Valerie Mansour’s Food History in High Definition

With a recipe from the book for Potato Crème Brûlée
Irish Potato Pudding, photo by Len Wagg and Jessica Emin


If food reflects our culture or who we are, then Nova Scotia Cookery, Then & Now, Modern Interpretations of Heritage Recipes, Presented by the Nova Scotia Archives and Select Nova Scotia, is both a reflection of who we are and, more importantly, who we were. Specifically, how we ate to maintain life between the late 18th century and mid-20th century.

Food writer Valerie Mansour–with archives staff–has curated more than 80 fascinating recipes covering almost 200 years of Nova Scotia life. Many were recorded insufficiently and required interpretation and redevelopment. This job fell to 25 chefs and food and beverage experts throughout the province–all associated with Taste of Nova Scotia.

Mansour’s goal was to modernize or make the recipes relevant in the 21st century without sacrificing their historic integrity. She did it, beginning with the first recipe, where Andrew Prince of Halifax’s Ace Burger Co took an ingredient list–that’s all there was–for a 1786 dessert, Irish Potato Pudding, and turned it into Potato Crème Brûlée. One small, delicious addition, a few tablespoons of Nova Scotia ice wine, along with the use of modern cooking techniques, achieved a fine result, while maintaining the essence of a 231-year-old recipe.

Today’s cooks favour cookbooks with plenty of photographs, the more eye dazzling the better. Nova Scotia Cookery, Then & Now features many remarkable photos taken by photographer Len Wagg of food styled by Jessica Emin. The historic nature of the dishes is suggested by backgrounds using antique tables, flatware, dishes and vintage accessories like old-fashioned lace doilies. Viewing Wagg’s pictures is like seeing the past in high definition.

Nova Scotia Cookery, Then and Now is an excellent addition to any cookbook collection, both for its appetizing recipes and its valuable record of how we nourished ourselves throughout history.

Here is a recipe from the book, courtesy of Nimbus Publishing:

Serves 6

1 cup (250 ml) mashed potatoes
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp (1 ml) rosewater
3 tbsp (45 ml) Nova Scotia ice wine
1 1/2 tbsp (22 ml) sugar, for sprinkling

For Potato Skin Chips
handful potato peels
splash canola oil, for frying
salt, to taste
1/4 cup (60 ml) white chocolate chips

Peel and cook a large potato. Save some potato peels for garnish. Pass potato through ricer, then through fine drum sieve while still warm. Heat cream and mashed potato together, bring to boil while whisking to incorporate, remove from heat.

In mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, and egg yolks until well blended, add rosewater and ice wine, blend in.

Add cream and potato mixture gradually into yolk and sugar mixture, stirring continually. Pour liquid into 6 crème brûlée ramekins. Place in roasting pan. Pour hot water into pan halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake at 325°F (160°C) about 35 to 40 minutes, just until crème brûlée is set but still trembling in centre. Remove from roasting pan, cool, then refrigerate.

For potato skin chips, toss skins in canola oil, sprinkle with salt. Bake in oven on sheet pan at 450°F (232°C) until skins are nice and crispy, about 12 minutes. While skins are baking, melt chocolate chips. Dip skins or drizzle with chocolate, lay on parchment to cool.

To serve, sprinkle sugar over ramekins. With kitchen torch, heat sugar until it turns amber and surface becomes smooth. Serve immediately, accompanied by potato skins.

Note from Andrew Prince of Ace Burger Company:

The original recipe had no baking instructions, so I approached it like a custard. I thought of a few different concepts—a cake, or parfait, or something fun. I liked the crème brûlée the best; it’s an all-encompassing dessert. And I got some Nova Scotia activity happening with our nice, sweet, ice wine.

Nova Scotia Cookery, Then & Now
Valerie Mansour
Nimbus Publishing

Written By

Karl Wells is an award-winning food writer and restaurant critic for The Telegram in St. John's, host/producer of One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine.

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