This recipe caught my eye for obvious reasons, pudding being one of my favourite words (that and the word unitard). Stick the word poor in front of it (pudding, not unitard) and there’s a lesson in simplicity to be had for sure. Fat-Back and Molasses might conjure up fond memories for anyone who grew up in Newfoundland or Labrador. For anyone else, it probably sounds a bit strange and certainly not like the title of a cookbook. One that, I would venture to say, certainly influenced my generation.
The book was put together back in the seventies by Ivan F. Jesperson, a clergyman working on Fogo Island. With the help of The United Church Women, he managed to collect numerous recipes from Newfoundland and Labrador in a sweet little volume that was originally published in 1974 (Jesperson Publishing). After many a copy became dog-eared and stained in kitchens all over the province (including the kitchen of my childhood in Wabush) it was finally reprinted in 2002, with several more reprints being released until the most recent in 2010. My roommate Karen bought a copy recently and it was floating around our place in Cow Head. She said she bought it because she just wanted a good recipe for tea buns. If the women in her family are anything like mine, measurements are foolishness. It’s all handfuls and pinches and “until it’s a softish dough” type explanations. I’ve learned to do that with curry, but shamefully still can’t make good white Newfoundland homemade bread. My Nan Porter first tried to teach me ten years ago…I wrote everything down to the exact handful but I’m still too scared to try it without her standing over me. This is where Fat-Back and Molasses: A Collection of Favourite Old Recipes from Newfoundland and Labrador comes in handy. It’s for us children of the seventies who grew up watching mom and nan cook with handfuls and pinches but who need measurements and temperatures.
This little book is a gem. Small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer and it costs about ten bucks to order online last I checked. Everything Newfoundland and Labrador is in here, from tea buns and pea soup to flipper pie and squirrel cakes. No joke, you make them with bread crumbs and potatoes and fry them in bacon fat. They don’t mess around in Labrador. I never killed any squirrels as a child, but my sister and I did fight over the exact number of squares of ravioli in a can, so yeah, we were pretty bad-ass.
Poor Man’s Pudding
(Mrs. Rosalind Fraser, originally from Bishop’s Falls)
Boil 2 cups water. Add 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp margarine, 1 tsp vanilla. Mix together 1/2 cup white sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 cup milk.
Put first mixture in casserole dish. Drop second mixture by teaspoon onto first mixture. Bake 350 F for 30 minutes.
Again, a meal in August much more suited to a cold night in January. A few friends over after a show for Nigel’s garlic and vermouth roasted chicken (again, need rehab) and no one seemed too concerned about the unseasonal eating. I simplified things for the pudding a little with my enameled cast iron pot. I boiled up the brown sugar mixture in it (used real butter instead of margarine), dropped in the dough (it’ll be really soft, almost like a batter) and popped the whole thing in the oven. If everything looks like a weird cow-intestine soup, you’re headed in the right direction. Don’t be scared. When it’s baked and gets spooned out into a bowl as a golden dumpling in hot brown sugar sauce next to a scoop of ice cream, no one will complain.
A little shout out to Cow Head wild strawberries. See the chimney sweep’s gelato recipe a few blogs earlier to get the recipe for this homemade ice cream. This one was made with strawberries and toasted walnuts…the berries were picked out on the Head in a bed of thistles by the little red cursing chicken. Cluckety-effing-cluck.
The slew of Fat-Back and Molasses reprints since 2002 says a lot about how fashionable it is to be old-fashioned these days. It’s fine and dandy to be nostalgic and want to re-create the simpler times of your ancestors for a dinner party. But a little weird when you think that a couple of generations back the ingredients for poor man’s pudding might be all you had left in your cupboard to feed your family until the boat came through the ice in the spring. I’m pretty sure that my forefathers and mothers had bigger things on their minds than homemade ice cream (scurvy and tuberculosis), but I like to think they did what they could with what they had (squirrels).