Have we forgotten the pleasure of picnicking? Long before the convenience of slow cookers and Crock-Pots, Prairie folks were quick to pack a basket and enjoy a pleasant meal outdoors in the company of family and friends. Many occasions called for a picnic: sport days, rodeos, end-of-school celebrations, church gatherings, Canada Day, 4th of July (a good many homesteaders were American), berry picking and, of course, harvest time.
With the arrival of automobiles, picnicking became an outing in itself. Picnic fare was simple because, as we all know, fussing is anathema to fun. And everything tastes better in sunshine and fresh air, no?
I have fond memories of family picnics that were no more than bologna sandwiches, freshly scrubbed carrots and homemade applesauce cookies. Sometimes, if we were lucky, there might be watermelon or plums. Dad would invent a game on the spot, perhaps a scavenger hunt or a contest to see who could stand on his or her head the longest. He always won. Our picnics were most often associated with camping, picking saskatoons, outings with cousins, tea parties with Grandma and summer suppers in the backyard. In my mind’s eye, they are simple but abundant, filled with dappled sunshine and shady trees.
One of my favourite picnic stories comes from Julie Feilberg, a homesteader who arrived from Denmark in the spring of 1911 with five of her seven children, joining her husband Ditlev, who had come out the year before. They farmed at Nokomis, Sask. One day in 1915, Ditlev arrived home with the news that he had discovered a “forest” not too far away. Trees! This was such a novelty, they hitched the horses, packed a picnic and went to see it. In a letter to her family in Denmark, Julie writes that this forest was not much bigger than a “Danish hedge,” but it was the first time her boys had climbed trees since coming to Canada. Their picnic included egg sandwiches, bread and butter, citron marmalade, layer cake, rhubarb pudding with cream and a popular Danish cookie called Jødekager.
Jødekager is an interesting story in itself. According to a Danish source, the name means “Jew cake,” or “Jew cookie,” and is associated with Jewish peddlers of the 18th century who sold small items from their carts. Among the goods for sale were simple crisp cookies, flavoured with cardamom, such as this one.
Jødekager is still popular in Denmark, particularly at Christmastime, but is also quite at home in a Prairie picnic basket.
- 1 c. soft butter
- 1 c. sugar, separated 1 egg
- 2-1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
Cream butter with 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cardamom. Gradually mix flour into butter mixture until well blended. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and rest on the counter for an hour. Working in batches, roll the dough on a floured surface. To prevent sticking, cover dough with floured wax paper. Roll to a scant 1/4 inch. Cut cookies and place on a baking sheet. Combine the scraps and roll again. Mix cinnamon and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Brush cookies with egg white and sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake at 375 F until the edges are just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.