Monday, November 13, 2017

Pantry to Palate: An Acadian Cookbook With Rappie Pie

"The point of writing a cookbook is to get people to cook."
--Simon Thibault

Some cookbooks are simply fun to read while others provide intriguing recipes. They might also teach you about other cultures, broadening your knowledge and experience. In addition, you could appreciate the beauty of the photography, the exquisite and mouthwatering dishes that are visually displayed. And sometimes a cookbook touches you in a deeper way, striking you on an emotional level and creating a connection to your heart and soul. That recently happened to me.

I received a review copy of a new cookbook, which is due out today, called Pantry to Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault (Nimbus Publishing, $29.95), a trade paperback of 250 pages. Simon is a Halifax-based journalist and radio producer whose work focuses on food and this is his first book. The cookbook explores Simon's Acadian ancestry, presenting approximately 50 recipes, many derived through his own family.  

In the 17th century, the Acadians were the earliest European settlers of Canada, having come from France, and primarily settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Unfortunately, the English expelled most of them in the 18th century, with numerous Acadians relocating to Louisiana. In the forward to this cookbook, Naomi Duguid, a famed food writer and photographer, stated, "In it we learn about the tenacity of Acadian food traditions and the way they have evolved." You may not be familiar with Acadian cuisine and this cookbook would be an excellent introduction.

"It's hard to talk about food and not talk about family."
--Simon Thibault

The majority of the recipes in this book come from Simon's family notebooks, old, hand-written cookbooks. These cookbooks were written by the women in his family so Simon stated that the cookbook is "devoted to the collective and semi-collected works of women who cooked for and amidst generations of Acadians."

The cookbook is broken down into six sections, including:
--Preserves (from Pickled Beets to Mustard Pickles)
--Breads (from Johnny Cakes to Workhouse White Bread)
--Lard (info about lard and directions on rendering lard)
--Tête de Cochon (from Headcheese to Boudin)
--Soups, Sides & Staples (such as Fricot, Meat Pies; Rappie Pie/Rapure, Potato Pancakes, & Seafood Chowder a Mame)
--Desserts (such as Molasses Cake, Seaweed Pie, Baked Apple Pudding, Date Cake & Agnes Doughnuts)

The Desserts section is the largest of the six, followed by Soups, Sides & Staples. All of these sections include plenty of history, background and family information about the recipes, presenting a fascinating story about family, culture and food. The recipes range in complexity from simple to moderate, and nearly all of the ingredients are readily available. Throughout the book, you'll also find plenty of compelling photos, of food and more, by food photographer Noah Fecks. Some of the photos are even of the old notebooks that Simon used as a resource for the recipes.

"The foods brought out during celebrations are often the foods that tell us the most about ourselves, no matter our heritage."
--Simon Thibault

The Soups, Sides & Staples sections begins with an essay, Big Meals, Big Tables, discussing how Simon's family made Rappie Pie. Usually made and served in large pans, it was often for special occasions, especially considering the length of time it took to prepare and cook. It was a joint effort, with both the men and women taking on specific roles, the men engaged in the laborious task of removing the starch from the potatoes while the women were picking the chickens clean of meat. The men and women continued working together on the rest of the tasks, a true family project. And when the Rappie Pie is done, it was served with butter and molasses.

Later in this section, Simon provided some history about Rappie Pie, noting that there were many different ways to make it. In addition, due to the nature of the dish, recipes generally weren't written down, instead they were passed down from person to person, generation to generation. Simon provides one recipe which can serve as a template for your own Rappie Pie creation.

Simon even provides some local spin on Rappie Pie, mentioning Bernadette Lyle, who is from an Acadian village in Nova Scotia and now lives in Wakefield. She started an annual Rappie Pie dinner in Wakefield, which became an extremely popular. Simon also mentions the Facebook group, Rappie Pie Rules!, which posts pictures from many people who make Rappie Pie at home.

It is all of this information on Rappie Pie which especially touched me. My wife and her family are from Nova Scotia and they introduced me to Rappie Pie. In my prior post, Food & Family: In Memory of Frenchie, I wrote about Rappie Pie and my family, and Simon's description of his family making Rappie Pie is similar to the stories I heard about the Babin family. The Babin's didn't write down their Rappie Pie recipe, but passed it down from generation to generation, although now the recipe has been finally written down, to ensure it endures for future generations.

We continue to make Rappie Pie for special occasions, for get-togethers with the extended family, so that the tradition does not end. And sometimes we just make Rappie Pie for dinner, which is much easier and quicker now with the frozen, pre-grated potato blocks. To us, Rappie Pie is more than just food, but it also has a strong connection to our family. And that is why this cookbook resonates so much to me, a shared connection to Simon's experiences.

I give a strong recommendation to Pantry to Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault, which tells a great story, relates some delicious recipes, and has great photography. And for my readers, I am also running a giveaway for a FREE copy of this cookbook. All you have to do to enter is to add a comment here on my blog, or comment on my Facebook post about this review. Then, on Wednesday, November 15, at 11pm EST, I will randomly select one of the commenters to win a copy of this book. Good luck!


Unknown said...

Fantastic! It looks like a great book. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

Laura S said...

This does look like an excellent cookbook, I would love to read through all the history within the book, it is always so much more fun when the author chooses to bring recipes to life by telling their story!