Memories on your calendar

I thought about doing a column on the weird food holidays on the calendar, but the more I researched, the sillier it all became. 

Robbie Burns Night celebrates his birthday on Jan. 25 with haggis and scotch, but then cherries and strawberries are celebrated in February? Celebrating frozen food is not really my style, so I just stuck with the calendar idea.

Did you know that October was originally the eighth month of the year? The last four months all retain their original monikers with their Latin prefixes – Sept for 7, Oct for 8, Nov for 9, and Dec for 10.

The Romans had things all figured out, but then a few emperors with big ideas decided they should be celebrated in style. 

Julius Caesar added July to the calendar in 44 BC. Augustus Caesar thought that was a great idea, so he added August in 8 BC. Isn’t it interesting that what we now call summer is an addition to the oldest calendar – frivolous measures for a frivolous season?

Despite a bout of ego messing up the middle of the year, the ancient Romans gave us some good traditions that coordinate with the other months.

  • JANUARY: named after Janus, the god of gates and doorways, beginnings and endings. Janus has two faces, one looking forward and one looking back.
  • FEBRUARY: named for an ancient Roman festival of purification (who doesn’t spend at least a bit of time in February on self-reflection?)
  • MARCH:  for Mars, the Roman god of war, but representing the military as an agent for peace. He also honoured the beginning of the agriculture season. (Perhaps this was a nod to the idea that an army marches on its stomach?)
  • APRIL: directly translated from Latin, it means “uncertain beginnings,” but also derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, pleasure, and procreation (a good pick for spring).
  • MAY: the month of Maia, a Roman vegetation god that represented the circle of life. This word was also translated as “great” or “major.” (No wonder Canadians see May as a pivotal month, what with the May long weekend and other spring-to-summer celebrations.)
  • JUNE: Juno, the powerful Roman goddess of marriage and childbirth who was equivalent in status to the Greek queen of the gods, Hera.

This year has been a calendar with scrambled pages, it seems. Here in the Okanagan, we had weather unlike recent years – it made us think summer came early in May, only to have the pages flip back for cooler weather to prevail. Summer only showed its face briefly, more in September than August. 

Now that the fall solstice has passed, we move to the darkest time of the year. The days get shorter, the sun is shyer when it does visit, and the wind blows cold. But we are not yet at winter, we should enjoy the merits of autumn. 

We can even enjoy the pages of the calendar as they turn. When October turns to November we celebrate Halloween. Some call that time the Day of the Dead, others call it Samhain, or All Saint’s Day. It is a time when supposedly the connection between the worlds of the living and dead are strongest, and we can recognize those on the other side.

October is a time of transition. We need to use this time wisely, preparing for winter by stocking up on warm memories from the earlier parts of the year. These will be especially important this year as we hibernate more in COVID times. 

November is the month of remembrance and it is important to pay our respects to veterans. If you did not get into the spirit of being grateful with Canadian Thanksgiving, undoubtedly the American media will remind you of the concept.

If you don’t want to succumb to outside influence, you can always relate your positive attitude to World Kindness Day on Nov. 13. 

Before we know it, the calendar will have to be changed for a new one. The memories we have with this one will endure, and hopefully so will the things we learned. As the expression goes, hindsight is 2020. 


Halloween ripple

We have been spoiled in style this October. This week, we have enjoyed sunshine and warmth as if summer were not already over.

I decided I should celebrate such good fortune, so Ella and I went for ice cream.

For me, summer ice cream cones are at least one scoop nostalgia. I love exotic flavours in a cup or bowl, but when I’m outside in the fresh air licking the scoops in a cone, I prefer the classics. 

My favourite is Tiger Tiger. It is comfort and frivolity all wrapped up in a ball. Not the easiest flavour to match with another, but I do love a challenge.

This week, I was inspired by the patterns and chose Banana Fudge Swirl; I can recommend it highly.

I enjoyed my latest cone surrounded by the pumpkins at Paynter’s Fruit Market, the only place I know on the Westside that serves hard ice cream cones.  A wave of melancholy came over me as I considered that the outdoor days for my Tiger ice cream were numbered. 

Suddenly, it occurred to me that some seasonal inspiration might work well… what if it was called Halloween Ripple in October? This could present my cherished flavour to new fans. After all, some of us don’t want pumpkin spice-flavoured everything.

My mind began to whir with ideas… perhaps a whole winter series of flavours could be promoted, with a flavour of the month. Wouldn’t that be a good way to help cheer us through some of the dreariness of those shorter, darker days?

November has a holiday that is generally seen as more sombre in nature, but perhaps we could focus on the respect that goes with Remembrance Day and offer a retro flavour?

Ice cream became generally available just before the First World War and by the 1940s, ice cream parlours were all the rage. Maybe good old-fashioned vanilla should be November’s flavour, encouraging people to make an ice cream float or a sundae?

December is a celebratory month for most, what with Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and many other cultural and religious holidays. Something special is in order… a flavour with more innovation than peppermint, with all due respect to Hagen Dazs and its Peppermint Bark feature.

There is a company in America called Serendipity offering a new flavour called Unicorn Bliss Sundae. It certainly fits the theme of celebrating — this stuff is a party in a scoop.

 It has a vanilla base, studded with pink and blue cookie dough pieces and decorated with a glittery swirl. I don’t want to know how they get edible glitter; I guess that means I’m too old to ride with the unicorns.

Halo Top, another American company that makes light ice cream in decadent flavours, is featuring a Gingerbread House flavour this winter. It also has a few “Canadian flavours”: butter tart, maple pecan and chocolate honeycomb. I will admit, they all sound worth trying.

Perhaps the best way to close out the year with a scoop of ice cream is to find a local parlour that makes artisan products. Tis the season to splurge, right? Then, let’s give back and support a local business while treating ourselves to an extra special dose of happiness. 

By January, the days are getting longer again, but if we really need a boost, my final suggestion is just to stand at the freezer section and see what makes you smile.

It might be vanilla with your own toppings, or maybe it’s a crazy Ben & Jerry’s flavour you don’t have to share. Just remember to share a smile when you’re done licking the spoon.

Beer's a byproduct of bread

Origins of old recipes

Do you know the saying, “there’s no such thing as an original idea?”

Some folks say the same is true of recipes. Their argument is that all we do is adapt what someone somewhere already created.

My defence to that is all art is an evolution, building on what came before it and expressing the times of its creation.

But the question remains, where did we start?

I was not surprised to discover the first recipe recorded was for bread. It is the oldest man-made food; remnants from flatbread baked in a stone fireplace in Jordan have been dated back over 10,000 years.

The same recipe — more or less — is still in use today.

Other types of dough developed throughout the world in ancient times — tamales in Mesoamerican civilizations go back to around 6,000 B, and pancakes were enjoyed by the ancient Greeks (with curdled milk and honey).

Another recorded ancient recipe comes thousands of years later, for beer. Wouldn’t you know, beer was a byproduct of bread making 4,000 years ago?

The ancient Sumerians preserved their grain by making bread and when this bread got wet, it fermented. The result was a strong beer, which they eventually flavoured with honey and spices.

Beer was a coveted recipe, for the product not only offered nourishment; it was considered as a method of payment for work done in many ancient civilizations.

There were laws governing it, and many different kinds were made using different grains and flavourings.

You might be thinking there is a comfort food theme here, and another old recipe will fuel that theory. Meat pies have been around since at least 1700 BC. They might well have been consumed with the beer, as the recipe comes from the same part of the world.

The ancient Mesopotamians documented much of their cooking, and they are admired for their interest in food preparation — multiple spices and herbs used in one dish, garnishes and presentation mentioned in some recipes, various cooking techniques (such as using bread crumbs to thicken a stew), and recipes shared from neighbouring regions.

Unfortunately, there is also evidence that much of this cooking was reserved for the more well-off part of society.

Food rations for the less fortunate (part of their pay, remember) were meagre at best, with no room for frivolous additions like numerous spices or herbs.

Even the recording of recipes was something that could only be done by the educated, who were the “upper crust” of society.

If you’re more of a fan of sweet dishes, I wonder if you knew that the Linzer Torte is said to be the oldest recorded dessert on record.

Apparently, the original recipe bears little resemblance in its filling to today’s version with jam and a lattice top, but one of Austria’s favourite pastries has been around since 1653.

You can see how intrinsic many of these dishes are to the societies in which they occurred. In many cases, the continuation of the recipes and their evolution over time is due largely to word of mouth.

It is interesting that in today’s world we have gone back to recording so many recipes, allowing for even wider sharing of the information. Of course, globalization is a big factor, too.

Regardless of the flavours you enjoy and the type of cuisine you cook, where do you get your recipes? Do you Google “best mac and cheese” when you want to try making it in your own kitchen? Or do you have an old family recipe with dog-eared corners that is a coveted jewel in the family crown?

I hope you find a way to save your favourites. I would like to think you pass along to friends any recipes they enjoy.

Who knows, maybe some day an anthropologist will find your dog-eared pages or Google bookmarks and feature them for future generations.


Sufferin' succotash

Does anyone else remember that expression "sufferin' succotash?" Sylvester the cat used to say that whenever he was frustrated.

I loved the sound of the words, even though I didn’t know what succotash was. Imagine my delight when I discovered it was a culinary dish.

I love learning the stories behind dishes, and succotash is a great example of just how intertwined our lives and history can become. I also believe it is a wonderful dish to exemplify the autumn season.

Succotash was a dish first prepared by the indigenous people in North America; they were kind enough to share it with the first settlers. The word comes from an Algonquin one meaning “broken corn kernels.”

The dish is primarily sweet corn and lima beans cooked together, sometimes with sweet peppers, tomatoes, or okra.

All these foods were unfamiliar to European settlers, but they soon became a regular part of their diet in the New World. First in New England and then Pennsylvania, and eventually to many parts of the south, where cooking the vegetables in lard became the regional touch.  

I like to adapt the recipe slightly and include the other staple vegetable of many indigenous gardens – squash. Known as the Three Sisters, sweet corn, winter squash and climbing beans are excellent companions in a garden. (My recipe uses a summer squash as they are ready sooner.)

Indigenous peoples across the American continent perfected their gardens over thousands of years, and they learned these three plants benefit each other.

The corn provides stalks on which the beans can grow, the beans provide nitrogen for the soil needed by the corn and squash, and the squash protects the other plants.

It covers the ground, preventing weeds from settling in and becomes like a mulch over the soil that keeps in moisture. The hairs on the vines even help deter pests.

It is not surprising this genius formula swept the continent as a popular garden formula. The combination of inexpensive ingredients and successful harvests continued from the 17th Century when settlers arrived through even the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in many places, and I would say it qualifies nicely in the comfort food category.

You might think that Sylvester’s succotash expression has something to do with the Depression and tough times. Not so.

His signature expletive is what’s called a “minced oath” – an adaptation of a word or phrase that substitutes a different spelling, pronunciation or even a new word, for a blasphemous one.

Sufferin’ succotash came from “Suffering Saviour.” 

In the interest of turning things around and seeing the positive side, I’d like to propose that we count our blessings instead of bemoaning our lot.

I’m really glad Sylvester turned me on to this stuff. Succotash is a great way to celebrate the harvest, and easy dish to enjoy. Give it a try:

SUCCOTASH (serves 4)

  • 3 cobs corn, shucked
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 can lima beans (you could cook dried beans if you have the time)
  • 1 jalapeno
  • Small handful of chives
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin 
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: 6-8 slices bacon

If you want to use the bacon, cook it first. Save 2 tbsp cooked fat to sauté vegetables. 

OPTION 2: Grill the corn cobs first if you want a bit of added smokiness to the final dish. 

Steam corn for 5 minutes in pot of boiling water. Remove and let cool. Strip kernels from cobs. (If you grilled the corn, do the same.)

Chop zucchinis into bite-size chunks. Drain beans. Chop jalapeno and chives finely. Mince garlic. (If you’re using the bacon, chop it into small slices.)

In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium heat (or put in bacon fat). Cook garlic for a minute or so, just until fragrant, then add zucchini and toss for a minute to coat them in the fat. Add in corn kernels, beans and jalapeno; stir to combine. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper.

Cook until zucchini is tender, and everything is hot. Just before serving, toss in chives (and cooked bacon if using).

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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