I love my book club. We’ve been together for 24 years. Some of us have been there from the beginning and others have come and gone over time. Our newest member joined in September. I use the words “joined” and “member” loosely as there is no membership criteria beyond a love of good conversation over good food.
What? No mention of books? Of course we read books, but heck, we’d all do that anyway. The joy of book club is the conversations that arise from the pages like the enticing aroma of a baked casserole or a simmering pot of soup. Book club is always a potluck. The book brings us together; food and conversation bind us in spirit and nourish our souls. We eat and we talk.
Food is like that. The word “companion” derives from the Latin for “together with” and “bread.” Food connects us to family and friends. In that, I am luckier than most. As a writer with two books about food — particularly our good Prairie foods — I have enjoyed book clubs as both participant and subject matter. So, as you can imagine, I am looking forward to taking part in the biggest book club yet. A million participants, give or take…
My historic cookbook Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens has been chosen for the One Book, One Province project — a sort of uber month-long book club sponsored by libraries throughout Saskatchewan in the month of March. Though I joke about a million (current population hovers around 1.16 million) it is exciting to think that the subject of food will inspire conversation and companionship across such a broad geographic, demographic and cultural tableau.
After all, the one thing all we have in common is the daily desire to eat. But it runs deeper than that. Whether we count ourselves among the first families, the early settlers or more recent newcomers, we share a common bond with a land shaped by food.
The first settlers came to grow wheat. By the 1910s, the Canadian prairie was the breadbasket of the world. The settlers brought their food traditions with them, innovating and adapting their cherished recipes to the ingredients available on the prairie frontier. Those recipes survive as cultural touchstones among families, towns and the community at large.
Food was also used as a “big stick” to clear the land of its Indigenous population so the settlers could freely farm. At their basic intention, the treaties were about food. With the loss of the bison herds and the hunting economy, Aboriginal leaders agreed to settle on designated reserves and take up farming, while the government agreed to provide tools, livestock, seeds, education, medicine and, in the short term, food aid to prevent starvation. The government quickly reneged on those promises and, over time, much reserve land was confiscated and given over to settlers to grow more wheat. This is part of our shared food history. Perhaps by sharing our recipes and our stories, we can bridge misunderstanding and foster companionship through the common bond of good conversation over good food.
In that spirit, here’s an old Métis recipe from my cookbook that still warms many a soup pot today.
The curious name of this Métis soup does not relate to hunting but to the French word “boulettes,” meaning little meatballs.
- 1/2 lb. ground bison or lean beef
- 2 tbsp. grated onion
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. dried herbs such as rosemary and parsley
- Flour for dredging
- 1 diced onion
- 2 c. diced potatoes
- 1 c. diced carrot
- 1 diced turnip
- 1 c. pasta (optional)
Mix ground meat, grated onion, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. Form into meatballs about the size of a large marble. Dredge in flour. In a pot, cover meatballs with water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and pasta. Simmer until cooked, adding more water as needed to make a rich broth. Best served with bannock.