The theme for this month’s blog for the Canadian Food Experience Project is to identify "What is a Regional or Local Canadian Food Hero?"
This is the third theme that participants in this project have been asked to identify. As Canadians we are a modest and humble bunch and not that eager to step forward to this recognization as a "Hero". My approach was to find someone who is making a difference in producing sustainable food in Alberta.
After many attempts to contact a list of those that I considered "Hero" without success, my husband came to my rescue! My husband of 40th years is my guest blogger as he writes on his Food Hero.
I first started cooking for myself out of necessity. I was living out of residence when attending university. To say my meals were rudimentary would be a gross exaggeration. Hot dogs, beans, canned soup, toast and coffee in the morning if I had enough time. Later, I started to make spaghetti and through a succession of girlfriends it grew in complexity. First meat balls, with Campbell’s tomato soup, then onions, celery, mushrooms, spices etc. … Today, it’s chopped tomatoes, fresh spices ..
But to the point, my food hero is my wife’s mother. Nellie was born and raised on a rural Manitoba farm and at the age of 13, she went to live and work with a well-to-do family raising cattle. This was at the height of the Depression and her family needed the extra income.
There she learned the rudiments of cooking – especially beef. Once after we were married we took her to a steak house in Winnipeg. When the waitress asked how Nellie wanted her steak cooked, she replied ‘rare.’ My wife said, “Mom, you’ve never eaten beef rare.” She replied, “That’s ‘cause Matt wouldn’t eat it.”
Later, she worked in a hospital setting where the head chef was a Cordon Blu trained chef from Chicago. She learned a lot for her and when I would ask her about different foods or sauces, she knew how make them – from scratch. Her soups, always made from scratch, and butter tarts, always used butter, were legendary. She rarely measured her ingredients accurately, having been taught by the Felician Sisters that touch and feel was the most important. This annoyed my sister-in-law who is a great pastry cook, but makes everything by the book. She was trying to get Nellie’s bread recipe so she could make her own bread.
Nellie’s measuring instruments were cup and saucer and spoons from the drawer plus a knife or fork for cutting in pastry. Nellie had no trouble experimenting. When I had made her a batch of my spaghetti, she remade it the next time we were home and made it better! In the seventies, Nellie didn’t think men belonged in the kitchen, but this changed as she was open to change.
Nellie always insisted on good basic ingredients. Once when working in a restaurant, she was asked to substitute bouillon cubes for her soup stock and margarine for the butter in her pastries – she quit! A friend of mine was working in area with Manitoba Hydro. They took him to this restaurant that served homemade soup and wonderful pastries. He told me that when we were in the area, we had to go to this restaurant. Nellie was the new cook!
Nellie always insisted on good basic ingredients and she cultivated a large garden for her soups and other recipes. Sadly, we’ve grown away from that …
Christmas Dinner Scones
My recipe owes a lot to her techniques and experimentation. It’s a basic scone recipe with a Christmas twist made as a roll.
Start with a basic scone recipe and add finely chopped onion and celery to the dry mixture along with poultry seasoning. The quantities used are ‘to taste.’ I use a medium onion and two stalks of celery and three tablespoons of poultry seasoning. After cutting in the butter, add the celery and onion, mix and then the liquids. Roll out and fold three times. This gives a layered effect.
After, you have rolled out the mixture to a rolling pin width and 1½ the rolling pin length, butter one side, add cranberries and cooked chicken or turkey. Roll up as you would a cinnamon roll and cut in half. Then cut each side to the desired width. I use the width of a chopping knife – about 2”. Starting width the smallest pieces placed in the center of a parchment lined 10” by 10” pan add the remaining pieces and insert in the oven, pre-heated to 425oF. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Take out and enjoy.