I have started watching Chef’s Table on Netflix, a beautifully shot documentary on influential chefs from around the world. I have seen three episodes so far; Massimo Bottura from Itlay, Dan Barber from the U.S. and Argentinian Francis Mallmann (my favorite so far as his passion for food and life is highly intoxicating). The three chefs are as unique as their food is different, but what connects them is the intensity of their commitment to their craft. Massimo is driven to create art from the flavors and memories of his childhood. Mallmann has a lust for life which is reflected in both his cooking and his love for his country. And Dan Barber is committed to the food, in the growing, raising and sourcing, as flavorfully, organically and ethically as possible. He has made me reconsider what is in both my pantry and my fridge. But what really has me thinking, is that it is his opinion and one that I agree with, that in North America, we don’t have a “great” cuisine; one that is reproduced all over the world, like the French Italian or Chinese, and that as pioneers, settlers and immigrants we didn’t have to suffer any great or prolonged periods of deprivation that would have forced cooks to have to become really creative and appreciative of the strange bits of the animal or the more rugged less exotic vegetable, like the turnip. It is his belief that we have ended up with a cuisine that is based on big servings of meat and flavorless side dishes. I understand his basic theory, all great cuisines in the past have had at their root a strong tradition of hard working peasants, it is their food that I am most drawn to as a cook. But as Canadians, maybe what we lack as an influential cuisine, we make up in our bountiful and delicious raw ingredients. As good as I’ve seen anywhere and that our traditions are based in what was available before refrigeration, highways and transport trucks.
Elizabeth Baird is another of my favorite cooks. In her book Elizabeth Baird’s Favorites 150 Classic Canadian Recipes, pub. in 1984, she writes, “Canadian cooking has to draw its inspiration from all the possibilities of the foods we produce and from all the people who make Canada their home.” I am a cook, but my first love is baking. It is where Elizabeth Baird believes that”…the tradition that lives on in pastry, cake, and cookie-making alone gives Canada a national cuisine, one made all the richer by regional specialties such as tarte au sucre from Quebec or apple platz from Manitoba. Our sweet making skills are a national treasure that should not be lightly dismissed.” Of course, I agree. In honour of Elizabeth Baird and her treasure of a cookbook, as all of hers are. I made the Lemon Cardamom Pound Cake, So yummy as a cake with tea, but even better lightly toasted with homemade jam for breakfast. It is important to keep our cooking and baking skills alive and vital, so the tradition of eating well can be taught to other generations of Canadians.
Lemon Cardamom Pound Cake
1 cup currants
1 tbsp. coarsely grated orange peel
1 tbsp. coarsely grated lemon peel
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. cardamom
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
Syrup topping (optional)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. coarsely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice
Grease a 9X5 inch loaf pan, and dust lightly with flour. Set aside.
Place currants in a sieve over a saucepan of simmering water and steam until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove currants, pat dry and combine with the orange and lemon peel.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. beat in the eggs, one at a time. The batter may curdle but this does not affect the loaf.
Stir together the flour, cardamom, baking powder and salt. Scoop out about 2 tbsp. of the flour mixture and dredge the currants and peel. Stir the rest of the flour mixture into the batter, mixing just until smooth. Stir in currants and rind and transfer to prepared pan.
Bake at 350 F. for one hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Syrup Topping: As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, use a wide skewer to make about 20 holes about 2 inches deep in the top of the cake. Combine syrup ingredients and drizzle over cake. Let cool in pan. With or without syrup, store the cake for 1 day before slicing. It also freezes well.
Makes about 12 slices.