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?

 

Coffee and Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein

The nice thing about beginning here is that you can land here and subsequently here!  That’s what a link to Sartre will do!  And that’s also what will happen when one has TIME to enjoy a coffee in the morning; a luxury for people on a Friday morning, unless of course, you are retired OR unemployed.

I became wrapped up in this response by Toby Simmons.

Wittgenstein wrote a book called ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ in which he attempted to show how language can correspond to, or ‘map’, the world.

He tries to lay the ground for the construction of a “logically perfect” language which is capable of corresponding to facts (and the sum total of all facts is the world).

Basically, this project has, as its result, a view of scientific language as a kind of layer over the top of the facts.

He says this:

“Let us imagine a white surface with irregular black spots on it. We then say that whatever kind of picture these make, I can always approximate as closely as I wish to the description of it by covering the surface with a sufficiently fine square mesh, and then saying of every square whether it is black or white. In this way I shall have imposed a uniform form on the description of the surface. The form is optional, since I could have achieved the same result by using a net with a triangular or hexagonal mesh. Possibly the use of a triangular mesh would have made the description simpler: that is to say, it might be that we could describe the surface more accurately with a coarse triangular mesh than with a fine square mesh . . . The different nets correspond to different systems for describing the world.”

So, for Wittgenstein, a scientific ‘law’ is merely a linguistic construction that has been ‘pinned’ to the world. An equally adequate but different arrangement of words could describe the world just as well.

In the quote, he is contending with the prevailing view of scientific ‘laws’ as the ultimate explanations of events within the natural world, or as the all-embracing answers to the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Science, he maintains, is just a ‘mesh’ of language corresponding to the world. In this sense, it is fairly trivial, and not explanatory at all.

Does this explain it?

(It is worth mentioning that Wittgenstein did go on to repudiate most of what he wrote in the Tractatus in his later work, ‘Philosophical Investigations’ — but his attitude towards science was something that he maintain throughout his whole life.)

Wittgenstein is a fascinating philosopher, and definitely worth exploring!

In keeping with this reply written by Toby from http://apieceofcoffee.wordpress.com

I suggest a wonderful and mind-bending experience, a Canadian artist, David Clark, creates the ambitious online art piece 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the Left Hand).

I also came upon this wonderful reading list while looking at a number of related sites and it may be of interest to some readers that land HERE quite by chance.  Image borrowed from  This blogger has written of Lake Superior…and I can’t help but include the link here to this beautiful poem.

River
by Janet Lewis

Remember for me the river,
Flowing wide and cold, from beyond Sugar Island,
Still and smooth, breathing sweetness
Into still air, moving under its surface
With all the power of creation.

Remember for me the scent of sweet-grass
In Ojibway baskets,
Of meadow turf, alive with insects.

Remember for me
Who will not be able to remember.
Remember the river.

The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis, edited by R. L. Barth (2000).  According to Mr. Barth, the river of the poem is the St. Mary’s River, which “flows generally from Lake Superior to Lake Huron, for a space forming the international boundary between the U.S. and Canada.”

Max’s Day at the Beach

Beautiful Everything!

My boy sniffed anything on the beach that appeared to bear any possibility of sustenance.  It was apparent that out of all the dogs on the beach, mine was the dog from the city!  It was his efforts to paw and get to move, a jelly-fish that had me most afraid! I also  wondered what the side effects of lapping salt water.  It was a dream to see his streamlined form zipping full throttle the length of the beach and then back again.  Unfortunately, his object obsession continues to hold and he hoped that I might play the throw-the-stick game and I refused.

Miles of Smooth Red Beach to Explore

Ahhhhhh!

Good Food and Good Books

What does a person eat after drinking two hot coffees with a touch of Baileys on a rainy morning in Prince Edward Island?  Look at the size of these local blueberries!

PEI Blueberries

 I’ve been reading Mary Gordon’s book, The Shadow Man.  I’ve been reading her for years…not only do I enjoy the depth of her writing and her interlaced syntax, I respect that she is unabashedly Catholic.  Her experience of faith and church and memory are a subtle theme in all of her writing, even when handling difficult subjects.  My friends Pat and Mary would suggest that I sometimes read something more narrative and less heady, especially before bed…and that is why I’ve gone out to the van in the rain and brought in The Box Garden by an astounding Canadian author who is no longer with us…Carol Shields.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13879586

Please listen to Mary Gordon discuss and read from her book, Circling My Mother on the above link.  I have some sense of all of this.

Clam Digging

Clam-diggers

While exploring the Evangeline Route yesterday, I pulled off at a turn and drove to the beach.  All that I observed reminded me of the days when we lived in New Brunswick…Sunday picnics on Kouchibouguac Beach…clam-digging and Mom making amazing chowder when we got home that night!  My photos here do not capture the conversations with clam-diggers Or the fact that some of them had waded out for a mile or more…but I’m posting them as a reminder of the magic.

Bucket of Clams

Lobster Traps Waiting

Cap Pele

Herring Smokehouse
 

I went off of 15E in order to really experience the village of Cap Pele, a place that literally breaths history, a rich warm smell of smoked fish and salt water.  Overlooking the  Northumberland Strait, there is an earthy wonderful isolation about the place.  I had chills go up my spine because it was as though I was in a story where I didn’t belong.  I decided to stop into a wee tourist museum that had Acadian flags batting hard in the wind that blew off the water.  Two friendly ladies walked about with me, sharing what they knew of the smokehouses. 

Cool stuff having to do with fish, fishing and smoking fish!

 

In the corner, I was immediately drawn to a piece of art…dried herring, authentic netting, memorabilia of every sort layered between coats of resin.  I felt like this artist was a soulful friend, connecting with me in his approach.  I’ve got to find out more about this artist!  Beginning the search….now!

Claude Rouselle: Cap Pele

Max and I headed down to the dock to catch a glimpse of the boats and the water.  A wee piece of heaven!

Boats at Dock
 

Looking to the Southeast

 

Home for Smoked Herring