Passing on the Basics of Ontario Pioneer Cooking

Below is the first guest blog post in our Mother’s Day series called Apron Strings–dedicated to preserving and celebrating our foremom’s culinary traditions.  This first guest blog post was written by journalist Sarah B. Hood whose writing covers food, film, fashion & more. She’s also an editor at and a professor at George Brown College.

The attached image shows my mom’s extended family at the cottage in the mid 1940s. My mom is farthest right front, with bare legs. Her father is farthest left, holding the camera shutter trigger. Her mother is seated or kneeling just left of centre, with a hairstyle that mirrors her daughter’s.

My mother, Noreen Mallory, is about as Ontarian as you can get. Her mother was a descendant of a German-Dutch settler who came to North America in 1661. In the 1700s, her great-great-great-grandfather fought alongside the British during the Revolution and was settled in the still-wild Niagara region by the Crown.

Her father was similarly descended from a Revolutionary War veteran who founded Mallorytown, near Brockville, in the 1790s; His family had already been in North America for generations by then. He grew up in a small village and was used to providing food for the dinner table by fishing and bird-hunting.

Growing up in Brockville, my mom spent summers at a cottage with an extended group of her father’s relatives, many of whom were born in the mid 19th century. Meals were cooked on a wood stove or Coleman stove; ice was brought in from the icehouse, and many ingredients came from a truck garden, an apple tree, the lake, wild berry bushes and local farms.

When my mother recalls those days, it’s not without an edge of resentment that the men got to spend their days out on the lake while the women stayed onshore to cook. She remembers the hard strong arms of her great-aunts who would render down fruit and vegetables, whip up egg whites and beat cream by hand.

The men did offer some assistance, though, apart from fishing. For instance, one uncle got up early every morning to light the stove and prepare a sturdy oatmeal breakfast.

My parents bought a cottage near Brockville in the ‘60s, and we children would spend the whole summer there with no telephone or TV, and frequently with no car when my father was called away on business. Naturally, mom passed on a lot of the knowledge she’d absorbed as a child at the cottage from older relatives.

We fished, and mom showed us how to scale and gut our catch, and how to cook it up with butter in a cast-iron frying pan. We often stopped at the local farm stands for delicious new potatoes, summer tomatoes or sweet corn. Of course, we kids also picked the wild raspberries that grew along the side of the dirt road.

One early summer day we discovered a different kind of berry growing on low bushes with small, shiny leaves. We took a few back to the cottage to check with mom whether they were good to eat. She encouraged us to pick more, and over the next few days we came home with several beach buckets full of wild blueberries.

My mom, in an unconscious tribute to the five or six generations of Ontario settlers and farmers she’s descended from, whomped up a piecrust and baked six or eight cups of berries into an open-face pie that for me defines the essence of pieness. It costs her perhaps $2 in ingredients that day; to duplicate it today using wild organic local berries would cost something between $25 and $50.

Charleston Lake Blueberry Pie

My mom spent some time in the ‘50s refining her piecrust recipe. In fact, she was so obsessed with pies at one point that my dad suggested she should install a plate rail just to display them. Her final favourite makes a sturdy but flaky crust:

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of lard
  • ½ cup of cold water
  • Pinch of salt

Combine flour and salt. Using a knife, cut lard into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles small peas. Add just enough water to make the dough hold together. Knead as little as possible, then form into two balls. (Reserve the second ball for another pie.)

Flatten dough into a thick round. Roll out with a floured rolling pin on a floured surface. Place the dough into a deep pie pan and prick the bottom several times with a fork. Trim off the excess and pinch the edges with your fingers to make a rim. Fill with:

  • 1 plastic beach bucket of fresh-picked wild blueberries
  • About 3 tablespoons of butter, dabbed in small chunks on top of the berries
  • About ¼ cup of sugar, sprinkled over the berries
  • A sprinkling of lemon juice, if you have some

Place pie pan on a cookie sheet to catch drips. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 30-45 minutes, until crust is browning but not too dark.


The two most important things my mother taught me about cooking were:

  • Make sure you have all your ingredients assembled before you start cooking.
  • Clean as you go.
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