gardening / The Canadian Food Experience Project

Memories of my tastebuds standing up on end – my first authentic Canadian food memories

Picture by Lesli Christianson-Kellow

I am a culmination of several European backgrounds, including Ukrainian. Of course, this means I grew up noshing on all things doughy – perogies, nalishniky, putashke. For part of my childhood I resembled a little dough girl – press my tummy and I would giggle.

Once I got older I scaled back on the dough. (But, never eliminated it, it is afterall in my DNA to require a dose of dough occasionally).

Some foods I merely need to think about and instantly my mind recalls in minute detail the distinct flavours. Sort of like the restaurant critic in the movie Ratatouille when he is served the peasant version of ratatouille from his own childhood. (He has a flashback to his youth when he is crying, his mom soothes him with a serving of ratatouille and all is well in his world once again).

Anyway, my Ukrainian grandma married my Ukrainian grandfather in her mid-teens and never worked outside the home. Can you imagine? No, you cannot, I cannot. We`re talking almost 65 years of cooking, cleaning, gardening and everything else that comes along with that lifestyle.

My grandparents settled in Smoky Lake in town and then later moved a few miles from town onto an acreage.

My grandma was not always happy in her role, but she perfected the art of being a housewife. And she was the kind of cook that would use the freshest farm (or forest) to table ingredients, create a meal with what was available and do it all without complaining.

If she were alive today my grandma would have been way ahead of the food trends that are only just starting to become mainstream. She would blow all the chefs away on Top Chef Canada and she would put all the 100-mile ingredient followers to shame by cooking with ingredients foraged and traded within a 5-mile radius.

Summers spent with my grandparents on their acreage, gave me an education in gardening and food foraging that I took for granted. Early mornings were spent wild blueberry picking in forests surrounding one of the many lakes around Smoky Lake. If we weren`t looking for wild blueberries then we were scouring the bottom of the forest floor for wild  mushrooms.

Picture by Lesli Christianson-Kellow

As part of dinner preparation, my grandma would take me out to her oversize vegetable garden to pick what we needed for supper – depending on the day there`d be broad beans or swiss chard, maybe cauliflower.

To this day, there is something absolutely ‘Grandma`s garden’ about the sweetness of freshly shelled peas…and the sharp, earthy smell of garden cucumbers. I used to just pull them off the vine and munch away while watching Shetland ponies nip at each other in the pasture.

And the tomatoes! I think of my grandma’s abundant garden when biting into garden ripened tomato, warm from sitting in the sun. Instantly, I am a 8-year-old little girl, sitting on an overturned galvanized bucket watching my grandma work in her garden. Biting into tomatoes that my grandma harvested moments before; as my teeth broke through the tomato’s tender skin my tastebuds would stand up on end. Little did I know that those joyful moments among the wild blueberries and cucumbers would last a lifetime.

The Canadian Food Experience Project began June 7 2013. As we (participants) 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.


8 thoughts on “Memories of my tastebuds standing up on end – my first authentic Canadian food memories

  1. Pingback: The Canadian Food Project: Round Up One

  2. What a fantastic post!

    My grandparent were just up the highway from yours, we all hail from Redwater.

    Love your comment “Grandmas Garden” and instantly thought of both my Baba and Grandma’s gardens. From my Baba’s it is beets and broad beans. From my grandma’s it was crabapples and tomatoes!

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