“If salt makes food taste better, nostalgia makes it taste great,” says Amy Jo Ehman in her new food memoir, Prairie Feast: a writer’s journey home for dinner.
Home, for Ehman, is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Which is just a hop, skip and a puddle-jump away from my own original backyard in the southwest of the same province.
Which is to say, I know the particular brand of seasoning she’s talking about, even though Saskatchewan, for me, is a long time ago, and a land far away.
A food writer, forager and enthusiast for eating locally, Prairie Feast (Coteau Books) is the result of a year Ehman and her husband spent eating only what could be sourced inside their borders. A year dedicated to a “Saskatchewan Diet”, in support and celebration of local agriculture.
But what could that mean besides a lot of wheat, and just as much European sausage?
As it turns out, a lot has changed since I left the farm. Canada’s breadbasket is also now the world’s lentil basket, cereal cupboard and spice cabinet. The land supports orchards of pie cherries. Someone has even figured out how to make wine grapes grow near Maple Creek.
As ever, there’s grass-fed livestock, and orange-yolked eggs from chickens that dine on grass and bugs in happy hen yards. There’s an embarrassment of vegetables. And, of course, the ubiquitous potato.
But what to do without deliveries from a B.C. Fresh Fruit Truck?
Well, for blueberries, at least, all it took for Ehman to secure a year’s worth for pancakes and pies, was to line up before dawn and vie for boxes of wild northern blueberries, sold cartel-like, off the backs of pickup trucks.
She had pears, that never quite ripen enough to eat out-of-hand but sparkled sweetly in sealed Mason jars. And canes and patches of raspberries and strawberries, too. So that, suddenly, eating locally in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia began to look like much the same table arrangement.
Take wild mushroom hunting, for example.
While I was once lucky enough to forage near Lumby with a group of this province’s master pickers, Ehman’s experience might as well have been my own.
“‘This is a chanterelle,’ [Ehman’s guide] said.
“I recognized it from the picture book. It was an apricot orange mushroom with a curvy and somewhat convex cap and, on the underside, long ridges running down a shapely stem…
“‘This is a false chanterelle,’ he said.
“We were looking at an apricot orange mushroom with a curvy and somewhat convex cap and, on the underside, long ridges running down a shapely stem.”
Yep. That’s pretty much how I remember it. Afraid of mistaking a ridge for a gill, and afraid that that mistake would be my last.
In Prairie Feast, Ehman tromps out past pastureland, ice cream bucket tied to her waist, to harvest Saskatoon berries and chokecherries. And after much following of rumours and inuendo, I also fill my freezer with these wild harvests, that are emblematic of Saskatchewan but also proliferate along road and waterways in B.C.
Altogether, Prairie Feast is more than just a book about eating close to home. It’s a reader’s feast, as well. A cookbook that reads like a memoir.
A reminder that, if the soil is generous, it doesn’t matter where you live. The best food you’ll ever eat will always come from close to home.
Prairie Berry Clafoutis by Amy Jo Ehman
2 tbs butter
2 cups mixed Saskatchewan berries, fresh or frozen
(raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, sour cherries and, of course, saskatoons)
1 tbsp flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
Heat the oven to 350F. In the oven, melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or large pie plate. Do not brown. Meanwhile, toss the berries with 1 tbsp of flour. In a blender or food processor, mix the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. With the blades running, gradually add the cup of flour and blend well. Pour the batter into the pan. Scatter the berries overtop. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the centre is set. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with icing sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup.
Cook’s note: Clafoutis is a French custard cake, much like a thick crepe, and makes a perfect brunch or dessert.
– Words and photo by Darcie Hossack
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