another such volume this past week while visiting a local antique shop. I bought it for its original price of one dollar.

The cover is tattered, held on with scotch tape. The title is simple and straightforward:

COOK BOOK – compiled by the Porcupine Plains Ladies Hospital Aid – Tried & Tested Recipes.

I think it was mimeographed; the ink is the same purplish tone that I remember from elementary school. At some point, a person overjoyed with a pen took to scribbling on a few of the pages, but thankfully none of the information was compromised.

Although the presentation is simple, many of the recipes assume a fair bit of knowledge. A recipe for Jelly Roll Cake lists ingredients and then just says:

Add egg whites last. Bake in a long tin and while still warm turn out on a damp cloth, spread with jelly or jam and roll.

This is a cake that was a featured test on the British Baking Show, and it takes up only 4 lines. Obviously this was a community that had a few star bakers. It is also worth noting that the recipe next to it is Puffed Wheat Cake.

There is a dog-eared page splattered with batter which I think became Apple Upside Down Cake. And a recipe for Six Day Pickles that has a number of check marks, as if someone was making sure they got it right. Tried and tested indeed!

Already I knew I had a winner for my collection, but when I saw the last page, I could hear my Gramps’ voice telling stories of “back in the day”. This page didn’t have recipes. It started with the heading, DID YOU KNOW…?

Salt was a very useful item to have!

There is no publication date, but this historic booklet has indications it comes from a good while ago. It harkens back to a time when women went by their married name – as in Mrs. John Smith. The ladies in the Aid Society were recognized as such. There is a thank you note listing each member at the front of the book, and it says in part:

Without this help, and Moral Co-operation, the Board would find it difficult to give the high standard of care which we endeavour to maintain.

The list of equipment and supplies that were provided included items like basic linen and bedding as well as a furnished nursery that included an infant incubator. Exactly what “Moral Cooperation” entailed I don’t know, but given the capitalization it must have been important. Q

Today the world runs at a different pace. Hospital fundraisers are gala events. Recipes are shared by Facebook. Our community is global now, and sometimes that means we lose the intimacy of old.

There is a simple truth to recipes like Jellied Salad and Puffed Wheat Cake. And I have admiration for a community where cooking was common enough that baking times and temperatures were not needed when sharing a recipe.

Trying and testing is important too. It might be fun to cook something new sometimes, but we master a skill when we have a chance to learn from our mistakes. Once we gain confidence we can adapt and change and evolve from a solid foundation. The most solid foundation is made with a collaboration of people and ingredients.

I feel like an emissary, sharing this wee piece of history. Perhaps that is what draws me to these books, a sense that I am being called to carry on the traditions and continue the Moral Cooperation that gets people around a table.

I’ll let you know how the Apple Upside Down Cake turns out.

May flowers make me smile

The old adage says

April showers bring May flowers

We haven’t had much in the way of rain this April, so perhaps that is why the flowers are a bit slower to come. My garden is green, but the flowers so far are mostly on the fruit trees in bloom. I don’t mind so much; spring does show off nicely in May with plenty of growth and colour. But my dream for May has always been to dance around a May pole.

What girl doesn’t like the idea of having flowers in her hair? And despite being rather uncoordinated, I have long fantasized about dancing with a ribbon and weaving it around the pole as I skipped with others in the spring breeze.

May Day has become a civic holiday in many places, dedicated to workers. Going back to ancient Roman times and then continued by the Druids, it is a celebration of the end of winter, taking us into spring – a new season of growth. Often these traditions collide and are combined in celebrations.

I learned of May Day during my university days when I was in France. It is considered “Labour Day” there, but a common practice on the holiday is to give loved ones the gift of flowers – lilies of the valley, to be exact, as they are known to bloom at this time.

If you have never smelled this tiny blossom, search it out. If you have a shady spot in your garden and you find a plant, do yourself a favour and take it home. It will transport you to the world of fairies and magic.

May Day celebrations are said to come from the ancient Roman festival that paid homage to the goddess Flora. Of course, the festivities were all about decorating with flowers and greenery, in reverence to all the new life, new beginnings.

It is said that in the 15th century the women would wash their faces on May Day with the morning dew, as it would give them a special glow. Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, apparently took her ladies in waiting to the fields to bathe in the dew. (I wonder if this is how World Naked Gardening Day came to be at the same time? )

In the Restoration period, Charles II of England abolished many traditions and customs that embraced a spirit of frivolity. May Day was converted to a civic celebration of farmers and workers.

There are Druids who still celebrate Beltane, connected to the full moon in April, and they keep alive the pagan customs of blessing gardens and thanking Mother Nature for her hard work. On May Day, the Maypole dance is one element that remains in some places as a demonstration of the joy that comes to people with the start of a new outdoor season.

I spent this morning on a walk of gratitude through the neighbouring orchards, and despite the rain and wind today I did breathe deep to appreciate the lilac blossoms. I jumped for joy when I discovered the first lilies of the valley blossoms just coming out from their leaf skirts. There is much to look forward to.

Tomorrow I will bake a rhubarb galette in honour of the new season. It will represent the Pink Moon that set us on our way this year for our growing season. Someday I will find a Maypole to dance around, but in the meantime I will continue to count my blessings.

Catch of the Day

Life is about moments, and enjoying them. Catching moments and hauling them in every day can be very rewarding; when you get everything right, it can be like winning the local fishing derby.

I am a cook that is inspired by circumstances. The combinations of memories and tastes move me to choose certain recipes. I suppose I am a traditional eater too; I eat seasonal ingredients and I eat what fits with the weather.

Recently we have had our annual hit of cold winter weather. The windows are all frosted up, the wind blows to chill your bones and the skies are shades of grey that swallow every other colour. The word dreary does not begin to describe the mood.

These are the times when comfort food comes to the rescue. We needed a dinner to make us forget the weather. One of those rich dishes with stick-to-your-ribs texture and simple heartwarming flavours. To kick it up a notch, I added in a childhood memory.

I was thinking of stew, but the universe intervened. My mom and I had chatted about a British pub standard and Lo and Behold, a recipe post from Paul Hollywood appeared in my feed.

My mom made a fish pie, which sounded as comforting as stew. When I read the recipe post, the sight of smoked haddock as one ingredient immediately transported me back to childhood.

When I was little, my most favourite dinner was “finnan haddie”, smoked haddock in a bechamel sauce served with toast soldiers. It is my earliest comfort food memory.

It was as much curiosity as desire to be comforted that got me shopping for the Whitby Fish Pie recipe ingredients.

I amped up the traditional filling of just fish with a bit of celery, carrots and onions sautéed first, as well as a red potato. And although simple was the theme, that didn’t mean we couldn’t have some herb flavour (a bit of our dried thyme and oregano worked wonderfully).

The best part is, this recipe is faster to prepare than a stew. Infuse milk with flavours. Make pastry and chill it. Sauté veggies, then make sauce. Add fish and warm through. Roll out pastry over top of the oven-safe pan and bake till done.

I was comforted and full of happy nostalgia. Hubbie was happily satisfied and a good sport about hearing my childhood ramblings. We forgot all about the driving wind and dreary greys.

When the conditions get ugly, that’s when you dig deep. That’s when you have to reel, and if everything falls the right way, you land the big catch.

The Days of Auld Lang Syne

Christmas is past, tucked into the annals for another year. The calendar has been renewed and here we are, at the tail end of the festive scene. I do hope that like me, you soaked up all the good tidings and delectable morsels on hand over the last couple of weeks.

Epiphany will be upon us soon – I mean that symbolically, but perhaps for some it will be personal. Experiences in this past year have led many people down new paths, towards new lifestyles and new attitudes. Hindsight on last year will be 20/20 in more ways than one.

We were fortunate to have a Christmas not much different than the ones of recent years, just the two of us all snuggled up at Rabbit Hollow. I did miss my furry pal horribly; with Ella gone and not seeing our new granddaughter, some of the delightful abandon that is such an intrinsic part of Christmas was missing. But we soldiered on.

Tourtière with our green tomato pickle and some great Okanagan wine.

There was still plenty to eat and drink, of course. Even with all the goodies we shared, we had snacks left: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, shortbread, snowball cookies, chocolate truffles, amaretti… We ate hearty meals too: tourtière, eggs with beurre blanc on brioche buns, duck breast with balsamic reduction, ham with mustard glaze… If I do say so myself, there were also some spectacular local wine pairings from our cellar, and a few delightful late night tipples to toast those not in attendance.

Tarte au sucre (sugar pie) with whipped cream & a wee shortbread garnish, paired with a tot of whisky. Slainte!

A sense of humour is essential, especially when times get tough.

The highlight of the holiday season was still the company. I am blessed to have my soulmate with me, and we haven’t gotten tired of one another even after 10 months of mostly being isolated. The rest of my “peeps” were all across the globe, but we connected with everyone one way or another.

Christmas Day chat with the family!

Who knew that I would be “Zoom-ing” for Christmas cocktails, sharing WhatsApp and Facebook video calls with family, and toasting at New Year’s with friends on screen. There was laughter as we reminisced, and a few tears, but at least they were shared. We all missed the hugs, but we all rejoiced at being safe and left feeling hopeful we can rekindle the fun with plenty of enthusiasm next Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

We were even more conscious of our food choices this holiday season, too. We strived to recreate old memories for comfort, and ventured into exotic recipes as a form of virtual travel. I think that will be my theme this year, to keep the balance of those things like the yin and yang of past and future, holding me steady in the present.

I’ll be trying these recipes soon!

My passion to encourage people to share family dishes has been lit even stronger as well. If we cannot gather to share the knowledge of our family culture, then we need even more to be sure we record its workings to help keep it alive for the future. I was chuffed to participate in the Food52 Holiday Recipe Swap for 2020, which did just that. I sent along some favourites from our family to someone in New York, and I received a delightful note with recipes from a family in Boston. I had the same warm feeling reading the recipes as I do when I light a candle in church.

I start this new year weary, but hopeful. It has been hard to be apart from everyone so much. Our ways to connect have been so limited. Sharing is worth more effort, though, and worth getting creative. The rewards are as good as the taste of an elaborate dessert, or the compliments of guests at your table.

That old song I mentioned earlier asks if old times should be forgotten. I won’t be forgetting this last year, for it has given me cause to remember how important it is to be grateful, and how it’s even more important to show our love to our loved ones, any way we can.

If you haven’t discovered Charlie Mackesy‘s book, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse”, look it up. It’s a beautiful piece, and it could not have been written at a better time.

Revisiting a flavour

This Christmas has been full of memories, but it’s the old ones carrying me, as we can’t make many new ones in a world of lockdowns and restrictions. I haven’t posted all month – the only message I can come up with is to try and be positive, but that has gotten increasingly harder. I decided to just immerse myself in the nostalgia.

Last year, Christmas was rich with exotic gifts and flavours we had brought back from our trip to Africa. We shared new recipes at our annual Dessert Before Christmas open house. We gave argan oil and filigree earrings from Morocco, vivid textiles and wood carvings from Senegal. We regaled our family and friends with tales of our adventures. And then of course there were the usual sleigh rides with friends, holiday movies, meeting folks for drinks… I think it used to be called “the hustle and bustle of the season”.

Having lost our chance for a Christmas with anyone but us two, we have resorted like everyone else to living glued to the screen. Zoom and Facebook are the only ways to see them. The outside world has been reduced to 15 inches at best, or sometimes just a face like a postage stamp on my phone. And there is no “smell-o-vision”. Perhaps that is why I decided to make visual cookies was important this year.

My Mom’s Shortbread, all decorated with sprinkles and coloured sugar, looked like they were dressed up for a holiday party even if I couldn’t attend. They were always the favourite when my brother and I were kids, and made me think of happier, busier times.

I also managed a new cookie this year, using not only flavours from Morocco but also a pattern that echoes the beautiful tiles we saw across western Africa. I called them Orange Blossom Lavender Biscuits. (Click on the recipe link to see how I achieved it.) I am no good with icing cookies in elaborate detail – and my ability to push through and persevere is wearing down, so I set myself up for success. I brushed them with a floral-scented glaze and sprinkled dried edible flower petals on top. They deserved a “Ta-da!” at the very least!

So now I feel a bit better. I sent some proudly to friends and relatives in gift bags. My cousin, bless his heart, said lovingly on our Zoom call that they tasted like Froot Loops cereal. I had to laugh – not the review I was hoping for, but sharing the love and laughter was worth its weight in gold. That’s what a cookie can do.

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