Interview by Meghan Sheffield
Simon Thibault is a Halifax-based full-time food writer and radio producer who is also a programmer for the Devour Food and Film Festival in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Simon’s new cookbook, Pantry and Palate, explores his Acadian roots by scouring old family recipes, ladies’ auxiliary cookbooks, and folk wisdom for 50 of the best-loved recipes of Acadians past and present. Read our conversation with Simon and checkout contest details for a chance to win a copy of the book below!
What is your connection to Acadian food?
It’s funny cause I’ve never thought of myself as being some kind of hardcore Acadian or someone who would be a front runner — I’ve known others, like artists and musicians, to be the forebears of Acadian culture, and I’d never really considered food as being at the front of Acadian culture and history.
I grew up on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia, which is sometimes called the French Shore, or Clare. The village I was raised in is called Church Point, or Pointe-de-l’Eglise. I was raised on this food, and the recipes in the book, many of them came from family. There were these notebooks that my mother had in her possession that were her mother’s, her grandmother’s, her great aunts’.
What is Acadian cuisine like?
I have a joking tagline that Acadian food is “homey, slightly homely, and very stick to your ribs.” That’s a joking way to put it, but it is earnest, comforting food. Acadian food hits all the right notes for a lot of people in a way that they never expected it to. Give people something carbalicious and they’re good to go!
How did the book come about?
When the publisher approached me and asked me to write a book about Acadian food, I was like “Nah, I‘m good.” Then I thought about it some more and realized I read cookbooks all the time — I always have a stack of cookbooks on the nightstand. I read cookbooks before I go to bed, I read cookbooks like other people read novels. And the best cookbooks are the ones that give you a greater understanding of a cuisine rather than just “dump this, chop this.” Those are the books that gave me the understanding of cultures and cuisines around the world and I thought I’d like to write a book that does that for Acadian food — and I hope that I did that.
I realized a lot of Acadians have never looked at their own culinary heritage as a form of heritage or one that can be discussed or parsed through or written about. That’s the thing that fed me in writing this book.
What was your process like?
When I started creating and transposing these recipes, the glut of which were from my grandmother and great aunt and other family members, from the turn of the century— they were not fully expressed recipes, they were casual notebooks written for and by home cooks who were experienced in the kitchen. You’re dealing with a group of people — predominantly women — who didn’t have a need for large amounts of instructions. They were basic guides for one another, or a personal vernacular that told people how to do things or what ratios to use. The super familial recipes wouldn’t be written down at all, and just be done by memory.
I had to figure out how to make them on my own, and then translate the recipe for people who don’t have much cooking experience. I had to figure out how to make each recipe clear and concise and not intimidating for a novice. The best piece of advice I got on this was from Tucker Shaw, the editor of Cook’s Country. He said to me “Read the recipe out loud and mime with your hands what you would be doing. If your hands know what to do, then you got it right.”
What can the rest of us learn from Acadian cooking?
I think the takeaway is specifically Canadian, in that the Acadians were of French ancestry, mostly peasant class, working class, and they were then dispersed. When they came back, they came in contact with other communities who had taken possession of the land they had been occupying (and I parenthetically say occupying, because it was certainly unceded from indigenous populations): the Scots, Irish, German, English and the Indigenous population.
All of those things together helped foster and create this cuisine in Acadian homes throughout Atlantic Canada. I write in the book that time is a great culinary emulsifier. Chicken fricot, is a classic recipe that has a tradition of rasping potatoes and grating them and extruding the starch, a very Bavarian way of using potatoes, and yet it became so entrenched in Acadian homes that it’s one of those recipes done by memory alone.
We no longer need to make preserves, we no longer need to go to the wharf to buy large amounts of salt to salt beef or pork, or to make pickles of the summer bounty. But those are the things that made you a community, all of that is part of a culinary heritage. Not everyone is going to cook a pig’s head, not everyone is going to render their own lard. It’s still important and necessary to record that information.
It’s interesting to see how people lived and functioned — I found a recipe for donuts on the same page as a recipe for blood pudding. It seems odd at first, but pigs are slaughtered in the fall, and they’d use the blood to make into blood pudding, and then what are they going to do with all this fresh fat? Make donuts and fry things because you had all of this fat around.
It’s a perfect symbol of it all.
A pig slaughter is a communal effort. Your friends would come, help you do these things. There’s an Acadian expression, partie du voisin, the neighbour’s part. It means you come help me and I will give a little bit of this, then come and help you. It actually extends the freshness of the food for the community, extends access to food, and creates this really wonderful connection.
You can win a copy of Pantry and Palate!
- FOLLOW @thegoodlocal on Instagram
- LIKE our Instagram post
- TAG a friend in SEPARATE COMMENTS (but as many as you wish)
- The winner will be chosen at random and notified by DM July 31st. Good luck!
*Contest is available to Canadian residents only.