Friday, June 20, 2014

My Canadian Food Voice, and Wild Saskatoon Grunt

This post is my final entry of the Canadian Food Experience project (2013-2014) (also on Facebook) proposed by my friend Valerie Lugonja, who is a board member of Slow Food Edmonton, with the goal of sharing regional food experiences to clarify our Canadian culinary identity. THANK YOU, VAL! Please check out the blogs of the other participants, and watch Val's blog for ongoing quarterly roundups of Canadian Food Experience posts for phase two of the project. 

I'm not a food blogger. I'm not even a proper capital-b-Blogger with a single focus and a daily or even weekly writing practice; I write intermittently, as the mood and topic tickles my fancy, and my photography skills are indifferent at best. I write to please myself. That anyone else reads my posts is a source of constant astonishment.

So, writing monthly posts for the Canadian Food Experience challenge over the past year stretched me, in the best ways, and helped me to clarify my voice as a writer and explore my interest in the slow food movement. 

I discovered that, just through osmosis, I've learned a lot about the culinary heritage of the Maritimes. 

I realized that the simple home cooking I took for granted when I was growing up is steeped in traditions worth celebrating and seasonal recipes worth sharing. Even recipes born of poverty and hardship have a special place in Canadian cuisine, because their small number of fresh, local ingredients allow regional flavours to shine.

I discovered the joy of taking treasured recipes I grew up with, and adapting them to the regional foods of my adopted home in Alberta.

In a microcosm of Canada as a whole, Maritime cuisine blends many cultural influences from the long and complex history of settlement, interaction with indigenous people and use of local foods, and international trade by sail. When I substitute local Albertan ingredients, or tweak recipes to incorporate other culinary traditions, I'm following in a centuries-long Canadian tradition of fusion cuisine

In that spirit, here is something I invented today: saskatoon grunt! (I'm sure others have made it before, since the substitutions are fairly obvious, but humour me.)

Since I began this challenge with a blueberry post, it seems fitting to end it by using saskatoons in place of blueberries, to reflect where I grew up and where I now live. 

Blueberry Grunt is as Nova Scotian a dessert as you'll ever eat, and ridiculously simple: biscuit dough, cooked in blueberries, with sugar added to taste, and a little vanilla ice cream if you want to get fancy. It's usually said to be an early colonial variant on English steamed puddings using locally-available fruit. Cobblers are the baked, less-saucy version of grunts (also called slumps in other regions). It's worth noting that the Bon Appetit spiced version of blueberry grunt substitutes molasses and brown sugar, a twist that's perfectly consistent with the region's culinary history. 

Aside: I'd love to try making blueberry grunt with Mi'kmaq luskinikn (bannock) dough (which was also made pre-contact with different flours and leavening agents by the peoples of Turtle Island). Boiling and stewing were part of the pre-contact food preparation repertoire of the Mi'kmaq, so I wonder if it's possible that the recipe has a longer history than we think? 

Now that I live on the Prairies, I wanted to try making this classic Maritime recipe with saskatoons instead. The Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada explain that the thicker skin of saskatoons means they won't burst upon boiling like blueberries do, so I gave the frozen berries a spin in the food processor before cooking to get the right texture for the sauce. I added lemon because the SBCC suggest that will bring out the flavour.

(Edit: I used saskatoons that were purchased frozen from the farmers' market, so they might actually be from the 'Northline' cultivar, instead of wild. I'll let my recipe title stand.)

Wild Blueberry Saskatoon Grunt
adapted from Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens

For the sauce:
1 quart (ie 4 cups) frozen saskatoons, rinsed while frozen, then pulsed in the food processor
1/2 cup sugar (increase to taste)
1 cup water 
Lemon juice and lemon rind to taste (I used 4 tsp juice and 1 tsp rind)
Cover and bring to a gentle boil (not roiling). You'll notice the proportions are similar to pie filling, minus cornstarch/tapioca, plus water. 

For the dumplings:
2 cups flour, sifted (I used 1 cup unbleached all-purpose, and 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour from a local farmer, for a nuttier flavour)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Cut in 2 tbsp butter.
Add 1 cup milk.
Drop the sticky dough by spoonfuls into boiling berry sauce. 
Cover and do not peek for 15 minutes. The dumplings will be firm when steamed all the way through.

Serve hot with vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm, that worked out quite well.

saskatoon sauce, ready to add the dough
A bigger pot would have worked better to get separate dumplings and allow the steam to cook them quicker - I had to add 5 minutes to my cooking time.
As you can see the sauce reduced down to a thick berry paste -
with blueberries it would have been runnier.
Here are all my contributions to the Canadian Food Experience to date, plus teasers for a couple of unfinished drafts. I will add the links to the belated posts once they go live.

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