arrow-right cart chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up close menu minus play plus search share user email pinterest facebook instagram snapchat tumblr twitter vimeo youtube subscribe dogecoin dwolla forbrugsforeningen litecoin amazon_payments american_express bitcoin cirrus discover fancy interac jcb master paypal stripe visa diners_club dankort maestro trash

FEATURE

Following the Trail to Culinary History

Darrell Reimer

Following the Trail to Culinary History | Darrell Reimer

Recipe photo courtesy TrellisEnt. Author photo courtesy Darrell Reimer

DARRELL REIMER reads, writes, and gardens with his family in the Township of Brock, ON.

With the seasonal drop in temperature comes shifts in appetite and palate. Winter comfort foods seem to require more dairy products than we generally consume during the warmer weather—macaroni and cheese is a family favourite, as is tapioca pudding.

Neither of these dishes is particularly complicated, and I have made both so many times the activity is reflexive. Macaroni and cheese is a relatively recent addition to my familys cookbook—the only M&C I knew as a child came out of a cardboard box. Tapioca pudding from scratch, on the other hand, was the first dish I ever made as a child, thanks to my grandmother.

Oma’s was not at all the “instant” variety found on store shelves. Instead of a littering of tapioca fragments suspended in a viscous gelatin-petroleum ooze, she served up hot, creamy pudding with marble-size beads of squishy tapioca—“fish eyes,” we called ’em. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, the pudding got a Meh from my parents, who seemed grateful to see it recede from childhood memory. Perhaps the “fish eyes” were the problem, though I find that hard to believe given how they accepted without complaint the Mennonite maxim to leave no part of the pig uncooked.

Regardless, I loved tapioca pudding from the first spoonful, and asked my Oma to show me how it was made. Surprised, she said she’d be happy to do it but the lesson would have to wait for my next overnight visit, since the tapioca required a lengthy soaking. Arrangements were made, and at the tender age of eleven I learned the mysterious art of cooking tapioca pudding from scratch.

The broad strokes of the matter have me musing. A Russian-Mennonite Oma on the Canadian prairies cooks tapioca pudding. How’d this happen?

The pudding is a favourite I’ve managed to pass along to my own kids: I remember when my (then) four-year-old polished off her first bowl and announced, “Wow, that’s really fill-some!” Fifteen winters later, I’m now soaking tapioca “fish eyes” at the request of my fresh-from-college daughters. However, if you thought finding tapioca beads in my predominantly-settled-by-British-folk neighbourhood is easy, you’d be wrong. The Guardian deemed tapioca “Britain’s most-hated school pudding,” an attitude that seems to have crossed the pond. After driving in an ever-expanding perimeter in search of the beads, I finally made a beeline for the nearest Asian supermarket in north Toronto, where they stock a variety in abundance.

The broad strokes of the matter have me musing. A Russian-Mennonite Oma on the Canadian prairies cooks tapioca pudding. How’d this happen? I never asked her where she was introduced to it, but I imagine my Oma likely spotted a recipe in the local newspaper and took a bag of the stuff home from the grocery store when it was priced to clear. Canadian newspapers in the 1940s were financed and staffed by people of colonial bent—immigrating Russian-Mennonites were the beneficiaries of the same. And ethnic diets were subtly altered forevermore.

There is considerable historical data to be mined from these sorts of experiences. Indeed, that is (forgive me) the bread-and-butter of the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC), whose Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge has gathered a remarkable array of diverse recipes, stories, and personal histories from all over Canada.

“The Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge seemed like an obvious way to embrace voices from across the country, to share food stories, and to celebrate this country’s diverse culinary heritage.”

In an e-mail conversation with Co-Chair of the Communications Committee, Sarah Hood, I asked about the challenges particular to the CHC. “We hold talks, cooking classes, tours, and other events across Southern Ontario, but we can’t reach everyone in person. We are hoping to develop chapters across Canada to make it easier for people to meet in person and share Canada’s fascinating food history.

“The Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge seemed like an obvious way to embrace voices from across the country, to share food stories, and to celebrate this country’s diverse culinary heritage.”

CHC invited food bloggers to participate in the challenge, and posted a topic every month of 2017. The result: 27 bloggers posted almost 100 articles exploring Canada’s culinary history. It’s a venerable treasure trove, so head over there and take a look. The winners were just announced. Besides learning a thing or two about a favourite dish, you just might be inspired to do a little digging and write your own story about a beloved family recipe.

Old-Fashioned Tapioca Pudding

My Oma never measured out her recipe, alas, but this is how we make it around my house. Remember: You need to get the tapioca pearls soaking the night before you want to enjoy it.

Yield

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

½ cup pearl tapioca

1½ cups whipping (35%) cream

1½ cups milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean

½ cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

2 egg yolks

Ground cinnamon, for serving (optional)

Method

  1. Place tapioca pearls in a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Cover and set aside at room temperature to soak overnight.
  2. Using a fine-mesh sieve, thoroughly rinse and drain soaked tapioca. Transfer to a heavy-bottomed pot.
  3. Add cream, milk, and vanilla, stir well, and place over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring often.
  4. Stir in sugar and salt. Return mixture to a simmer, stirring often to ensure the tapioca doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks. Add about 2 tablespoons of the tapioca mixture to the yolks and stir well (this is called “tempering” the eggs). Gradually add egg mixture to the pot and stir until well combined.
  6. Remove pot from the heat and transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Enjoy tapioca warm or cold, sprinkled with cinnamon, if desired.

DARRELL REIMER reads, writes, and gardens with his family in the Township of Brock, ON.

Shopping Cart