Spring Harvest – Rhubarb…and biscuits.

My Mother’s Cookbooks contains several recipes featuring Rhubarb, pies, crumbles, cakes, buns, chutney and cordials. The first Rhubarb in our house each spring, was stewed and served with fresh Buttermilk biscuits. Sometimes, simple is best.

A patch of rhubarb growing in the back garden, and a best family ‘Biscuit’ recipe is all anyone needs to celebrate this spring harvest. Despite several versions of biscuits, the My Mother’s Cookbooks ‘best biscuit recipe’, the one Mum used most, especially over the last 30 years of her life, was supplied by her daughter in law, Darlene Horncastle Lyons.

Rhubarb although treated and viewed as a fruit, it is actually a veggie. Used for thousands of years as medicine, eventually becoming known and used for its tasty, all be it sour, stalks. Rhubarb’s early harvest and that it grows without much cultivation makes it a favourite of home gardeners today.

c. 1885 Workers including children posing by equipment in the Marysville, cotton mill, Marysville, NB Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick image # P5-416.

Darlene’s recipe, originated with her Mother Eleanor Jackson’s family. Eleanor born 1929, in Springhill, New Brunswick grew up with a keen appreciation of her Scottish roots. Her Jackson family was one of 6 families who settled Scotch Lake, New Brunswick beginning in 1820, when they arrived in the colony from Roxbourghshire and Dumfrieshire Scotland.

H. O’Neill Cake and Pastry delivery wagon Fredericton, NB. c. 1908- Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Image # P119-431

What we in North America call biscuits are really a 19th century ‘convenience’ food. The bread like savory treats, are not to be confused with ‘biscuits’ found today in the United Kingdom, which are sweet treats (cookies to us). Quick breads of this type, usually made with baking powder, and/ or soda, flour, shortening and milk, are referred to as tea biscuits, baking powder biscuits or as just plain biscuits. Those containing ‘Buttermilk’ have the additional boast of leavening and flavour tempered by the additional acid provided by the buttermilk.

So, was it Scottish and Channel Island (where they had been traditionally a favourite) immigration which served to ingrain ‘Biscuits’ in our tradition? I suspect a combination of factors, tradition certainly but in addition to their convenience (not having to wait for bread to rise), their lower cost (yeast was more expensive), the need for high energy foods, and that they appeared regularly in the logging camps of the region, all contributed to their ongoing popularity.

Eleanor probably chose them for their ease and speed of preparation as well as tradition. Like many other women of her generation, Eleanor worked outside of the home. She began her working career prior to her marriage in 1948. By 19 years of age, Eleanor was already a skilled factory worker, a leather (shoe) Skivor1. The choice to continue working after marriage was one unavailable to previous generations of women, but open to Eleanor. Eleanor worked at the same factory during the majority of her adult life, while she was raising her 3 children and until her retirement in the 1980s. The Hartt Shoe factory closed in the late 1990’s.

Hartt Boot and Shoe Company factory c. 1940, Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Image Number P194-466

Florence McKinley born ~1905 in Chelmsford, New Brunswick probably began her factory work at 15 years of age, after her father’s death in 1920. Two of Florence’s older half sisters Emily and Melanie worked at the Gibson Cotton mill in Marysville as early as 1898, both Melanie and Emily would marry and return to the Miramichi to raise their families. Florence and her widowed mother Elizabeth would remain in Marysville, NB.

By 1951 when Florence, then a 44 year old cloth inspector, married Sidney Nash, Florence had enough working in a factory. 29 years, in the dusty, hot, noisy and dangerous environment of a textile mill had taken its toll, and for the first time she had a choice.

Florence’s Scottish heritage through her father’s family and the close proximity to other Scots during her childhood pretty much assured biscuits appeared on the family table. Elizabeth, Florence’s Mother might well have had a rhubarb patch in the back garden of her rented tenant company home in Marysville, NB.

Here is the My Mother’s Cookbooks ‘Best Biscuit’ recipe and one for Stewed Rhubarb too!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Darlene’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients
2 cups of All purpose flour
1/4 cup of sugar (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp soda
1 cup Buttermilk or soured milk

Method:
1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.;
2) Sift flour and other dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl;
3) Cut shortening in to the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, until mix reaches a med crumb.
4) Add buttermilk and mix gently. Place on a lightly floured surface, and shape into a 9 in x 9 in square of dough.
5) Cut in to pieces, and place on a cookie sheet;
6) Bake 20 minutes until slightly golden brown on top.


My Mother’s Cookbooks Stewed Rhubarb:

Ingredients:
1 pound of rhubarb
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)
1/4 cup water
***
Method:
1) In a saucepan bring water and sugar to a boil to dissolve;
2) Add Rhubarb and return to a boil,
3) Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring often, until the Rhubarb is soft.
4) Cool, refrigerate in a covered container.

*** I recommend adding a 1/2 tsp of ground dried ginger or 1 Tbsp of fresh ginger chopped.

Young boys among a group of workers at the A.R. Loggie Mill c. 1900 Photo courtesy of the Miramichi Heritage Family site.

Women and children Factory workers:

From the first investment plan Odbur Hartt proposed, women and children were included in his factory’s proposed work force. His plan of a workforce comprised of 2/3 young men and 1/3 young women was both an operational and financial. Women and Children were essential to the success of factories like Hartt Boot and Shoe Company. Women and girls were needed for their fine motor skills, young boys and girls could get to places between moving machinery no adult could fit. It of course was also helpful that women were paid less than 50% of the wage of men, children less still.

The Gibson cotton mill in Marysville, had a similar work force from its beginning in 1885 , but Gibson’s ‘model town’ town meant workers could rent a house, (including a small garden), purchase clothing and food at the company store. From the wake up whistle to the shift end and beyond, the lives of factory workers of the Marysville Cotton mill revolved around the factory. 60 hour work weeks were usual for all workers, women and children included, 6 days per week, with a 1/2 day on Saturday and Sunday off.

Miramichi Mill workers including young boys c. 1900 Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage family site

Children workers were not new or limited to textile and shoe factories, young boys had been employed in saw mills and value added mills across the province since early days. The development of high technology industries, such as cloth and shoe making, changed the physical demand and permitted the addition of women and girls in to the workforce.

By 1900, social reformers, and churches had begun to complain of the working conditions, the injury, and loss of life particularly of children in factories. In 1904, after a task force to recommend changes, children under 14 years of age were not to be employed in New Brunswick factories, except under unusual circumstances. Things did not change quickly in that regard. The 1921 census reveals widow Elizabeth Ashton McKinley living in a rented brick row house in Marysville with 4 of her children, Elmer, Florence, Eldon and Burton. 13 year old Eldon, his older sister Florence and brother Elmer are all labourers in the cotton factory.

Better working conditions, air quality, washrooms, lunchrooms all eventually came to the factories but only after hard won battles, many deaths and injury of workers. Factories or as we call them ‘manufacturing and processing plants’ remained a heath and safety battle ground well into the 1960’s.

The crowded working conditions, poor sanitation, and poor ventilation in the factories of the 19th century made them public health battle grounds during the Influenza pandemic of 1918. In 2021, the issues in factories continue as Covid 19 threatens those who toil at repetitive and under valued work.

Explanations and Resources:

  1. Leather ‘Skivor’ is a worker who thins, tapers and shapes leather as part of the shoe making process.
  2. ‘New Brunswick workers in the early 20th century’ Silhouettes – Associates of the Provincial Archives 2013.
  3. LHTNB – Labour history in New Brunswick “https://archives.gnb.ca/lhtnb/Resources/Bibliographies/Articles_en-CA.aspx”

War, Women and Warcake

This blog is one of two featuring the service of Marion Leane Smith Walls, don’t miss the new release which explores Marion’s WW2 service which lead to her being awarded the Distinguished War Service Medal… Molasses Cookies and Knitted Bandages.

There are no less than three versions of Warcake in My Mother’s Cookbooks, which is not surprising since a large number of the recipes originate with women of a certain generation. Women like Myrtle Walls Leban’s and Marion Smith Walls’ who were born at the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century. Women whose lives were marked by two world wars.

Female clerks with customers in front of Blackville, NB store, c. 1900 Photo courtesy of Our MIramichi Heritage Facebook site

By 1900 the constraints on young women were loosening, with employment and educational opportunities opening up for ‘respectable’ young women. For many this afforded employment locally in shops and offices, before eventually marrying, and having a family. For others employment or advanced education meant leaving for larger centers, often to areas where other family had already settled.

In eastern Canada, the larger center often meant “the Boston states”. Marion Leane Smith, sought opportunity and education in Massachusetts. Marion studied nursing at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, then took a job in Montreal with the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1913.

By 1914, Aunt Myrt had married John Lebans, was mother of two and was living in Blackville, NB. John was a millworker, during the following 10 years, Aunt Myrt and the family would live in several Miramichi communities as John sought employment in mills across the region. Myrtle’s experience of the war was similar to most other rural Canadian women and vastly different than Marion’s.

Mill at Mouth of the Bartholomew river, a tributary of the Southwest Miramichi c. 1915 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage site.

When the war began support for it was high, and remained so, despite sacrifice, change and loss. On the home front, Aunt Myrt dealing with restrictions, shortages and limits saw it as doing her part for the war. She probably experienced concern about the social change her country was experiencing. Change such as young women, and others previously denied access to the jobs in factories and other workplaces filling the labour shortage. Labour unrest, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and taxation were altering the lives of Canadians, even as strict moral standards remained largely unchanged.

On a personal level both Aunt Myrt and Marion experienced fear, worry and grief, as their brothers, uncles, cousins and friends went off to war, some never to return. Working as nurse in the urban center of Montreal, Marion would also have had direct involvement with those devastated by the war, those marginalized and blamed for the social ills plaguing the country, the poor, those with venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancy, etc.

In 1917, Marion enlisted1 with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service and saw service with the 41st Field Ambulance train2 in France. Ambulance trains were difficult and dangerous workplaces, despite their white cross designation, they were not immune to attack by enemy forces.

Nursing Sister assists a wounded soldier aboard an British Ambulance Train in France c. 1916

After completing her contract with the train ambulance service, Marion served in Italy with the Italian Expeditionary force and at the University War Hospital in Southampton UK. At some point during her work with the British forces, Marion met a young medic from back home in New Brunswick. Victor Walls, Myrtle’s brother, left his studies at Dalhousie University, putting his plans to become a Presbyterian minister on hold temporarily, to serve his country. At the end of the war, Victor returned to his studies at Dalhousie and Divinity School. Uncle Victor and Aunt Marion married in 1924.

Marion and Victor Walls c. 1924

Now about the Warcake… When things get restricted, limited and difficult, we all rely on tradition to aid and comfort us. So of course women in this region, including Aunt Myrt, used molasses when sugar was expensive, scarce or rationed (as it was during WW2). Warcakes were made throughout both wars, and appeared on tables regularly for many years after.

The ties which bind Atlantic Canada and the West Indies did not end with the disappearance of wooden sailing vessels and slavery. The connections established more than 100 years of trade were not just commercial, they were personal as well.

In the following weeks we will look again to Marion, this time to her World War 2 service which would bring her the Distinguished War Service Metal for her work in the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.

So here is the recipe from My Mother’s Cookbooks which Mum used most often…. And yes it does contain some sugar.

Warcake – aka Molasses cake

Ingredients:
1 egg at room
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup of lard or shortening
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp soda
pinch of salt
pinch of spices
1 cup boiling water
1 cup raisins (optional)
Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease and flour a 9 inch x 13inch pan;
3. Cream shortening and sugar together add egg;
4. Add molasses;
5. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients, Add raisins if using;
6. Add flour to shortening sugar mix, combine thoroughly;
7. Add boiling water, beat well;
8. Pour into pan and bake until cake tester comes out clean. About 45 to 50 minutes.

Marion Elizabeth Smith

Marion Elizabeth Smith was born in Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia on 12 Mar 1892. Her parents George Smith and Elizabeth Leane Smith welcomed Marion to their family of two. When Marion was two years old her parents took their growing family first to England then to Canada, finally settling in Fredericton Junction, New Brunswick.

Marion Elizabeth C.1913

George Smith was a native of Hambledon, Hampshire, England and Elizabeth Leane Smith was born in Liverpool, Australia to William Leane and Lucy Walker Leane. It is with out doubt Elizabeth’s parentage through her Mother Lucy, was a major part of the family’s decision to leave Australia.

Elizabeth Leane Smith and George W. Smith c.1910

The Dharug peoples traditional lands are in what is now known as New South Wales, in the immediate area of Sydney, Australia. All Aboriginal nations in Australia have been negatively impacted by European settlement, but none more than those of the south including the Dharug clan.

The traditional way of life of the Dharug was hunting and gathering, lacking the necessary ‘farming’ relationship to the land to be viewed by European settlers as owners. Disease, violence, displacement and famine during and after colonization decimated first nations clans, including the Dharug. The social and political environment for a couple of mixed race was characterized by discrimination and violence. These conditions experienced first hand by Marion’s mother Elizabeth would have impacted the family’s decision to relocate.

William Leane and Lucy Walker Leane – Marion’s Grandparents. c. 1890

Mixed race children like Elizabeth were caught between two worlds, never really being fully a part of either. The decision to leave Britain after several years and the arrival of several more children was also very likely driven by opportunity for their family. The legacy of Elizabeth’s Mother Lucy’s Dharug heritage would follow the family, particularly Marion, as she and Victor set out on their lives together as Presbyterian missionaries in the West Indies.

There is little doubt had the Smith family remained in Australia, Marion would never have been able to complete school and train as a nurse. Australia’s only known Aboriginal woman to serve during the first world war, Marion Elizabeth Smith would not have been.

Explanations:
1. In 1917, George H. Smith, Marion’s younger brother was killed in France while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary force.
2. Ambulance Trains – or mobile hospitals, saw service in conflicts before 1900, and would continue service through both World Wars. The trains were staffed by 3 medical officers, 3 nursing sisters and a large number of orderlies. Ambulance trains could transport as many as 500 wounded. The trains contained not only stretcher wards but operating theaters.

Resources:

  1. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wartime-home-front
  2. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-i/recovery-on-rails-ambulance-trains.html
  3. https://www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/ambulance-trains-bringing-first-world-war-home
  4. https://www.deadlystory.com/page/culture/articles/anzac-day-2018/marion-leanne-smith


Elsie’s ‘Washday’ Pudding

One of the recipes in the My Mother’s Cookbook collection is named “Elsie’s Washday Pudding”. That her sister Elsie had a favourite recipe for wash days while Mum did not, is entirely understandable.

Until the Victorian period (1837-1901) the washing of clothing (and bodies) was infrequent and a luxury limited to those who could afford own more than one set of clothing. The industrial revolution saw fabric and textiles produced in factories, making clothing cheaper and more available.

c. 1900 Washing equipment Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family site

For women like Elizabeth Travis Lyons, laundry represented a significant part of her weekly work. Even as technology was altering some aspects of the work, it was also transforming attitudes and expectations. It is likely Elizabeth, who was also a weaver, would have taken great effort to assure her family’s clothing was clean and bright. One might be able to hide failures in cooking but failures in washing could not be hidden.

c. 1890’s Spinning wheel, and loom. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Ref #P5-651

In the 1860’s when Elizabeth was raising her family, despite the advent of commercial soaps it is probable she would have collected bones and fats and processed it into soap for her own needs. In addition to the variety of wooden tubs, kettles, and paddles Elizabeth would have used, there is a good chance she would have had a washboard too.

Invented in the 1840’s the washboard, some made entirely of wood, others of galvanized metal, was a major technological advancement. Although good soaps and basic equipment were helping to reduce the workload, the process of washing would still take hours of back breaking effort.

The physical effort required to collect water, heat it, scrub and process the clothing through both the washing and rinsing phases required a strong back and arms. The wringing of wet clothing in particular presented a challenge, excess moisture increased drying time and risked mildewing or freezing solid.

Interestingly, it was a fellow New Brunswicker who would provide a solution to the problem, in 1843 John Turnbull of Saint John, New Brunswick invented a spring loaded wringer for removing water from cloth. Turnbull’s technology would remain an integral part of laundry equipment until well in to the 1960s.

c. 1900 Wood burning stove Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick Ref #P27-38

Even as technology was changing the task of laundry, expectations for woman around wash day became even more ritualized. Soon a woman’s value as a wife and mother could be measured not just by the bright clean clothing her family wore but also by the washing equipment in her arsenal.

By the 1880s, Monday was wash day. The practice in most homes of a Saturday bath and donning fresh clean clothing prior to Church on Sunday, made Monday a logical choice.

So Monday’s became dedicated to laundry… the joint of meat which was Sunday dinner could be stretched into a Monday evening meal, allowing the time to be dedicated to the laundry effort. In the early days desserts were far from the norm, there is a good chance Elizabeth would not have bothered with desserts on any day let alone on wash day.

By 1937 when Elsie was entering life as a wife and mother, expectations and rituals surrounding wash day had continued to evolve. The time on Monday she managed to get her wash on the line, even the way she hung her clothing to dry was under scrutiny.

Elsie enjoyed many benefits of improvements in household technology as compared to her Great Grandmother Elizabeth. Galvanized tubs (rather than wooden), commercial soaps and lighter fabrics helped with the task as did the advent of warm water tanks on wood ranges. The work was still difficult and time consuming and Elsie needed a quick pudding recipe to fall back on for wash day.

c. 1940 An early electric washing machine Photo courtesy of Photos anciennes d’autrefois, des photographies d’époque en noir et blanc.

A dozen or so years later when Mum entered married life, the most significant technological change in washing had taken place, electricity had arrived. All of the bits of pieces of equipment and tools used by generations of women had been replaced with the electric washing machine. Mum’s washday was less hectic and far less physically demanding, leaving her time for other things on Monday. Mum enjoyed the freedom of choice and flexibility foreign even to her older sister because wash day had changed… the pudding hasn’t, you can give it go any day of the week, even washday.

Elsie’s Washday Pudding**


Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Sauce:
1/2 c brown sugar
A piece of butter the size of a walnut, about 1 Tbsp butter
2 cups boiling water
Method:
1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F
2) Place a 8 in x 8 in square pan on a quarter sheet pan
2) Combine dry ingredients in a bowl
3) Combine milk and vanilla
4) Place butter and brown sugar in a heat resistant bowl
5) Add milk to dry ingredients, stir until incorporated, then place in the 8 x 8 pan
6) Add boiling water to the brown sugar and butter
7) Pour over batter and place both pans in to the oven
8) Bake 30 minutes, until nicely brown on top

** This pudding, which is known by many names, i.e. Caramel cake pudding; Radio Pudding, is an older recipe, evidenced by the use of soda and cream of tartar. I have tried replacing the soda and cream of tartar with the more modern, baking powder and it works adequately. I prefer to use the original ingredients, the quick acting cream of tartar gives the cake a boost early enough in the bake to assure the best texture and sauce.

Elizabeth Travis Lyons

Elizabeth Travis was born about 1834 in Northesk, Nortumberland county, New Brunswick. Her father Peter Travis and her mother Elizabeth Kearney Travis settled near Peter’s parents and grandparents at Whitney, NB. Ebenezer and Huldah (Mooers) Whitney were New England Planters who relocated along their eventual son in law, Jeremiah Travis to the Northwest Miramichi river valley about 1780.

Elizabeth grew up near her close knit extended family in Whitney, NB. One of a13 children, Elizabeth married Charles Benjamin Lyons in 1851, she was 17 years old, Benjamin was 29 years old, a lumberman and landowner.

Charles Benjamin Lyons and Elizabeth Travis Lyons c. 1880

In 1852 Elizabeth’s sister Huldah married Daniel Allan Lyons, Benjamin’s brother. The Lyons men purchased land adjoining their parents homestead, and settled down with their families in Carrolls Crossing, NB.

Life was characterized by hard work and no doubt a good deal of worry and stress for both Elizabeth and Huldah. Benjamin and Daniel operated a lumber contracting company, hiring local lumberman to harvest timber during winter months. Speculating on their ability to successfully deliver the wood to market, and that when they did that the price they received would cover the expenditures. The cards were stacked against success and eventually their luck ran out.

Log drive on the Southwest Miramici River c. 1890 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family site

Lumber contractors who had paid the harvesters, and successfully driven their wood to the booms, which were controlled by the powerful and wealthy mill owners, were not paid until the mill used the wood. In the season of 1860, after months of toil and effort, worry and stress a storm brought financial disaster for the two families. The storm destroyed the boom which secured the wood, scatterings the logs and wiped out their investment

Log drivers sorting logs on the Southwest Miramichi River c.1890 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family site

Like many others Benjamin and Daniel would loose their homes and land, forcing change on the young families. It appears the loss of the property and business resulted in the two families residing for a period with Daniel and Sarah Lyons, Benjamin and Daniel’s parents.

The loss was devastating, but fortunately unlike many other families they were able to pay their debts. Unpaid debts meant prison, or seeking shelter from prosecution. Many families were forced leave to avoid prison, many Loyalist and Preloyalist settlers returned to the US or sought shelter in other parts of the colony.

By 1871, Benjamin had recovered sufficiently to be appointed Justice of the Peace. Eventually Benjamin and Elizabeth and family would move to Chatham where Benjamin worked as a clerk in a law firm.

Sometime around 1890, Elizabeth and Benjamin moved to Blackville, where their daughter Letitia and her family were living. It is possible that Benjamin and Eliza had planned to settle the land grant in Bradlebane, which was granted to Charles Benjamin after Eliza’s death. Elizabeth died in 1891 at the home of Letitia and Benjamin Walls.

Benjamin would live until his death in 1897 on the property in Bradlebane. The land is now owned by Elizabeth and Benjamin’s Great Great Grandson, and Elsie’s nephew Bruce.

Huldah and Daniel remained in Carrolls Crossing area until about 1900 then moving to Maine with their son Peter Lyons. Huldah and Daniel died and are buried in Penobscot county, Maine.

Resources:
1) https://canadianinnovationspace.ca/wringer-washer/
2) All in a Day’s work: Lumbering in New Brunswick, http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/printtour.php?tourID=VQ_P2_8_EN&Lang=2

Freshets and Fiddleheads

Some recipes did not make it into My Mother’s Cookbooks… Some foods just did not require written recipes, it is almost as if Mum had them in her DNA. Seasonal specialties are a case in point… is there a recipe for Thanksgiving turkey stuffing? No, and not one for Easter Ham and Scalloped potatoes either.

So it is not surprising that our traditional Spring feast is also missing from the recipes…

The Miramichi river1 figures large in the lives, traditions and foods associated with the region. From early days families relied upon the river and its tributaries’ natural bounty, the plants, fish, migratory birds and wild life which made the rivers and valleys home. The river also figured large in transportation, domestic and industrial. It is entirely understandable that people’s lives assumed a rhythm based upon the river and it’s seasons.

A trapper of the Miramichi c. 1870, Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family website

Winter in central New Brunswick 150 years ago was a period of intense industry in the lumber woods. Characterized by the protracted absence of men, who spent weeks and months in lumber camps, cutting timber. Cut timber would await ‘the break up’, and ‘the freshet’2. Rising water levels from the Spring melt were used to ‘drive’ the timber to market. The break up ended months of hard work in isolation, it reunited families, and signaled return of the river’s bounty.

Spring melt represented opportunity and anticipation. The movement of ice, and rising water levels generates energy, excitement and social engagement as people assemble on riverbanks and bridges to watch even today. One might assume the activity and assembled community watching the break up of ice, is an expression of stress or concern about flooding and its damaging effects but no… it is a traditional celebration of sorts, laughter filling the air as hopes and plans for the season are discussed and shared. Soon the rising water will drop, the river retreating to its summer course, leaving behind river interval land3 refreshed and burgeoning with life.

Camp and Lumber men c.1890 Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family website

For women like Sarah Ann Munro Walls (1803-~1871) providing nutritious and tasty food for her family would include using the bounty of the river to best advantage. After a long and difficult winter, where her offerings depended heavily on dried beans, peas, salted, dried, smoked fish and meat, she would have welcomed the promise offered by the river’s freshet.

Spring smelt fishing on the Miramichi river c1890, Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Photos

For Sarah and her family the river’s Spring harvest probably began with Fiddlehead4 greens, nutritious and delicious the little green is available only during a short period, which is dictated by the river. Fiddleheads, immature and unfurled fern fronds have provided a source of essential vitamins and nutrients to people of the region for thousands of years. European settlers learned quickly to copy First Nation peoples habit of harvesting the green and incorporating it in to their Spring diet.

Families would gather on the banks of the river, bogans5, and islands by boat and on foot as they made their way to ‘best’ picking areas, where the young plants lay hidden in the previous summer’s dead vegetation. A quick snap, the Fiddlehead lifted free, leaving plant roots undisturbed.

Once baskets were filled they were taken to the river’s edge for washing and cleaning. Cleaning Fiddleheads, which has an inedible rust coloured skin, is an art in its self. Dipping the basket, swirling and agitating to remove the skin. Carefully using the river’s current to take away the skins, without loosing the greens, is a skill acquired through long practice.

So, Fiddleheads feature large in our family’s Spring Feast… but the river’s contribution to the feast doesn’t end there…fish, Spring fish are featured too. Schools of migrating fish arrive, Smelt, Gaspereau, American Shad and Spring Salmon arrive just in time for the Spring feast.

The exact content of a Spring feast is dependent on tradition, personal choice and availability, but it features Fiddleheads and fish, usually accompanied by potatoes and other leftover root vegetables. Here is My Mother’s Cookbooks version…

A Miramichi Spring Feast recipe

Ingredients Recommended Ingredients
Fresh 3-4 lb American Shad Halibut steak about 2 lbs
Stuffing:
2 cups of fresh bread crumbs
1 medium onion diced
1/2 c diced celery
1/2 finely diced carrot
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried summer savory 1 tsp dried tarragon
Fiddleheads***:
3-4 pounds to serve four

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degree F
2. Clean and wash the fish, removing scales and head
2. Saute veggies in butter add herbs and bread, let cool before stuffing the fish.
3. Wrap fish in two layers of foil wrap and place on baking sheet, Bake 45 minutes or until the flesh flakes easily from the bones.
4. Wash and trim cleaned Fiddleheads thoroughly with potable water. *** use only greens harvested by experienced Fiddlehead harvesters, non edible ferns present a serious health risk if consumed.
5. Steam until tender, serve with vinegar or lemon, butter, salt and pepper.

Sarah Ann Munro Walls

Sarah Ann Munro Walls was born Sept 1803, forth in a family of eleven born to Nancy Mitchell Munro and John Munro in Blissfield, New Brunswick. Sarah’s grandparents were New England planters who settled in the colony prior to the Revolutionary War. Sarah and her sister Suzannah(Susan) were married on the same day 2 July 1818, Sarah Ann married James John Walls (Wells) son of James Walls and Charlotte Brown. Susan married John Thomas Bamford, a native of Maine who had arrived in Northumberland county seeking business opportunities in the timber industry.

Sarah and James settled down river at what became Blackville on the south side of the Southwest Branch of the Miramichi River, possibly on one of James’ father’s properties. James and Sarah welcomed their first son John, a few months after their marriage in 1818.

By October of 1825, Sarah just 21 years old was mother of 3 children under 6 years of age. The summer and fall had been extremely dry and hot, at first people thought the black clouds were a harbinger of welcomed rain on the late October afternoon. It wasn’t, it was fire, great rushing walls of flame and heat driving everything from its path. It appears James and Sarah’s property did not experience a direct hit, but her sister Susan Munro Bamford’s family were not so lucky.

At a location on the south side the the Southwest branch of the Miramichi near Doaktown about 25 feet from shore is a rock know locally as Bamford Rock. It is said the Bamford family sought its safety during a night of fire horror, no doubt sharing it with human and beast alike.

The Great Miramichi fire destroyed everything in its path, although the official fatality count was 160 souls the fire’s true toll could well number in to the thousands since many woodsmen were simply undocumented and unknown. The fire destroyed a large swath of the province consuming more than 16,000 sq kilometers, houses and farms leaving the survivors vulnerable to falling temperatures and winter suddenly fast approaching. One can imagine that those fortunate enough not loose life and property would not have been untouched. Food and shelter shared as the entire community struggled to survive, rebuild and thrive.

James success as a farmer appears to have included land dealings, it is likely he also worked in the local mills, possibly in one of those owned by his wife’s brothers in law, Bamford and Mersereau.

In April of 1850 James died, the 1851 census sees Sarah 48 years old heading a household containing 9 of her children and two grandchildren. This pattern continued until Sarah’s death sometime after 1871. Sarah and James raised a large family many of whom continued to live in the Miramichi. My Mother Evelyn Walls Lyons descended from two of Sarah and James’ sons, John and Charles.

Footnotes:
1. The Miramichi River referred to in this piece relates to the Miramichi River system, including its head waters, tributaries and estuary.
2. Freshet: the flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow.
3. Interval land refers to low lying land surrounding the river, the floodplain. Interval land although unreliable for homes and buildings, contains rich soil deposited by the annual run off, becoming valuable pasture and crop land.
4. Fiddleheads: young edible cinnamon and or ostrich ferns.
5. Bogan a body of still water related to the river, which is not part of the river channel. Bogans are filled with water at periods during the year such as during Spring freshet but may dry completely or remain bog like during dry periods.

Resources:

  1. MacEachern, Allan. “The Miramichi Fire”. 2020 McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal PQ
  2. “Doaktown Village Time line” http://www.discoverdoaktown.com/our-heritage/village-timeline/
Salmon fishing on the Northwest Miramichi c.1890 – Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family website.

Food Memories and Cooks…

Honouring Mothers – a contest for Mother’s Day!

A Grandmother. c, 1945

It is just over a month since I launched ” My Mother’s Cookbook” and I am thrilled to say it is a success. Over 6000 visit and over 9000 views. It is all due to you, the folks who have read, liked, commented and re-shared my posts who deserve credit, and I thank you.

Over the course of the last month, I have been reminded of the strong relationship between food and memory, Cooks and memory. The links between food and the person who lovingly prepared it for us, are strong and evocative. Eating food particularly associated with a beloved person can help access long forgotten memories of that person, events and feelings.

Evelyn Walls Lyons and Dorothy Walls Morehouse c. 1950

Biting in to a homemade sugar cookie immediately takes me back to my Aunt Dot’s kitchen, the smell of baking tinged with the clean natural smell of a farm kitchen. I can see her kind face smiling at Uncle Charlie as he teased her. It all comes back, the emotion, the taste, the love. Food helps trigger memory because food engages all of our senses, smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing (Yep, food makes noise, trying telling a cat the can opener is not dinner).

So with Mother’s day coming up and by way of thank you, I thought others might enjoy sharing their memories and seeing their loved Mother/Grandmother or Motherly other, featured in My Mother’s Cookbooks!

The winner of this contest will have their Mother/ Cook memory featured in a blog post on My Mother’s Cookbooks website for Mother’s Day 9 May 2021.

How to enter:

  1. Share your Cook/food memory (privacy considerations limit the blog to deceased persons) in the comments section of this post, including your desire to have it prepared into a blog post and willingness to supply supporting information, i.e. photos. Recipes are NOT required.
  2. Follow this blog by clicking on the follow tab, and leave your email address.
  3. Share this post on your social media feed.

Contest opens immediately and will run until midnight 1 May 2021. Contest winner announced Monday May 3rd. 2021.

Contest conditions:

  1. This contest has no cash value.
  2. Ownership and copyright to Blog posts and materials are solely that of My Mother’s Cookbooks.
  3. Blog post will be published on Saturday 8 May 2021, and will remain active for at least 7 days.

Buckle up…its Blueberry picking time

The resettled community of Petites, NL. Photo courtesy of Paul Graham 2013/

Blueberries feature large in My Mother’s Cookbooks, muffins, pies, cakes, even vinegar. Some recipes have unusual names like Blueberry Grunt, Blueberry Bang Belly and Blueberry Buckle, a legacy of this delicious little berry’s reputation with those who came to live in Atlantic Canada.

Today’s commercial harvest of wild blueberries takes advantage of the natural Blueberry barrens of largely coastal areas of the region. But blueberries grow in other areas too, near timber cuts, at the edges of farm fields, along rail lines and in village green spaces. I am told the some of the best blueberries grow near grave yards…

Evelyn Mauger c. 1942

Evelyn Louise Mauger Morrison, born in the small out port community of Petites, Newfoundland grew up picking the blueberries which grew on the scarce acidic soil of her home. It was only logical that she would teach her children to appreciate the bounty of this sweet fruit which grew near their home town of Glace Bay, Cape Breton.

Petites, located on the Southwest coast of the island of Newfoundland, existed because of fish. The long history of migrant Basque, Portuguese, French, English, and the Channel Islands fishers eventually lead to permanent settlement of coastal areas of the island of Newfoundland. Evelyn’s Mauger family arrived from the Channel Islands, prior to 1790 to engage in the fishery.

Growing up in Petites in the 1920’s the rhythm of Evelyn’s early life was set around the arrival of the fishing fleet to it’s small sheltered and well equipped harbour. Transportation in the region was by boat, no roads existed. The arrival of the summer fleet brought a temporary end to the community’s isolation. Boats arriving to off load their catch for processing by locals and to resupply before heading back to the fishing grounds. While others loaded the fish heading for Canadian and International markets. During summer, Petites was a bustling industrial community, but winters were remote and isolated. It is easy to imagine that the late summer blueberries which grew locally, would be a welcomed treat, but also a harbinger of the coming winter and its isolation.

Blueberry fields surrounding the resettled community of Petites, NL – Photo courtesy of Paul Graham. c 2013

That Evelyn would transform this traditional late summer activity of her home community to her family’s experience in the shadows of Cape Breton coal mines is not surprising. As long summer days began to shorten, and blueberries appeared Evelyn would gather together the children and the assortment of cans and containers which they would use to collect the precious fruit. The little band of children, some her own, others neighbour children, would wind their way through the pit yards, along the rail way spurs and on the side hills near the community’s grave yards in search of blueberries.

One of several small grave plots of Petites, surrounded by blueberries – Photo courtesy of Paul Graham

Once the fruit necessary for family consumption in treats like her blueberry buckle, was gathered, her children would sell their surplus fruit to neighbours, mostly seniors with no young children to do their berry picking.

Picking blueberries is no easy task… in addition to constant stooping, it takes a good deal of patience to stick with picking such small easily compressed fruit, it can seem to take for ever to cover the bottom of a container. Young enterprising boys learned quickly to gently invert the container of settling fruit just prior to offering it for sale. But the experienced older women, who were their customers were wise and on to the trick… taking the container out of the lads hands, “how much?” was the question. Hearing the price of 35 cents, the customer would tap the container, and reply, “how about 25”.

Evelyn’s berry picking crew

The annual task of berry picking served to raise additional monies for the upcoming school year, it also afforded Evelyn’s children an opportunity to share a little of her early life in Petites. She taught her children an appreciation of the natural world, the right places to look, the best picking styles, the patience necessary and the right recipe to use as reward for their hard work… a blueberry buckle.

Evelyn’s Newfoundland Blueberry Buckle

Ingredients:
1/4 cup Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Egg at room temperature
1 cup All purpose flour
11/2 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/3 cup Milk
3 cups Fresh Blueberries
Crumb mixture:
1/3 cup Sugar
1/3 cup All purpose flour
1/4 cup Butter

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease and flour an 8 inch x 8 inch square baking dish
3. Cream butter and sugar, add slightly beaten egg
4. Assemble dry ingredients in a separate bowl
5. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients to the sugar / butter mix
6. Stir until incorporated, spread batter on to prepared baking pan
7. Layer blueberries on top of batter
8. Combine crumb mixture and layer on top of the berries
7. Bake about 40 minutes or until a cake is done.

Petites, Newfoundland:

Petites, Newfoundland is located on the southwest coast of the Island, about 50 km from Channel Port Aux Basques. The community which was resettled 2003, is accessible only by water, a short boat ride from its neighbouring community with road access, Rose Blanche.

Petites c. 2013 – Photo courtesy of Paul Graham

Exactly when Petites was founded by Europeans is unknown, the rich fishing area of Rose Blanche banks was the location of the French migrant fishery from the early 1700s forward, with official year round settlements beginning in the early 19th century. The records are scarce but in the 1845 census, Petites boasted 10 permanent families with a total of 61 souls, 30 of whom were under 14 years of age. By 1921 the population had grown to 210 souls in 43 households. The census of this period lists the oldest Petites born resident Elias Mauger1 born 1845.

Petites was conveniently placed to provide for the fishing fleet, in addition to having a sheltered harbour, in close proximity to rich fishing grounds, the community is graced with pools fed by spring water. Additionally, the large granite deposit which dominates the landscape was desirable enough to support a quarry, some of the cut stone making its way into the courthouse in St John’s.

Some of the cut granite leftover from Petites’ stone industry – photo courtesy of Paul Graham 2013

A community of fewer than 250 residents, Petites boasted no less than 12 stores catering to almost any need. The economy of Petites was the fishing industry, but also its related industry of local trade and supply by boat. By 1900, that was beginning to change, the interior regions were opening up as timber companies drove roads, and built mills, drawing young people to the timber towns which seemed to appear over night.

By the last half of the 1930’s, the community of Petites was long familiar with the exodus of young people leaving to seek work and life outside of the community. A position as a domestic in the home of a Glace Bay physician would lead Evelyn to meet and marry Stephan Morrison.

Although strongly associated with the coal industry, Glace Bay, NS has strong association with the fishing industry as well, the links between the two communities are many. The family ties which developed over more than a hundred years of trade, shared fishing grounds, challenge, and tragedy provide an enduring link between the two communities.

Footnote:

  1. The Mauger/Major Family in Newfoundland appears to have been founded by one Elias Mauger born about 1725 in Guernsey, Channel Islands, who settled in Fortune Bay, NL. The Mauger family of Petites were of three brothers, Phillip, James and Elias all born in Fortune, and all probable descendants of the original settler Elias Mauger.

Resources:

  1. “Growth and Development of the Wild Blueberry” Wild Blueberry Fact Sheet 2010. Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Province of New Brunswick. (2021)
  2. “Exploration and Settlement” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site (1997) https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/exploration-settlement-default.php (2021)
  3. “Voluntary Settlement – the peopling of Newfoundland to1820.” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site (1997) https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/voluntary-settlement.php (2021)

The contemporary photos were generously shared by Paul Graham, a Petites descendant who shares ancestry to Evelyn’s Grandmother Elizabeth Groves Mauger.

Molasses but no rum…

Most families with roots in Atlantic Canada, have a favourite molasses cookie recipe…the one in the My Mother’s Cookbook collection is for “Molasses Drop Cookies” and is labelled simply “Mum”.

My Grandmother Edith Elizabeth Walls, was a loving mother and a talented cook who fostered a love of good food in her family, her children and grandchildren. And yet she did not teach my Mum to cook. When asked, Mum’s explanation was “by the time I came along, she just did not have the patience to teach me.”

Dorothy Elizabeth Walls and Ruby Louise Walls c.1915

After looking closely at Grandmother’s life I believe this is not only the truth but entirely understandable. That the recipe my Mum chose to add to her collection, is a Molasses drop cookie is just as reasonable and reflective of Grandmother Edie’s life.

Grandmother Edie was born in 1889, her mother Letitia Lyons Walls contracted Tuberculosis in 1897 and died in 1899. Edie’s role as nurturer and supporter began early. Edie’s father Benjamin although sometimes described as a farmer, worked in the lumber industry and the finishing mills in the region, leaving his family home for extended periods. As the oldest, Grandmother Edie played a role in supporting her younger siblings, Victor, Myrtle, Chester and Clara, especially given their Mother’s illness. It is a skill she would draw on extensively through out her life, which encompassed two world wars, an influenza pandemic and the Great Depression.

Edith Elizabeth Walls and William James Walls c.1910

Grandmother Edie’s Walls family came to New Brunswick from Scotland in the 1770’s with a group known as the Davidson’s settlers. William Davidson was granted significant lands in exchange for bringing Protestant Scots to settle the rich timber lands of the north eastern region of New Brunswick, (then Nova Scotia) including the Miramichi river valley.

Davidson’s, his backers and the Crown were more interested in harvesting the vast stands of timber (required by the European ship building industry) than settling the land. Settlers were generally not farmers but trades man and those with experience in the timber industry. So farming became part of the tradesman/settler life, although most also worked in the timber or related industries. Ever enterprising and adaptable soon the people of the region began using the timber to build their own ships and entered in to the lucrative Triangular Trade route1. Ships carrying sugar, and cotton from the West Indies destined for England carried rum and molasses to New Brunswick.

The molasses, a by product of sugar refining, had little or no value in England. It quickly became a cheap and energy rich food for the hundreds of woodmen and their settler families. Molasses was staple in lumber camps and kitchens across the region, particularly New Brunswick. It was fundamental to the New Brunswick diet, eaten with buckwheat pancakes, on bread, in baked beans and brown bread, and in countless other desserts and treats.

Of course Grandmother Edie used molasses in her cookies, it was a familiar and logical choice. Grandmother Edie and Grandfather Billy married in 1910, their 10 surviving children and two, who died as infants, arrived consistently during the first 23 years of their marriage. I have little doubt raising her family during those turbulent years, the first war, depression and finally the second war with it’s rations of food stuffs, Edie depended heavily on Molasses to feed and sustain her family.

Grandmother Edie’s first three daughters were the oldest children, followed by five boys then my Mum and finally the youngest George. Each of my mother’s sisters had been taught to cook by Grandmother Edie, when her youth and energy made it possible. By 1929 and after 10 other pregnancies, Grandmother was tired and beyond having either the time or energy necessary to teach her youngest daughter to cook. Despite this lapse, Grandmother’s influences on my Mum’s love of good food and cooking were real, enduring and reflected in the foods I enjoy and make for my family.

Grandmother Edie, her son Royce (rear right), Royce’s wife Lottie, her son George(with glasses) and her Grandchildren Marion and George Morehouse. 1943

So what about the cookies…most molasses cookies, aka molasses biscuits or lassy buns are rolled out cookies… requiring the time and effort to roll the batter, and cut the cookies prior to cooking. Drop cookie batter permits it to be dropped from a spoon on to a sheet and baked. Grandmother Edie was an efficient and effective cook who knew the best time saving techniques, she had to…

Molasses Drop Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup molasses
1 egg
1 cup boiling water with 3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tarter
Method:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2) Cream sugar and shortening
3) Add slightly beaten egg, molasses and vanilla
4) Assemble the dry ingredients in a separate bowl
5) Add water and dry ingredients alternately to the sugar / shortening mixture, mixing gently.
6) Drop spoonfuls of batter on to a baking sheet and bake 10 -12 minutes.

Molasses Hill, Northumberland county, New Brunswick

A short distance from the community of Blackville, just on the Blissfield side of the parish line, lies a place known as “Molasses hill”. The hill, only about 19 meters high, figures large in the story of how the area came to get its name…the details of the incident are murky… was the puncheon of molasses destined for a community store or for a lumber camp? Was it being transported by horse drawn wagon or sled? Regardless the details…the spill of molasses, and the mess (some say the molasses stiffened by the cold became a obstruction to others traveling the area) became ingrained in the memory of the community.

New Brunswick lumber camp dining hall c. 1920

The local tradition of oral history is deep, story telling was a valuable tool of entertainment during the long winter nights in logging camps, they told stories, sang songs about the things important in their lives and used humour and drama with good effect. Of course an incident involving molasses would become the source of entertainment and amusement, molasses was staple, familiar and well known. So familiar that in 1860 New Brunswick imported and consumed 880,000 gallons of molasses. Most of the molasses was shipped in wooden barrels, a puncheon of molasses was size of container most used in this region. And where did the wood for the barrels come from…from the toil and effort of men and women like themselves. Of course some of those barrels would have also contained rum… some of the molasses might have found its way in to the stills of the region, but the recipe for rum did not end up in My Mother’s cookbooks.

1. Triangular Trade route refers to the shipping of raw materials from the colonies to Europe for processing which developed to include timber from the Atlantic region to Europe, on ships which would load textiles and manufactured goods bound for Africa, where their cargo holds would be emptied of the materials and loaded with African slaves on route to the British West Indies. The slaves would be replaced with sugar, molasses and rum which would head back to the north east to drop off molasses and rum, load timber and head back to Europe.

Buckwheat and River Rocks

R.G.O’Donnell’s Store – Carroll’s Crossing, New Brunswick c.1950. (Robert O’Donnell was the youngest brother of Florence O’Donnell Lyons).

My Dad had few memories of his mother and two of them involved food. The first was her sending him to the river to collect river rocks to place in the barrel of buckwheat flour to keep it from spoiling. His second memory was the taste of her Buckwheat cake. I make no claim about the effectiveness of My Grandmother’s method for keeping her flour from spoiling on warm spring days. I suspect my Dad’s memory was missing critical information.

You see my Grandmother’s life was cut short by septicemia and flu. Blood poisoning from a splinter of wood in her finger, from scrubbing wooden floors left her with heart damage. A bout of flu complicated by the heart problems, 3 years later, her life ended. Florence Marjorie O’Donnell was born 13 April 1899 and died just a few months shy of her 36th birthday, when My Dad was just 10 years old. Florence was the forth child born to Alice Ann Lyons and Maurice Medley O’Donnell she lived, married and died all within the tiny central New Brunswick riverside community of Carroll’s Crossing. Florence’s family roots run deep in New Brunswick and like her New England Planter, Loyalist and Irish progenitors before her, she used Buckwheat to feed her growing family of 5 young boys.

Is this Florence Marjorie O’Donnell Lyons? Sadly, we have no known photo of Florence…this is a photo cropped from one containing one of her sons and her husband, Tully.

Buckwheat, a commonly used ‘false grain’ (its seeds can be processed in to flour and Groats), came to the Americas in the 1600’s, possibly earlier. Buckwheat had major benefits to European settlers, it is nutritious, has a short growing season and likes nitrogen poor soil. In the early years of the province it could be said the three staples of the New Brunswick diet were buckwheat, molasses and butter. And that is small wonder, they do taste wonderful together…

Buckwheat was once so widespread that almost every farm in New Brunswick grew a crop of buckwheat. Of course in those areas where the soil was poor and the growing season short it was a logical choice. That areas where wheat, oats, hay also grew well, buckwheat was grown for personal consumption proves role buckwheat played in feeding families. From farmhouse tables to Lumber camps buckwheat was eaten. Interestingly buckwheat was not sold as much as bartered. The market being limited to citizens of towns and lumber camps since most folks with any farming capacity grew their own. In the mid 1800’s New Brunswick farms produced enough buckwheat1 to provide the equivalent to 250 loaves of bread in pancakes for every man, woman and child in the province. Buckwheat pancakes were eaten several times each week. By the mid 1930’s far fewer were eating buckwheat but in communities where the combination of lumber work, a short growing season and nitrogen poor soil, buckwheat remained staple in many homes including those lining the Miramichi River. It would take until the mid 1950’s for buckwheat to lose its hold on most rural communities.

Southwest Miramichi River, at McNamee, NB c. 1920

When my parents married, my Dad did not have access to his mother’s recipes, he had only memories. My Mum’s family did not have a tradition of buckwheat cake, pancakes yes, but not cake. Over the years My Mother hunted up recipes for and made many versions of buckwheat cake. Of course none of her efforts could quite compare with his young boy memory of his mother and the love she put in to her buckwheat cake.

Buckwheat, like many pseudo grains, when milled results in a heavier and darker flour than wheat flour. Cooks quickly learned that using a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour (when it was available) produced lighter baked products. In short they began stretching the wheat flour (which had to be purchased) with the buckwheat which could be grown or acquired thru barter. I suspect this complicated my Mum’s hunt for a suitable buckwheat cake recipe. My Dad was sure his mother used only buckwheat. I suspect my Grandmother used what she had available to her, which during the 1930’s might have included some wheat flour. Eventually, Mum gave up trying to satisfy an impossible task and decided this recipe was the one she would serve her family, and yes it includes wheat flour.

One final point before we look at the recipe, despite her early death Florence managed to engender a strong love for food in her boys. Three of her sons would go on to careers as cooks.

Buckwheat Cake:


Ingredients:
1 c all purpose flour
1 c Organic buckwheat flour
1/2 c white sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c whole milk
1 egg
3 Tbsp softened butter or margarine
Method:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and grease a 9 ” x 9″ square baking pan.
2) Measure and sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl.
3) Cut in butter/margarine, add milk and egg. mix until incorporated. Do not over beat which will cause the cake to have a tough texture. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve with butter and Molasses. Enjoy!


  1. T.W. Aceson (1993) “New Brunswick agriculture at the end of the colonial period: A Reassessment” Aadiensis XXII 2, page 11.

Florence’s Personal Profile:

Parents: Maurice Medley O’Donnell and Alice Ann Lyons

The Maurice M. O’Donnell and Alice Ann Lyons O’Donnell family:

  1. Frances Stilman m. Florence Julia Storey
  2. Clara Rebecca died young
  3. Weldon Medley m. Evelyn Storey
  4. Ethel Genevive m. Wilfred Knight
  5. Florence Marjorie m. Hollingworth Tully Lyons
  6. Edgar died young
  7. Keyes Charles Earl m. Hazel Jane Amos
  8. Christine Ann m. Edgar Bell
  9. Robert Gregory m. Margaret Amos
  10. Grace Murial m Harold Ward
  11. Louisa m. Ralph Craig
  12. Lillian Kathleen died at ~20 years

Florence O’Donnell and Hollingworth Tully Lyons family:

  1. Marple Lawrence m. Madeline Rhynard (divorced)
  2. Gerald Hollingworth m. Elizabeth MacDonald
  3. Leonard David m. Lillian Delores Harris
  4. Bernard Wellington m. Mary Priscilla Lyons
  5. Willard Bruce m. Evelyn Margaret Walls
  6. Rex Daniel died in infancy
  7. Clarke died as a teen from polio

When Florence was born her mother Alice Ann was 27 years old and her father Maurice Medley was 32 years old. Florence’s father Maurice O’Donnell was a merchant, running a small community store. A middle child in a large family, Florence was reportedly a happy sweet natured girl with a tiny physical stature, although with a tendency to chubbiness at the time of her marriage.

On 21 March 1917, 18 year old Florence married Hollingworth Tully Lyons, Tully was 29 years old. Tully and Florence appear to have settled on a portion the original land grant of Jeremiah Lyons which Tully had inherited from his Great Uncle William Lyons. Tully and his father David built the house in which Tully and Florence would raise their family, around the time of their marriage. The two generations would live in the one household, by 1921 their family had grown to include Marple and Gerald. Christina Lyons, Tully’s mother died no long after, leaving David to reside with his son and the growing family.

The challenges for Florence and Tully were many, but like most families at the time, challenges were eased by the support of their close knit family and wider community. David was not an easy man, aging and intolerant of the rambunctiousness of young children he did not make life easy for Florence. With Tully away for weeks at a time working in the lumber woods, it fell to Florence’s to manage the house and raise the children which had grown to include Bernard, and Leonard.

In 1924, Tully suffered a broken leg courtesy of a out of control team of horses. In addition to the real risk of infection, resulting in permanent injury or worse, the meager income they had known dried up. We know Florence did work outside of the home, doing housework, and helping to provide for her family.

In the fall of 1925 Florence gave birth to Willard two weeks later, still nursing her son, disaster struck again. Florence woke one morning with extreme abdominal pain and was quickly diagnosed as requiring immediate surgery for appendicitis. How would the baby fare, still dependent on his Mother’s milk? Florence must have been frantic facing the unknown of risky surgery all while fearing for her newborn’s well being. The task of weening the tiny baby fell to Alice, Florence’s Mother. Alice arrived, filled a bottle with cows milk placed a nipple on it and began to pace with the child in her arms. Each time she passed the dining room table she dipped the nipple in to the sugar bowl and then into Willard’s mouth. As she would remind him later, as soon as the sugar was gone his crying would begin again. Finally, after nearly 24 hours of pacing with the fractious child, Alice’s effort paid off, he took the bottle and drifted into an exhausted sleep.

Before long Florence would recover and in 1932 give birth to their youngest son Clark. In 1933 while working at the home of Stanley Lyons scrubbing floors, Florence picked up a splinter of wood in her finger. The small injury became septicemia, attacking her heart and leaving her with permanent heart damage. Three years later a bout of influenza would end Florence’s short life, her boys would loose their dear Mother and the only female presence in the home.

Florence’s ancestors in New Brunswick include Irish immigrants, Pre-loyalists. Anglican missionaries and United Empire Loyalists. Florence’s O’Donnell family arrived from Limerick Ireland sometime prior to 1812 when Patrick O’Donnell’s married Lydia Price, the Granddaughter of Rev Walter Price, a well known Missionary. Florence’s Mother Alice Ann’s family includes descendants of Elizabeth and Jeremiah Lyons, Jeremiah and Huldah Travis, as well as other Loyalist families.

A sad foot note to Florence’s death, Lillian, Florence’s youngest sister died 14 March 1932 at age 19 years, from a Scarlett Fever infection. A mere 19 months after Florence’s death, the family would loose her brother Keyes on 6 Oct 1936, leaving another young grieving family.

Carroll’s Crossing, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada

Myles Lyons wood cutter at Carroll’s Crossing c.1900, Left to Right – Gordon Finnie, Elias Lyons, John Stewart, Willard Wilson, Myles Lyons and Cecil Finnie.

The tiny hamlet of Carroll’s Crossing, nestled on the steep banks of the Southwest Miramichi river, was settled by Europeans beginning prior to the first land grant in1809. The grant under the sponsor Ephraim Betts, includes some 60 parcels of land in the Upper Miramichi valley. The area which became Carroll’s Crossing is comprised of a handful of lots granted to Stephen Sutter, Francis Meuse, James Barcley, Widow Rose Smith, Jeremiah Lyons, William Betts and Azor Betts, lots numbered 58 to 64.

It is not as yet clear the extent to which some of these of Grantees engaged their property. Like many early Land grants, the practice of favouring influential and powerful individuals is demonstrated in the number of lots which were quickly sold, or transferred but not developed by the grantee. A case in point is the sale of lot 61, by Widow Rose Smith to Daniel Lyon, son of Jeremiah Lyons which occurred a mere 3 years after it was granted to her. It is important to remember the primary impetus for settlement of Northumberland county was the timber trade. In the period up to the Great Miramichi fire of 1825, the vast stands of virgin timber represented opportunity.

Carroll’s Crossing, New Brunswick c.1902 showing the home of Hazen Lyons on the right and his blacksmith shop on the left. All of the people in the photo have connections to the Lyons family. The young man on horse back wearing a hat is Hollingworth Tully Lyons, my Grandfather husband of featured woman Florence Marjorie O’Donnel Lyons.

What we can say is that the family of Jeremiah Lyon and later settlers, did remain in the area and were part of its growth into a community which once boasted a school, church and post office as well as stores, sandstone quarry and a blacksmith. Most of the long term residents of Carroll’s Crossing engaged in the timber industry and subsistence farming. The steep side hill land soil is thin, and rocky but many grants had attached islands and river interval lands which although limited use for building structures because of spring flooding, provided rich soil for growing crops and for pasturing animals. Of course the water front lots were also favoured for their river access, for travel and for fishing. In addition to the Atlantic Salmon which was plentiful in the Miramichi River, the river provided other wild foods such as Fiddleheads greens.

Engine 1214 at Carroll’s Crossing, NB.

The arrival of the railway in 1870’s saw the area gain its name, as the story goes Thomas Carroll who along with his wife Elizabeth McKinnon Carroll settled on the land granted to Francis Meuse, objected strongly to losing his land. Apparently, Mr Carroll was somewhat appeased by the authorities deciding to name the community after him. How exactly Thomas Carroll whose Carroll family had settled down river at Howards, NB, came to choose the area to live is unclear, he did have family connections to the area. Thomas Carroll was Great Grandson of Jeremiah Lyons through his Grandmother Dorothy Elizabeth Lyons Kearney, one of Jeremiah’s daughters. There also appears to be connection to some of the Irish settlers to the area in particular the McNamee family. Regardless, the Carroll family would settle, share their name with the community and grow into the prosperous family, farmers and business owners of today.

Portable saw at work sawing logs c.1930 Upper Miramichi River Valley.
Additional Resources:

Carroll’s Crossing School- https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=14064

Rural Community of the Upper Miramichi – https://uppermiramichi.ca/

Kindness with a side of German Apple Cake…

Most of My Mother’s cookbook recipes are handwritten, a distinct few are typewritten in a cursive font. I have never seen this contributor’s handwriting, the cursive typewritten “Gussie” was her only signature.

Augusta C. Deuchler Mills was a typist. The 1925 census of Staten Island New York reveals Gussie’s career as a typist began early, before 16 years of age. In her late 50’s in 1968, Gussie and her husband Carl were retired residents of Carl’s home community of Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Augusta D. Deuchler c. 1923

The first and most significant shift for our family came in 1968 when my Dad entered ministry with the United Church of Canada and we moved to Advocate Harbour. Reputed to have been named by European explorer, John Cabot, Advocate is nestled on the shores of the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the Minas Basin. Tucked between Cape D’or and the mighty Cape Chignecto. Advocate and surrounding area had been a major shipbuilding center during the age of Wood, Wind and Sail, by 1968 it was reduced to a shadow of it’s former glory.

My parents could not have known how difficult this change would be for our family, Mum in particular, or the extent to which the little woman, with a thick New York accent, would play in helping us settle into a new community and into our new role as the Minister’s family.

Two friends, left Evelyn Lyons and right Gussie Mills enjoying a family BBQ at horseshoe cove, NS c.1971

Gussie’s kindness came in many forms… Her support of our family, particularly my Mother was unfailing and instant. An organizer by nature, she quickly assumed the volunteer position as ‘secretary’ to my father. She nattered at him for his bad handwriting and tut-tut-ed at his atrocious spelling.

But it was her underlying kindness which left the greatest impression. The fine china she gifted knowing the countless large lunches Mum was expected to hostess1. Or the large pots of fish chowder and plates of German Apple cake awaiting Mum after a busy day being the Minister’s wife2.

It was certainly not a given that my parents and the Mills would become friends, as couples or individuals. Nearly 20 years her senior Gussie’s life and up bringing had been vastly different than Mum’s life in rural New Brunswick. Gussie was born and raised in the traditional German enclave in Port Richmond Staten Island, New York. Gussie’s father John immigrated from Hesse Germany to New York in 1894 and later married Louise, Gussie’s Mother. Louise, born in Stapleton Richmond County NY was first generation German American, her parents having arrived in the 1870’s.

German immigration to New York began in earnest in the 1840’s and grew steadily, by the 1860s German immigrants numbered 200,000. The Stapleton community of Staten Island became a center catering to the entertainment of the large German community. Gussie’s Grandparents John and Augusta Feldmeyer spent the early years of their marriage running one of the many Breweries; saloons; beer gardens and theaters which dotted the community.

The New York German immigrant community was close knit, family centered and insular in the period leading to the turn of the 20th century. By the time of Gussie’s birth, the nature of the community was changing, anti German sentiments fanned by the first world war were forcing the community to identify more as Americans and less as German Americans.

Despite the negative sentiments toward German heritage resulting from the period of the two great wars, Gussie remained justifiably proud of her ancestry, and of her small but close knit family.

Her choice to first share her family’s German Apple cake and then supply the recipe to our family is a great honour. Her cake was always delicious, but when served with a side of kindness it is out of this world, capable of forging friendships and bridging diverse experience.

Gussie’s German Apple Cake:

Ingredients Recommended Ingredients
2 cups corded, peeled and sliced cooking apples McIntosh or Gravenstein
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg (room temperature)
3/4 cup milk
Cinnamon
Confectioners sugar

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 1/4 sheet pan.
2. In a mixing bowl cream sugar and shortening, add slightly beaten egg.
3. In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients.
4. Add milk and dry ingredients alternately until incorporated, do not over beat.
5. Spread the batter on prepared pan.
6. Arrange the apple slices on the batter in overlapping rows and dust with Cinnamon.
7. Bake ~ 25 -30 minutes until cake is cooked and lightly browned.
8. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving.

1Rural Churches in the 1960s often were not heated except for Sunday service. Many community churches supplied a fully furnished home for the Minister and his family. It was common practice for those communities to expect to use the manse for meetings, especially in winter.

2 The UCC at this time expected the Minister and his wife to be a ministry team. My Mother was interviewed as well as my Dad before he was accepted into Ministry. When he was called to a new pastoral charge, Mum was interviewed too. As the Minister’s wife Mum was expected to participate in all activities, from church suppers to United Church Women(UCW) meetings, etc. Sadly few recognized the challenges of doing this when the pastoral charge has 7 churches, 7 UCW groups, 7 sets of fund raising, etc. The Minister’s performance was in large part dependent upon his wife’s performance.

Augusta C. Deuchler Mills

Parents: John Deuchler and Louise Feldmeyer Deuchler

Born: 17 May 1909

The family of John Deuchler and Louise Feldmeyer Deuchler:
1. Margaret Deuchler m. Harry Baham
2. Delia Matilhda Deuchler m. William Filmer
3. Augusta D. Deuchler

Married: Carl Morris Mills

Died: 27 May 1994, Florida

When Gussie was born her mother Louise was a 27 years old homemaker, her father John a 37 years old foreman in a soap factory. Born youngest in a family of three girls, after completing grade 8, Gussie followed her older sister Delia into working as a Stenographer in an insurance company beginning about 1923.

The financial and social boom period which followed the first world war was experienced across the western world, but no area was effected more than the City of New York. The largest city in the country, New York had every modern convenience, skyscrapers, public transportation, and people, lots of people, some wealthy, many middle class, and a large group of working poor.

Carl Morris Mills c. 1925

In 1927 Gussie met and married Carl Morris Mills a young man from a small Nova Scotia village. Carl had followed his father and many others from his home town to the United States to find work. By 1930, the young couple are residing in the Bronx, Carl was working as a deck hand on a steamship line, and Gussie a typist.

One can only imagine the effects of the stock market crash on ordinary citizens, watching the tragic desperation in the immediate period following Black Tuesday, must have been horrifying and frightening. The lives of ordinary middle class families like the Deuchler’s/ Mills were forever altered and unrecognizable from the roaring 1920s. Suddenly, the risks were real, bread lines, homelessness and the threat of job loss and further insecurity was ever present. Yet growth in New York City continued as iconic buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler buildings were completed, as the gap between those with plenty and those with nothing, grew.

Despite the challenges during this period Carl would take his bride (and some of her family) to Nova Scotia, introduce her to his large extended family and to the little village which would eventually become her home.

Taken during 1934 visit of Gussie, Carl and her sister Delia to Advocate Harbour with the extended Mills family.

Living in a city with all of the conveniences came with benefits but also risk. During a commute to her job, Gussie was involved in a fatal train crash. Pinned in the wreckage she suffered a back injury which would leave her with limitations for the rest of her life.

Eventually, Gussie and Carl moved to New Jersey and into a suburban lifestyle, like many city residents of their time, home ownership was not a given but manage it they did. When it came time to retire they decided to pull up stakes and moved home to Nova Scotia. When I say they moved home I mean it, they packed up and moved their mobile home from New Jersey to Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, a distance of more than 500 miles.

Over the course of the next years Gussie and Carl would split their time between Nova Scotia and Florida. The Deuchler family maintained their close connections, Gussie and Carl would bring Louise Gussie’s mother to live with them in Advocate until her death in 1967. Winters were spent in Florida with Gussie’s sister Delia until Carl’s death in 1978. For a period after Carl’s death Gussie continued to return to Nova Scotia, but eventually she would settle in Florida until her death there in 1994.

Gussie and Carl Mills with their beloved dog Ginger. c.1965

A bit about Advocate Harbour, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia

Situated between Cape D’Or and Cape Chignecto, Advocate Harbour was built upon and still relies heavily on fishery and timber as economic base. In the 1800’s the vast stands of timber which lined the shores of the Bay of Fundy, and an abundance of fish assured the area’s settlement and growth.

Initially, timber was harvested and shipped to England. Soon enterprising timber and land owners realized the real opportunity lay in building and supplying ships. During the period from 1812 to 1900 the collection of coastal communities known as the Parrsboro shore produced 700 wooden sailing ships, the majority from 1860-1890. The communities grew and thrived, large stately homes, roads, shipyards, tramways, stores, lighthouses were all built to support the community and its primary industries.

Local ships captains and crews sailed the worlds oceans, Europe, West Indies, Africa, New Zealand, etc. These men and women created relationships and grew familiar with the exotic locations they visited. The close relationship between the communities of the Parrsboro shore and the New England region of the US grew and deepened. Aspiring young men and women from the region, inspired by the tales of the opportunities and attractions of cities like Boston, and New York, were drawn there, establishing even stronger links between the communities.

By 1900 steam technology had all be ended the need for wooden sailing vessels, despite that it would take until 1927 for the final wooden sailing vessel to be produced in the area. As shipbuilding transitioned from sail to steam, ships carpenters, shipwrights, caulkers, captains and crews were displaced. For a time the greatest export from the area were the ships captains, crews and the building tradesmen who found work on ships, in ports and in the manufacturing plants of New England. The link between the large centers of the Eastern seaboard of the United States and coastal Bay of Fundy communities endured well into the 20th century.

By 1968, Advocate Harbour was a community in shadow of its previous prosperity. The large stately homes and other buildings from the age of sail were still obvious, but the tram lines, wharves, and lighthouses were either gone or threatened. The population of the community was dwindling and aging, some of those retiring from their jobs in offices and factories of New England and central Canada returned, many did not.

The areas natural resources would serve to carve a path forward, fishing would remain a thriving and profitable industry, timber would continue an important source of income. The features of the natural environment which once drew men and their families to settle this challenging landscape, now draws visitors and tourists. Those drawn to the seascapes, the hiking trails, and museums from larger centers like Boston, New York, and Toronto might be surprised to learn that this small hamlet in Nova Scotia was once well known in the ports and shipping offices of the world. A few of the areas tourists might even have shared ancestry with those who continue to live in its awesome beauty.

Resources and Links:

Wood Wind and Sail links:
https://archives.novascotia.ca/communityalbums/agesail/
https://ageofsailmuseum.ca/?page_id=214

Staten Island history links:
https://www.silive.com/guide/2010/04/history_staten_island.html
https://www.britannica.com/place/Staten-Island

A My Mother’s Cookbooks Holiday Recipe…

One a penny, two a penny, HOT CROSS BUNS

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

When it came to holidays, My Mum excelled at using food to engender celebration and tradition. At Easter that meant hot cross buns, but only at Easter. At other holidays, there were special foods, lots of holiday Christmas and Thanksgiving foods but hot cross buns were exclusively a Good Friday treat.

There is every chance this is a legacy of the delicious spiced sweet bun’s history. Did you know it was once banned except on Good Friday, Christmas or at burials?

During the reign of Elizabeth I and her successor James IV /I, if you were caught with spiced buns outside of the permitted period you would have to forfeit them to the poor. Our childhood nursery rhyme probably comes from the London street cry “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs. With one or two a penny hot cross buns”1

So, tomorrow being Maundy Thursday, as is tradition, I will be making a batch for Good Friday. I thought others might enjoy My Mother’s Cookbook’s version.

Just a word about icing and glazes… If you prefer you can leave the buns plain, omit the cross, glaze and icing. I recommend the glaze and icing, after all Good Friday comes but once a year! Enjoy!

My Mother’s Cookbooks Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients

21/4 tsp dry active yeast (1 envelop)
1 cup scaled milk cooled to lukewarm
1/2 c sugar (divided)
1/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1 tsp salt
4 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs (room temperature and beaten)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/2 c currents or raisins

Glaze:
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp water

Icing:
1 cup confectioners sugar
3-4 tbsp milk or to make an thin icing

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch x 13 inch dish.
  2. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk with 1 tsp of the sugar and let prove for 5 minutes.
  3. In a bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a whisk, add remaining sugar, softened butter, eggs, spices and flour until mixed well, you will need to switch to a dough hook before adding the flour.
  4. Add the yeast mixture to the dough, process until the yeast is well incorporated and the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead a few times on a floured surface, being careful to not to add too much flour.
  6. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.
  7. Punch the dough down to deflate, cut the dough in to 12 equal pieces and form in to buns and place in prepared pan. Using knife score the buns with slashes to create crosses.
  8. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise until the buns have doubled.
  9. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until cooked thru.
  10. Place corn syrup and water in a bowl, microwave 20 seconds to warm.
  11. Brush the buns with warmed glaze while the buns are still warm.
  12. Let cool and pipe crosses over the score lines using the icing.

Credit: 1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poor_Robin