Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home For Dinner

29 June 2010

Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home For Dinner
by Amy Jo Ehman
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-413-2

Amy Jo Ehman’s book is scrumptious. Part memoir, part “How To” (eat locally), part stand-up comedy, and part recipe book with glossy photos, Prairie Feast: a writer’s journey home for dinner is a literary, culinary, and, dare I say a cultural tour de force. From berry picking to fowl (or “fall”) suppers (“Choosing which [one] to attend is like choosing between movies when all the blockbusters are out”); from zucchini overload to the vagaries of small-town food festivals, this revelatory book is the very personification of Saskatchewan.

Ehman grew up on a farm near Craik and her rural upbringing remains central to her heart. It also fuels her appetite for fresh prairie … well, everything. In 2005, Ehman and her husband embarked on a year of eating locally­­­ – almost everything they ate, from spices to mushrooms to the flour she baked with – had to be produced in Saskatchewan. Readers are privy not only to how the pair managed, but why it’s important to support local producers and grow one’s own food, and just how much fun the challenge can be. The year was “not meant to be an exercise in frugality and hardship – not a sacrifice, but a celebration of local food.”

This book’s a winner on myriad levels. The always-entertaining anecdotes ring numerous (dinner) bells; the book’s exceedingly well-researched (experts include scientists and “Grandma”); and the writing’s peppered with wit and mouth-watering flair. Regarding farm eggs: “Big and small, white and brown, [they line up] together in the carton like a mini-United Nations.” Ehman effortlessly shifts between personal reflection and hardcore facts, and each chapter ends with recipes which demonstrate her eclectic palate, ie: “Berry Muesli Martini,” “Summer Rain Soup,” (“It is important to pick the vegetables in the rain. Somehow, the soup just tastes better”); and, more exotically, “Kibbe Nayya”.

There’s a feast of trivia here, ie: not long ago “Britain banned saskatoon berries until rigorous laboratory testing could prove they were safe to eat. After all, millions of Canadians might be wrong.” And who knew one can transform an “ordinary oven into an artisanal hearth by spraying the hot inside with cold water”?

Ehman credits many friends for their know-how, like Tracy Muzzolini, whose “European breads were like exotic birds on the shelf.” There’s romance in the form of humorous exchanges between husband and wife. There’s pride in both Ehman’s rural past and in her portrayal of Saskatoon, where an “ideal date” is a trip to the farmers’ market, from which “John carries the heavy sack home on his shoulder like a schoolboy hefting his sweetheart’s books.”

And there’s a sad irony: “… while Saskatchewan is producing food for the world, it is almost impossible to find the label “Product of Saskatchewan” in the local grocery store.”

As a girl, Ehman won ribbons for entries in the Craik and District Agricultural Fair. I’ll be chomping at the bit to see what prizes she deservedly earns for this inspiring book. I ate up her every word.


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