Here I have provided a short history of the women of my family – the women because they are the ones that the traditional recipes come from. I know things have changed since then, with men cooking more and more. Even my husband Steve does a lot of cooking, and we try new and different foods together all the time. But this history pays homage to the cooks from past generations, and so it focuses on my Nana and my Mom (who chose to be known as Granny) and of course, me – the current Nana.
Nana came to Canada from England in the early 1900’s. She and her husband settled in Drumheller, Alberta, and tried to make a go of farming. She was horrified to find out that the animals were more valuable than they were: they built the barn first, while they lived in a tent. Poor Nana! She went from being a pampered child in England, to a dirt-farmer in Canada, living in a tent in a cold and unfamiliar country, and expected to do all the cooking for her husband and all of the farmhands! She was never taught to cook while she was growing up, and in those days they used a wood stove. Can you imagine? The old Blue Ribbon cookbook that was hers has a section on cooking for 50 people, and it lists several recipes with ingredient amounts, but with no instructions! Some will say “bake in a hot oven”……and I found in a different part of the book what that means – “on the floor of the oven, nearest to the firebox”. I can’t imagine how difficult and stressful that must have been for her. No wonder there were a few disasters at first that the men couldn’t eat!
Nana cooked out of necessity, but she never really developed a love for it. But she did teach her daughter, my Mom, how to cook, and together they learned to enjoy cooking.
My Mom was born in 1919, and she had fond memories of growing up on the farm and of going to school in the town of Drumheller. By the late 1920’s, they had a house in Drumheller, and her dad, along with his dad (who had also come over from England by this time), had a horseshoeing and blacksmithing business in town.
All was good until the 1930’s. This was the start of what is now known as the “dirty thirties”. Years and years of drought made farming a losing proposition throughout the midwest, including
the Canadian Prairies and including Drumheller. Even people who didn’t farm were hit hard: people were poor, and couldn’t afford to pay for blacksmithing services either. By the end of the decade, Nana’s husband had left, and Nana and Mom moved into Calgary together. Nana’s parents had also moved to Drumheller from England, and after Nana’s Dad passed away, her Mom, my Great-Grandma Fooks lived in the same house with Nana and Mom. Three generations of strong women, making a go of it by themselves in the 1940’s, when it was a man’s world.
Nana eventually remarried, and along came my Aunt Irene.
Irene was 11 when I was born, and we were more like sisters than aunt and niece. When I got old enough, sometimes I would go to stay with Nana and Irene on a weekend, and we would walk down the 14th street hill to go to the Bay, or the Five and Dime store. One of the stories that Irene likes to tell about that time is this:
When I was young, I had trouble saying Irene, so I called her “Reeny”. One time, when I was about five, Irene and I were in the Five and Dime, and I lost sight of her. In a panic, thinking I was lost, I started yelling “Reeny!”, “Reeny!” Apparently it sounded like “weenie”, and Irene was mortified. I couldn’t understand why Irene seemed so mad at me, and Nana was laughing so hard. Shortly after that, my Mom explained it to me, and I, being the brat that I was, started calling Irene weenie, or wiener all the time. 😉 She eventually accepted her new name with good grace, and when my own kids were born, she was Auntie Weiner to them too. Irene is also a wonderful cook, and some of the recipes in this collection come from Auntie Weiner.
This history wouldn’t be complete without a bit about myself and the next generation of good cooks, my daughters. I learned how to cook on the fly, with lots of my Mom’s guidance and advice. I always enjoyed cooking, and like my Mom, I especially enjoy baking. While my kids didn’t always appreciated my efforts to introduce something different to their palettes, they always loved the baking. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, since my grandkids love it too! I made sure to teach all of my children (including my son) how to cook, at least the basics, so that they could fend for themselves without having to turn to KD and packaged soup noodles (not that those are bad, but like bread, man or woman cannot live on that alone). Having all the women in the kitchen is a common sight in our small family. When Nana got older, she was content to leave the preparation to the younger women, and when my Mom got older, she did the same, although she still liked to sit at the table in the kitchen so she could be a part of the conversation. Now with my Mom and my Nana both gone, it is just myself and my two girls. I have one granddaughter, so I think it could be time to get the next generation in there with us! And so the tradition continues.