The Canadian Food Experience Project – Memories

The other day I was browsing through a few of Twitter’s recommendations for people to follow, and I came upon a fellow Canadian Foodblogger, @Redawna . I clicked through to her blog Nutmeg Disrupted, and was immediately drawn into the first post that showed up – “The Canadian Food Experience Project”.

What a great post! It brought me back to my childhood in Winnipeg, which – like the author’s hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta – also has a large Ukrainian community. The fact that I’m Irish Canadian (without a drop of Ukrainian in me!) In NO way slowed my access to – or love for – all of the wonderful Ukrainian foods around me. (MMMMm PEROGIES!) More on that in a bit…

I decided to look for more information on this project… partially out of my love for the food of my homeland, and partially because I’m in the throes of a particularly bad bout of homesickness, and I get a bit masochistic when that happens, LOL!

The Canadian Food Experience Project began on June 7 2013. Per the project:

“As we share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us.”

Love it… so I did. (Join them, that is!)

This month’s topic is “My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory”.

This was a difficult one for me. They say “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”, but I’ve been realizing that when it comes to Canadian food… it’s more like “you don’t know what you’ve got til YOU’RE gone”.

So much of what I grew up on, I assumed to be what everyone eats… not necessarily seeing it as particularly Canadian. I never would have guessed that my husband – who was born and raised in Minneapolis, just an 8 hour drive from my hometown – would never have been exposed to much of the staples of our local cuisine in Winnipeg.

So, when it comes to pinpointing my first authentic Canadian food memory, it’s a bit difficult. Is it the Honey Dill Dip that was so ubiquitous in Winnipeg (but was almost unheard of anywhere else in Canada!)? The Cretons I was exposed to when visiting my father in Quebec? The French Canadian Pea Soup that was always a highlight of the Festival Du Voyageur festivities every February?

What about the Tiger Tail Ice Cream that we only ever seemed to be able to get when visiting our great aunt in Ottawa? Maybe the Nanaimo Bars that were always served at the holidays?

I would have to say that – much like Nutmeg Disrupted – my first authentically Canadian food memory was actually Ukrainian!

We spent a lot of time – and pretty much every holiday – at my grandmother’s house. Easter was extra special for me, as my grandmother’s next door neighbour was a sweet little old Ukrainian lady who would ply us with her special Ukrainian Easter Bread. Every year, without fail, she would produce these cylindrical loaves of bread (made in coffee cans). They wouldn’t look like much to someone who wasn’t familiar with them, but we knew better.

Yes, we knew that those plain looking loaves of bread were sweet, tender, moist, and full of citrussy flavor. Really more of a dessert than a bread… and we would plow through it with wild abandon.

A few years ago, I asked my grandmother to get the recipe from Mary. It’s always interesting when you’re trying to get a recipe through a game of telephone – especially when the first two passes are through old ladies 🙂 As is usual with my family, the recipe came as more of a formula – no instructions… and I adapted it a little (increased the flour, increased the zest, changed lard to butter, ditched the coffee can in favor of the traditional decorated style), and figured out what the directions would be.

I prefer this bread served warm, either fresh out of the oven or microwaved. It’s a very tender, moist bread, so be sure to keep it from drying out. Also, it makes a TON of bread, so be prepared to make some friends VERY happy. Also: this makes AMAZING French toast: Add a little vanilla, orange zest, and a splash of OJ to the custard… MMMmmm…

Paska Bread
(Adapted from Mary Morin’s Recipe)

1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 packets active dry yeast (4.5 tsp)
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 eggs, beaten
Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
Zest of 1-2 lemons and 1-2 oranges
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups scalded milk, cooled
~12+ cups all purpose flour, divided
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp water

Stir sugar into warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top of sugar water, gently incorporate. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly.

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, continue to cream until well incorporated and fluffy once more.

Add juices, zest, and salt to the mixture, mix until combined. Add scalded milk, continue to mix until well incorporated and smooth. Add 4 cups of flour, combine well. Add yeast mixture, mix until well incorporated.

If you have a dough hook attachment for your mixer, affix it now.

Slowly add remaining flour until a good, coherent bread dough comes together. It should be only very slightly sticky to the touch – not super sticky, and not really DRY.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for a few minutes. Dough should be smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky when it’s been kneaded enough.

Put dough into a lightly greased bowl or pot, cover top with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Once doubled, beat down the middle of the dough and allow to rise another hour.

Now here’s the fun part. Reserve about 1/3 of the dough for decorations, and divide remaining dough out among the pans you’ll be using (grease them first!). For reference, we used a 9″ round pyrex pot, a large loaf pan, and 3 mini loaf pans to bake ONE batch of this. It makes a *LOT* of bread… this is a good thing!

For the main body of your breads, you’ll want the dough to fill about 1/3 of each baking pan – they’ll rise like crazy. Halfway full if you’re adventurous, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Cover loosely pans and reserved 1/3 dough loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 30 mins.

Once your 30 minutes are up, use the reserved dough to make designs on the top of each loaf. Braids, twists, curls, crosses and rosettes are popular/traditional, but have fun with it. (Google can be a great source of design inspiration.) Toothpicks can be used to help secure designs in place until after baking. Cover loosely with plastic, allow to rise one last time, 30 minutes.

While your dough is rising, whisk together the remaining egg yolks and water to create an egg wash. This glaze will give your finished Paska a shiny, dark brown finish. Beautiful!

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Once final rise is finished, brush entire top of each loaf with egg wash. Bake loaves for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven door, lower the heat to 325°F and continue to bake for another 40 minutes.

Cool Paska for 10-15 minutes (if you can handle the wait), then gently remove from pans and tranfer to a wire rack or wooden cutting board to continue cooling.

I recommend wrapping and hiding a loaf or two, before cutting into any of them. If you’re planning to bring them somewhere, or share with ANYONE, this step is kind of essential.

Cut into one of your warm loaves, slather with butter, and … don’t plan on going anywhere for awhile. It’s easy to plow through a ton of this, and it will give you a bread coma. SO WORTH IT.

This is even great the next day, reheated with butter. Yum.

PS: I am glad that I double checked Mary’s last name for this post. For some reason, I originally typed “Mallon” instead of “Morin”. Mary Mallon. Yes. How’s that for a food blog screw up? Typhoid Fever is the new Truffle Oil?

With 2017 being Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s about time I wrote the Canadian cookbook I’ve been planning for YEARS.

“More than Poutine” will be a Canadian cookbook like no other – written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional homecooking recipes, as well as homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada!

High quality gluten-free versions of most recipes will be included.

The Kickstarter for “More Than Poutine is live, here. Please consider backing, and sharing the campaign with your friends!

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5 thoughts on “The Canadian Food Experience Project – Memories

  1. Marie!
    What a great read. You certainly have a handle on a lot more regional Canadian dishes than I, and I can see this is going to be a fun year. Kudos to you for finishing the recipe and creating such beautiful bread. Love your green Irish hair. I, too, have Irish heritage and was once known – long ago – as Skinny McKinney!

    1. Just wait til I get into the Newfoundland food posts 🙂 I may be Manitoban born and Raised, but my formative adult years in St John’s? Newfoundland is where my heart (and stomach!) is!

  2. I am so glad you enjoyed my first post for The Canadian Food Experience Project!

    Your Paska looks fantastic!

    It brings back wonderful memories to my younger days. Though I don’t remember eating much of it. My auntie would make many loaves of it and it was always used in the welcome dance of our Ukrainian dancing concerts.

    I am going to dig out my Ukrainian cookbook and see what those Paska recipes are like. I think I may have to do some baking!

    What a wonderful post. Welcome to the Project, I look forward to following your journey.

  3. What a wonderful story Marie! I have heard of Paska bread before but never made it or tasted it. Your loaves look amazing. Thank your for sharing your recipe. I will definitely add it to my to do list of recipes.

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