This post ran as the Editor's column in the January 7 issue of "Grainews" (www.grainews.ca).
My mother gave me a new cookbook for Christmas this year. It’s called “Good Cookin’with the L.A.W.”
No, we haven’t been reduced to selling cookbooks to fund policing in rural Saskatchewan (yet).
L.A.W. is short for “Lacadena Area Women (and Friends).”
Since Lacadena, the west-central Saskatchewan community where I grew up has a population of two (or four, when my cousin and his wife aren’t in Saskatoon), it really is important to include “area” in the title. (In fact, the friends in the subtitle come from as far away as Eston, Elrose and Kyle — about 30 miles in any direction.)
I was really happy to get this cookbook. I have the 2004 Lacadena community cookbook in my kitchen cupboard, and I use it all the time. I would have said that the original cookbook has pretty much every recipe I really need, but I’m sure my husband will be glad to see a few new recipes in the rotation.
As soon as I opened my new cookbook, I flipped through the pages to see which recipes were included and who’d sent them in.
It’s probably the same for anyone reading their hometown cookbook: turning the pages of this book is almost as good as going back for a visit. There’s the burnt grapes desert thatthe Lacadena Wanna-Be’s served at their dinner theatre a few years ago. My aunt’s chocolate cake. A few exotic recipes that the neighbour’s daughter brought home from her trip to Europe to work as an au-pair. Lists of all of the squares and cookies I remember eating at every local event. Recipes for soups and stews that were donated and served at the rink kitchen, when there used to be a rink.
Then I got to page 124.
My name was on page 124. Next to the recipe for “flat apple pie.”
“This is a disaster!” I said.
Years ago, a Lacadena neighbour, Karen, shared her mother’s recipe for apple slices withmy family. It’s brilliant. You use an almost-pie crust to make a, well, a “flat apple pie” on a cookie sheet. It’s perfect for cutting into square pieces to pack in a kid’s lunch kit or farmer’s cooler.
The recipe is fantastic. And I can sort of make it. If you don’t mind how it looks, or you don’t expect it to turn out exactly right every time, and if you’re not thinking it’s going to taste quite the same as it does when Karen makes it.
The problem is that now, everyone in Lacadena will think I’m trying to take credit for Karen’s recipe.
“What can I do?” I asked my family.
“Don’t worry,” my brother said. “There’s already a list of corrections up at the post office.”
He sent me a photo.
The list of corrections wasn’t up in the post office because anybody was angry that someone else had stolen their recipes. And certainly not because anyone thinks they could do a better job putting this cookbook together than the organizing community — it’s pretty impressive when a town with a population of two (or four) can put together a 184-page cookbook in the first place, and in any project like this there’s bound to be a misattribution or two.
No. The list is up on the post office because Lacadena is the kind of community where everyone knows there’s not much point trying to pretend to be someone you’re not because everyone else already knows who you are anyway. Maybe you can get away with this sort of thing in the big city, but it’s not going to fly in small town Saskatchewan.”
I was relieved. “Good,” I told my brother. I’ll add my correction to the list.
“Or,” he said, “You could write about it Grainews.”
The most amazing thing about this cookbook isn’t the few minor errors or the fact that there are three different ways to make a lazy cabbage roll casserole. The most amazing thing is that a community with a population of two (or four) can pull together a cookbook at all, and that they would take the time to go to the effort.
Back in the 50s and 60s, Lacadena was a good-sized town. There was a café, a co-op, a bank, a school, more than one store, and even a machinery dealership. But over time, farms got bigger and people moved away. Lacadena is about an hour’s drive from bigger centres like Swift Current or Rosetown — quite a distance to commute.
By the time I was growing up, things were slowing down. The school closed before I got there. The two-sheet natural curling ice rink was still in operation, so I did have a chance to learn how to make change by selling coffee and chocolate bars from the rink kitchen, and how to throw the “Lacadena Take-Out” (a graceless two-handed two-feet-in-the-hack delivery, designed to just heft the rock past the hog line when it’s so warm there are puddles on the ice). But the curling rink was torn down years ago, and it’s been decades since there was any skating ice in Lacadena. The church where my husband and I were married ten years ago has seen its last service.
In recent years, natural gas development has brought a little bit of new steady work tothe area, but still, over the last decade, the population has continued to fall. The only “businesses” left in town are the post office and the municipal office.
And yet, even now, the community puts together a cookbook.
And that’s not all. Every year, they sell out tickets for more than one performance of a dinner theatre. And the show isn’t the one-man monologue you might expect when you hear about the population. They put on a good show, with a full cast and crew and the best sound effects I’ve seen (heard?) in a Prairie theatre.
When someone from the community gets married, they still put on a bridal shower. Atthe last one I was home for, the local groom-to-be and his fiancée had to back two and a half SUVs up to the doors of the community hall to pack up all their new Tupperware and tea towels.
According to the write-up in the front of my new cookbook, at least one women’s group has been organized and meeting in Lacadena at any given time since 1911. This group, theL.A.W., is relatively new, but I’m willing to bet that, somehow, they’ll find a way to carry on this tradition. It’s a little worrying to notice that, right now, most of the L.A.W.’s catering work is coming from funerals and auction sales, but I’m sure they’ll be other events too.
These days, every recipe ever imagined is on the Internet, for free, complete withglamour photos of the finished dish and a list of possible ingredient substitutions. Sure, we have Wi-Fi in the house and laptop on the cupboard, but never mind the Internet. In my kitchen, we’ll be cooking with the L.A.W.