Eatin On The Cheap: 1877 to Today…

March 6th, 2017

When Leanne Brown moved to New York from Edmonton to earn her master’s degree in food studies she couldn’t help but notice that Americans on a tight budget ate a lot of processed foods.

There’s been a long standing concern within the health community for those below the poverty line. Due to their circumstances, the poor take in a large percentage of their total calories in the form of low quality, highly processed foods.

“It really bothered me,” she says. “The 47 million people on food stamps [SNAP] – and that’s a big chunk of the population – don’t have the same choices everyone else does.”

The U.S. food stamp program, SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, only provides a budget of $4 a day. Leanne Brown decided to combine her master’s degree work with her passion for helping those on SNAP and wrote a cookbook filled with recipes that budgeted for their $4 allowance.

The result, Good and Cheap, is free online and has been downloaded over 1,000,000 times. A Kickstarter campaign in 2014 raised $145,000 for a print copy. The cookbook is available for purchase on Leanne’s website and she donates a copy each time someone buys it. More than 70,000 copies of the printed book have been sold.

Her book is simple and practical. Her recipes allow for endless variations and substitutions. They are also primarily vegetarian, a way to afford nutritious and flavourful food on $4 a day. Most importantly the book does not come off as either preachy or condescending. It admits to not being perfect.

Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food. This cookbook is a celebration of the many delicious meals available to those on even the most strict of budgets.  

There are several practical tips such as:

  1. Buy in Bulk: Buying larger amounts usually brings the price down. When you’re working within a tight budget, you won’t always be able to afford to shop for the future, but do it when you can.
  2. Start Building a Pantry: If possible—and admittedly this can be difficult for people living on their own—reserve part of your budget to buy one or two semi-expensive pantry items each week. Things like olive oil, soy sauce, and spices are pricey at first, but if you use just a little with each recipe, they go a long way.
  3. Think Weekly: Each week, mix things up by buying different varieties of staple foods like grains and beans.
  4. Think Seasonally: During their local growing season, fruits and vegetables are generally cheaper and definitely tastier than outside of season.
  5. More Vegetables Means More Flavour: Nothing livens up a bowl of rice like summer squash and corn! Vegetables make the best sauces: they’re earthy, bright, tart, sweet, bitter, savory, rich.
  6. Always Buy Eggs: With these babies in your fridge, you’re only minutes away from a satisfying meal.
  7. Make Your Own Broth And Stock: In almost any savory recipe that calls for water, homemade broth or stock would be better. To make broth, start by saving any vegetable bits that you chop off and would normally throw away, like onion tops, the seedy parts of peppers, and the ends of carrots. Store them in the freezer until you have a few cups, then cover them with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for a few hours.

New York seems to have a long tradition of innovative cookbook authors focused on helping the poor. Leanne Brown certainly wasn’t the first. Julia Corson, predates her by almost a century and a half.

Julia Corson was born in Boston in 1841 and opened the Free Training School For Women, at the age of thirty-three. Before this, she didn’t know how to cook. She hired  a French chef, thought to have been the celebrated Pierre Blot to run it. Two years later she had moved to Manhattan and started giving cooking classes out of her home. She called her classes the New York Cooking School and had over a thousand students a year.

There was always an air of social conscience in everything she did. She tried to make her cooking classes affordable for everyone. For her rich students she charged enormous fees, for the middle class a nickel a lesson and the poor could attend for free.

During the Long Depression of 1873 to 1879 New York’s economy declined dramatically. This was especially felt by the poor. In response, Julia Corson published a series of pamphlets including Fifteen Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families and How Can We LIve If We Are Moderately Poor. The following except are from Fifteen Cent Dinners.

This little book may not be a welcome guest in the home of the man who fares abundantly every day; it is not written for him; but to the working man, who wants to make the best of his wages, I pray it may bring help and comfort.

It is the similarities and the differences that are most interesting between Leanne Brown and Julia Corson’s works. The practical advice on saving is very similar, the tips used of buying in bulk and preparing versus buying have remained the same.

 

To the Wives of Workingmen :

In planning how to make the wages of the working man provide his family with the necessaries of life, the first point to be considered is the daily supply of food. If this little book shows the laborer’s wife how to feed her husband and children upon one half, or one third, or even, in times of great distress, upon the whole of his scanty wages, its object will be accomplished.

The cheapest kinds of food are sometimes the most wholesome and strengthening; but in order to obtain all their best qualities we must know how to choose them for their freshness, goodness, and suitability to our needs. That done, we must see how to cook them, so as to make savory and nutritious meals instead of tasteless or sodden messes, the eating whereof sends the man to the liquor shop for consolation.

The food most generally in use among the masses is just that which meets their requirements. No hungry man will spend money for what he knows will not satisfy his appetite. For that reason the receipts given in this book treat of the articles in common use among the working classes, with the exception of lentils and macaroni, which are foods that I earnestly beg them to try. In meals made up of bacon, potatoes, and bread, of corned beef and cabbage, and of pork and beans, there exists an equal and sufficient amount of nourishment; but if other dishes are added to these, the variety will result in better general health and contentment.

In matters of diet variety is not only the spice of life; it is the necessity.

What is different is the shift in ingredients as America’s palate and affordability has changed. Julia Corson relies far more heavily on suet and pork fat while Brown’s recipes are primarily vegetarian. Brown’s work still reflects a generally high percentage of calories deriving from carbohydrates while Corson’s recipes are proportionally high in fat.

With the war on wheat and gluten Corson’s words are particularly poignant today. In describing macaroni, a then unfamiliar pasta she says, ‘This is a paste made from the purest wheat flour and water; it is generally known as a rather luxurious dish among the wealthy; but it should become one of the chief foods of the people, for it contains more gluten, or the nutritious portion of wheat, than bread.’

Corson, like Brown, provides the cost per meal allowing for families to plan and budget their meals. Where Brown relies on vegetarian dishes, Corson relies on second and third cuts of meats, a way to get animal protein while still being affordable. She describes in detail what people should be looking for, for each type of meat:

  1. Beef: The second quality of beef has rather whitish fat, laid moderately thick upon the back, and about the kidneys; the flesh is close-grained, having but few streaks of fat running through it, and is of a pale red color, and covered with a rough, yellowish skin.
  2. Mutton: The flesh of the second quality of mutton is dark red and close-grained, with very few threads of fat running through it: the fat is rather soft, and is laid thin on the back and kidneys, closely adhering to them.

  3. Pork: The second quality of pork has rather hard, red flesh, and yellowish fat. The poorest kind has dark, coarse grained meat, soft fat, and discoloured kidneys. The flesh of stale pork is moist and clammy, and its smell betrays its condition.

  4. Fish: Although fish contains more water and less solid nutriment than meat, it is generally useful from its abundance and cheapness; and certain kinds which are called red-blooded, such as salmon and sturgeon, are nearly as nourishing as fresh meat: oily fish, such as eels, mackerel, and herring, satisfy hunger as completely as meat; herring especially, makes the people who eat it largely strong and sinewy. Sea fish are more nourishing than fresh water varieties. Fresh fish have firm flesh, rigid fins, bright, clear eyes, and ruddy gills.

 

The similarities between the two are endless. Both recommend buying in bulk to save money, offering similar advice:

“When it is possible buy your vegetables by the quantity, from the farmers, or market-gardeners, or at the market you will save more than half. Potatoes now cost at Washington Market from one to one dollar and a half a barrel; there are three bushels in a barrel, and thirty-two quarts in a bushel; now at the groceries you pay fifteen cents a half peck, or four cents a quart; that makes your barrel of potatoes cost you three dollars and sixty-three cents, if you buy half a peck at a time; or three dollars and eighty-four cents if you buy by the quart. So you see if you could buy a barrel at once you could save more than one half of your money. It is worthwhile to try and save enough to do it.” Recommends Corson.

Brown has similar advice, though she doesn’t follow it up with a practical example. “Buying larger amounts usually brings the price down. When you’re working within a tight budget, you won’t always be able to afford to shop for the future, but do it when you can.”

The same can be said for baking bread. Brown has a number of recipes for homemade pasta, pizza dough, tortillas and rotis. Flour itself is cheap, while buying baked goods at the grocery store becomes prohibitively expensive. Or, as Corson puts it, “Homemade bread is healthier, satisfies hunger better, and is cheaper than baker’s bread.”

At the basis of both these women’s works is forward planning and practicality. Using leftovers to create new meals, buying in bulk, and planning ahead. Even reusing ingredients to create new things. Effectively using bones or vegetable peels to create flavourful stocks to be added to dishes later in the week.

Brown includes ten suggestions for turning her recipes into exciting leftovers. “Leftovers are convenient, but can seem unappealing, limp, and cold after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. That’s why the sandwich, the wrap, and the taco are your friend. Here are just a few ideas for how to give leftovers a makeover very quickly for a whole new meal!”

This may best sum up Corson’s ethos, “In estimating the cost of these receipts I have naturally supposed that the family consists of father, mother, and children of different ages, and not of six adults; for them the quantities given would, of course, be insufficient. I allow a meat dinner every day; but in order to have this the meat itself must generally be used one day, with bread or vegetables, and the next day the breakfast must be the broth or juice of the meat, which, if prepared according to my directions, will afford equal nourishment.”

These practical guides attempted to address a problem, that though extremely severe, most people simply are unaware of. Most of us don’t worry where our next meal is going to come from, whether we will be able to afford healthy ingredients, or if we have to choose between paying for a doctor’s visit or putting food in front of our children.

Both Good and Cheap and Fifteen Cent Dinner for Workingmen’s Families are grim reminders of how many people lived and continue to live today.

 

SAVE THE DATE  April 2, 2017 (10 – 4) for Planting Slow Food’s Future: A public engagement session to envision a strong future for our local food movement

March 4th, 2017

Ten Years In…

Slow Food Nova Scotia had its 10th anniversary in 2016. (yay!) Slow Food fights for good, clean, fair food for all – locally and globally. We get together to celebrate and enjoy amazing food, to strengthen our local food culture, to learn where our food comes from, to share skills, and to celebrate the traditions and cultural heritage behind them.

Ten years in, we feel it is time for diving deep and re-visioning the movement: What do we want the local food movement to look like? How can Slow Food best support this? What do we want Slow Food to offer as an organization? What do you want Slow Food to do – for the community and for its members?

We have questions, and we want to hear answers from you: farmers, fishers, chefs, home cooks, eaters, jam makers, pie bakers, beer brewers, educators, organizers. Slow Food member or not – if you are interested in continuing to build a strong movement that promotes and delivers Good, Clean, and Fair food for all, please join us for this day.

Let us know you are coming (so we can have enough chairs and food). We’ve posted a sign-up form here. Please let us know if you are coming and if you have any dietary restrictions.

Please pass this invitation on to others who might be interested.

Anne Stieger, professional facilitator, will be guiding us through a session where we will share inspiring experiences, envision a strong future for the movement, and create an action plan to get there.

You can learn more about Anne & her work here.

 

When & Where?

April 2, 10–4 pm

Bishop Hall

10032 Highway #1 (just off Hwy 101, Exit 11)

Greenwich, NS  B4P 2R2

(Annapolis Valley)

Sign-up Now!
Food
Slow Food board members will be providing a yummy Slow lunch, and we encourage all guests to bring a little something to share. If you want to turn this into a Valley weekend, get in touch for hotel and billeting options.

 

Allergies & Dietary Needs

We will do our best to accommodate dietary needs if you specify in the registration form.

We hope to see you there!
The Directors of Slow Food Mainland South & Slow Food Youth Convivia in Nova Scotia:


Dave Adler, Leo Christakos, Stacy Corkum, Duncan Ebata, Sean Gallagher, Michael Howell, Doug Linzey, Teresa Rooney,  Av Singh, Lucia Stephen, Sheila Stevenson, Anne Stieger, Chris Velden, Scott Whitelaw

Brooklyn Warehouse – Ten Years In The Making

March 3rd, 2017

I had an opportunity to sit with Leo Christakos, long time board member of Slow Food Nova Scotia and talk to him about his restaurants, the local food community, and food policy.

It’s a long article (sorry), we spoke for over two and a half hours.

Act 1: The Backstory and Beginnings

Since its opening a decade ago, Brooklyn Warehouse has continuously been ranked one of the best restaurants in Halifax. It’s the brainchild of the father and son team Leo and George Christakos. Since then they’ve opened another two restaurants: Ace Burger and Battery Park Beerbar & Eatery, to rave reviews.

To say it’s in their blood would be an understatement; it’s really a major part of their family story or ethos. George will be the third generation to work in the restaurant business.

It all began when Leo’s parents arrived from Greece in 1956; that’s why there’s a reference to “1956” everywhere in their shops. Leo’s father; known as “Mr. George” and George’s namesake, had worked as a waiter in Greece and quickly found similar work in Canada. Within a year in Canada, he’d opened his first restaurant. By 1977, when he retired, he had opened three, along with helping other family members do the same. It’s the classic immigrant tale.

Leo can still remember, as a kid back in the ’60s, peeling potatoes in the back room, and later still; when his dad switched from farm potatoes to something new and very convenient, McCain’s wholesale frozen fries. Up to that point they were hand-cut, but to save time and money he switched; it was simply more affordable. In a twist of irony; Ace Burger has won “Best Fries” year after year, for their daily hand-cut fries.

For a while, Leo got out of the food business, studied graphic arts at NSCAD, and later went on to open Blowers Street PaperChase; a newsstand in 1986, with his brother-in-law, which they eventually expanded into a popular downtown cafe. Around 2003, Leo decided to get out of self-employment and work for someone else for a while; which didn’t last long; he soon had the itch to be his own boss again.

George (right) and Leo (left)

At about this time, George was attending engineering school and had just landed a manager’s position with the newly revamped Armview Restaurant, after working at Opa! Greek Cuisine as a waiter and studying for his sommelier creds. He wanted the same thing as his dad – his own restaurant; to be his own boss.

They decided on a family road trip to Brooklyn, NY, that they would partner-up and make it happen; and in 2007 they opened the Brooklyn Warehouse at the corner of Almon and Windsor.

At the time, it wasn’t where you would expect to find one of the best restaurants in Halifax. It was a risk, for sure, being off the beaten track, some distance from downtown and no other casual dining rooms nearby. But it thrived. Named the Coast’s Best New Restaurant in 2008, it has continuously been ranked in the top three restaurants in one category or another ever since; raking up over 60 awards to date, along with other regional and national awards – like Taste of Nova Scotia’s Prestige Award and Gold Medal Plates.

What is it like running a father and son family business? According to Leo; “Tough. Good. Great! I’m full of big ideas; I get an idea and I want to run with it. George is more methodical; he says, “hold on, Leo” – he puts numbers to the idea, comes up with a plan. He executes with style!”

It’s all about execution.

Act 2: The Burger

Ace Burger

Four years into Brooklyn Warehouse, Leo and George wanted to do something different; something cool and simple. They wanted to do a pop-up restaurant over a weekend. They built the idea around one of their most popular menu items at Windsor Street; the Brooklyn Burger. The idea was to run a quintessential burger joint for three days in someone else’s kitchen! The venerable Gus’s Pub, located on the corner of Agricola and North, was looking to outsource their kitchen. Dimo, the pub’s owner, good friends with Leo, just happened to mention this during a camping trip together. That was it! George and Leo decided this would be their pop-up location, and the rest is history.

From their website:

Ace is literally a business inside a business; started as a popup and due to popular demand was invited to come back and take over Gus’ kitchen permanently. Ace Burger is based on the classic burger joints of the 40’s and 50’s; made popular with tasty, simple, handcrafted eats from local ingredients; farm to table cooking.

Some may not have noticed, but Ace has a seasonal menu. It changes some items based on what’s available from here throughout the year. Leo says, “We don’t use tomatoes at Ace at all, because they still typically come from somewhere else year-round. We might preserve sun-dried tomatoes in the fall, or prepare homemade ketchups and other preserves when tomatoes from here are available, but there are no tomato slices on hand as a regular condiment; typical for other burger shops. This raises an eyebrow or two from customers; but that’s a good thing – it makes people think!”

“I remember shopping at a supermarket one day, and there were these funny-coloured tomatoes.” Leo pretends to pick one up, turning it left and right. “It was so dark-red, and hard as a rock. I looked at the sticker to see where it was from and it said Israel. Israel! It’s summertime and we’re importing tomatoes from across the world.”

Leo told me, “There’s a map of NYC framed at Ace Burger, with thirty-eight pins on it. We went to thirty-eight restaurants there before opening Ace. Not only New York though; we also went to Toronto and Montreal. The trips weren’t just about burgers, though. We wanted to see what was working in these towns. We spent most of our time avoiding the tourist areas and went into neighbourhoods like Williamsburg and Red Hook, Boerum Hill, Park Slope – where people lived. In Toronto; the College Street area, the Junction, Trinity/Bellwoods. When in Montreal, we got away from Rue Ste-Catherine and checked out the Plateau, Mile End, and Little Burgundy.”

“In New York we found this burger joint in a hotel lobby. You walked down this hallway and the restaurant was hidden behind these heavy black curtains. On the outside it was like every other hotel lobby, quiet and proper. On the inside, behind those curtains, it was crazy busy. The place was packed. All they were serving were burgers, fries, sodas, and shakes. That’s what we wanted to do.”

“The same thing happened in Toronto. We came across this hole-in-the-wall place on King Street, now called Big Smoke Burger. It was this tiny space, maybe 500–600 square feet, but it was packed and had a line out the door. Small, simple, straightforward menu with combos and local, hand-crafted pop . . . that’s all.”

Act 3: The Beer and The Bar

For a while Leo and George had been eyeing Dartmouth. But the perfect opportunity just never came along. Zane Kelsall offered them the second floor of Two If By Sea (which eventually became Renee Lavallee’s, “The Canteen”). They just couldn’t see the space working for what they had in mind.

Instead, they decided to put their resources into adding a four-season patio onto Brooklyn Warehouse, doubling their seating. Just after breaking ground on the patio space in 2010, the owners of Nectar Restaurant in Dartmouth, called. “They wanted to move on and offered us their space. We were just too tight financially and time-wise to do anything right then: we asked them to keep us in mind if they didn’t find someone else. They kept calling every year after, seeing if we were ready, or still interested.”

While running Ace Burger, Leo and George got to know Peter Burbridge from North Brewing Company just down the street. Peter convinced Gus’s Pub to stock his beer, eventually brewing their own Gus’s 65m, a Belgian blonde. Not long after, Peter approached Leo and George. “He wanted to open a second retail location in Dartmouth and wanted to know if we were interested in partnering up with a food element. George and I looked at him and said, ‘Well, don’t we have the perfect location for you.’’’

“Battery Park had some unique challenges from the get-go. After opening, we kept hearing, “why do you open at 2 pm and not for lunch?”, and  “why are you closed on Tuesdays; what’s up with that?” We have good reasons for what we do; from the beginning we wanted to complement the other businesses in the area, not compete. We told Zane and Renee that we were opening a new restaurant next door and let them know we wanted to help grow the area; we didn’t want to take away from what they were doing. We wanted it to be collaborative. We wanted to be a part of the community they built, not disrupt it.” So, we eased our way into the neighbourhood; into their marketplace.

And it’s worked.

 

Food For Thought

“There needs to be a shift from the way these strict regulations are interpreted and applied; put trust back to the small scale producers. We take responsibility for everything that comes out of our kitchen, it’s on me to make sure it’s safe.”
That’s what Slow Food is all about. Good. Clean. Fair.

Was It Through Poetry or Food That Italy was United?

February 23rd, 2017

Though the process was begun in 1815, Italy wasn’t the nation state that we think of today until 1871. That’s rather a short history as a country. Prior to that it was a collection of city states, with their own rulers. Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice were all in essence their own countries. And because of this they all spoke their own languages. There was no guarantee that an Italian from Florence could understand someone from Milan.

In 1861, only 3% of Italians were able to speak standardized Italian.

Even with the fall of the Roman Empire, people on the Italian Peninsula still spoke Latin. Over time the language began to evolve and change. Out of this change emerged ‘Vulgar Latin’ the seedling that would become Italian. It was ‘vulgar’ because it was spoken by the ‘Volgo’ the poor and uneducated portion of the population.

The popularity of Vulgar Latin spread eventually transitioning from a spoken language to a written one as well. The earliest texts of what we would now call Italian were written between 960 and 963 C.E. and were legal formulae known as the Placiti Cassinesi.

The Italian language adopted by the state after unification was based on Tuscan, which was the language spoken mostly by upper-class Florentines. Though this story has its routes in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

Dante's Inferno

The nine layers of hell

Linguist Tullio De Mauro has pointed out that in the 1300s, 60% of the essential or basic vocabulary of Italian – the two thousand or so words we use most often- were already in common use. But Dante Alighieri decided to write the Divine Comedy in Italian and not Latin. Dante’s work left us with the a lexicon that included 90% of the basic vocabulary of what we think of as Italian today.

This is one view on the origin of modern Italian. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in Florence where the language spoken was Tuscan. Tuscan was the language of the aristocracy. When Italy unified Tuscan was chosen as the official language of the state and so eventually became the official language spoken by everyone. Case closed.

Or is it?  

There is a fascinating counter-story. It happened a little after the Italian unification. Pellegrino Artusi was an author and tried to get his cookbook of recipes published, but couldn’t find a publisher who was interested. Instead he published – La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene or The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well – on his own.

La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiar Bene

Just a thousand copies at first, but the book caught on and before Artusi had died over 200,000 copies had been sold. It was read throughout Italy and was one of the first popular books read by a large section of the population.
Dante might have formed the basis of the Tuscan language, but Artusi made people actually interested.

The Grainary

February 23rd, 2017

The Grainary

I needed flour. I’d been buying two kilogram packages of Speerville flour from the Local Source, but it cost over $10 and I was through it within two weeks.

I needed a better option. In frustration I bought ten kilograms of Robin Hood Flour. It just wasn’t that good. My bread tasted off, my pizza stuck to the cookie sheet, I wasn’t happy.

For weeks whenever I ran into people and the subject of food came up I would ask them, “Do you know where I can buy really good flour in bulk?”

I’m a member of the North End running group that meets every Wednesday night at North End Brewery for an easy and fun six kilometer run. The first run of the month ends with a social, this time at the Lion’s Head Tavern.

I started chatting with Ben about food. I don’t know Ben or anyone’s last name. We got on the subject of frying, he has jars of cooking oil under his sink for whatever he needs. Whether it’s meat, fish, falafel he has got it covered.

It seemed like an opportune moment. I decided to ask him The Question, ‘Do you know where I can buy a lot of good flour?’

And finally I had a lead. The Grainery.

The Grainary

Located on Agricola two blocks north of the Commons

For those of you like me, ignorant of what The Grainery is, it is a non-profit cooperative that is 100% run by volunteer members.

They can say it better than I can:

The [Grainery] Co-op format promotes community involvement which allows prices to be kept low, so that people of all economic backgrounds have access to healthy organic food. In addition, we strive to reduce environmental degradation by purchasing items in bulk with minimal or compostable packaging and provide the opportunity to refill products where possible.

 

I went on their website, scrolled to the flour section and began ordering. White flour, whole-wheat flour, and cornmeal. Then I waited. And waited. For about a month I hummed and hawed over when my order would arrive. They order in bulk to lower costs, but only place an order once enough have come in from individual customers.

And then it finally did.

The Grainery is located on Agricola Street about two blocks north of The Commons. Tucked away in a tiny store front beside Hali Deli, it’s easy to miss. The volunteer staff are wonderful and eager to help; they even helped load the flour into my car.

The first thing I made that night when I got home was cornbread. I think the difference in between the Speerville cornmeal and the grocery store stuff was even more extreme than the flour. Speerville’s cornmeal was a totally different texture, size and colour than the stuff from Sobey’s.
If nothing else the taste has sold me. It tastes like corn. Rich in flavour and with a hearty texture I don’t think I can ever go back.

Spruce Beer

February 5th, 2017

The story of Spruce Beer is as old as Canada itself. At least European Canada.

Cartier

While on his second voyage during the winter of 1535 Jacques Cartier and his crew were stranded near Quebec City. Their ships were frozen in ice and they wouldn’t be able to return to France until the spring.

With a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables available Cartier’s crew began to succumb to what we now know was scurvy. Almost the entire crew became sick. It was only with the help of the local Iroquois that Cartier’s crew survived.

They taught Cartier and his men how to brew a tea using the branches of a coniferous tree that they called Anneda. His men got better. They started calling the tree, not Anneda, but ‘Arbre de Vie’ or ‘Tree of Life.’

Scurvy is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. Coniferous trees are a good source of vitamin C which is why Cartier and his men got better.  The body is able to store 1,500 mg of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It is used up at an average rate of 3% per day. After three months of vitamin C deprivation, the stores become largely depleted.

The exact identity of the Anneda tree has been lost. There are a number of trees that it could have been; eastern white cedar, white spruce, black spruce, eastern white pine, red pine, balsam fir, eastern hemlock or even juniper.

There is evidence that the Scandinavians arrived at the same discovery themselves and were already making spruce beer in Europe. “Ancient Scandinavians and their Viking descendants brewed beer from young shoots of Norway spruce, drinking the beer for strength in battle, for fertility and to prevent scurvy on long sea voyages.” However, it is hard to say if this knowledge ever reached the English or French.

The exact date which spruce beer caught on is unknown. But by the middle of the eighteenth century it appears both British and French troops had adopted the practice of adding spruce to their beer in an attempt to prevent scurvy.

By 1749 we know that the French were making spruce beer. Perh Kalm a Swedish-Finnish botanist who visited New France left an account of the production of spruce beer.

“After having put the cutting of the pine into the water, they lay some of the cones of the tree amongst it, for the gum which is contained in them, is thought very wholesome; and makes the beer better….. While it is boiling they take some wheat, put it into the pan over the fire, and roast it as we do coffee; till it is almost black; all the while stirring, shaking and turning it about in the pan, when that is done they throw it into the copper with some burnt bread.

Rye is as fit for this purpose as wheat; barley is better than either, and Indian corn is better than barley. The reasons given me for putting this burnt corn and bread into the water are first, and chiefly to give it a brownish colour like malt liquor; second to make it more palatable; third, to make it something more nourishing.

When it has continued boiling till half the quantity only of the water remains in the copper, the pine is taken out and thrown away, and the liquor is poured into a vessel, thro’ a sieve of hair cloth, to prevent the burnt bread and corning from mixing with it. Then some sirrup is put into the wort to make it more palatable, and to take away the taste, which the gum of the tree might leave behind. The wort is then left to cool after some yeast has been put into it, and nothing remains to be done until it is tunned up, but skimming of what, during fermentation, has risen up upon the surface; and in four and twenty hours it is fit to drink.”

Fort Louisburg

In 1757 John Knox noted that New England troops when they captured Louisbourg (Cape Breton) in 1745 were supplied with spruce beer. “This liquor being thought necessary for the preservation of the healths of our men, as they were confined to salt provisions, and it is an excellent antiscorbutic: it is made from the tops and branches of the Spruce-tree, boiled for three hours, then strained into casks, with a certain quantity of molasses, and, as soon as cold, it is fit for use.”

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

Though it’s hard to say whether the New England troops were simply consuming spruce beer found at Louisbourg or whether they had made it themselves, it is clear that the British the consumption of spruce beer took off during the Seven Years War also known as the French and Indian War to Americans. In 1759, General Amherst recorded his own recipe for spruce beer.

“Take 7 pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three gallons of molasses to the Liquor & and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a barrel of thirty gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milk-warm in the cooler put a pint of yeast into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the cask. It will keep a great while.”

Spruce beer would enjoy over a century of popularity, not just in North America but also in Europe. In 1769 a book, The London Practice of Physic, listed spruce beer as a treatment for scurvy giving the following recipe.

“Take twelve gallons of water and put therein three pounds and a half of black spruce, and boil it for three hours; then put to the liquor seven pounds of molasses just boil it up, strain it through a sieve when milk-warm, put to it about four spoonfulls of yeast to work it; it soon becomes fit for bottling, perhaps in five or six days.”

Benjamin Franklin

Even the American founding fathers became interested in spruce beer. Benjamin Franklin first came across spruce beer while in France during the American War for Independence. He began experimenting with it on his return at the end of the war and his recipe for spruce beer survived.

For a Cask containing 80 bottles, take one pot of Essence [of spruce] and 13 Pounds of Molasses. – or the same amount of unrefined Loaf Sugar; mix them well together in 20 pints of hot Water: Stir together until they make a Foam, then pour it into the Cask you will then fill with Water: add a Pint of good Yeast, stir it well together and let it stand 2 or 3 Days to ferment, after which close the Cask, and after a few days it will be ready to be put into Bottles, that must be tightly corked. Leave them 10 or 12 Days in a cool Cellar, after which the Beer will be good to drink.”

Another American recipe comes to us from Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, published in 1796.


“For brewing Spruce Beer. Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour, in one gallon of water, strain the hop water, then add 16 gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissolved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins [baker’s yeast], then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bottle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.”

Around the same time spruce beer was becoming ubiquitous with the British Navy. Scurvy was a common issue for sailors on long sea voyages. Records from Captain Cook’s voyages showed that he made spruce beer on both his second voyage to New Zealand and on his third to Alaska using local varieties of coniferous trees. His recipe survives and is still being made by Wingram Brewing Company in New Zealand.

We at first made our beer of a decoction of the spruce leaves; but, finding that this alone made it too astringent, we afterwards mixed with it an equal quantity of the tea plant (a name it obtained in my former voyage, from our using it as a tea then, as we also did now), which partly destroyed the astringency of the other, and made the beer exceedingly palatable, and esteemed by everyone on board. We brewed it in the same manner as spruce beer, and the process is as follows. First make a strong decoction of the small branches of the spruce and tea-plants, by boiling them three or four hours, or until the bark will strip with ease from the branches; then take them out of the copper, and put in the proper quantity of molasses, ten gallons of which is sufficient to make a ton, or two hundred and forty gallons of beer. Let this mixture just boil; then put it into casks, and to it add an equal quantity of cold water, more or less according to the strength of the decoction, or your taste. When the whole is milk-warm, put in a little grounds of beer, or yeast if you have it, or anything else that will cause fermentation, and in a few days the beer will be fit to drink.”

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

From Then Until Now

The manufacturing of spruce beer was particularly prevalent in Nova Scotia. Due to its poor climate for growing the traditional ingredients of beer; barley and hops – a substitute was needed. Spruce trees were highly prevalent and molasses from Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean was both readily available, cheap, and gave the spruce beer a colour and taste comparable to traditional malted beers.

Spruce beer remained popular for over one hundred years until the middle of the nineteenth century. A large contributing factor was the British Navy’s shift away from spruce beer to using citrus, primarily lemon and lime, for the prevention of scurvy. The price of grain which had been historically more expensive also began to decline making traditional beer making less costly.

Though the tradition of making spruce beer in Nova Scotia was never fully lost it did drastically decline. Most breweries stopped producing it. Only homebrewers kept the tradition alive. That was until the last couple of years.

Spruce Beer:Garrison

Garrison Brewery’s master brewer Daniel Girard wanted to give making spruce beer a try. He’d heard about spruce beer from his grandfather. When he approached Brian Titus the owner of Garrison he was initially turned down. “Not gonna to do it. No,” he said. “This is not going to be the beer that takes this brewery down.”

He eventually gave in and they’ve been producing it as a seasonal addition ever since. On the Garrison website they describe the beer as “North America’s oldest beer style brewed with local Spruce and fir tips, blackstrap molasses and dates. Dark amber and brown colouring. Aroma is a comforting mix of spruce boughs, caramel malts, molasses and dates.”

It’s a strong beer at 7.5% alcohol. It’s heavy and the taste of the molasses and dates are definitely the strongest flavour notes. Though, it does have a nice piney or citrusy hint that isn’t overpowering and balances well.

Spruce Beer

Garrison also ages their spruce beer in rum barrels. This version of the beer has an alcohol percentage of 11%. It has a similar flavour profile as their regular spruce beer but with some spicer notes caused by the rum.

Both are worth trying.

Footnotes

  1.  Don J Durzan. Arginine, Scurvy and Cartier’s “Tree of Life”. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 2009.
  2. Hodges RE. What’s New About Scurvy? American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 1971;24:383–384.
  3. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press, November 2012.
  4. Russell M. Magnaghi. Upper Peninsula Beer: A History of Brewing Above the Bridge. Arcadia Publishing, Apr 27, 2015.
  5. John Knox.  Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760 (volume I).
  6. Geoffrey L. Hudson. British Military and Naval Medicine, 1600-1830. Rodopi, 2007.
  7. Jeffrey Amherst. Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst, Governor-General of British North America.
  8. The London Practice of Physic.Printed for W. Johnston, London, 1773.
  9. Russell M. Magnaghi. Upper Peninsula Beer: A History of Brewing Above the Bridge. Arcadia Publishing, Apr 27, 2015.
  10. Ed Beaglehole. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery II The Voyage of the Resolution and Adventure 1772–1775. Cambridge University Press, 1961.
  11. Ed Beaglehole. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery III The Voyage of the Resolution and Adventure 1776–1780. Cambridge University Press; 1967.
  12. Garrison Spruce Beer Is a Relic From Nova Scotia Pioneers. TheStar.com, February 7, 2012. https://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2012/02/07/garrison_spruce_beer_is_a_relic_from_nova_scotia_pioneers.html
  13. Garrison Brewery. http://www.garrisonbrewing.com/show/the-beer/2.

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

Hooked Halifax

February 5th, 2017

How did I miss that a ‘Hooked’ had opened in Halifax? The first time I came across a

Hooked Halifax1

‘Hooked’ was in Toronto, it was 2012, and I was working remotely for a consulting firm.  

To break up my day I would grab my fresh vegetables from the St. Lawrence farmers’ market and on Saturdays I’d buy my meat for the week and a fresh loaf of Blackbird Baking bread in Kensington market at Sanagan’s butcher shop, with its beautiful displays of fresh meat on the left side and a deli on the right. There were fishmongers to the west of Sanagans but I was hesitant to try them. A strong fishy odour wafted out of the stores and it was Ontario.

I don’t know what led me into Hooked – it was totally indistinguishable from the store on either side, set back from the sidewalk with a large awning hiding half the windows. But walking in was a revelation. It smelt fresh. The fish, neatly arranged on beds of ice, was labelled with a name, where it was caught, and by what method. It was new AND it was revolutionary.

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

I shopped there and at the Leslieville location for the next few years. Even after moving to London, my mom and I would make pilgrimages to Hooked, with a cooler  of ice, whenever either was going to Toronto.

I’ve since learned the backstory of how ‘Hooked’ was started by Dan Donovan and his wife, Kristin. At 34, Dan needed a change from working on Bay Street. He did a short stint at Jamie Kennedy’s ‘Palmerston Cafe’, fell in love with food, enrolled at the unique Stratford Chef School – which has its own story, graduated, and worked at Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar.

Kennedy had to sell off the Wine Bar to avoid bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis but Dan already had started to think about a  business that sourced fish caught in a sustainable manner, that knew its fishermen, knew how the fish was caught, and hoped there were people who wanted to eat that kind of fish.

This from Dave Adler of ‘Hooked Halifax’, now open at 5783 Charles Street just around the corner from Local Source.  In 2010, while working for the Ecology Action Center marine team,  he was involved in developing their Off the Hook initiative. The program was a co-op with Digby County fisherman, designed to connect local, small scale fisherman directly with consumers through a subscription program. A few years and iterations later,  the community-supported fishery has wrapped up. But the NS market for sustainably-harvested fish appears to have grown, and consumers now have access via ‘Hooked Halifax’ and ‘Afishionado Fishmongers’.

Chinook, Sockeye and Hatchery Coho

On my first visit to ‘Hooked Halifax’ I picked up a pound of line-caught haddock. I soaked it in buttermilk before breading with cornmeal and flour. I served it on potato latkes with sautéed red cabbage and a dill sour cream. It was delicious.

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

Building Future Food Leaders: A Change Makers Guide

January 19th, 2017

Youth Food Movement

Our very own Duncan Ebata was recently featured by Slow Food Youth Network. Below is an excerpt from their publication Building Future Food Leaders: A Change Makers Guide.

 

Duncan Ebata

Meet Duncan Ebata. A plating workshop from a Noma chef and having delicious chamomile crème brûlée for dessert didn’t have the same impact on Duncan Ebata as ground lentils, with orange and millet flour for breakfast. This porridge-like meal from Tunisia, derived from peasant food is way more interesting to this Canadian Slow Food Marketeer than the art of plating. Two years ago, he started the SFYN Canada, now Duncan is starting a Community Food Hub in rural Nova Scotia.

At Terra Madre ‘16 Duncan’s goal was to “spend less time on forums and panels and take more time to eat and connect with people.” During his lunch he sat down with Rahul Antao, who’s working for IFAD, to talk more on the topic of youth leaving rural areas to live in the city. During the Building Future Food Leaders meeting they ran into each other. “Rahul always asks rural food producers the question – has your well being improved since you moved to the city? Most people he’d asked in fact said it didn’t improve their wellbeing.

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

I wonder how much different the world would look like if food producers critically asked themselves this question.” The most significant takeaway from the meeting for Duncan was that food education is a system change strategy that’s far more effective than other informative events. “Using the iceberg model, where campaigns and public awareness events are just the tip, but what’s not immediately visible below the water surface are some things like Food Academies that have the potential to create lasting political and cultural change.”

In Canada and the U.S. motivating youth has been challenging says Duncan, because it’s not very clear what’s in it for them. Starting a Food Academy can offer something different from other movements by providing a more diverse program and bringing people from every part of the food system together.

“Copying successful models like this is a big help so you have the confidence to know this idea will work.” Connecting with fellow delegates, food producers and activists from around the world was the most inspiring and interesting according to Duncan. “I met a woman from Ivory Coast who lives in France and makes artisanal chocolate called “Yeres” as well as two Georgian natural winemakers. We shared her chocolate and talked about natural winemaking. It’s amazing how this kind of sharing creates a deeper connection. That’s what makes this event so special.”

Download the Building FutureFood Leaders 2016 Guide

change_makers_guide_food_2_0

 

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

ACORN Winter Events

January 13th, 2017

ACORN Winter Events

ACORN has so many exciting events coming up in the next few months, and we wanted to make sure you don’t miss out – they’ve put together a list of upcoming events and dates, and of course, you can always consult our events calendar for more details.

Please share widely with your networks, and feel free to get in touch with any questions!

Come join us this winter!

Come join us this winter!

January 15th, 10am to 4pm – Seedy Sunday at the Ross Farm Winter Frolic, NS.

January 16th, 10am to 3pm – Nova Scotia Organic Forum, Truro, NS. Free event. Please RSVP to acornoffice@acornorganic.org by

January 17th, 8pm AST – Webinar: “Too Many Rutabagas: Time and Productivity Management for Farmers” with Chris Blanchard. Registration required January 17th at noon. Free for ACORN members/$25 for non-members.

January 24th, 9am to 4 pm – Organic Pastured Poultry Symposium, Dieppe Market, NB. $60 for ACORN members/$80 for non-members. Registration required by January 17th.

January 31st, 4pm – Application Deadline for Executive Director position. 

February 7th, 8pm AST – Webinar: “Farm Finances: Setting up and Managing your Farm Financials” with Chris Blanchard. Registration required by February 7th at noon. Free for ACORN members/$25 for non-members/$25 for non-members.

February 8th and 9th – Online Season Extension Conference with Andrew Mefferd, author of The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook and consultant Phillipe-Antoine Taillon. Details coming soon!

February 14th, 1pm to 5pm – New Brunswick Organic Forum, Fredericton, NB. Free event, with option to purchase catered lunch.

February 19th and 20th – Holistic Farm Life Workshop: NB with Debbie Lawrence, Fredericton, NB. $100 for ACORN Members/$150 for non-members.

February 23rd and 24th – Holistic Farm Life Workshop: PEI with Debbie Lawrence, PEI. $100 for ACORN Members/$150 for non-members.

March 5CSA Fair, Dieppe Rotary Park, NB. Details coming soon!

MarchWinter Pruning Workshop for Organic Apple Production at Beamish Orchards, PEI – weather dependent.  Stay tuned for more details!

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.

Ross Farm Winter Frolic

January 9th, 2017

Ross Farm Winter Frolic 2017The Ross Farm Museum Winter Frolic is a family tradition in Nova Scotia – with sleigh rides, sledding, snow shoeing, and hot chocolate made over an open fire. This year, ACORN and Slow Food Nova Scotia are partnering with the Farm to bring one of the first Seedy Days of 2017 to the event! When your cheeks are rosy and you’re ready to warm up, drop into the Learning Center for a visit with Steph Hughes of ACORN (Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network  (http://www.acornorganic.org/) and Chris Sanford, seed farmer with Yonder Hill Farm. They will be on hand to amuse and inform you with activities and workshops throughout the day relating to the wonders of seeds! Then learn about the Slow Food Ark of Taste and the role that Ross Farm Museum is playing in this global effort to save traditional and heritage foods.  All included in the day’s admission price.

https://rossfarm.novascotia.ca/event/winter-frolic  See you there!

Chris Sanford is a Lunenburg County farmer/gardener Nova Scotia based in Laconia.  She has been a seed saver for over 10 years and has worked with 150 varieties of vegetables, grains, and flowers at her farm.  She is also the Community Gardens Coordinator for the Town of Bridgewater, as well as the South Shore Seed Library Coordinator.

Newsletter Signup

Stay on top of what's happening in Nova Scotia's food community.