Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Growing up, I learned much from watching my mom, aunts, and grandmothers cooking. Besides the camaraderie, laughter, and stories, I learned how to quickly peel an apple with no waste (and still have my gramma's paring knife), how to cook perfect scrambled eggs (and own my granny's pan), and how to move in a kitchen filled with many people, all working with sharp implements. Cooking together is a comfort. Knowing you are continuing lifetimes of kitchen and food knowledge is an extraordinary thing, full of love and taste.

Enter Simon A. Thibault's new cookbook, Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food. It combines the best of many worlds - of home cooks and family recipes; of cooking, with seasons, from a place; of history, both Acadian and culinary; and delicious, interesting recipes that bring the taste of home, family, history. Ever since we visited New Brunswick, I've been interested in Acadian history and the Acadian diaspora. This cookbook? It helps satisfy my quest to learn more about this facet of Canada's history.

Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food - an interview with author Simon A. Thibault

I love many things about this book, as you can probably guess by now, and don't get me started on his beautiful apple pie, which I can't seem to stop making. The stories are intriguing, as Thibault has a deep sense of curiosity. From rendering lard to pie crusts, from seaweed pie to using local ingredients well, and from bread to his dad and potatoes (perhaps my favorite part of this book), he catches the reader's interest. In reading it, you'll learn about the culinary history of the Acadian foodways, of the truth of you are where you eat, many fascinating and delicious recipes, and, most likely, start to ask questions of your family cooks, look for recipe notebooks, and discover your own culinary heritage. Meanwhile, make Thibault's Molasses cake for a family meal, dig into his book, and enjoy the results.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Thibault, and ask about his new cookbook, inspiration, research, food memories, and more. Here's what he had to say...

Talking with Simon A. Thibault, author of Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food

Please tell us about your new cookbook, Pantry and Palate...
It’s a collection of recipes, a family history, the culinary history of the Acadians, it’s two years of my life (HA!), and it’s a gift from me to my family, both present and past. But beyond esoteric answers like that one, it’s a cookbook that looks at the food and foodways of the Acadians, the descendants of the first French settlers of what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was asked to write a book on Acadian food, and to be honest, I didn’t know where to start. But Naomi Duguid - who wrote the foreword - told me to start with the recipes. Thankfully I had a series of old notebooks which belonged to my grandmother and other family members, and they became the inspiration for not only the recipes, but also in how to tell a story: through family and food. 

We're all about the research - what were the joys and challenges of digging into historical recipes and stories, to create this book?
I think challenges actually are joys. In the case of this book, the recipes were mostly based on the aforementioned recipe books, and next to none of them had directions. So I had to figure things out on my own. It made a much better home cook.

I love your family stories, including the things your mom and dad liked to cook (and grow). What are your fondest food memories, from growing up, and how have you translated those feelings and tastes into your life today - and the book?
My fondest memory is that of picking fruit with my sister, Ginette, in my parents orchard. It’s a bittersweet memory, as Ginette passed away before the book went to print. She never got to see it, but was there with me as I wrote it, researched it, cooked and baked from it. The book is dedicated to her and my two nieces. I realized after she passed that she won’t be able to teach her children how to cook, or at least not in the way she would have wanted. I hope the book can do some of that, teach them about their family, and I plan on cooking with them as much as possible. Family history is important, and it can live in the food we make together. 

What might readers and cooks be surprised to learn, about Acadian cooking?
That there is a diaspora and variations in the kitchens of Acadians from one province to another, and that there are more influences in the cuisine than one might think.

What's up next for you?
I’m doing research for my next book, which is taking up a lot of time. Especially in the kitchen. Let’s just say there is a lot of baked goods taking up space in there these days.

Breadmaking... An interview with Simon A. Thibault about his new book, Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
The most important thing I learned in writing this book was the importance and role of the work that goes into maintaining a kitchen. I am lucky, I don’t have to feed a large family, so I am not obligated or tied to a kitchen unlike so many others, including the women who inspired this book. It made me appreciate the knowledge - and the transmission of that knowledge - that lives in kitchens. It made me gain respect for the days of work that happen there - the scrubbing, cleaning, kneading, and the moments of joy that also come in making certain dishes, and in giving that dish to another. It was quite wonderful. 

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