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Si­mon Thibault is on a cru­sade to pre­vent Acadian culi­nary cul­ture from dis­ap­pear­ing.

In his new book, “Pantry and Palate: Re­mem­ber­ing and Re­dis­cov­er­ing Acadian Food” (Nim­bus Pub­lish­ing), the Hal­i­fax-based free­lance jour­nal­ist ex­plores his roots.

“This is a book about Acadian food, but the root of it is very much in south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia, where I grew up,” Thibault says. “Food is this amaz­ing kind of cul­tural emul­si­fier that brings you to other places and other times, and that’s im­por­tant.”

Aca­di­ans came from France and set­tled in fer­tile ar­eas of what is now Nova Sco­tia, New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land, part of Que­bec, and part of what is now Maine in the 17th cen­tury. They were de­ported by English con­querors in the 18th cen­tury. Some Aca­di­ans moved into more re­mote ar­eas of Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick while others fled to Louisiana, where their cui­sine even­tu­ally be­came known as Ca­jun.

When some of the Aca­di­ans re­turned, their land was gone. Their cui­sine came to be in­flu­enced by what they could grow on land that was not very arable — pota­toes, for ex­am­ple. They also had ac­cess to fish and hunted an­i­mals.

The com­fort food known as ra­pure, or rap­pie pie, is a pop­u­lar Acadian dish.

“It’s homely, homey, quaint, but it fed us and sus­tained us,” says Thibault.

To make it, the home cook rasps pota­toes by hand into a pulp, then ex­trudes the starch and liq­uid by squeez­ing them in cheese­cloth. The pulp is re­con­sti­tuted with boil­ing stock, mixed with poul­try, clams or wild game like rab­bit, deer or moose, and baked for about three hours un­til it has a golden-brown crust. The labour-in­ten­sive pie, like a casse­role, is much eas­ier to make these days be­cause rasped pota­toes are avail­able com­mer­cially in blocks.

Thibault’s 50 beloved recipes also in­clude tour­tière, soups like chicken fricot with potato dumplings, breads, and desserts like pud­dings, cus­tard pie, mo­lasses cook­ies and dough­nuts.

He ex­plains the ori­gin of the recipes in a se­ries of es­says. He is most in­debted to fe­male fam­ily mem­bers he never re­ally knew.

“My mother gave me this se­ries of note­books, which were her mother’s, her grand­mother’s and great aunt’s and a few other fam­ily con­nec­tions; so turn-of-the-cen­tury, hand­writ­ten note­books,” he said in an in­ter­view at the re­cent Ter­roir Sym­po­sium for people in the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

In­gre­di­ents were given, but mea­sure­ments and di­rec­tions were few and far be­tween.

“These were women and some men who be­cause of their so­cial sta­tus or money or ev­ery­thing else had to know how to cook,” he says. “For a layper­son who has next to no culi­nary back­ground, they don’t know how to cook those things be­cause they need in­struc­tions, they need di­rec­tions.”

The method for a recipe for pick­led beets, for ex­am­ple, starts out, “Cook beets as usual.”

“You re­ally need things to be spelled out es­pe­cially if you’re talk­ing about some­thing so ephemeral as culi­nary her­itage be­cause in all of those note­books there was no recipe for rap­pie pie, no recipe for fricot, no recipe for how to salt onions, no recipe for how to salt lard or how to ren­der lard. No other in­for­ma­tion is there. Why? Be­cause you just know how to do it be­cause you watched and the knowl­edge was passed down.”

Thibault needed to do a lot of adapt­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing when it came to writ­ing his recipes.

“Some­one says a hand­ful of salt, well, my hand is big­ger than my mom’s hand.”

Re­search­ing and writ­ing the book was a way to get to know his grand­mother, who died when he was four, and pass on his Acadian culi­nary her­itage to the young daugh­ters of his sis­ter, who re­cently died of can­cer at age 43.

“They love to cook. I taught the eight-year-old how to make pie dough. She’d never made pie dough and it was pie dough from my book,” he says.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what your age. To give some­one the ca­pac­ity to be able to do some­thing they didn’t think they could do, to feed them­selves in that kind of way is great. Even just my­self, the first time I cook a recipe and it works the first time I get so frickin’ ex­cited. It’s like tast­ing a high.”


Si­mon Thibault is on a cru­sade to pre­vent Acadian culi­nary cul­ture from dis­ap­pear­ing.


The cover of Si­mon Thibault’s book “Pantry and Palate: Re­mem­ber­ing and Re­dis­cov­er­ing Acadian Food.”

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