Driving the 101 from Halifax to the Annapolis Valley, Mount Uniacke is barely in your rearview mirror before the first farmers’ market pops up. Our favourite route, laid down from years of making the fall harvest pilgrimages, takes us off the highway at Exit 10. Past Just Us! fair trade coffee, past Grand Pre National Historic Site, past the Tangled Garden and wineries and farms.
Through the lovely town of Wolfville itself, and we reach today’s destination, Hennigars.
Hennigars has long been a favourite of ours as much for everything else as for the produce. Goats! Hats! Garden ornaments! Homemade bread! Ducks! Ice cream! Fudge! Farmer Golf! And the Cookhouse take-out. What’s not to love? Today, we love the local asparagus and onions, and from the wide selection of local preserves and pickles, I pick up some pear jam.
And at the counter, a real find–a Church Lady Cookbook!
These little spiral bound books, typically used as parish fundraisers, are among my favourite cookbooks. There are no shiny close up photos of the dishes or exotic tastes and refined techniques. These are the heart and soul of home kitchens, the recipes that have been handed down through the years, and been lovingly prepared for generations. Most serve as culinary and church history along with recipe books, providing insight into community life.
And the Grand Pre Cookbook is no different. A history of the Old Presbyterian Church on the back cover, inside brief overview of the Grand Pre National Historic site, and two poems: a lovely ode to the church itself and the heart-wrenching “Returned Acadian” in which John Frederick Herbin describes his return to l’Acadie, the land of his ancestors before the Deportation.
“No voice cries out in welcome; for these halls
give food and shelter where I may not bide”.
The recipes themselves have the usual assortment of “fancy” things, for showers and garden parties and such (the Surprise Spread with canned shrimp and creamed cheese), soups both traditional (Hearty Ham and Bean) and “adventurous” (Southwest Chicken), and main dishes named for congregation members (Diane’s Shipwreck, Annette’s Beef Stew).
But the treasures in this book lie in the back of the book, the desserts part. Recipes for classic home baked treats, the squares and cakes and fudge that have been served at church gatherings and school bake sales time and time again. Refrigerator cookies, hello dollies and date squares. And one whimsically named the “Wackey-Woo Cake”, for reasons not clear. That’s the one I’ll make first, because I’m all about the Wackey Woo. I’d love to know the history of this one, although I suspect it’s a story long forgotten.
The Church Ladies have also included such helpful pages as a Spice Guide, Quantities for 50 People, and How to Cook a Lobster; little sayings and truisms are sprinkled throughout the book. This is one of the best cookbooks of the genre that I’ve collected, kudos to the Lower Horton United Church Women!
In the words of page 32: We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.
With the Grand Pre Cookbook, I feel like I’ve been given a real gift.