The Sea, food, chowder…and the Scots

If you were in our home at mealtime you were invited to stay…and many folks did. It was the way in Mum’s family home growing up in rural New Brunswick, and it was a practice she and my father honored the whole of their lives.

Pitupaq – The Mi’Kmaq name for the Bra D’Or Lakes meaning “the long salt water” refers to the brackish water of the lakes. c. 2017

Saying that everyone is welcome at my table is one thing, delivering a tasty and nutritious meal for unknown number is another entirely. Mum depended upon stretchable one pot meals, soups, stews, and casserole, especially when visitors arrived.

William Hind stetch- Oyster Fishing on the Northumberland strait. Image courtesy of the PANB.

One of the dishes she relied on is a Maritime and New England tradition, chowder. Mum’s chowder, usually clam but occasionally, seafood (mix of fish and shellfish) would be accompanied by a pan of fresh biscuits or a loaf of her homemade bread. I recall vividly the first time I ate clam chowder, it was in September 1968, I was 7 years old, it was also the first time I dug clams1.

Jina Miller and her sister with pails of clams, Bathurst, ca. 1930 Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Image #P61-208

It would be easy to assume everyone in the Maritime provinces or New England for that matter has equal access to good fish and seafood but it is not so. Those who live in the immediate vicinity of the sea shore have a huge seasonal advantage, one which endures despite freezer trawlers and overnight delivery.

This blog is the third and final piece on the McDougall family who arrived in St John’s Island in 1772. Don’t miss Baked Beans and…. the Scots and Food Family and a fed of smelts

When Rebecca MacDougall2, Nancy Ann McDougald and Màiri McAdam’s families left Scotland for St John’s island3 prior to 1800, like most others from the Highlands and Western Isles they were familiar with living near the sea. Some of the setters had been farmers others were sheep herders but they expected to farm in their new North American home.

The Norman, Miramichi Bay c.1894 Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Miramichi Historical Society collection image # P204-241

The first sizable group of Scots to immigrate to what would become Prince Edward Island about 1770, were joining settlements of Mi’Kmaq, a small group of Acadians and a smattering of other nationalities. The only uninhabited shelter on the island were those abandoned by Acadians when they were forced to flee, some 20 years earlier. Despite the influence of the ocean their new home was a very different landscape from what they knew at home, trees stretched from hill top to seashore, there were no roads, and no basic services.

Commercial harvest of soft shelled clams at Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia c. 1950 Courtesy of Frene Lunn.

Rebecca’s family were among a group of protestant Scots from Argyle Scotland4 who settled on Malpeque bay5 about 1770. The Argyle settlers learned very early how precarious life in St John Island was, while on shore before they had been able to land their supplies a storm destroyed the ship and all of their belongings. The only thing which stood between them and death from starvation and exposure were the natural resources surrounding them and the generosity of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians who sheltered them, shared supplies, and helped the settlers become familiar with living, hunting and foraging for food in a new environment.

Cooking the catch? Commercial harvest of soft shelled clams at Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia c. 1950 Courtesy of Frene Lunn.

Laird MacDonald Of Glenalladale’s6 decision to acquire land on St John’s island, hire the Brig Alexander, fill it with supplies and settlers of the Western Highlands & Isles was inspired by upheaval. The previous half century or more the political and social structures of Scottish culture had been eroded as the British Crown quashed objection to union.

By 1771 the people of the Highlands had endured years of punishment for their support of a Scottish king. The forced conversion of Roman Catholic Gaels by protestant Landlords is associated with Glenaladale’s decision but it may be a tale borrowed from other locales, regardless McDonald recognized the need to improve life and opportunities for himself and others.

Laird MacDonald envisioned a return to more prosperous times through a familiar arrangement. Settlers would pay for their passage either directly or by indenturing themselves to McDonald. Once they arrived in St John Island they became farm tenants on his land. The fulfillment of McDonald’s property arrangement required him to settle the land and remit taxes from the lease of the lands to the Crown.

Ultimately, the planned community did not pan out quite as McDonald envisioned, the new world offered greater challenge, freedom and opportunity than anyone had anticipated. A core group of tenants did arrange long term leases with McDonald, others abandoned tenancy for good, preferring to purchase land or seek a land grant in other areas of the Maritimes. Many became farmers, others depended upon the sea for their livelihood.

Escuminac, NB c.1930s Photo courtesy of Richard MacDougall

Nancy’s parents began with a lease on McDonald land at lot 36, but ultimately purchased land at Savage Harbour7, where they farmed a seafront lot. The property provided ideal location, familiar neighbours like the MacEacherns8 and transportation access to their children and other kin who had settled in Cape Breton and elsewhere. Its location and access to the bounty of the ocean, clams, oysters, mussels, fish, etc was also no coincidence.

Feeding the sow at Black River, NB Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage family FBsite and Roy MacLean.

Màiri’s McAdam family were among the Roman Catholic families who arrived in St John’s island in the period between 1770 and 1800. Chain migration drew other Roman Catholic Scots to the island and to where their kin had settled. The early days of settlement relative isolation and absence of roads assured the communities of settlers had little interaction, and remained religious segregated.

Màiri and her husband Ailean McDougald (Nancy’s brother) moved to Cape Breton about 1814, joining a fledgling community at East Bay. Located on the Eastern end of the Bra D’or lake the community comprised of other Highland Gaelic speaking Scots, and already included Ailean’s sister Margaret Currie and family, and several of Màiri’s McAdam. Fear and suspicion which had challenged friends and neighbours at home lingered, and continued to divide Scots on both religion and language.

Early Shelter typical of those built by Scottish Settlers to the Atlantic region of Canada.

In the earliest years of settlement it was not possible to rely on paid employment, there was little in the way of commercial opportunity. If paid employment was available, time and effort still had to be applied to clearing land, building structures, cultivating land to assure care of livestock, tending gardens and procuring and processing wild food.

Màiri and Allan’s new home at Ben Eoin, was blessed with natural resources including fish, shell fish and water access to other locals. On their farm, they eventually grew oats, and other crops, like cabbage and potatoes. They raised sheep for wool, sows for food and cows for milk.

Picking potatoes in New Brunswick, c. 1950 Photo courtesy of the Roy MacLean and Our Miramichi Heritage Family FBsite.

Like other families Màiri and her children played an important role in many of the homesteads tasks, most aspects of food provision particularly, fell to women and children. Some of the tasks were once or twice a day, like feeding and care of livestock. Other tasks were seasonal and necessary to benefit from the bounty of food in summer and where possible aid in supporting them over winter.

Nothing was wasted or squandered, having a cow meant having a source of milk, butter and even cheese, provided of course the woman had the skill, equipment and a strong back. The extra effort required to separate cream and make butter assured it was valued and used carefully.

Nancy was born about 20 years after her parents moved to St John’s Island, during the ensuing years change had begun to take hold in the once insular communities of the Island. The population grew quickly with the various waves of immigration, especially after the Revolutionary war and the arrival of Loyalists refugees. Even as competition for property grew, so too did economic opportunities in fishing, timber harvest and ship building.

Nancy did not follow the same path as her siblings…her sisters Mary and Margaret and her brother Ailean married in to families well known to the McDougalds. The McEachern, Curry, McAdam and McDougald families had shared history, hardship, culture, language and religion.

Nancy’s decision to marry John MacEachern9 was probably met with opposition from both families. The move of Highland families to the protestant religion, to the use of English instead of Gaelic and the letting go of other traditional ways of living had been a difficult road. It divided families and neighbours, it also engendered social and economic distinction between the two groups of Scottish settlers.

Tabusintac c.1940, Donald MacEachern s/o Nancy McDougald and John MacEachern settled in Tabusintac, NB. Photo courtesy of Charles Asoyuf and the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FBsite.

To a large extent those who adhered to the Roman Catholic faith, and who spoke primarily Gaelic had less economic power and standing with the authorities. How Nancy and John’s divided religious beliefs effected their lives is the matter of some speculation. We know the young couple purchased land in Lot 57 Queen’s county. Some speculate that John was not a natural farmer, others suggest the death of his mother severed an already troubled relationship with John’s siblings, leaving the young family vulnerable. Regardless the cause John and Nancy’s financial troubles would lead to the loss of their farm and their flight to Escuminac, New Brunswick. It did not however end their marriage, nor did it result in one or the other of them converting. Despite their financial struggles, despite tales of John’s intolerance for his wife beliefs they went on to have a large family, some of whom were raised in the Roman Catholic tradition while others were raised in the Presbyterian church.

Spring 2022 on Bay du Vin, NB Photo courtesy of Richard MacDougall (Richard is a descendant of Nancy McDougald and John MacEachern through their daughter Isabell MacEachern McDonald jr.)

The post Revolutionary war period saw growth in fishing and timber industries but also in the new venture shipbuilding. By the 1820s when John and Nancy were relocating to Escuminac the port of Miramichi was one of the top five busiest ports in North America. John did what he needed to do to feed his family, he was carpenter, seaman and finally river pilot. It is likely he continued to fished for both additional income and for food for their family.

By 1845 when Rebecca MacDougall was born on her parents Peter and Elizabeth’s farm in Blissfield, NB, her father Peter had already been living in New Brunswick for more than 25 years. Peter who had been born on Malpeque Bay10, St John Island would become a lumberman and farmer in central New Brunswick, as far from the seashore as one can get in Maritime Canada.

Rebecca grew up on the Miramichi River and although there are species of clams and mussels which grow in the Miramichi river system, they are not in great numbers or seen as a desirable food fishery. Oh there was fish…the world famous Atlantic Salmon teamed in the Miramichi River, but there is no local tradition of Salmon being eaten in chowder either. There is however a tradition of vegetable chowder being served with Atlantic Salmon10.

Dumping day at Escuminac, NB – the first day of the lobster fishing season. c. 1950 Photo courtesy of Charles Asoyuf and the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FBsite.

I can’t say for sure that Nancy, and Màiri made and ate seafood chowder, but they did eat what the ocean and seashore provided them. They dug clams, raked oysters and collected blue mussels, and like Rebecca they were expert at processing milk in to cream and butter. Of course the other primary ingredients in Chowder, potatoes and pork were familiar dietary staples, most families in the region had a sow or two and potatoes grew in every garden.

Clam and Seafood chowder comes is several styles…the variety made with bacon, potatoes, cream and butter is known as Maritime style seafood chowder. Of course every cook has their favourite recipe, some add thickeners like flour, some use the traditional ‘Maritime cream replacement’ canned condensed milk, others prefer the rich sweetness of full fat cream, and butter.

Clams harvested April 2022 at Bay Du Vin – Photo courtesy of Richard MacDougall

My Mother’s Cookbooks Maritime Seafood Chowder

3 slices of bacon / or 45 g of salt pork fat cut into small pieces
3 potatoes, peeled and pared to bit sized pieces (starchy varieties best)
1/2 cup(125mls) onion, peeled and chopped fine
2 cups (500mls) heavy cream
3 Tbsps (45ml) butter
2 Bay leaf
Salt and Pepper
2 lbs (~1 kg) total Shell fish (clams, mussels, etc.); Other fish (haddock, cod, scallops);
Lobster or snow crab – cooked, shell removed and meat chopped

1) Scrub and clean clam, mussel, oyster shells discard any broken shells or those which are opened and do not close when tapped;
2) Place the shell fish in a large pot with about 1 inch water; steam until the shells just open, remove immediately from the water and cool. Remove the meat from the shells and chop larger pieces in to bite size pieces. Decant the juices into a bowl being careful to avoid decanting any sediment in the bottom of the pot, and reserve;
3) Cook bacon in a skillet over med heat, remove bacon and all but 2 Tbsp of bacon fat, add onion and bay leaf saute until onion is tender about 3 minutes;
4) Add potatoes, salt and pepper to season the potatoes;
5) Add the juice from the steamed shell fish and enough water to just cover the vegetables; lay uncooked white fish and scallops on top of the veggies;
6) Bring to a boil, cover and turn to low, allow to cook for 4 minutes the scallops and fish should still have some opaqueness;
7) Add clams and other shellfish, cream, and butter to the pot;
8) Allow the chowder to simmer over low heat until the fish is no longer opaque DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL;
9) Taste and adjust seasonings, remove bay leaf before serving.


  1. Advocate Harbour, NS became home to our family in 1968, located on the Bay of Fundy, the community is washed by the worlds highest tides, twice each day. At low tide the mud flats offer enterprising folks opportunity to dig soft shelled clams. Scallops are also found off the shores of Advocate and the entire Bay of Fundy. The Gulf shore of PEI, and Northumberland strait offers more varieties of clams, bar clams, quahogs, razor clams to name some of the varieties of shell fish.
  2. For purposes of this blog I use the following spellings to distinguish between families, McDougald refers to the Glenaladale settlers of that name; MacDougall refers to the Argyl family. McEachern refers to the Glenaladale family, which includes Mary McDougald McEachern who married into the Hugh Ban McEachern family. Nancy (Ann) McDougald married John MacEachern of Mull who came to St John’s Island in 1806 with his parents and siblings.
  3. Màiri is a Gaelic name which is translated in English to Mary, while Aliene is translated as Allan. It appears Mairi and Aliene spoke primarily Gaelic and used these spellings.
  4. Abegweit (Cradled on the waves) is what the Mi’kmaq called Prince Edward Island; the French named it St Jean’s Island; the British called it St John’s island until the name was changed to Prince Edward Island in 1799 in honor of the Duke of Kent.
  5. The MacDougall family arrived in St John’s Island from Argyl Scotland on board the Annabella in 1770, the group comprised of some 60 families(~200 individuals) settled on Malpeque Bay on the Western end of the Island. BTW – the worlds best Oysters are “Malpeques”!
  6. John MacDonald, 8th Laird of Glenaladale’s lands in PEI were comprised originally of Lot 36, in the Tracadie Bay area.
  7. Savage Harbour is a rural community in Queens County, PEI. Located on the Gulf coast the name relates to an early French name, the French later used the name Harve de l’angille (Eel Harbour) in honor of the Mi’kmaq eel fishery in the area.
  8. The Hugh Ban McEachern family were neighbours and kin, Mary McDougald married Ewan McEachern; a second son was Reverend Angus Bernard MacEachern, the First Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown and spiritual leader of the Glenaladale settlers and other Roman Catholics in the region.
  9. John McEachern family arrived in PEI, in 1806 with a group of protestant settlers. The McEachern family settled on lots in lot 57 Queens county, on the Northumberland strait.
  10. Rebecca MacDougall married widower Charles Walls. In addition to the family she and Charles had together Rebecca helped raise Charles’s family from his first marriage to Mary McKinnon, including my Great grandfather Benjamin Walls.


  1. The Island Register –
  2. Rev Angus Bernard MacEachern –
  3. Early settlement and social conditions in Prince Edward Island –
  4. The settlement of PEI –
  5. PEISSHS Alexander Committee 2022. “Glenalladale Settlers 1772 – Scotland to St John’s Island”: Charlottetown, PEI, Prince Edward Island Scottish Settlers Historical Society.

Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

Cookies, biscuits and cookie power!

Many of us have happy memories of cookies and the special cooks who made them, my husband included. For most of the last 32 years I have been hearing about “Mrs Bowers” and her molasses biscuits. The warm and special memories Ray has of this kind and caring soul are a child’s memories. During the 1950s and 1960s children did not presume to call an adult (even with invitation) by their first name, so Ray only knew his special friend as “Mrs Bowers”, and her cookies as molasses biscuits.

Cookies go along way in soothing booboos from a hard day at play. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family Facebook site.

For most North Americans, biscuits are leavened quick breads, usually savory and made with baking powder or soda. In the UK a biscuit, is the term used for a small flat sweet cake, which we in North America call a cookie. Whatever they are called biscuit, or cookie they share the power.

You know about cookie power, right? Cookies have the power to overcome barriers of age, religion, culture, social class, economic status, and language to build relationships. Cookie power is long lasting too, the scent of caramelized sugar and memories come flooding back, the tastes, the smells, and the cook. Although most any cookie can have cookie power, the power it is independent of flavour or style, the most powerful cookies are homemade by loving hands.

Commercial cookies have a different form of cookie power, but their sheer number and ubiquity assures they have real power in the cookie world. They take their rightly place, as evidenced by how many of us enjoy a couple of Oreos, or Fudgeeos with a glass of cold milk, or a Kookie Kutter1 gingersnap dipped in a cup of King Cole tea. Bakery baked cookies contain most of the usual cookie ingredients, there is lots of sugar and fat. It is just they are missing that that extra special investment by a home cook which makes homemade cookies super charged.

Commercially produced baked goods, biscuits and cookies, the ad from the 1940’s. Image courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives –
E.A. Bollinger Nova Scotia Archives 1975-305 1941 no. 319e

Many of the cookie recipes in the My Mother’s Cookbooks collection carry titles like Granny’s oatmeal cookies, Aunt Edna’s shortbread cookies, Hazel’s melting moments, Dad’s gingersnaps and a recent addition, Orion’s Molasses cookies. Usually honoring the person who made them, these titles hint at special memories and to those who went out of their way to put a smile on the face of a small child and warm feelings in their child heart.

It wasn’t Mrs Bowers who provided Ray his first ‘Mrs Bowers molasses biscuit’. The shy four year old neighbour child, who’d been drawn to the Bowers dooryard by their friendly little dog, remembers it clearly. The work hardened hand, which extended that first molasses biscuit on the end of a fork was, not Mrs Bowers but her husband, Willie’s. A clear example of how cookie power can extend to cookie providers too.

4 year old Ray, c. 1955 Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

Orion Lackey, a farmer and lumberman assured there were always plenty of his molasses cookies at his farm house in Upham parish, Kings county, New Brunswick. You see Orion understood that cookie powder is not only transferable to cookie providers, but to houses too. Houses which host regular cookie making and eating(especially by children under 10 years) take on an air of cookie power, drawing grandchildren and their friends to it regularly, even when it means a hefty walk. Years later just the sight of the lane way leading to a cookie powered house can evoke smells and tastes, of memories and love. Orion Lackey was a wise man to build a cookie powered house, it drew his grandchildren to the house and to visit with their widowed and aging grandfather.

Prosperous Homestead and farm in Northumberland County, New Brunswick. c.1890 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Cookie power does have its limits tho too… eventually cooks and cookie providers pass away leaving one time children with memories of cooks and cookies past. Despite cookie power and even armed with the original recipe, many one time children find their favourite treats are just… oh they are good…just not quite the same. Many batches of cookies have been made and eaten in search of the elusive cookie without success…you see the missing ingredient…and the true source of cookie power is the love in the heart of cook and cookie provider, love which gets baked in to cookies and ignites their power.

Homestead Northumberland County, New Brunswick c1890 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Dolena (Dolly) McLeod Bowers, grew up in the tiny backland community of Tarbot, Victoria county, NS. Willie Bowers was born in Boston Mass., where his English born father and his Cape Breton born Mother were living with their family. The 1901 and 1911 census shows Willie listed as an adopted son in the household of Duncan McLeod, it is possible his adopted family were kin of Willie’s mother Margaret McLeod. Married in 1913 Dolly and Willie spent the first years of the marriage living on their Victoria county farm eventually moving to Glace Bay about 1920. Willie would eventually establish himself as self employed gardener.

The Robichaud family c. 1935, Photo courtesy Our Miramichi Heritage Family Fb site. Charles Asoyuf Album.

The tentative relationship between Ray and the Bowers grew gradually over the months following that first biscuit. When Willie unexpectedly died in August of 1956, 5 year old Ray was there, his presence in their home welcomed and insisted upon by Mrs Bowers. For more than 12 years until her death in 1968, Ray visited Mrs Bowers. In the early days, the visits were daily to share a late afternoon snack. The two would sit for a bit together, not saying a lot, on cold winter days a doze by the fire might be in order before their afternoon tea.

Mrs Bowers probably enjoyed having company while her adult sons were at work and having Ray around as playmate served to draw her Grandson to visit more regularly enriching her life still further. As childhood pursuits turned to sports, cadets, etc. their visits grew less frequent but they still happened, a weekend trip away for a judo or drill team competition required a debrief visit with Mrs Bowers. Dolly Bowers and Ray after all shared a cookie powered place in each others hearts.

Orion Lackie and his son Jimmie with their horses. Photo courtesy of member and contributor Love-Darlene.

The truth is the benefit Mrs Bowers and her cookies (often meals) brought to a small boy, from large family with too few resources, were immeasurable. Mrs Bowers’ kindness, along with her son Murdock, thru his small store on School street made a substantial difference in the lives of the entire family, a debt of kindness which will never be entirely repaid.

Orion Lackie was born on the family farm in Upham Parish in 1896. The Lackie family arrived in New Brunswick about 1825 from County Tyrone Ireland. Orion and his wife Mabel married in 1920, and went on to raise their five children in the tiny farming and lumbering community in rural Kings county. After more than 40 years of marriage, having raised their family together, it is likely Orion found his home empty and silent after Mabel’s death in 1961.

We will never know for sure what inspired Orion and Willie to make use of cookie power. What we can say is that both men knew how best to employ it…maybe they had experienced it first hand? They knew that the key to unleashing cookie power is simple, it does not require a complicated process, it just takes a child, a cookie and a kind adult.

As the family cook, I know I will never be able to truly make Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuits… I have no illusion it could be possible. I am however interested in creating a reasonable facsimiIe. Here is what I have discovered about Mrs Bowers biscuits, firstly they are thick cut, Ray remembers them being split in half and buttered. They were also slightly less sweet than a rolled out molasses cookie, and were sometimes served with a piece of cheese or meat. I suspect that Mrs Bowers might well have been drawing on her MacLeod family Scottish ancestry. In Scotland there is tradition of individual hand held ‘buns’. Sweet buns are similar to a cookie but usually eaten in company with soups and other savory foods. In Newfoundland there is a well known tradition of ‘Lassy Buns’, a sweet bun made with molasses. Since the ties between Newfoundland and Cape Breton are deep I can not say for certain the source of Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuit recipe, since Lassy buns appear to be very similar.

It seems to me a little cookie power in our world, never goes a miss. At this crisis point in our history it is easy to loose site of the importance of small actions. The simple act of making and sharing cookies can be and often is transformative. I think it is time to encourage everyone to exercise cookie power, maybe it will provide an example to those who see violence as the solution… Russia and Ukraine time for some cookie power!

This recipe is inspired by Mrs Bowers biscuits and traditional style Newfoundland Lassy buns.

My Mother’s Cookbooks Mrs Bowers Molasses Biscuits:

1 cup molasses
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup milk
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground clove
2 tsp baking soda

1. Preheat oven 350oF;
2. Combine molasses, melted butter, milk and egg;
3. In a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, spices, baking soda;
4. Add dry ingredients to molasses mixture;
5. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 3/4 in thick, cut in to rounds/squares;
6. Bake for 15 to 22 minutes. Removed from the pan and place on a wire rack until cool.

Acknowledgements and Links:
1. Kookie Kutter –
2. I want to thank two people very familiar with cookie power, Stewart Totten and Ray Morrison. Stewart was generous enough to not only share his Grampie’s molasses cookie recipe but his experience about being drawn to his Grandfather Orion’s house by those Molasses cookies. Of course I also thank Ray for sharing his memories of Mrs Bowers and her Molasses biscuits. I think he enjoyed the process, and revisiting Mrs Bowers and her molasses biscuits.

Land Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

My Mother’s Cookbooks and How We Got Here Genealogy…

Happy to share this link, of my conversation with Brian Nash from How We Got Here Genealogy for Atlantic Canadians in The food that made our Ancestors great, webcast on Youtube. Brian and I discuss how I became involved in genealogy and in blogging about My Mother’s Cookbooks. We chat food, its role in family history and my current research projects… I want to thank Brian for a great conversation, I hope you enjoy it!

Here is:
The Food that made our Ancestors great!

Brian also has a podcast, you can find it at:—The-Stories-of-Atlantic-Canada-p1386848/

Family, food and a feed of Smelts.

Fishing Gasperaux at Chatham, Northumberland County, New Brunswick c.1920 Image courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site – Charles Asoyuf’s Collection.

“Do you want a feed of Smelts?” is still commonly heard in many areas of Atlantic Canada and it is usually closely followed by the question “are they cleaned”? Mum did not enjoy cleaning fish and wild game. Knowing the cooking would fall to her, she was quick to quashed the idea that she would be cleaning it too. Most of what needed cleaning, gutting and trimming was fish. In summer salmon and trout, during winter and early spring smelts1, followed by shad and other migratory fish.

The rhythm of life in rural communities of the North east is dictated in part by weather, and by the seasons, although not as much as in the past… For Early European settlers, the line between success and failure was narrow and the stakes high. Access to food, year round access was a primary driver of where people settled, timber played its part, ship building too, but fish, access to it, represented both food and income.

Britain’s settlement of Canada came after a protracted period of conflict and war, which in its own way proved beneficial to early Scottish settlers. Military service with the British was a practical reality for many poor young men from across the United Kingdom including from Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and early 19th century. Despite the apparent contradiction of loyalty, economic and social reality saw large numbers of Lowland and Highland Scots serving with British units overseas including in North America. Many of those who settled in the colonies after their service remained loyal during the American Revolutionary war, eventually taking land grants in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere.

Grand Bra D’Or at Irish Cove, Cape Breton. c. 2016 Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection

It is hardly surprising that young men, motivated by the real possibility they would be granted land for their service, were thrilled to find terrain and waterways strikingly similar to home. The timber covered hillsides, lush river valley’s, sheltered bays and inlets, lakes and sea lochs with plenty of fish and game of Atlantic Canada inspired many. What is surprising, is not that information was gathered, but that it was sufficiently detailed, despite the absence of written descriptions or maps to direct the movement and settlement of early settlers.

Grand Bra D’Or Cape Breton July 2016

Margaret McDougall Currie was born in Isle St Jean (Prince Edward Island) about 1778. Margaret’s husband Duncan Currie’s family, originally of South Uist, Scotland, like the McDougalls were among the passengers of the Brig Alexander who landed on John MacDonald’s property Lot 36, Isle St. Jean in July of 1772.

When the entire Currie family, including Margaret and Duncan relocated to Isle Royale (Cape Breton) about 1812, it is entirely likely they had some prior knowledge of where they were heading. The sheltered, fertile and accessible land they choose to settle might well have been ‘picked out’ years earlier as a good place to live by someone connected to the family. It is possible one of the Currie family might themselves, have visited the island while in service of the crown.

East Bay, Cape Breton facing east toward Portage, NS Nov 2016 Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection
East Bay, Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia November 2016. Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection

The property, located at the Eastern end of Grand Bra D’or, had everything a good Scottish family could need, arable land for crops and livestock, access to fish and game, and waterways for transportation and access to family and friends. Most importantly, the land was freehold, and they would own it. Soon they would be joined by friends and family from Isle St John, and Pictou but also from Scotland.

Dumping Day – Setting Lobster Pots on Grand Bra D’Or, May 2017 Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection

Anna Annie Brown McDonald was born about 1777, after her parents William Brown and Agnes Taylor Brown moved to New Brunswick from Scotland via Dorset. The Brown’s, along with most of Agnes’ siblings, the Taylor family were among the settlers to the lands of William Davidson on Miramichi bay and the Miramichi river system. Annie grew up near what would become the shipbuilding center of Chatham, NB, at the mouth of the Miramichi River. When she married Alexander McDonald she moved to Point Aux Carr further down on Miramichi Bay, where Alexander had been granted land.

Miramichi Bay Fishing Fleet safe in Harbour. Photo Courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site – Charles Asoyuf Collection.

The 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot (The Blackwatch), one of three British Highland regiments2 which served during the Revolutionary war, was first deployed to North America during the French Indian Wars. The Blackwatch saw service in many of the major battles of French Indian War, Seven years War and the American Revolutionary War including in Atlantic Canada.

Anne’s husband Alexander McDonald Jr. was born in Staten Island, NY while his father Alexander Sr. (wife and family) served with the 42nd. At the end of the Revolutionary War Alexander Sr. along with other members of his unit were granted land in the Nashwaak river valley in New Brunswick. The decision by many of the 42nd Highlander veterans to relocate to land grants elsewhere was driven by several factors, better lots with water access and a desire to locate near kin included. Many of the 42nd highlanders relocated to new grants on the Miramichi, some immediately, other families made the move later.

Ice boats on the Miramichi River at Newcastle, NB c.1900 Image courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site – William Brennan Image in Charles Asoyuf’s Collection.
Winter in the Bra D’Or region of Cape Breton c.2017 Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection

For early settlers, a community of others could mean the difference between life and death. The struggle and hardship of clearing land, building shelter and cultivating crops from dense forest, stretching from beach to hill top was made easier and possible by sharing resources and working together.

Fishing on Miramichi Bay c.1890 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

When Margaret and Duncan moved their family to East Bay, Cape Breton it is likely the move was made over time. During summer the hard work of clearing land, building shelter, cultivating the first crop of potatoes and laying the ground work for other crops was carried out. Being able to retreat to established communities with kin for the winter months made settlements of new areas possible.

It is possible Margaret and Duncan enjoyed the benefit of much shorter trip to over winter with Margaret’s sister Mary and Hugh McEachern in Inverness. It is certainly true that settlement of areas of Cape Breton more distant from the established communities in Isle St Jean and Pictou took longer to be settled. The first wave beginning as early as the mid 1770, settlers to East Bay on the Bra D’Or lakes arriving 30 or so years later.

Atlantic Salmon South West Miramichi, Northumberland Country, New Brunswick c.1930 Image courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site – Charles Asoyuf’s Collection.

Despite the bounty of food Miramichi Bay and the Bra D’Or Lakes provided in summer, despite settlers efforts to preserve their summers harvest, and with a supportive community, winter was difficult for early settlers. Ice and snow effectively shuts down harvest of wild fish and game for much of the winter season. In late winter and early spring Miramichi bay and areas of the Bra D’Or lakes begin to team with schools of fish preparing for a run up their fresh water spawning grounds. One species in particular could be depended upon to congregate and run… the earliest fish to arrive, is a family of small fish which are familiar to most in North Atlantic region, Smelt. During spawning season they make their way from the ocean into most fresh water systems, lakes and rivers in both Europe and North America… and are welcomed by the winter weary.

McCullum Brigde Glengelg Parish, Northumberland County, New Brunswick Image courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site – Charles Asoyuf’s Collection.

The My Mother’s Cookbooks recipe for a Feed of Smelts

Whole smelts, cleaned with head removed.
Salt and Pepper
Butter and oil
1. Combine flour, and seasonings together in a wide shallow bowl;
2. Dust each smelt in flour, shake well to remove excess flour;
3. Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan, over medium high heat until butter and oil shimmers in the pan;
4. Place smelts in pan and fry until light brown and crispy, turning half way thru; until flesh is no longer translucent (internal temperature of 140-145 F).
5. Serve with boiled potatoes and other root vegetables. Garnished with a bit of Green Tomato Chow chow and enjoy.


1. Smelts – Are a family of small fish which are native to both the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans and in fresh water rivers and lakes in North America, Northern Asia and Europe. The specific species common to the waters of North America is Rainbow smelt.
2. Highland Regiments serving during the American Revolutionary War: The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment; 71st Regiment of Foot (Frasers Highlanders); 76th Reginment of Foot (MacDonalds Highlanders) were the 3 Highland units to serve in North America during the Revolutionary war, they were joined by Highland units raised in America including the North Carolina Highlanders and the Royal Highland Emigrants (the 84th Highland) Regiment. There were Scottish Regiments comprised primarily of Lowland Scots, which served during the war as well.
3. Green Tomato Chow chow is a pickled relish made of green tomatoes, onions and spices. It is not entirely clear how Chow Chow came to be, one of the first printed recipes appeared in the Harriet Pinckney Horry cookbook of 1770 in South Carolina. Tomatoes were largely unknown to Scottish, Irish and English settlers who were at suspicious of unfamiliar fruit and its rumoured poisonious nature. It would take time for it to become popular with folks in Atlantic Canada, probably encouraged by the region’s trade with the West Indies.

Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

Sunset on Grand Bra D’Or July 2016 Photo F. Eliza Morrison Collection.

Comfort food, Leftovers and Bread Pudding

Just because a food is traditional to a community or group does not mean it was eaten by everyone in it. It is interesting how individual and varied food choices are, despite major underlying similarities…A few years ago, Ray and I were attending a conference out of province, a good friend offered to ‘stay in’ to care for our dog Meesha in our absence. The evening before our departure, I prepared a meal with intended leftovers and I left a note telling my friend to enjoy the roast pork, salad, carrots, couscous, gravy, and My Mother’s Cookbooks bread pudding for her after work meal.

Mrs Dugas making bread as her daughter Joyce looks on c.1951 Alex H. Leighton NS Archives collection 1988-413

Later that next evening I received a text from my friend thanking me for dinner. When she said she’d never eaten ‘it’ before, I assumed we were talking about the Morrocan couscous. But her confession she eaten two servings, one with the pork meal and the other as dessert had the penny dropping…my friend had never eaten or encountered bread pudding before.

Acadian Camp cook, Saulnierville Station baking bread c.1958 Alex H. Leighton NS Archives collection 1988-413

Foods which were in regular rotation in our home growing up tend to engender one of two responses in us as adults…intense enjoyment or complete avoidance. Of course which category a food fits into is dependent on many things, individual preference, the skill of the cook, even the associations foods carry with life events contribute to whether a food becomes a personal tradition. The variety of traditions of individuals and families, is vast even dietary staples like bread have their limits, bread pudding is a case in point.

1st Prize in the category under 16 girls cooking champion Guyborough county Exhibition c.1915. Buckley Family Nova Scotia Archives Collection 1985-386 no. 429

Given the variety of yeast raised breads available to us, it would be easy to assume that some form of wheat bread has always been available. Despite being used over thousands of years, despite a variety of methods for ‘baking’ it, the supply and consumption of yeast raised wheat bread varied upon location. Wheat is not indigenous to North America in Eastern North America the climate, and soil conditions are highly variable, settlers found they could grow wheat in some areas others not at all. The desire for wheat1, because of it’s nutrition and usability made it a valuable commodity. So farmers grew it where the yield was sufficient to justify it, but always accompanied by staples like squash, beans and corn2.

Salt Water Logging Crew enjoy their lunch by the shores of the Bay of Fundy. c. 1950 Alex H. Leighton NS Archives collection 1988-413

For young women like Mary MacKenzie Munroe and Dorothy Price Hovey, wheat flour and wheat bread came in and out of their lives, depending upon their movement, their ability to grow wheat or the funds or product available to exchange for wheat flour. Mary, who grew up in Stoney Beach on the shores of the Annapolis River in Nova Scotia, knew wheat as a child, her parents Alexander and Ann likely grew it on their farm. The Annapolis valley, one of the earliest European settlement in Canada, was home to the first wheat exported from Canadian soil. Acadian settlers brought wheat with them from France, by the mid 17th century the yield was sufficient to warrant export3.

Two women cooking by an open fire c. 1900. Dunlap collection Nova Scotia Archives 1992-398 no. 15.

The Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, ‘Acadia’, benefits from rich fertile soil deposited by the glacial movements of the distant past but it is the microclimate created by the valley’s location between two mountains which is truly unique. The North Mountain protects the valley from the winds off the Bay of Fundy, the South mountain sheltering it from the Atlantic Coastal winds, creating environment and soil conditions conducive to vegetable and fruit cultivation.

Like Mary, Dolly might well have preferred to eat yeast raised wheat bread but it would not have appeared regularly on her table. European settler families to areas like the Massachusetts and New Jersey colonies cultivated corn, squash and beans, with far less effort focused on wheat and Rye. It is entirely likely for Dolly daily bread was unleavened cornbread.

c. 1938 Cook and stove, prepared to follow the log drive. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family Facebook site.

The desire for new opportunities, fewer restrictions on religion practice and the offer of ‘free’ land saw Dolly’s parents Edmund and Jane relocating to the Nova Scotia colony as “New England Planters”4. The St John River valley of New Brunswick was a comparatively wild place in the mid 18th century. It did offer fertile land, some of the most fertile land in New Brunswick can be found in the St John River valley. The river with head waters in both Quebec and Maine, at Maugerville and Gagetown, is wide and slow moving as it meanders through a floodplain and delta created by the confluence of tributaries and wetlands. The narrow gorge at the Reversing falls some 60 miles down river creates a natural damming effect which during the spring melt causes regular flooding of the river plain.

Within 10 years of Mary marriage to Evan Munro and her move to Maugerville, New Brunswick, the influx of refugees from the Revolutionary war began placing strain on food, land and other resources. The challenge of feeding and supporting a suddenly burgeoning population saw farmers growing wheat where they could, primarily as a cash crop. Less fertile fields were cultivated with buckwheat, oats, barley, potatoes and used for personal use with any surplus traded.

It is possible during her childhood in the Nova Scotia colony that Dolly ate yeast raised wheat bread, courtesy of her family’s effort to grow wheat. When Dolly married Aaron Hovey and moved to the Miramichi River Valley, eating wheat became far less frequent. If it appeared at all, Dolly would have probably purchased it. The Miramichi region is long associated with the timber industry, and with the consumption of buckwheat which will grow in the very poorest soils. Provided one could afford the price, wheat was also available. It seems it was just available enough to assure folks maintained a taste for it. Although Selkirk settlers to the prairies began cultivating wheat in 1814 it would take until the development of cold hardy varieties for wheat to become reliably available.

c. 1910 Preparing lunch, Miramichi River, Northumberland county, New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family Facebook site.

Cooks in Atlantic Canada during the period from 1890 to 1950 made bread and plenty of it. It was common for a woman with a large family to make bread several times per week, most of which quickly disappeared. What did not get eaten immediately was not allowed to spoil, instead odd sized pieces and ends were repurposed in to dressings, added as thickening and transformed in to desserts.

Some dessert recipes call for the bread to be crumbed or grated and added as a sort of flour replacement. In bread pudding the high ratio of bread to other ingredients makes bread the obvious star of the show, even as it lends it self to a variety of flavour combinations. I suspect this in part explains why bread pudding rarely appears on offer at high end bakeries or restaurants. Even dressed with the freshest eggs, and cream, sweetened with cinnamon and sugar, or with some chopped fruit tossed in, ‘bread’ pudding remains a humble dessert in the minds of some, just leftover bread… but to others it is delicious comfort food.

My Mother’s Cookbook’s Bread Pudding

3 beaten eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
5 Tbsp melted butter
3 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
10 slices of whole grain bread cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup of raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F;
2. Melt butter and set aside to cool;
3. In a medium sized bowl beat eggs;
4. Add white and brown sugar and cinnamon;
5. Add cooled butter, vanilla and milk, mix well;
6. Place bread pieces in to a butter baking dish, pour the custard over it, set aside 30 minutes to permit the bread to hydrate;
7. Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean;
8. Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving, can be served warm or chilled.

References and Explanations:
1) Wheat is indigenous to Asia, during the course of thousands of years, wheat became a preferred grain in the diets of Western nations. The introduction of wheat to North America and the impact ‘our determined cultivation’ has had on First Nations People, their culture and way of life, is undeniable. Wheat and our fascination with it has often been with out consideration of the negative impact on First Nations Peoples, and on our environment. The “Wheat belly” controversy made a dent in some of our fascination with wheat and wheat bread, yet it remains an issue we have yet to resolve.

2) Squash, Beans and corn – are true North America foods, introduced to European settlers by First Nations peoples. Some describe these staples as the Three Sisters, others acknowledge even this nod to the importance First Nations People and their food played in the lives of European settlers is a distortion and over simplification, even a settler appropriation of First Nations culture. It is with out doubt European settlement and our fascination with wheat flour in particular has played a role in displacing, and destroying the way of life of First Nations People.

3) Wheat and Canada –

4) After the expulsion of Acadians from their lands beginning in 1755, British authorities began recruiting settlers to assume the properties forcibly vacated by Acadians. Recruitment occurred in both Britain and the Colonies, the largest group of settlers during this period were New Englanders who ‘planted’ in Nova Scotia. Governor Lawrence preferred to encourage settlers with farming experience, which actively discouraged ex military settlers since they were not ‘farmers’.

Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

Baked Beans and …the Scots.

This blog is the first in a series which will feature early Scottish settlers to the Atlantic region and the McDougald, MacEachern; McKinnon and McGraw families among others…

The tradition of enjoying a Saturday night supper of homemade baked beans is one familiar to families through out Atlantic Canada. Of course there are several versions for baked beans in the My Mother’s Cookbook collection, most are Maritime style. Whether the recipe calls for fresh pork fat, or bacon, molasses and brown sugar or just molasses, the real question is not how these recipes differ, but what they were served with…

A Scottish Black house typical of the very early structures built by Scottish Settlers, located at the Highland Village, Iona, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. c. 2014

There are plenty of choices for what to serve with baked beans, starch or protein, veggie or grain. Some areas of the region see starchy foods preferred, like Brown bread, or biscuits, some folks add protein in the form of ham, or sausage. Of course there are the wieners and bologna (baloney) group1.

Inverness county, Nova Scotia c.1920 Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives MacAskill photo # 1987-453 no.1202

First Nations Peoples were preparing a style of baked beans for generations prior to European settlement, using beans native to the Americas2. Introduced to European settlers by their First Nations neighbours, beans were originally cooked over an open fire. Like many recipes Maritime Baked Beans (aka Boston Style or New England Style) developed over time with the ingredients folks had available to them.

For Mary McDougald’s family the decision to leave their home in Morvern Scotland was the result of on going religious persecution and the fear of Religion of the Yellow Stick3. In 1772 Mary, a toddler and her family immigrated to St Jean’s Island4 with a group, sponsored by John McDonald 8th Laird of Glenaladale, which became known as the Glenaladale settlers.

Long boats on the Northumberland strait, winter 1900. Photo Courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Jane Sharpe arrived in New Brunswick at the end of the Revolutionary War. Jane’s husband Gregor McKinnon, who was born in Isle of Skye, and served in India with the British Military had been a settler in North Carolina prior to the War. Jane’s family were early settlers to the Massachusettes and Connecticut, beginning in the mid 17th century. After the Revolutionary War, Gregor who was granted land in New Brunswick on the Madame Keswick chose instead to relocate to the Eastern coast of New Brunswick, on Miramichi Bay. It quite likely the McKinnon family chose the location because it offered a community of other Scots to live among.

The earliest sizable group of Scottish settlers to the Eastern region of New Brunswick were sponsored by William Davidson5. The first of the Davidson settlers, Protestant Scots, began arriving on the shores of Miramichi Bay in 1766. At the end of the Revolutionary war, a significant number of former British Military6, including the McKinnon family, many associated with North Carolina Volunteers and the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch) joined the Davidson settlers in developing the region.

Bay Du Vin, NB on Miramichi Bay. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Although the Glenaladale settlers were grateful to the McDonald for sponsoring their move, many of the settlers saw it as an opportunity to leave the precarious life as tenant farmers behind and acquire freehold land. Mary’s family, appear to have been among the group motivated by both land ownership and adherence to their Roman Catholic faith.

Inverness county, Nova Scotia. Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives WA MacAskill Collection 1987-453 no.980

The Glenaladale settlers, like any group of Highland Gaels needed both a piper and a priest. Angus Bernard MacEachern, joined his family in Isle St Jean about 1790, eventually becoming the first Bishop of Charlottetown. Serving the Gaelic speaking Scots on Isle St Jean, Father MacEachern, also served the growing Gaelic speaking community in Pictou and Antigonish7 areas of Nova Scotia. When his brother Ewan MacEachern and his wife Mary McDougald relocated to what would eventually become Inverness County Cape Breton Island8, the tiny settlement depended on Father MacEachern for religious service.

Father MacEachern’s decision to guarantee those of the Highland Gaelic families who settled in the region of the Northumberland Strait9 access to Mass in Gaelic saw many families making that choice. Father MacEachern’s plan was a practical one, his flock would be accessible by water, the terrain in many areas was similar to that of their homeland, and sheltering and settling together brought opportunities for shared language, music, culture, kinship and food. As the large number of United Empire Loyalists flooded the region at the end of the Revolutionary War, many with Scottish heritage were drawn to where kin and culture could be found, including on the shores of the Northumberland strait and Miramichi Bay.

c. 1950, feeding the pig, Northumberland County, NB Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Winters for Mary and Jane were difficult, their winter diet dependent upon what they had been able to grow, harvest, forage and preserve. Fishing provided not only a household source of food but also a source of income to purchase items like molasses, tea, etc. Salted and dried fish, dried beans, and potatoes, were staples.

Lands bordering the Northumberland strait are surprisingly varied, soil, topography and climate serving to make some areas sheltered and fertile, others exposed and barren, limiting food and crop choices.

Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Mary and Ewan, living on the steep hillsides of Inverness county, would have grown both oats and wheat on their farm. Jane and Gregor would have grown some oats as well as buckwheat which is better suited to the northern end of the Northumberland Strait and Miramichi Bay area.

Picking potatoes in Black River Bridge, NB c.1950. Photo Courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Baked Beans were familiar fare to Jane, Mary less so but she would have learned quickly the value of beans as a source of protein and carbohydrates in the cold climate. Their beans were made with what was available, sometimes maple syrup rather than molasses, maybe even bear fat instead of pork fat.

And what were their beans served with? Jane would probably prefer cornbread or Brown Bread (steamed), but corn and wheat were not always available as they had been in New England. Buckwheat pancakes are a more likely choice if Jane preferred a starch with her beans. It is possible she might have joined Mary in serving Fishcakes with her beans. After all both Mary and Jane lived on some of the most productive fishing areas in North America, the Northumberland Strait and Miramichi Bay region.

My Mother’s Cookbooks Maritime Baked Beans and Salt Cod Fishcakes

Baked Beans

3 cups of Navy Beans, soaked and parboiled
1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp of Molasses
6 oz of Salt Pork or 6 slices of Bacon cut in to pieces
1 large onion chopped
1 tsp dry mustard
3 tsp white or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Brown sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt or to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Wash beans well and remove debris;
3. Place beans in a large bowl and cover with water, let soak overnight in the refrigerator;
4. Drain the beans, place in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer about 40 minutes or until the bean skins crack and split when blown on;
5. Drain the beans and place in a bean crock;
6. Add remaining ingredients except the salt, add enough water to just cover the beans;
7. Cover and bake until the beans are tender about 3 hours, adding water as necessary, during the last hour of cooking, add the salt to the beans.

Salt Cod Fishcakes

1 Pound of Salt Cod soaked
2 1/2 Pounds of Potatoes, washed, and pared
1 Onion chopped fine
2 Eggs
1/4 Black pepper
Salt to taste
Cornmeal for dusting
Oil for frying
1. Drain the fish and add it to a pot with potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are tender, drain;
2. Mash the potatoes and flake the fish into small pieces;
3. Add onion, egg and seasonings, mix well;
4. Using a 1/4 c measure portion and form the fishcakes;
5. Dust the fish cakes in cornmeal;
6. Heat oil and place fishcakes into a frying pan over medium heat, fry until the cakes are lightly browned and cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees F.


  1. Bologna or Boloney as it is known in Atlantic Canada is reputed to have arrived in the region in the very early days of settlement courtesy of an Italian immigrant. Regardless, its origin boloney which is also known as Newfie steak, remains popular in the entire Atlantic region. Maple Leaf Canada (one of the most beloved bologna brands in Canada) report that 60% of bologna sold Canada-wide is bought in Atlantic Canada. Quite impressive for a region that only has about 7% of the country’s population. Of course, like wieners, its salty meatiness goes well with sweet Maritime Baked Beans.
  2. The varieties of beans commonly used in Maritime Baked Beans are “Navy” beans, which originated in the Americas, along with other varieties.
  3. Religion of the Yellow Stick – Creideamh a’ bhata-bhuidhe refers to the practice of some Scottish landowner’s attempt to force their tenants to convert to Protestantism.
  4. Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island was known first as Epekwitk, meaning lying in the water, the first European settlers called the island, Isle St Jean. In November 1798, it was renamed Prince Edward Island.
  5. Davidson Settlers – William Davidson and his business partner John Cort were awarded a settlement grant of 100,000 acres of land on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. In exchange for settling the area with Protestant immigrants, Davidson and Court would receive generous land and business grants. Many of those who settled the area were of Scottish heritage.
  6. The history of conflict between the Scottish and English is well understood, but the role of Scottish soldiers in British Military history aboard may be less so. After Culloden and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, despite its contradiction large numbers of Scottish men joined the British Army. It appears poverty and a desire to serve and protect their local interests through militia units like the Black Watch is where it began. With in a short period of time, the Crown began using the Scottish militia units as regular army troops in their wars overseas, including in North America. By the 1770’s those considering a move from Scotland to the Colonies, had benefit of the knowledge and experience (theirs and others) gathered by Soldiers serving with English in the French /English Wars.
  7. The Hector Settlers to Nova Scotia – Just after the Glenaladale settlers arrived in Isle St Jean in 1773, the first major Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia arrived on the Ship Hector.
  8. The settlement of Inverness County, Nova Scotia began with Scots from Isle St Jean and Pictou area moving east.
  9. The Northumberland Strait – are waters between Prince Edward Island and coastal areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The northern boundary is between Escuminac NB and North Cape, PEI, while it’s eastern boundary is between West Point PEI and Inverness County, NS an area stretching some 225 km.

Holiday Favourites, Frying pan cookies and canned peas…

Christmas on the Miramichi, Miramichi, New Brunswick Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FBsite.

Recently, while browsing through some of the recipes in the My Mother’s Cookbooks collection I came across one of Mum’s handwritten holiday menus. A list of all of the special foods she planned to prepare, share and serve during the season. It contained all of the usual suspects, Squash Puff, Cornish Pasties, Whipped Shortbreads, Buttertarts, Doughnuts, Fruit bread, Sausage rolls, etc. including Frying Pan Cookies.

I remember frying pan cookies, they appeared perrennially each Holiday season, but I don’t recall them being anyone’s favourite. Mum spent weeks cooking and baking from her lovingly maintained list of each family member’s favourite foods. Come the Holidays some of each of the prepared favourites would be retained for everyone to share, the remainder packaged for the favoured family member to ‘take home’. Which of course helps explain the size and complexity of Mum’s Holiday menu.

Holiday preparations, Christmas tree harvesters, Miramichi, NB c.1945 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Mum loved to discover new foods and managed to embrace the small bits of diverse culture and tradition she encountered, honouring and respecting those whose life and times intersected with hers, using food. At Holiday time that meant providing the best traditional experience for each and everyone at her table through their favourite holiday foods.

The Buckley Family Christmas c. 1915, Guysborough, NS Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives Buckely Family collection, William H. Buckley Photo # 1985-386 #22

When my then boyfriend, now husband Ray, found himself with a last minute change of his holiday plans, of course he was invited to spend the Holiday at my parent’s home. The haste of invitation restricted Mum from learning about Ray’s favourite foods and her limited knowledge of his background precluded her from preparing something specifically for him.

Ray’s first Christmas with our family was already heading for the record books. Christmas dinner was being hosted by Eleanor, My sister in law Darlene’s Mother, aided by her son a professional chief. The meal was outstanding, variety of roasted meats, vegetables, salads, and desserts, oh the desserts. After a lovely meal and time spent catching up on the year’s events in our lives, Ray and I along with my parents began the hour long drive back to my parent’s home.

Christmas Dinner at Vian Aandrews’ c. 1950 A John Collier jr photo courtesy of the Alexander H. Leighton Collection at the NS Archives Image # 1988-413 negative 1895-d.

During the drive, the meal we had just consumed was lauded and appreciated by everyone. It was Dad, who’d pointed out delicious tho it had been, it had not been a ‘true’ Christmas dinner. He’d missed the turnip, and jellied salad had not replaced his favourite squash puff. Ray empathizing with Dad chimed in that yes, he’d missed the canned peas, with the turkey. Mum turned to meet his eyes in the darken car. “Now that is interesting Ray. Canned peas, to go with your turkey dinner. It is a good thing I have the turkey thawed, we will just have our true Christmas feast tomorrow”.

Christmas in the Miramichi, Miramichi, NS Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

The next morning Boxing Day, Mum was up early with the turkey stuffed and in the oven before most of the family were roused for the day. My parents retirement home in the central New Brunswick community of Ludlow did not offer much in the way of retail experience, especially on Boxing Day. So I was surprised, as I wiped sleep from my eyes, to find Dad donning his jacket and boots, heading out to find an open convenience store. You see Mum did not have canned peas on hand.

Oh sure, there had been a time when canned peas had appeared on our family table but they had long since been replaced with the frozen variety. For Mum that did not mean they could be used in a pinch, not for Christmas dinner. Ray had said canned peas, canned peas he would have. Dad always Mum’s accomplice when it came to ‘doing’ for family, happily made the slog to the local Irving and snagged a can of peas.

The Height Family c. January 1951 Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives. Photograph appears courtesy of the Alexander H. Leighton Collection at the Nova Scotia Archives – John Collier Jr. image 1988-413-4003-d

Ironically, I was the one who nearly ruined her plan to assure Ray had his peas just the way he liked. Fortunately, I was saved from an agregious mistake, by Ray’s observation ‘Oh you are heating the peas?’ You see Christmas dinner canned peas are not a ‘vegetable’ or at least not served as a one, they are served cold as a condiment, similar to cranberry sauce.

As was her habit canned peas along with a considerable number of Ray’s other favourite foods were added to her list of Holiday favourites. When I began writing this piece, I was stumped about whose list of favourites included Frying pan cookies. As I considered the recipe it became clear…dates, cherries, coconut; simple, quick, one dish…Frying pan cookies were Mum’s favourite.

My folks are both gone now but they live on in the hearts and minds of those who shared their table and spent time on Mum’s list of Holiday Favourites. A little last minute Holiday baking is in my future, Frying Pan cookies will make an appearance this year. Wishing you and your family the very best of the Holidays and a healthy and prosperous 2022!

My Mother’s Cookbooks Frying Pan Cookies

1cup white sugar
1 cup dates chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup candied cherries chopped
2 cups rice crisps
1/2 cup (or so) of shredded coconut

1. Place the sugar, dates, butter, egg, vanilla and salt in an electric fry pan cook for one minute.
2. Add cherries and rice crisps, stirring to combine.
3. Portion in to small balls and roll in coconut.

Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

The ‘making’ of Cape Breton Pork Pies…

Cape Breton Pork Pies don’t contain pork, but they do resemble the hat1. The origin of this tiny tart, a shortbread base, filled with dates and topped with a carefully piped cap of maple icing is unknown, although some credit Acadians for inspiring them.

The company store and staff, Dominion Coal Co. Ltd c.1912 Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives and the Beaton Institute CBU, 80-13-4193.

There is little doubt that Acadian settlers to the region depended heavily on pork and pork fat in their diet. From the very beginning of Acadia, despite an abundant source of wild game and fish, pork was the preferred source of protein. After being forced from their homes and farms, some Acadian families fled to Cape Breton, founding two major settlements, Cheticamp on the north western coast and Isle Madame on the south coast of Cape Breton Island. Although fishing would largely replace farming as a means of providing for their families, raising pigs for food remained an integral part of life. There are many traditional Acadian dishes which contain pork and pork fat, including fruit desserts.

A group of Children learn the traditional craft of egg decoration Ukrainian style c. 1950

Despite both this association and the name, the fussy little tarts are made with shortbread a Scottish tradition, dates which originated in the middle east and maple, which is purely and completely First Nations in origin. So how did they come to be a Cape Breton Holiday tradition?

Cape Breton Pork Pie recipes began appearing in community cookbooks in the early 1930s, it is entirely likely they were developed during the first two decades of the 20th century. The new century which brought widespread social and political change, unprecedented growth, upheaval, and greater cultural diversity to Cape Breton would result in Cape Breton Pork Pies.

Whitney pier, Cape Breton Steel plant c.1900 Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.

By the time Bessie Mauger arrived in North Sydney from her home community of Petites Newfoundland about 1890, the industrialization of Cape Breton was well underway. Mines, steel mills, construction of infrastructure, and housing were bringing workers from across the region and around the world to work in Cape Breton. Young women like Bessie found work in the homes of company officials, merchants, physicians, and in the company stores, hotels and boarding houses serving the growing number of workers.

Company homes in the Sydney coal fields c1890 Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives

Elizabeth McIsaac Topshee, her Syrian born Traveling merchant husband George, their four young children, Elizabeth’s Mother Lizzie and her brother Leslie McIsaac were living together on Robert street, Sydney in 1921. Lizzie and Leslie who were born in Boston, Mass returned to their parent’s Cape Breton home with their mother, after their father Peter died. A bright and capable person Elizabeth worked for while as a Teacher, before marrying George.

For women like Kathleen Bryan living in the neighbourhood of Whitney Pier provided opportunity to add to her family’s resources by taking in boarders. The large numbers of men, single and married flocking to the area for work had to be housed, some would lodge, others board in family homes, sharing the cramped and inadequate housing and food. Most families who took in boarders, took in those they knew, single lads from home, married men working to bring their family to Cape Breton from their homes in Newfoundland, Lebanon, Wales, Ireland, New England and the long list of local and exotic locales. Kathleen and her husband Lambert welcomed boarders from their home in the British West Indies.

Victoria Road, North, Whitney Pier, Sydney, NS Nova Scotia Archives Beaton Institute Collection.

The system which favoured powerful white Protestant English speaking people2 over others left many Scots, Acadians, First Nations people and a growing number of others on the outside looking in. As industrialization took hold, the disparity between those who owned and operated the industries and the souls who toiled in them grew.

By 1921, Bessie and John had managed to purchase a home for their family in Dominion. With already more than 30 years in the industry John worked his way from miner to mechanic, improving his wages and vastly improving his family’s lot. A new social order and improvement in their living conditions, fostered new found independence and pride. In the 1921 census, for the first time in their married life John and Bessie openly declared John’s deep Acadian heritage. John’s ‘Young’ family had their name converted from the original Lejeune sometime in the early part of the previous century, as they struggled to survive in a social system which discriminated against Acadians and favoured those with English names.

Dominion #3 c. 1909 Coal strike, Army officers stationed at Glace Bay, 12 July 1909. Photo Courtesy: Beaton Institute, CBU. Bourinot family collection MG12.16(E):78-735-2485

Despite nearly a century of being known as “Young”, John and his family managed to retain their Acadian heritage personally if not officially. The benefit realized by highlighting his mother’s Scottish heritage had not eroded John’s Acadian heritage entirely. His family name was lost, their language lost, yet he still identified as ‘French Acadian’. It is likely food, traditional Acadian food played a role in maintaining John’s Acadian heritage.

The struggles of the new century would continue in to the 1920s, the labour unrest which would see police, and military deployed against workers strained and severed traditional relationships but also fostered new ones. Solidarity between and among Union members was critical to their successful skirmishes against the company. When the entire community, women, neighbours, well to do, poor; Polish, French, English, Walsh, Assyrian, Italian, Ukrainian, West Indian, Scottish, etc. stood in solidarity, long term meaningful change finally took hold, and a more diverse identity was born.

185th Battalion drilling in front of the Crown Hotel, Broughton, Nova Scotia 1916. Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.

Dates have been grown in the middle east and Asia for thousands of years, during that time they became ‘staple’ in the diet of the region and spread as an imported food to other areas of the world. North American cultivated dates began appearing in the 1920s, just in time for the Cape Breton Pork Pie.

There has been much speculation about the relationship between the term pork pie and it’s suspected Acadian origins. Did the first pork pies contain pork? It is quite possible cooks like Bessie, Kathleen and Elizabeth sometimes made the shortbread base with pork fat rather than butter, it is also possible pork fat was added to the filling as a flavour enhancer.

The even more likely source of the relationship between the pork pie and Acadian culture is the maple icing. Maple sugar and flavouring are firmly rooted in First Nations culture, and by virtue of the longstanding and positive relationships between the two nations, in Acadian culture.

This Holiday season Cape Breton Pork pies will take their rightful place on our table, a wonderful way to celebrate a little of what it means to be from Cape Breton…

My Mother’s Cookbook’s…

Cape Breton Pork Pies

Pork pies are small tarts, about 11/2 inches in diameter, mini tart molds / cups are required.

2 cups Flour
2 Tbsp Corn Starch
1/4 tsp Salt
1 cup Butter
1/2 cup Confectioners Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
2 1/4 cups chopped Dates
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup Boiling Water
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Lemon extract
1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
Maple Icing:
2/3 cup Confectioners Sugar
2 Tbsps Maple Syrup
1 Tbsp Butter
1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C);
2) In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy;
3) Beat in egg yolk and vanilla;
4) In a second bowl combine flour, cornstarch and salt;
5) Gradually add the dry ingredients into the butter sugar mix, kneading to a smooth dough;
6) Make 3/4 round balls of dough and press into 11/2 inch tart molds, pressing the dough evenly over the bottom and sides;
7) Bake for 15 minutes or until golden; set aside to cool;
8) In a saucepan combine dates, brown sugar, water, and salt over med heat until it reaches a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 4 minutes, stirring regularly;
9) Remove from the heat, add lemon and vanilla, set aside to cool;
10) In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar, add maple syrup and whip to fluffy consistency;
11) Fill shortbread cups with date filling and cape with a dollop of icing.

Explanations and Resources:

1. The Pork Pie hat, or the porkpie, is a round hat with a turned-up brim and a flat crown.
2. The British Colonial settlement of Atlantic Canada favoured white, protestant community members over others, although the labour struggles and social actions of the early 20th century challenged the system, it did not translate into equal opportunities for all. First Nations people and others of visible minority groups continue to be disadvantaged and marginalized by a system which favours whites over others.
3. History of Acadie – Canadian Encyclopedia
4. Acadian History –

Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

Christmas Doughnuts and House Girls…

There were many baked treats on Mum’s Christmas preparation list, but only one item warrants two versions…Doughnuts. The most Canadian of doughnuts does not come from a coffee shop, it does not have maple icing or a fancy name…it is a cake doughnut made with molasses. Once fried, the doughnuts may be rolled in granulated white sugar, although the non sugared version is my personal favourite.

The home of Otto and Amelia (Wilson) Hildebrand, Main Street Doaktown, NB ca 1905-10. (P156-34, PANB)

It is impossible to know when doughnuts first came to Canada, since fried batter in one form or another has been around for thousands of years. What we can say is that doughnuts saw a major upswing in popularity in Canada after veterans returned from the First World War. Many Canadian Soldiers were introduced to the delicious fried treat by French families, who were doing their part to support the young soldiers fighting in nearby trenches. A good many of those young soldiers returned to Canada with the taste for doughnuts.

The lives of our early ancestors were difficult, but none more so that those coming to age in the first quarter of the 20th century. Nearly 50 years of growth and development both technologically and socially had increased expectations. Expectations for a life different from their parents, an easier one, more advanced and modern were promised, development and modernization do not however follow a straight path. No one could know the challenges which would present in the first half of the 20th century and how much they would challenge and frustrate the expectations people had for their lives.

Petites, NL Harbour,and Merchants Row. Photograph Courtesy of the Petites Church Newfoundland: Restoration Project Facebook site.

Molasses, began falling out of favour as a baking ingredient as soon as a regular and affordable supply of sugar became available. Molasses has a unique flavour profile, one far different from that of sugar, and then there’s the colour issue. The strong dark colour of molasses and its characteristic flavour contributed to the perception Molasses is ‘old fashioned’ and ‘poor mans food’, especially as a baking ingredient. Yet most families in the Atlantic region continued to have molasses on their tables well in to the 1960s.

Growing up in the bustling out port fishing community of Petites, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland Maud Blanche Tufts knew molasses, it was cheap and available (thanks to fish and its trade with the West Indies). The fishing industry in Newfoundland, upon which out port communities had been built, depended heavily on molasses. For the fleet of vessels fishing the nearby Rose Blanche fishing grounds and on shore where the fish was processed, molasses was staple, providing a cheap and satisfying source of carbohydrates., and micro-nutrients.

Petites, Newfoundland c.1950 Photograph Courtesy of the Petites Church Newfoundland: Restoration Project Facebook site

Petites, despite not boasting more than 200 residents, was a community built on serving not only the fishing industry but also supplying the smaller out ports of the region. Strategically located near the rich fishing grounds, and graced with a source of fresh spring water, Petites boasted up to 6 stores, one of which was operated by Maud and her husband Isaac Mauger. It is with out doubt a puncheon1 of molasses graced their storeroom, and that locals and fishers alike depended upon it for their supply.

It would be easy to to think of Petites as isolated and insular during this time, but like Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Petites was well connected to the outside world and surprisingly cosmopolitan. Trade vessels which supplied communities like Glace Bay and Petites linked them to far flung places, including European, American and West Indian ports of call.

Train Trestle at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia c. 1900 Photo courtesy of the Cape Breton Island the other Scotland across the Atlantic FB site.

Sarah McDougall and her family relocated to Glace Bay, when her father Allan took full time work in the coal mining industry. For Sarah this move was transformational, her life transformed by new people, new foods and new opportunities not available in her rural Cape Breton Backland home.

Main Street, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia c. 1920 Photo courtesy of the Cape Breton Island the other Scotland across the Atlantic FB site.

For young women, respectable young women like Sarah, changing times, meant she could work outside of home, at least until her marriage. Some young women would seek training as nurses, and teachers, others moved to larger centers for work in factories or as store clerks but many women including Sarah found work as “house girls”2. Glace Bay at the turn of the century was a growing bustling industry town, with tram cars, stores, and people from all over the world seeking work in the mining and fishing industries. Merchants, businessmen, professionals and mine officials had the means to hire young women like Sarah to support their households, while the majority of citizens struggled to meet their basic needs. Until she married Sarah’s wages would have been added to her family’s resources with a bit reserved for Sarah to buy something for herself, a bit of pretty lace for her hat or a sugary treat from one of the local bakeries which served area workers. At home molasses remained a dietary staple.

It is not in the least surprising that at the end of the First War, once the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 -1919 had waned people wanted to celebrate. The lingering piety of the Victorian period was forced aside by enjoyment, indulgence and by a focus on the new, the modern and on luxury, doughnuts included.

Nelson Hollow – near Doketown, N.B. – scenic – wading on gravel bar – in Miramichi River, 1950. Ingenium digital archives Archival Number X-32648

Ethel O’Donnell of Carrolls Crossing in central New Brunswick, married London born First World War veteran Wilfred Knight in 1919. Ethel might have found her first attempts at making doughnuts a challenge but the desire to ‘provide’ for her new husband’s tastes would have seen her working to get it right. Doughnuts quickly became a favourite, appearing in bakeries, home kitchens, and lumber camps. Lumber camp cooks, both men and women, were interested in keeping their crew happy and well fed. By the early 1900’s out migration served to improve conditions for lumber camp workers, by making it necessary for employers to compete for workers. For employers and owners of Lumber camps recruiting and keeping workers meant finding and keeping a good Camp cook, especially one able to provide for changing and modern tastes of workers.

New Brunswick farm – near Nelson Hollow – near Doaktown, 1950. Ingenium digital archives Archival Number X-32690

The Roaring Twenties, and the modernity which was taking hold in the region was short lived, ended by the dark days of October 1929 and the beginning of the great depression. The Depression would force old fashioned making do and old fashioned molasses back in to the lives of Sarah, Ethel and Maud, as they provided for their families. Did Maud, Sarah or Ethel develop molasses doughnuts? Probably not, but without doubt a home cook, a lumber camp cook, a cook somewhere in the region did. Someone who saved on expensive white sugar by replacing it with molasses, brown sugar and adding ‘molasses spices’.

Miramichi River Lumber Camp dining hall c. 1935 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

That a recipe for Molasses Doughnuts is found in many family cookbooks across Atlantic Canada (and elsewhere), that they are prepared as Christmas treats and that they reflect the role molasses played in the lives of ordinary Canadians…makes it ‘Canada’s Doughnut’.

My Mother’s Cookbooks

Molasses Doughnuts

1) 1 cup brown sugar
2) 1 cup molasses
3) 3 eggs at room temperature
4) 5 Tbsp melted butter
5) 1 tsp each nutmeg, ginger, ground clove, and cinnamon
9) 1 tsp salt
10) 1 tsp vanilla extract
11) 1 1/2 cup soured milk with 2 tsp baking soda dissolved
12) 2 tsp baking powder
13) 4 – 5 1/2 cups flour
1) Prepare your fryer and oil to a temperature of 350 degrees F. (Objective is to keep the oil between 350-360 degrees F while frying);
2) In a large bowel mix brown sugar, molasses, eggs (slightly beaten) butter and vanilla and mix well;
3) In a second bowl combine flour, salt, and spices, mix well;
4) In a liquid measure add baking soda to the soured milk and mix to dissolve;
5) Alternate adding milk and flour to the other ingredients until all of the milk and at least 4 cups of flour has been added. The batter should be thick and sticky, cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
6) Place about 2 cups of batter on a generously floured surface, and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick, cut with a doughnut cutter. (additional flour may need to be added to make the batter workable.
7) Fry doughnuts until done, flipping once. Molasses doughnuts can be difficult to cook well, start by test frying for 3 minutes per side, remove and check.
8) If desired roll the hot doughnuts in white sugar before cooling, a paper bag containing the sugar can be used to sugar the batch at once.

A final word about modernity and disease… Pneumonia killed many people through out history, including during the Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, it would take until the development of antibiotics at the end of the first quarter of the 20th century for modernity to remove it as a regular and frequent cause of death. Sadly, Maud Blanche Tufts Mauger died in 1938 of pneumonia, leaving Isaac to raise their young family.

Explanations and Resources:

1. A Puncheon of Molasses – A wooden barrel of molasses which commonly weighted between 1,120 to 1,344 pounds.
2. House girl – a young woman employed as domestic help in the homes of wealthy citizens. By the 1900s the term ‘servant’ was replaced by the more genteel house girl, the work remained.
3. Petites, NL is a resettled community, but efforts continue to restore the Petites Methodist Church, reputed to be the Oldest Methodist Church in North America.

Friends, Fruit and Sultana Cake

For Mum Christmas Holiday baking began in October. Fruit cakes, plum puddings, gum drop cakes, things which need curing were first, followed by the long list of sweets and savories treats which had become favourites in our family. Christmas baking for Mum meant focusing on special recipes those reserved for Christmas, including Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana1 Cake.

Vickers family home, Blackville, NB c.1900 Photo courtesy of our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

The telling of how this recipe became part of the My Mother’s Cookbooks collection is almost as much a Christmas tradition as the cake it’s self. Elizabeth Maud Walls Moody born 1895 Blackville, Northumberland County, New Brunswick was a woman known for her baking, her Sultana Cake in particular, but she was also known not to share this recipe.

Not all cooks share their recipes. It is a personal choice, and quite reasonable considering the risks to reputation sharing a recipe might mean. Elizabeth did not share this recipe, but she made the cake and shared it, generously. How else would she and her Sultana cake have gained reputation?

c. 1930, Main street Blackville, NB Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Blackville Historical Family Collection Image number P143-18

Women’s Institutes; The Canadian Red Cross; Home and School Associations; Hospital Auxiliary’s; Church women’s groups; Legion Auxiliary’s etc. represent women actively serving their communities. Fundraising, the means to do the work of the group depends heavily on the generosity of women like Elizabeth and Greta Vickers Sturgeon. Scratch under the surface and you see hours of back breaking work, volunteer effort, by women. Cooking, baking, serving, washing dishes, etc. all done in aid of the group’s cause, suppers, bake sales and catered events.

For, Elizabeth and Greta gaining a reputation as a good baker resulted from long hours of community and church group service. When fund raising was needed, women like Elizabeth and Greta went to work. Both wives and mothers, Elizabeth and Greta knew each other well as they did most in the small community.

Main street Doaktown, NB c. 1909 Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Miscellaneous Post card collection Image # P46-54

Greta and Elizabeth share deep roots in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, their settler families were primarily from Scotland, Ireland, and England. Settlers drawn by the promise of the areas natural resources, timber, and fish. Blackville, located on the Southwest Branch of the Miramichi River was settled first by Davidson settlers prior to the Revolutionary war and became a business center and mill town in the 1850’s.

Bridge and Mill at Blackville, C. 1930s Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

It is common to see raisins in fruit cake recipes, along with the candied cherries and fruit peel. Fruit cake which has been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years, was banned for a considerable period in Britain. Dried and preserved foods of all sorts were a practical reality during Eastern Canadian winters, when dried berries, meat, and fish were staple. So it is not surprising that during the Victorian period when Fruit Cakes began appearing as Christmas treats (encouraged by the festive green and red cherries) Eastern Canadians were quick to assume it as Christmas tradition.

Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana cake is a ‘light’ fruit cake. Many fruit cake recipes are very fruit dense and the cake merely a vehicle to deliver the fruit. This cake is rich, moist and delicious on its own, with the fruit it is one of the best fruit cakes I have ever eaten.

So, how did it come that Elizabeth Moody’s recipe made its way in to the collection… Greta, despite being almost 20 years Mum’s senior, was a good friend and neighbour. Greta and her husband Freeman lived across the street from our family home, for the 17 years or so our family lived there. For many of those years, Greta and Mum met at least 3 times a week for a cuppa and chat. Usually, Mum would ‘just run over to Greta’s’ when she had a few minutes and there was an older sibling about to keep an eye on me, the youngest. Occasionally, I would accompany Mum, to visit Greta, which I loved. I recall vividly those visits, and the cat clock which hung on Greta’s kitchen wall. The eyes tracking left and right, tale swinging right to left. Fascinating to my child mind and a great diversion as the two women chatted.

Blackville, NB train station c. 1890

One morning just before our family left Blackville in July of 1967, Greta invited Mum for a chat. Several times over the years of their friendship, the subject of Elizabeth’s Sultana Cake came up in their discussions, usually after one or the other had attended an event where the cake had appeared. Greta and Mum were avid bakers, and good friends. It surprised Mum to learn that Greta had the recipe, in fact had had it for some time. Greta who’d been sworn to secrecy by Elizabeth had spent considerable time agonizing whether to share the recipe with Mum. Now that Mum was leaving and knowing how much Mum enjoyed the cake she’d decided to break her promise to Elizabeth and share it with Mum. Mum kept to the strict promise she made to Greta. The cake remained ‘special’ it appeared only at Christmas, she never made it for any other purpose. Only after Elizabeth’s death in 1991 did I get my first copy of the recipe. I guess you can say friendship brought this recipe in to the My Mother’s Cookbooks Collection.

Elizabeth Moody’s Sultana Cake

1 cup butter room temperature
1 1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp lemon extract
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp almond extract
3 cups sifted flour, divided
1 cup warm milk
1 pkg white raisins (~ 11/2 cups)
1 pkg cherries (~1 cup)
1 pkg mixed peel and mixed fruit(~1 cup)

1. Preheat over to 250 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch x 5 inch x 3 inch loaf pans and set aside;
2. Cream butter and sugar until light in colour, add well beaten eggs and mix to combine;
3. Add lemon, vanilla and almond stir to combine;
4. In a separate bowl sift 2 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder together and set aside;
5. Alternate adding the flour mix and milk, being careful not to over beat;
6. Dust fruit with the remaining flour and add to the cake batter, mix to combine;
7. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and place in the oven for 2 hours or until tester inserted in to the center of the cake comes out clean.

Elizabeth Maud Walls Moody
Born 22 April 1895, was the oldest child of Justus Walls and Elizabeth Ann Astle Walls. In 1912 at age 17 years, Elizabeth married Wilmot Moody and settled in Blackville to raise their family. Elizabeth and Wilmot had two children before Wilmot’s untimely death in 1923. Elizabeth raised their two children on her own, never remarrying. She lived in Blackville until her death in 1991.

Greta Myrtle Vickers Sturgeon
was born 16 Aug 1911 to Thomas Vickers and Lucinda Maud Astle. On 14 December 1927, Greta married Freeman Ernest Sturgeon. Freeman and Greta raised their 9 children in Blackville. Greta died in 1994, Freeman a year later.

T.C. Millar house, Derby, Northumberland County New Brunswick, C. 1892 Photo courtesy of Miramichi Historical Society Collection Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Image # P204-261

Explanations and References:
1. Sultana raisins are a variety of raisin, dried from white grapes of particular varieties. The term ‘Sultana’ was once used to refer to ‘raisin’ generally.