Learning about past through food

It’s not Christmas unless there’s food on the table, and Amy Jo Ehman’s new book has some interesting dishes to include.

Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens, Ehman’s second book, pieces together Saskatchewan’s history from the 1870s to 1920s with food from Metis, First Nations and European homesteaders.

“To me, it’s a story of Saskatchewan’s early days and recipes are an extension of that,” she said. “It’s something people can read without feeling like they have to go into the kitchen and start baking.”

Ehman, a newspaper columnist, said she received a call to write this book and, despite having other projects on the go, decided to tackle the challenge.

“Sometimes you just have to wait for a topic to arrive in your life that you can fashion into a book.”

Challenges certainly developed when Ehman started gathering recipes. She said she got most of her recipes through memoirs, church cookbooks and community cookbooks. A Danish recipe for hamburger steak called hakkebof was one of the recipes found hiding in the pages of a homesteader’s memoir.

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Ehman found pioneer recipes in the church and community cookbooks so the next generation could continue to prepare them.

“At one point, I was going crazy trying to include everyone’s recipe.”

The eight sections have about 10 recipes in each. Ehman said she chose old recipes, forgotten ones and others that managed to hang on into modern kitchens.

“Many of the recipes that have survived through modern times are there because they are holiday recipes,” she said.

Vinarterta, an Icelandic prune cake, is one of these recipes. The Ukrainian cookie scuffles are another that remains in kitchens today. Ehman also included a fried potato dish brought over by Jewish immigrants called latkes. Many early homesteaders in Saskatchewan were Jews fleeing religious persecution in Europe.

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One of the surprises Ehman en-countered while working on this book was how hard it was to survive on the Prairies at that time.

“It’s so easy to look back on pioneer times and think how romantic that was. The honest truth is it was hard,” she said.

“I admire the women so much be-cause they made meals for their families almost out of nothing.”

Ehman hopes her book “resonates with people and has a longevity.”

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