Updated: Jun 19, 2018
In my first blog I told you that I never imagined as a little girl that I would become a chef as an adult. But somehow, in the recesses of my mind, I must have known deep down inside or felt a certain comfort in the need to collect recipes. I've been collecting recipes for many years, I started collecting cookbooks, recipes, and magazines in my late teens and early adult years, even before I started to cook professionally. I just recently went through a box with old cookbooks, battered and torn recipes I managed to save all these years, scraps of paper with recipes, and recipe cards in my own "child-self" handwriting from when I was quite young. I didn't realize, until that moment, that I had been collecting recipes my whole life! It was certainly a profound moment for me and a realization as an adult that I wasn't consciously aware of until now. And each recipe I wrote down or saved included a memory or feeling that all of a sudden came flooding back.
And this is not only isolated to collecting recipes, but having the memories associated with certain foods, places, and events throughout my life and finding those recipes or creating the foods I remember in those memories. To me, there is something cathartic and comforting in all of my shared recipes and the recipes that have been given or passed down to me. For my second blog, I thought I would tell the backstory and history of a few of the recipes that were given to me, passed on to me, or from a recipe I put in the cookbook that was from my memory of that food. The recipes I will be talking about all come from our cookbook, "The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook - Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes*".
Wojape (Chokecherry Soup)
Wojape pronounced 'wo zha pee' is a Native American word meaning pudding and was a Lakota and plains Indians dish that was made with chokecherries, wild plums, or any combination of wild mixed berries. It traditionally was not made with sugar or flour, but once government rations of flour and sugar came to the reservations, it was incorporated into the recipes.When I was a kid, my dad would take us down to the Poplar River and pick chokecherries. Chokecherries grew abundantly along the river banks and are an extremely tart berry. I remember one time my brother and I floated down the Poplar River and stopped to pick chokecherries along the banks and by the time we got to where our dad picked us up, our hands and faces were stained a deep purple. The first time I remember having Wojape was in home economics class in fourth grade. Our classmate, Courage Crawford's mom, Pat Crawford, both Native Americans from the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation I grew up on, came to class to show us how to make fry bread (another Native American food) and wojape. My dad had taken me to feeds and pow wows growing up and I had tried different Native foods before at my friends' homes, but I had never made any kind of Native foods myself. Growing up on the reservation I was submerged into a different culture that wasn't my own, and feeling somewhat left out, even though I strongly related to that culture, learning how to make Wojape made me feel like a part of something beautiful and traditional.
Barbera's Risotto - Traditional Piedmont
I first met Francesco and his partner Claudia in the autumn of 2007 at my restaurant, Sydney's Mountain Bistro in West Yellowstone. They lived in Switzerland, but liked to travel to the States, had a home in western MT and were hiking in the Gardner, MT area. They stumbled across my little hole in the wall bistro after a visit to Yellowstone National Park and reluctantly gave it a try. They were world travelers, foodies, and West Yellowstone was definitely not known for fine dining in a sea of buffalo burgers, fries, and fried touristy foods geared towards feeding hungry families. My waitress at the time, Ramona, came to the back of the kitchen and asked if I could come out and talk with a table. They had ordered the salmon and wanted to talk with me about their meal. I reluctantly changed into a clean apron to look presentable when I went into the dining room, prepared to educate my guests and defend my perfectly prepared medium rare wild salmon. To my surprise, Francesco and Claudia praised my salmon saying that it was the best they had ever had in the US in their travels and it was excellent! A bottle of wine later, we were fast friends, and Francesco told me about his love and passion for cooking. In the following months, Francesco and Claudia would send me culinary book recommendations and food links about the slow food movement. They would travel back the next summer and join me for one of my famous "Barrie's Date Night" on the patio of my bistro with friends and we had cheese platters paired with bottles of wine and tapa style foods with fresh salads. In true European fashion we ate late and stayed out under the stars on the patio well after closing time. Before retiring for the night, Francesco offered me his Italian Grandmother's Risotto recipe. In the month that followed, I found out that my mentor and friend, Michael McAuliffe's wine distribution company, Cork Works, would be up and running by that September. I shot Francesco an email and offered him a chance to be my guest chef at my “Taste of Italy” Italian Wine Dinner & Tasting paired with Michael's wines. We picked a date for late September and made plans. Once Francesco and Claudia arrived, Francesco went to work in the kitchen, showing me and my staff how to prepare his cherished family recipe. I felt like I had been transported to Italy and was so honored that not only was I gifted this recipe, I had the grandson of the Italian grandmother here to make it for me and my guests. I had never had risotto made with red wine before, nor a risotto that was so authentic. It was molto delizioso! Francesco and Claudia's friendship gave me a greater appreciation of the European tradition of slowing down and enjoying your meals with loved ones and preserving regional cuisines.
Grandma Vivian (O'Toole's) Rum Cake
When we were little kids, my dad and mom would drive up to Plentywood, MT, to see my dad's mom, our Grandma Vivian, who was nicknamed "Laughing Grandma" because of her infectious and joyous laugh. Dinners at her house were quite the event as she would have made-from-scratch meals prepared for us and always had a delicious dessert for us after dinner, which was a huge treat in our family! I don't remember how old I was, I know I was pretty young, but I was old enough to remember this particular night at her house. We were sitting around her round wooden table in the kitchen and Grandma was sitting right across from me. She had a beautiful rum cake with white frosting that she was cutting into slices and told us that we could only have a little taste because there was rum in it. (She also had chocolate cake made for us kids.) I'll never, ever forget what happened next. She ate a piece of rum cake and after a few minutes, she started getting the giggles. There was absolutely no reason why she should be laughing, as I don't think anyone said anything funny. Pretty soon her giggles turned into her "ah ha ha, ah ha ha, ah ha ha' full blown "Laughing Grandma" signature, unique laugh. It was so funny and contagious, that pretty soon we were all laughing hysterically and uncontrollably, not knowing what we were laughing about, but just laughing at Grandma laughing. After everyone's faces, sides and bellies couldn't take anymore (so we thought), Grandma jumped up and went and stood by the kitchen table closest to her bathroom door and told us we made her laugh so hard that her teeth fell out. I don't know about my siblings, but I was too young to know she had dentures. She pulled them out and put them in and pulled them out and put them in a few more times, all the while laughing her "Laughing Grandma" laugh. Everyone exploded in laughter and we all had tears running down our faces. It was one of the best and cherished memories I've ever had of my Grandma Vivian. My dad talked about that night for a long time and was convinced Grandma got snookered off of the rum cake as my Grandma never drank. Every time I make her rum cake now, I think of my "Laughing Grandma" and that night in her kitchen, with her sitting across the table from me...laughing!
*The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook - Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes will be available soon for Pre-Sale! Watch my blog and social media sites for details for pre-sale discounts and chances to win great 'Local Swag' for every book purchased!
*The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook – Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes published by Arcadia Publishing and the History Press will be AVAILABLE nationwide on July 9th, 2018.