Pantry and Palate is more than a cookbook. It’s a story. A story thoughtfully told through prose and recipes. Author Simon Thibault’s painstaking interpretation of decades of ink smudged, handwritten family notes, and imprecise formulas, reveals the essence of a cuisine. Acadian cuisine. Unique, because it was largely shaped by 18th Century French culture, the imagination of a maritime people and ingredients of the Maritimes.
Although the book contains less than fifty recipes, each has been lovingly excavated like the individual fragments of a shattered, ancient serving bowl, and reconstructed or reinvented thanks, in large part, to Thibault’s intuition and culinary knowledge. Each recipe is easy to follow and understand.
Thibault is nothing if not passionate about his subject, and, like a culinary Sherlock, appears dogged in his pursuit of answers to perplexing questions of how and why. I enjoyed being taken along on these sleuthing adventures. The author’s curiosity is infectious.
Most dishes will be familiar to Atlantic Canadian cooks: pickled beets, boudin noir (blood sausage), meat pies and molasses cookies. Others employ unusual ingredients, like tamarind from the tropics, along with explanations of how and why such things became ingredients in Acadian recipes.
Thibault displays a predilection for classic techniques that might be thought too labour intensive today. Yet, how to render leaf lard, making head cheese from a pig’s head, and other traditional methods, used through generations, are some of the most interesting parts of Pantry and Palate. Even if pig heads aren’t that easy to come by nowadays. (At least, not in my neighbourhood.)
Heartwarming admiration and deference is shown frequently towards mothers and grandmothers in Pantry and Palate. Thibault understands that without their dedication, ingenuity and skill, it’s doubtful Acadian cuisine would have become the varied and delicious cuisine celebrated in this fine collection of recipes and stories.
A RECIPE FOR FRING FRANGS / POTATO PANCAKES (SERVES 2–3) FROM PANTRY AND PALATE
6 large potatoes
1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons minced onion, or a 1/2 tablespoon salted onions** (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
- Grate potatoes using the largest holes in your grater.
- Remove the excess liquid and starch by placing the grated potatoes into a muslin bag or kitchen towel. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
- Place the potatoes into a large bowl, and sprinkle in the flour. (If you’re adding onions, this is where you do so.) Mix it in by hand, so that you can feel when all the potatoes have been well covered with the flour.
- Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Using your hands, fashion pancakes that are about 1/4 inch thick, and about 2–3 inches wide. Add butter to your skillet, and fry the pancakes in it.
- Once the ends have turned golden brown, flip the pancakes over and cook for another minute or so.
- Serve immediately with pickles, more butter, or whatever suits your fancy. Keep any extras hot in a warm oven.
Pantry and Palate