Tag Archives: Heritage cooking skills

Savour food – a lesson in Swedish flatbread – Hulvchuck or Mjukkaka – with my mother-in-law

the honest goodness of bread and butter - in this case a heritage recipe for Swedish Hulvchuck

the honest goodness of bread and butter – in this case a heritage recipe for Swedish Hulvchuck

Indian naan, chapati, roti, puri, paratha and parotta; Italian Focaccia and pizza, Greek pita; Egyptian balady, Armenian Lavash, Turkish bazlama, Mexican tortillas, Ethiopian injera; cuisines the world over have a flatbread. Some are leavened and some not. Most are circular and flat and typically made of a combination of flour and water. They are used as an eating utensil or plate, for sopping up gravy, dipping in olive oil, as a medium for toppings or stuffings, or for just enjoying with cold creamy butter. They are all delicious and I am sad for people who cannot for whatever reason enjoy them – wheat belly; real or imagined.

I had not heard of a Swedish flatbread until I met my husband and got to try his grandmother’s fabulous bread recipe. Her name was Esther Ingejerd (nee Swenson) Anderson Richtik. She was twice widowed but with the help of her mother raised two children on her own on the windswept marshy tundra that is Northern Manitoba, Canada. It was a harsh life but this bread which she called “Hulvchuck” was a comfort food for her family and she made bread a few times a week her whole life.

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Savour Food – Making Irish Soda Bread with the McElligotts

the transfer of a heritage recipe from one generation to the next should always come with a cup of tea

the transfer of a heritage recipe from one generation to the next should always come with a cup of tea

Food and friendship go hand in hand – they give us a chance to savour food and savour life

Time with friends is a treasure. Time with friends who are ordinarily busy with very demanding careers and who have very little downtime is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This analogy seems completely apt in the case of me getting to spend time with my dear friend Donna McElligott.

Donna has worked for the CBC for almost 30 years, travelled to all seven continents, lived in Moscow, Beijing, Inuvik and served as a parliamentary correspondent in Ottawa. I’m getting to spend more time with my friend this year because she’s on sabbatical from her post as host of Alberta at Noon. She’s taking time with her family and most of all, time with her octogenarian mother, Mrs. Sheila McElligott. Enter Irish Soda Bread.

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Savour food – Pie making 201 – a video to illustrate “crucial techniques” with my Mom as your mentor

This short blog post is for those of you who’ve graduated from the Pie Crust 101 with my Mom as your Mentor entry I posted yesterday.

This post has the “companion video” which illustrates a lot of the techniques that are crucial to turning out a beautiful flakey pie crust.  You’ll see my Mom, Gerri, doing her thing which is making incredible pie crust.  She does it without even thinking so I ask her lots of questions and try to get her to slow down and explain what she’s doing.  I hope this helps you in your quest to be a great pie maker.

Key things I’ve learned are as follows:

1. Mom goes to great pains to keep the pie dough as cold as possible.  The shortening has been chilled, the water is iced, the dough is put in the fridge to cool and firm up before rolling out.  All of this is an effort to keep the fat chilled.  This will then allow it to expand as it bakes in place to create light flakey pastry.

2. Mom’s touch with the rolling pin is very light.  Pay really close attention to how she starts in the center and lightly rolls the pin out.  She fans her way around the disc of dough keeping it circular.

3. Mom rarely actually touches the dough.  She doesn’t want the heat of her hands to melt that shortening.  She uses the rolling pin to lift the dough and move it when she needs to.

4. If she’s going to make a pie, she makes 3 or 4 because that’s how many she can get out of pound of shortening and it is much more efficient to do this than to “mess up your kitchen for nothing” (her idea of one pie – nothing).

5. Pies freeze beautifully in the raw form.  We work quickly, fill the crusts with frozen fruit and that fruit is back in the freezer before it has time to think about thawing.

6. I gift my friends at Christmas with frozen pies and the directions of how to heat them.  That way, they get to experience the joyful smell of a pie cooking in their home.

7. Pies are just one more way I’ve learned to savour food, savour time with my Mom and therefore, naturally, to savour my life.

The Pie Crust 101 post has the recipe.  Here’s the video.

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Savour Food – Pie Crust 101 with my Mom as your Mentor

I come from a long line of great pie makers.  Every Sunday, when I was a little girl, we went to my Great Grandparent’s (Aileen and Willard Dyer’s) home for Sunday dinner.  Grammy and Puppa didn’t have a lot of money, but they opened their home and their hearts wide and we usually had about 12 – 20 of the family there for dinner each week.  The meal I remember Grammy serving most frequently was her simple and highly economical baked peas and beans with loaves of fresh bread.  The beans were thick with Crosby’s molasses and the peas had bacon and big onions infusing them with flavour. Sometimes we’d get a roast of pork or a big turkey with lots of vegetables from the garden.  There were always preserves from the cold cellar. I remember pretty little glass bowls spread down the table filled with ruby coloured pickled beets, tomato chow-chow and an old New Brunswick favourite, Lady Ashburnham mustard and cucumber pickles.The men usually gathered around some old car that Puppa was trying to keep running and the women might work on a quilt Grammy always had set up in her parlour.  My siblings and cousins and I loved to play underneath the quilt and pretend we were in a great tented world.  Sometimes we walked to the spring in the woods above the little house to fetch a pail of fresh pure water for the night’s meal.  I remember washing up at the pump at the big sink, using bars of bright yellow Sunlight soap. I still think of the smell of that soap as one of the cleanest smells in the world.  As I grew older I got to help set the table.  Grammy would open a fresh package of butter and she took care to show me how to use a knife to scrape the wrapper to get every last ounce of the precious pale gold.  It tasted so sweet and delicate on the fresh bread the came out of her wood stove everyday.

The highlight of every single one of these Sunday dinners though, was having a piece of one of Aileen’s pies for dessert.  In spring there would be strawberry rhubarb. A hot summer day might bring a coconut, banana or chocolate cream pie out of the ice box. Late summer was for blueberry or raspberry and fall brought apple and pumpkin to the harvest table.  Mid-winter, when all her fruit supply was gone, she would break into some Jell-O pudding and we’d have a pudding-centric pie like butterscotch or lemon meringue.  I can remember, staying brightly awake until I had a piece of pie and then climbing into one of the rocking chairs by the wood stove and falling promptly asleep and having to be carried to the car for the drive home. Such sweet pie filled dreams I had.

I was in grade 9 when my dear little Great Grammy died and fortunately for everyone in my family, my Mother, Gerri Robicheau, carried on Grammy’s legacy and is the most wonderful pie-maker I know.  For several years now she has come each November (once her golf course closes!) to help me make pies and tortieres for my friends for Christmas.  I’m getting pretty good at pie making now and I realize how fortunate I am to be so lovingly mentored.  I might have grown up with two grandmothers and a great-grandmother within 20 miles of my home but now that I’m thousands of miles from my own dear Mom I don’t take her and all her knowledge for granted.  I also know that not everyone comes from a background so richly culinary so I’ve decided to write this blog and lend you my Mom Gerri’s skills.  Now you too, can make pie crust with my Mom as your mentor.

Gerri’s Pie Crust

Ingredients: 4 level cups of flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 lb chilled Crisco shortening, ice and water to fill a 2 cup glass measuring cup.

flour, shortening and ice water








1/4 t salt & 1/2 t baking powder











Combine the flour, baking powder and salt.

Blend the shortening and flour with a pastry blender until course pea sized lumps form.


Pastry blender begins


blend flour and shortening until coarse pea-sized lumps form throughout









Now measure 25o mls of ice water into a second pitcher (be sure it is 250 mls not just one cup as 250 mls is slightly more) and pour that into the center of the shortening and flour mixture.

Ice water is crucial to keeping the shortening cold. The cold fat, means flakiness later









Stir with a metal slotted spoon to get it to come together.

Use a dinner knife to shape the dough into a mound.

a nicely shaped and gathered ball of dough ready to rest









Let the dough rest in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up.

Cut the dough mound into 8 unequal pieces.  You want four slightly larger portions for the bottom crusts.

6 discs of dough ready for rolling – notice some are slightly larger











Choose a portion and remove it and use your hands to shape it into a disc.

Flour a flat surface and roll your rolling pin through the flour.

flour the counter











Place the disc on the floured surface and begin to roll it out pressing lightly with the rolling pin from the center out. Use very light pressure and move the rolling pin around to keep the dough forming a round shape.

disc of dough ready for rolling









Lift the dough as necessary and sprinkle the surface with more flour to keep it from sticking to the cupboard.

Fold the dough over your rolling pin and transfer it to the bottom of a pie plate.

Roll the dough lightly from the center out









Add fruit to the pan. For blueberry pie, we add a mixture of 1 c sugar, 3 tbsp flour and a few drops of lemon. Depending on the sweetness of the fruit in your pie, you may need a little more or less than the 1 c sugar.

Prepare the top crust as above and top the fruit with it.

Crimp the two crusts together by folding the top over the bottom and then pinching the dough lightly between the thumbs and forefingers of each hand.

crimping the top and bottom crusts









Cut vents in the top of the pies.


vents allow the steam to escape









Bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 – 1.5 hours or until the juices are thick and sticky. Enjoy immensely.

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Savour food – Canning Tomatoes with my Italian connection

Everyone should have a friend like my friend Marianne. I ran into her at the coffee shop and told her I was going home to “do my tomatoes”. She asked if “the job” could wait a day because she’d be able to help if it could. You already know the answer to that question. I won’t trifle with your intelligence.  When someone offers to help you with canning there is only one answer.

The next morning saw sun beams bathing my kitchen and friendship warming my heart as Marianne arrived and we began.  She told me straight away she was impressed with the quality of my 25lb box of Roma Tomatoes.  I got them from my friend, Scott Epple of www.gullvalley.ca at www.calgaryfarmersmarket.ca They are picked, put in a crate and not touched again until the consumer touches them at the market. I like a non-molested tomato.  They are also grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides.  It’s nice to start with that kind of quality and because they were completely vine-ripened they even smelled like a tomato should if it could.

























The first thing we did was wash all the tomatoes and then we cut the tops off and slit an X in their bottoms.

The beautiful Marianne cheerfully at work

















We then blanched the tomatoes by transferring them in bunches to a pot of boiling water for about 1 – 2 minutes. When the skins looked loose we lifted them with a slotted spoon into a transfer bowl and then plunged the works into another bowl of iced water.  We removed all the skins with ease after the ice bath and put the skinned tomatoes into another big bowl.  We were now ready to fill sterilized jars with tomatoes.










Hint: one of Marianne’s family secrets is to add a freshly washed piece of basil to each jar for extra flavour and visual appeal.





























As we filled the jars, we occasionally plunged a metal knife into the tomatoes to remove air pockets and squish as many tomatoes into the jar as possible.  Once we had all the jars stuffed, it was time to wipe the the lip of the jars and add the sealer lids and screw the rings on.  We then lowered the jars into the canning bath. It held the dozen jars my 25lbs ended up producing.


I don’t remember ever being this relaxed while canning

We let the water come back to a boil and then set the timer for 20 minutes.

While the tomatoes boiled away we sat and had a few slices of some late summer blueberry pie recipes I’d been working on with a satisfying cuppa tea.  Marianne asked how I felt about the work we had done together in a little over an hour.  I said it was completely uplifting.  She said, her only suggestion to me would be that if I was going to bring in the Italian muscle for a job, I should consider greatly increasing the number of tomatoes we would work on.  She told me that she was used to doing 200 – 1000 lbs when her family got together to do theirs.  I should maybe aim for 100 lbs next year and she’d still be happy to come and help me.  Now that is a dear friend.

key lime blueberry pie and sour cream blueberry tart











When the timer went, we turned off the stove and lifted the jars onto the counter covered in two thick towels.  We turned the jars upside down and wrapped them snuggly in the towels.


















Marianne told me that her Mom and Aunt taught her to do this because they believe that by cooling the jars more slowly, the tomatoes have a greater chance of sealing properly.  I don’t know if that’s true or not but the next morning I awoke to a dozen perfectly sealed jars.










What did I learn?

1.Clean everything all at once, cut everything all at once, blanch everything all at once, stuff all the jars all at once and put them all in the processor at once.  Other years I was blanching before I was done with cutting and then I was starting to stuff jars before I was done all the blanching.  Everything felt so much more organized with Marianne’s step-by-full step approach.

2. Put your jars upside down and wrap them in towels so they cool slowly.

3. Marianne’s family never adds ascorbic acid.  She says the tomatoes are acidic enough.  I found the tomatoes kept their brilliant colour this way where they had faded with the ascorbic acid I had used in other years.

4. Adding a piece of fresh basil is beautiful and flavourful.

5. I can’t go back!!! I hope my bella Italiana friend knows she has signed an implied bloody tomato oath to help me each year.

Even though she comes from a long line of incredible Italian cooks (both her Mom, Teresa’s, and her Auntie Cathy’s recipes form the backbone of recipes used in several of Calgary’s best Italian restaurants) I will love to think of a way to repay my generous friend.  She loves my Indian cooking so maybe next year we’ll add a few Indian chutneys to our canning day.

Going forward I’d like to think that friends that can together stay together and in this case tomatoes on the vine are the ties that have bound us as friends for life.


Filed under Heritage cooking skills, Recipes, Savour food