Comfort Food From the East

While speaking with my sister, this morning, she reminded me that today, January 15, is the anniversary of the day our brother, John, went into hospital.  It was from this date, onward, that our family was sucked into the vortex of the medical system and diagnostic testing.  As it would turn out, our brother would celebrate his last birthday in Peter Lougheed Hospital.

I begin this particular post, writing about my brother, because I’m thinking about comfort food and what happens when people gather with foods that are familiar and rooted in memory.  These foods will often vary depending on cultural context…sometimes an affordability context…regardless, if my readers look back into their journeys, they will find foods that mark various moments along their journeys.  Stories and narratives will endlessly surface of childhood and Mom or Grandma or Great Gramma’s cooking.

For example, if I type the words, FRIED BOLOGNA (Baloney) SANDWICH…what memories are evoked?

We brought foods to hospital and those we love, also fed us.  My brother enjoyed jello and Cozy Shack rice pudding during those end days.  He also enjoyed fresh ju-jubes for the duration of his hospital stay.  My sister-in-law sent loaves.  John shared birthday cake. Spaghetti was brought from home.  Things we create in the kitchen, we have control over (usually).  Sharing food creates a feeling of joy, constancy and being rooted.  I am grateful for how food brought some pleasure to my brother in his last months.  Now, the remainder of this blog post will explore one particular recipe that comes from my memory banks and my Acadian family’s tradition.

Our little Airforce family found itself in Quebec and New Brunswick for two of its postings.  These postings gave some proximity to my Great Grandparents, Mamie (Sugar Arsenault) and Papie (Gabriel Gallant) and my great uncles and aunties.

My Grandmother, in back and my mother, directly in front of her.  Jimmy Fardy, my Mom’s cousin is directly to her right.

My Mamie, with my mother in her arms.

Mamie and Papie.

I knew when I went to Prince Edward Island that I was among some of the dearest people who were in my mother’s life.  I knew, also, that when we traveled there, my mother was home.

Memories of that little Summerside house on Front Street are connected with wood stoves, home made rolled cigarettes, potatoes grated and cooked up into pancakes, horse drawn milk delivery wagons, coal chutes, seaside smells carried on the wind, bingo chips, coffee, bottles on the kitchen table, loud laughter and kitchen gatherings.

It was in 2015, when I attended a library program with my friend, Pat, that I first considered researching this childhood dish. The topic of the presentation was on foods as they relate to a cultural road trip across Canada.  The presenter was going to be Julie Van Rosendaal, but as it turned out, she required a replacement.  The session did not disappoint.

Shortly after the session, I sent my Mom’s youngest sister an e mail. “I was telling Dad about a cookbook that was mentioned at a Library program I attended last night.  It’s called Feast: An Edible Roadtrip.  I asked the speaker if the recipe for “Rapeur” (don’t know the spelling) was in it.  One Acadian lady sitting next to me said it was called Rappi Pie  hmmm…Dad told me that you make Mamie’s recipe and I was hoping you might send it to me.  I know it’s a big job to make and that it needs a special touch to turn out right, but I would like to share it with my daughters.  If you would be so kind…I’d really appreciate it.  Kath”

I sent that note in 2015 and received an expedient reply that included these steps.  I quickly learned that the spelling of the recipe was Rapure and that its translation is coming from the word grate in french.

[cheese, carrots] râper

to grate some cheese râper du fromage

This recipe was followed by one through the post…thank you, Auntie Pat.

Some time during the Christmas break, I decided to invite a small circle of friends to the house to share some Clam Chowder, also made in my mother’s east coast tradition.  Clam Chowder also varies depending on where you grew up in eastern Canada.

With the invitation to my friends, came an opportunity to try making my very first Rapure, without any of my matriarchs present for help.  My friend, Hollee, was visiting from Vancouver in order to attend her Auntie’s 100th birthday, so she became my cheerleader as I endeavored to bring my east coast traditions in comfort food, to life.  I remember, well, this dish being prepared by my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother and my Mom.  It is important to me that I share this, along the journey, with my children.  One thing I decided, after looking over the recipes and speaking with Hollee, I was going to borrow my daughter’s food processor!!

The Rapure brought back particular aromas in the little PEI kitchen of my memory, pork and onion fried up on the wood stove, along with a scoop of lard.  This dish, along with my mother’s Meat Pies, was very much a symbol of home for me.

Nervous, the night before, I spent a lot of time seeking out Youtube videos, learning for the most part, that the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were using chicken stock and chicken in recipes that they called Rappie Pie.

 

On the Arsenault Facebook group, I put out an all-call for recipes and these are some from the Rappie Pie tradition.

These were the posters’ connections with their recipes.

Judy Arsenault I recently made a Rapure from the cookbook Abram-Village Handcraft Co-Op Recipes (which I purchased from the Bottle House (PEI) that my cousin use to own) and it didn’t turn out. Has anyone used this recipe from this cookbook? How did it turn out for you

Thelma Arsenault Hack I have varying results with rapure, regardless of the recipe. Choice of potatoes makes a difference – I don’t think ‘baking potatoes’ work as well. And whether the grated potatoes are rinsed and dried well makes a difference. It’s a lot of work and very frustrating when the results are not good. I’ll be interested in what others comment. Good luck to you.

Jim N Wendy Spain This recipe was made by my great grandmother Catherine (Lefave) Doucette, from Nova Scotia. I recently typed it as shown, for a family reunion. 🙂

With great courage, Hollee and I peeled 10 lbs of potatoes and I chopped up the pork roast into 1 cm cubes, setting aside the pork fat to coat the roaster surface, keeping all chilled and prepared for the morning’s culinary adventure and the visit with my friends.  I decided to stick closely to my Auntie’s recipe.

At 7:00 am…I began my processing of the potatoes and put my pork to browning.

I’m going to log my notes here, for future reference.  I had my daughter’s food processor set for grating and tried both the medium grate and the fine grate.  In future, I would  use the fine grate setting.  Whoosh…out spewed the gratings of ten pounds of potatoes.  The kitchen smelled yummy and CBC radio was turned up, as the pork, onion, salt and pepper were bubbling in the 350 oven.  (use the roasting pan for this)

Once the potatoes were done, I quickly covered them with wrap so that oxidization wouldn’t happen. (green bowl) I cut up my cheese cloth and began the process of removing starch from the potatoes. (I will use my red bowl for this next time.)  I transferred my shrunken potatoes into my large soup pot.  Once finished the cheese cloth step, I added the yummy pork and onion to the big soup pot and mixed and mixed and mixed some more.

This is the step where I decided that in future I would use the fine grate.  I remembered my Great Grandmother’s Rapure being smoother in texture, but being coated with crunch.  This is what my kitchen looked like, right before beginning my Clam Chowder.

From the mixing stage, I pressed the mixture into my roasting pan…nicely greased with some cubes of pork fat (not all), and pulled from the oven.  (don’t burn your hands, here)  I roasted the Rapure at 275 for an hour and turned it up for three hours at 350.  Next time, two hours at 350 for me!

Thank goodness, Wendy brought a salad as it made the appearance of the square of Rapure look more appetizing, on the plate.  I began apologizing before we even sat down because I knew already that the topping was TOO crunchy.

My guests are such dear friends that I could tell them I expected them all to try a piece, as I was very much in the mood to share my PEI nostalgia.  They all carried on, without complaint.  I love them so much! Photo Credit below: Wendy Lees.

Later, I discovered that the crust softens with just a short wait after removing from the oven, so I would serve it a little differently next time, and definitely crust up instead of flipping it over (lol).  I have been happily nibbling on the leftover Rapure ever since and I am generally really happy with the flavours and it very much reminds me of Mom, my Grandmother and my Great Grandmother.

See the next post…the feast…for the treasured gathering.

When I remember my brother, I also remember the family meals that brought us together.  I remember celebrations and loud responses to the yummy-ness of food!  Much of the recollections of family come with the memory of food.  I am so grateful for this.

Thanks to Lauraine, who remembered that her mother made ‘Snowballs’, those red cherries wrapped up in coconut buttery sweetness and rolled in graham cracker crumbs.  Isn’t comfort food amazing?

 

Beyond Remembering

Listening to Fleetwood Mac’s When I See You Again, as I type.

I wrote away to Amazon for Beyond Remembering: The collected poems of Al Purdy before driving east, the morning of my mother’s birth day,  July 27.  Since then, I’ve been pouring through the poetry and visiting the places that Canada’s poet, Al Purdy, visited and sometimes thought and wrote about.  I heard Eurithe’s strong voice over the telephone, positive and supportive and carried to me all the way from Sidney, British Columbia.  Al’s wife gave me the generous permission to use bits of Al’s poetry in my paintings, all produced in my studio bedroom, generously offered to me by my loving father his summer.

I’m still working on small panels and told myself they would be completed by September 1 and I will hold myself to that and I will rest for September, taking in the new autumn air and visit my brother and sister in Ottawa before I drive west to Calgary.

If you haven’t had a connection with Al Purdy’s writing, do give yourself that opportunity some time, when it’s right.  The summer of 2013 was the right time for me.  I had picked up George Bowering’s book about his friend, Al, his writing…and I became suddenly, profoundly connected…not just with Al Purdy’s writing, but also George Bowering’s writing and more than before, Margaret Atwood’s.  I was excited by Al’s connection to my all-time favourite author, Margaret Laurence, and went in search of correspondences between the two and poems where he wrote about her…even to the point of the description he gave in one of his poems of his writing space and the images of both Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Laurence that hung there, on his wall.

Yes…I became a fan.  George Bowering co-authored a book with Jean Baird, The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.  Drowning in a dark pool of grief for my mother, all of these beautiful circumstances, all surfacing through poetry, writing and literature, gave me a nudge into my personal journey of grief.  I have to say that tentatively, visually, my relationship with the folk of the Gorilla House (you know who you are) and then the Rumble House in Calgary, also provided a string to my practice.  But, I have to face it, for years, I’ve been broken and not particularly functioning on any level as an artist.  I painted in my head and pulled off these two hour blast outs every Wednesday night.  I was happy to let go of them at auction on the same night because I was suffering too much to want to hold on.

Somehow, I knew that this summer I had to create a segue into my practice of painting.  I had unloaded all of the furniture and other stuff that I had pushed into my studio space, as a physical way of avoiding painting.  I finished projects that were created as a way of distracting me from the fear, the incapacitation and the flat out avoidance of canvas or panel or paint.

And so I find myself here, painting the shape of Purdy’s words, in as much as I can over a period of four weeks.  I am sitting here crying as I type.  Dad isn’t home.  Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks…singing to me through the single speaker.  And…I feel good to be in the act of painting again.  A bit illustrative in nature, I don’t necessarily believe that this is the direction my work is going…but, it is the beginning of the direction and for that, I’m grateful.  It makes sense that I should begin in this beautiful, lush, humid, Victorian city of Belleville, on the edge of the Bay of Quinte…not far from Purdy’s resting place and his little A Frame on Roblin Lake.  I know that when I get home, I already have a ‘shitload’ of content from a pond that I love, that will give me a subject for my winter’s exploration.

I will add the poems, a bit at a time, to this post…I really need to get back to those small panels I mentioned.  After all, it’s the 28th of August.

Mom, I love you.  I love you with all of my heart.   Something about what I’ve painted this summer is about you…home…Canada…experience that is the very most mundane…things in the day-to-day that all too often go unnoticed.   Painting again, with joy…not pain…is home for me.

Thanks to Mary and Pat…two friends back in Calgary, who tentatively asked…and supported my journey of grief as it related to my painting.  Thanks to Pricilla.  You know why.  Thanks to my Dad, who feeds me.

The paintings can be seen, thanks to the generous opportunity given by Lisa Morris and Peter Paylor at Artists and Artisans: Studio and Gallery on Front Street, show beginning on Thursday, September 6, with a bit of a sha-bang on the 11th from 2-4 and with the potential of after hours viewing any time.  I hope some of you can see these.

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From the poem, May 23, 1980 in the collection, Beyond Remembering…the final stanza.

I have grown old

but these words remain

tell her for me

because it’s very important

tell her for me

there will come one May night

of every year that she’s alive

when the whole world smells of lilacs.

Al Purdy

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Gorilla House LIVE ART Battles: August 14, 2013

There’s been quite the razz-a-ma-taz going on around this house since I returned home from Ontario, what with getting things sorted and cleaned up.  I make similar references quite often here.  Yesterday was a bit of a gong show as I continued the process and put my studio back to rights.  I’m pleased about that and feel hungry to get to work.

I started thinking about making it down to the Gorilla House after Max got out for his walk round the circle.  “NO, you can’t play WHIZZO, Max!”   Max recently ripped a dew claw on his front leg, so after repairs under sedation mid week, he’s had a very quiet five days. All that aside…

I prepped two boards instead of one because I have committed a panel of art to the People’s Poetry Festival and hadn’t had a chance to get the piece completed last week. (See dew claw and house-organizing anecdote above.)  I then had a soak in the tub and got the day’s dust and bleach washed off.  Renewed, I was waiting for my panels to dry and got caught up watching this.  I was mesmerized and so ended up tearing out of the house in a bit of a flap, arriving a half hour after the wheel was spun.

I tore right into both panels, switching off right up until the 45-minutes-left-point.  Then I decided to commit to the auction piece.  The panel for the festival would have to wait.  Everything I see or do at this time is impacted by the memory or the thought of my mother.  Tonight’s piece is no different.  It finds its beginnings in a scene from the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint- Exupery, Chapter 21.

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–

“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“Then it has done you no good at all!”

“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:

“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated so that he would not forget.

My mother was responsible for me…

I was responsible for my mother…

I miss her.

Thanks to Chris who purchased this piece at auction.  Watch for the progress of the visual poetry over the next 24 hours!

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The Memory in my Suitcase

Katherine Mary Moors in Foreground

Everyone else would be dipping their toes into the cold water, whether it was at Kouchibouquac Beach in New Brunswick or Lake Ontario.  But what would my mother do?  Without hesitation, she threw down her towel, and kicking sand up behind her, she would ditch all of us for the water!  I will never forget how streamlined she looked as she dove in head first, all of us left laughing and up to our ankles.  She would surface and with one gesture, push her dark curls off her forehead and stretch back into a beautiful back stroke…sun dazzling on her wet face.

 

“Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick,
And think of you
Caught up in circles confusion
Is nothing new
Flashback warm nights
Almost left behind
Suitcases of memories,
Time after”