Guest post by Arlo in Ottawa, Canada
In the mid-seventies, my parents decided they were going to move “back to the land”. Weary of our urban lives in major Canadian cities such as Winnipeg and Calgary, they yearned for their rural roots, preferably in Saskatchewan, near their relatives and with cleaner air. After years of relocating with our country’s military (air force), a permanent home appealed to us all.
After a brief stopover living with my great-grandparents on the Okanese Indian Reserve, my parents acquired an abandoned farm in the middle of nowhere.
The outbuildings were run down and everything had become overgrown after many years of neglect. The access road, we discovered later, was navigable only when it was 40 below or 90 degrees in the shade; anything in between meant pure Saskatchewan clay mud that could stop an Army tank and required gumboots. My teenage soul rebelled immediately, but my younger siblings thought it was cool, since we could all have puppies.
And so we moved.
For the first couple of seasons we lived entirely off the grid. No electricity or running water, and an old cast-iron wood stove for heat. There was no garden that year. Our days were spent with sharp hoes, grass whips (lethal weapons, really) and another implement resembling a South American machete. Our muscles grew strong from hauling water from the well, chopping wood for the stove, and cutting acres of grass with a rusty push mower.
We did manage to gather much wild produce -- a wide variety of berries and small fruit, onions, horseradish (I think), and other greens and herbs. Nearby farms provided for most of our food needs (eggs, milk, meat, vegetables). Eventually that year, we did install electricity, which powered the well pump, hot water tank, and my first short-wave radio.
The second year was more bountiful; we raised chickens and harvested our first real garden. Thanksgiving that year was truly blessed.
A few months later, in the middle of our prairie’s harshest winter, I first recognized the absolute value of a well stocked pantry, whether on an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere, a city apartment in a power black-out, or when a mother is just too tired to shop.
Before the days of the Internet, a rural teen (me) without television, shopping malls or telephone depended on the mail. I ordered every catalog on the planet, free samples of shaving cream, pantyhose and lose-weight candy, Reader's Digest subscriptions until 2020, paint chips, sea horses and heritage seeds, just to get mail from our post office once a week.
My best acquisition was a cookbook, a booklet really, from the McIlhenny Company, maker of tabasco sauce, with recipes from Cajun chef Paul Pru'dhomme. I wanted to make a special meal for my mother for her birthday that January, and after days of browsing through every New Orleans recipe highlighting the famous red pepper sauce, I decided I would make her the best-ever chicken jambalaya.
Back in Saskatchewan, when the closest grocery store is miles away and you live in the midst of Ukranian, German and Hutterite farmsteads, ingredients such as fresh shrimp, oregano and andouille sausage are not easy to come by. It's much easier to find feed bags, harnesses or lard. Pickled beets, blackstrap molasses, beeswax are definitely on the store shelves, but SURPRISE! They did have the little red bottle with the diamond logo, which I happily purchased and hauled home to add to our pantry.
Arlo's Saskatchewan chicken jambalaya
This is the hearty one-pot meal, served with birthday cake, that I made for my mother all those years ago. Serves 8.
3 lbs chicken breast (from our first chicken coop I used frozen thighs, drumsticks and one half-breast), chopped with a sharp knife into 2-inch pieces
1/2 lb smoked spicy sausage such as andouille or hot links, cut into half-inch slices (I used local ham koubassa)
1/2 lb shrimp (I used 2 cans, large count shrimp, rinsed and drained)
4 Tbsp oil/butter/margarine mix, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green peppers
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
4 cans diced tomatoes with juice (I used 4 pint bags of frozen tomatoes)
2 cups long-grain rice
3 cups chicken stock (I used water and bouillon cubes. They didn’t sell canned or Tetrapak in those days.)
Small can tomato paste 6 ounces – 156 mls
1 Tbsp Tabasco Sauce
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground allspice (I accidentally used cinnamon, but threw in two pinches of nutmeg to try compensate!)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a sauté pan, heat the oil (or butter or margarine), and fry the chicken until it has a nice scorch. Add the sausage to brown as well. Place the chicken and sausage in a large enameled roasting pan that has a tight cover. Add some water to de-glaze the sauté pan and added this liquid to the roasting pan.
Heat the remaining oil and sauté the onions, celery, green peppers and garlic until slightly crispy but still somewhat hard. Add to the roasting pan along with the rice, tomatoes with juice, chicken stock, tomato paste, and spices/seasonings. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Then, stir in the shrimp, adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed, and if necessary add more water if the mix seems a tad dry. Cover and continue to bake for 15 minutes. Serve hot.
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