A large iron kettle of tea

“Our men worked well until dinner-time, when after washing in the lake, they all sat down to the rude board which I had prepared for them, loaded with the best fare that could be procured in the bush.  Pea-soup, legs of pork, venison, eel and raspberry pies, garnished with plenty of potatoes, and whiskey to wash them down, besides a large iron kettle of tea…” written by Mrs Susanna Moodie in Roughing it in the Bush.  She is describing a building bee in Upper Canada near Peterborough in 1835.

I love this book, I have a copy published in 1923, I would love to own a first edition, but they are rare and expensive.  I have marked the food passages with notes, the variety and abundance of seasonal food is astounding.  “…A second growth of young timber had grown up in this spot, which was covered also with raspberry bushes-several hundred acres being entirely overgrown with this delicious berry.”   Of course there were hard and hungry times too, but I’m choosing at this point anyway, not to dwell on famine, but to delight in and write about the feast.

I am writing about Canadian food; cookbooks, the history of, people who cook, farmers, cheese makers, traditions, and trends.  Food is my passion, and has been my career for a long time….

I’m excited, I want to cook, talk about and eat Canadian.

It’s going to be lots fun, hopefully interesting, maybe educational, but for sure delicious.

it’s a cold and guess what, snowy day here in South Western Ontario where I live.  I have decided not to shower or leave my house all weekend, I may not even get out of my jammies…what do I do on a weekend like this?  I read cookbooks and then I cook.  I collect cookbooks and i am beginning to understand and value them as archival materials, our history, our untold history can be found in these books. I’ll start with Mrs Moodies’ book  Roughing it in the Bush, in it, early on a neighbour comes by to “borrow” ten pounds of flour to make johnny cake, Mrs Moodie is surprised as she thought that the cake was made with “Indian meal.”  Cornmeal was known as Indian meal to the United Empire Loyalists who settled in Upper Canada.  She doesn’t include recipes in her book, but her sister Catherine Parr Traill gives a recipe for Johnny cake in her 1851 book The Canadian Emigrant Housekeepers Guide.  in fact, Catherine offers ten recipes using cornmeal, including one that sounds a lot like polenta.  She even offers tips on how to make corn stalk beds, straw mats, bottle stoppers and a “pure white ley” of the ashes of corn stalks to “raise ginger-bread and other cakes.”

Johnny cake is meant to be served out out of the oven, slathered in butter, real maple syrup and maybe some cream.  it is also good the next, (different texture) toasted for breakfast.

It was a common recipe in Canadian cookbooks up until the late 1960’s, it disappears inmost cookbooks in the 1970’s due to the “gourmet” revolution, when the emphasis in cookbooks moves towards upscale, rather than down home.

It is time to bring this cake back into the Canadian culinary repertoire.

Johnny Cake (or sometimes called Journey Cake, because it travels well, perhaps brought by the Loyalists?)

This recipe is adapted from the Old Ontario Cookbook by Muriel Breckenridge pub. 1976

1 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup cornmeal

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 olive oil

Oven to 375 F.  Grease an 8″pan

in a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, stir with a fork to mix well.  In another, smaller bowl, combine the liquids, add to the dry, stir to combine, then pour into greased pan.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant.  Serve warm with maple syrup, and vanilla ice cream.  Delicious!

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