Mennonite Roots, Mountain Soil
by Darcie Friesen Hossack
In my grandmother's kitchen, in the tiny village of Schoenfeld, twenty minutes south of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, there was always something cooking.
As some of you will know from my name (Friesen), I come from Mennonite roots. Roots that extend past the Canadian prairies, to the Ukraine before that, and Germany and the Netherlands before that.
You'll know from that name, when I talk about my Grandma Anna's cooking, I'm imagining Varynyky stuffed with salted cottage cheese or sugar-sweetened Saskatoon berries. Heart-shaped waffles or Roll Kuken: those fried flags of dough that go so perfectly with the watermelons my grandfather could unfailingly judge to be sweet.
There were pork cracklings and Mennonite sausages made from pigs whose names I'd know, and Nüdel Zupp, its secret ingredient the star anise slipped into the soup pot along with a freshly killed chicken.
So if I tell you that I miss my grandparents, at times, so much that I can taste it, these are the tastes that I will always mean.
But then, there was also the garden.
In what I can only measure in my memory, and guess must've been a quarter of an acre, my grandparent's garden was a place of wonder.
Mennonites may like their sugary things (an understatement to every other Friesen, Froese, Neufeld, Neufeldt, Krahn, Rempel and Toews). Come summer, though, it was possible for the girl I once was to be equally delighted to drag a milk stool among the rows of peas, and while gathering an ice cream pail full of pods for the supper table, shuck and eat these little parcels of sunshine like the garden candies they were.
Carrots, too, could be pulled by their tops, brushed off on the leg of my jeans, and eaten just like that, while cucumbers never tasted so good as when they were fresh from their vines.
A little later in the season, though, and it soon became all about the potatoes.
With a cold room under a hundred year old house, next door to the newer one my grandparents lived in, enough potatoes were planted every year, for them, the extended family, and any neighbours who mightn't have enough to last through the winter.
And for ten cents a pail (which added up fast in the early 1980s), my grandpa would pay me and my sister to follow behind his pitchfork, and pick every red potato he unearthed from the ground.
From there, once we were done and cleaned up, it was time to sit down to Grandma's fried potatoes.
Cooked in, and glistening with (of course) lard, and salted to perfection, my grandmother's fried potatoes were as rich as the rest of her cooking, and as rich as the love she had for the one little girl, of twenty five grandchildren, that was born into her home.
I'm very much a mountain girl now, and not a girl at all, anymore.
After three decades in British Columbia, and lately the Northern Rockies, I look up to find my horizons, and find that my soul belongs wherever it can find a dramatic rise towards the sky.
And yet, there is a farm, just twenty minutes south of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, that's still warm with the memory of my grandmother's cooking.
Grandma Anna's Fried Potatoes
about 6 large red potatoes
1/3 cup lard, bacon fat or canola oil
kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Scrub potatoes and slice into quarters. Cook in a large pot of salted water. Drain, slice thinly.
Heat fat in a large cast iron skillet until it sizzles when a bit of potato is introduced. Add potatoes in batches. Cook each bath until golden brown. Remove from fat with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season generously and serve.