Squirrel in the Kitchen

This article has nothing to do with my purported theme of urbanism. People still seem to love the latest kitchen gadgets and deluxe appliances even though it’s estimated that 50% of American meals and 30% of Canadian meals are prepared outside the home. The latest craze is the multi-purpose Instant Pot, with emphasis on “instant”.

I was also reading about the latest type of apps for cooks that interact with an electronically connected kitchen. Your ethereal electronic assistant can suggest a menu based on what’s in your fridge, or order the ingredients ahead of time, walk you through the prep with video instructions and demos and turn on your oven at just the right moment. Someday it might suggest menu variations based on your food preferences or sensitivities, your exercise tracking, or genetic profile.

Some people claim “recipes are as dead as paper maps” because we have so many food options, cooking styles and regional cuisines. But it seems a bit creepy when a computer knows not just what you ate, but what you’re going to eat.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I started flipping through The Canadian Woman’s Cookbook in the war-time 1941 version updated from the 1927 and 1934 editions. In spite of the name, it was an American publication revised by the Director of the Culinary Arts Institute of Cornell University. It’s one of those old volumes passed along through the family that still had an envelope, a draw ticket, a playing card and other ephemera tucked in between pages of recipes 76 years later.

The 40s don’t seem that far back in the historical past so I was a little surprised by the recipe for “opossum roast”. Further on, there were instructions on how to skin, dress and roast squirrel. I think tastes and more dire circumstances have changed! There were other intriguing concoctions that might be more familiar to New England states such as Indian pudding, Pandowdy and boiled cider pie. In spite of the page markers, I don’t recall this book making much impact on the family table. Ours was dominated by the traditional dishes of my ancestors.

Some recipes may be dead as a practical guide but the cookbook exists as an historical and cultural record (i.e. – “wedding menu”), a glimpse at social norms and tastes (i.e. – “table setting and service”), and ideally for some, as a memory of happy times past.

Snow has fallen, candles are lit, tables are set. No matter how you may choose to celebrate at this time of year, it will undoubtedly be around a table. Let your recipe include the love of family, enjoyment of friends and the creation of new special memories. Wishing my readers all the best …


A Few Centuries, and 150 Years

Most of us will soon be participating in celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Overall we can be mostly proud of the society that has evolved from our European and colonial past. Some First Nations are reminding us, though, that Indigenous people have no reason to cheer about an imposed system that continues to have devastating social and economic consequences for their communities.

I took a look at some maps in the Economic Atlas of Ontario from the Ontario Archives, which dramatically illustrates how “Indians” systematically vanished from our consciousness in the century prior to Confederation. The following slides contain four maps spanning 1792 to 1882.

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We can hope that in this 150th year of Canada that history is finally starting to bend in the direction of a more just future. In symbolic recognition, the summer solstice, June 21, is celebrated as National Aboriginal Day, and will be renamed National Indigenous People’s Day. More importantly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has presented a full catalogue of recommendations to address numerous injustices affecting Indigenous people. (visit Reconciliation Canada)

I think it is both startling and shameful that, over my lifetime in the 20th century, I have had virtually no meaningful contact with Indigenous people. So in that context, it is particularly important and meaningful that Innisfil’s annual event, Celebrate Lake Simcoe, is partnered this year with the Barrie Native Friendship Centre to hold a traditional Pow wow at Innisfil Beach Park in conjunction with other activities later in July.

Travel Ontario website describes a pow wow as a “sacred gathering of Indigenous peoples to honour the past, renew friendships and celebrate with music, song, food, dance and storytelling.” According to Wikipedia, “The word is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader“.

The 2017 Celebrate Lake Simcoe event takes place on Saturday, July 22. Admission is free with a Food Bank donation. At 5:30 a.m. First Nations participants will conduct a sunrise ceremony, Blessing of the Water. A traditional Pow Wow begins at noon with a Grand Entry.

Celebrate Lake Simcoe also includes art, culture and environmental booths and a lake swims of 1, 3 and 5 km. Swim registrants are invited. Visit the website at Celebrate Lake Simcoe 2017

The Story of the Alconas

“Are you in Alcona or Innisfil?” The voice on the telephone sounded confused. “Google says you’re somewhere north of Thunder Bay. I’m just wondering if I need to fly someone in.” I assured the caller that my home could be reached by exiting from the 400 highway. I have to admit, the confusion was my fault. I had assumed Continue reading