This story was originally published on Oct. 19, 2021.
CBC’s virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories explores the hidden gems across Saskatchewan.
Food has always had the ability to connect people and evoke feelings of nostalgia. No matter what culture or spot on the globe you come from, everyone has a dish that brings back fond memories.
We’ve entered the time of year where food plays an even greater role than usual, as families come together for holidays. That can only mean one thing: stories!
As CBC’s Land of Living Stories reporter, I have spent more than a year meeting new people, and hearing stories of why they love their communities and their family histories.
Cooking is extremely important to me — not just because I find it creative and fun, but also because it connects me to my heritage.
I credit my Nonna with instilling a love of cooking and food in me. Nonna was an Italian immigrant and a phenomenal cook. The kitchen of her was her domain of her and everything in the family revolved around her meals.
Nonna could be particular about who she let in the kitchen, but I got to spend quality time with her during the hours she spent making amazing dishes like her special tomato sauce, spinach linguine and veal. All from scratch, of course.
Those long afternoons made me see cooking not just as a necessity for life, but as an art form. My Nonna died right before I graduated from high school. That motivated me, as I was moving out and living by myself for the first time, to try to duplicate Nonna’s delicious Italian staples in my own little home.
WATCH| Food traditions that connect us to our family:
With these special memories in mind, this Land of Living Stories will visit four different Saskatchewan residents who each have a story about how food and family intertwines.
9:31Land of Living Stories explores family food traditions
Honey Constant currently lives in Saskatoon and studies at the University of Saskatchewan, but her community and family are never far from her mind.
Constant is Plains Cree from Sturgeon Lake First Nation (pakitahwâkan-sâkahikanihk). Her grandparents there always had fresh vegetables from the garden, including her favorite, potatoes.
Constant’s most beloved family food is what they called Indigenous salad.
“I think why I liked it so much is because I knew exactly what was in it. When I was little, I was kind of a picky eater. But it’s definitely just mashed potatoes with some boiled carrots that are also mashed around with it, topped with green onions… it’s not actually a salad,” Constant said.
When Constant thinks of her grandparents’ kitchen on days when the whole family would have Indigenous salad, she remembers a permanent warm golden glow. She also remembers trying to help prepare the dish.
“My Kookum and Mushum, they would often give me very easy tasks … I was like six, seven years old … sometimes they would give us tasks of mashing. And my little tiny arms couldn’t really do it. So they were like, ‘Good job.’ And then they’d pass it on to someone else!”
Constant said that when she thinks of family and her upbringing, food is a “huge pillar” that helped to create her identity.
The last time Constant’s family went out to pick rat root, a traditional Indigenous medicine, they quickly boiled and created indigenous salad to take with them.
“So as they were picking, they were eating the salad as well. It’s in the circle. There’s no top, no bottom, no beginning, no end. Everywhere we see and what we do and what we gather, we go out, we connect and there’s going to be food in some way, shape or form.”
Constant said the more she talks about the way her family prepares and shares food, the more she recognizes the beauty of these traditions.
“It’s hard to really add up my connection to food, especially how it built who I am and how I value our family or my kinship. It’s a little piece of every part of me.”
Theresa Lautsch, from Swift Current, remembers having what she calls “perogie-making bees” with her grandparents, who were of Ukrainian heritage.
Her grandparents would pick the coldest days of the year and the whole family would help with the stuffing and the pinching of the dumplings, then put them outside in weather as cold as -38 C to flash freeze. Doing it that way meant the perogies wouldn’t stick together in the bag when the family stored them.
“I remember running between the living room and the hallway, just kind of hanging out, seeing what the older adults are doing, sneaking up and taking the dough from the table and then hiding and eating it … which we weren’t allowed to do !” said Lautsch.
She said the perogie-making bee was an especially heart-warming tradition because the whole family would take part for an entire day. Years later, her mom would find what she called “vintage perogies.”
“We’d be digging through the freezer looking for things, and we’d find some from 2001, and it’s like, 2018. And they were still good!”
Lautsch said it’s a must to serve dill with perogies. Finding fresh dill is no problem for her, because her grandparents’ old house has a bit of a dill problem.
Lautsch now lives in the house her grandparents built in 1960. For as long as she can remember there has been dill at the front entrance.
“I have tried planting many things to weed out the dill, but it comes back every single year and takes over,” said Lautsch.
“I tried pumpkins. The dill came through. I tried just marigolds… it still came through. This year I did some sunflowers and it still came through. I don’t think I have a choice anymore.”
When Steven Wilson of Weyburn was growing up, his grandparents made dishes called spodsa and kudobarenik. Steven describes spodsa as an inside out perogie, and kudobarenik as a deep-fried perogie-type loaf.
His ancestors were of Irish and German descent, and spent time in Russia. His grandparents called these two foods “depression dishes” that their parents cooked for them in the 1930s, because the simple ingredients were readily available.
“People who grew up on those sort of depression dishes … it was a food of necessity. But as they got older, it became a comfort food and even a food that everyone would enjoy as a family together,” Wilson said.
Spodsa and kudobarenik are a little mysterious. Wilson said no one outside of his family is familiar with the dishes or the names.
“I’ve been told once or twice by people that spodsa is a word for potato in a dialect of German. But even then, I haven’t been able to confirm that. So I don’t know exactly where the origins of these names come from,” Wilson said.
“Nobody I’ve come across has ever heard of it. I tried Googling different variations of the spellings… I come up empty.”
Today, Wilson makes spodsa for his children, who will cancel any other plans if they know the dish on the menu.
“Whenever I smell caramelized onions, it makes me think of spodsa and that makes me think of my family.”
Regina resident Raquel Vigueras is owner of the small batch hot sauce business Pueblo Chili Co. Her parents and her Chilean roots are an important part of why she has a passion for cooking. In fact, today her mother de ella helps her in the kitchen while she creates her many hot sauce recipes.
“She is right there beside me, taste-testing everything. She lets me create the recipes, but she always offers her advice and everything. And she’s there chopping vegetables, peeling everything with me,” said Vigueras.
“It’s just a really nice way for us to connect because I haven’t lived at home for over 14 years now. But I do make sure that I spend a lot of time with my parents.”
Vigueras’ father was a Chilean refugee who came to Canada in the late 1970s. He met Vigueras’ mother, who is from the small southwest Saskatchewan village of Climax, a year later. Within nine months the two were married.
“My mom really embraced my dad’s Chilean and culture and learned how to make all of the food that he missed from being back home,” said Vigueras.
“It took a little while to learn all the recipes, but she has them down pat and she makes the most delicious recipes that you can ever imagine.”
Vigueras’ favorite family food are empanadas — specifically Chilean Empanadas de Pino.
“It’s Chile’s version of a meat pie. And so that is something that we have for all special occasions.”
Vigueras says making empanadas is a special thing for the whole family.
“The process of making empanadas is my favorite part of it because you have to be committed to making them for a weekend, because it’s a two-day process. So day one, you make the filling and the entire house just smells like this delicious beef and onion mixture,” she said. “It just is the best smell.”
Vigueras said the long process has given her appreciation for the process of cooking.
“It was like just so nice to spend that long making something, and then the entire family and guest sit down and enjoy the fruits of the labor together.”
Vigueras said that tradition shows no signs of disappearing.