A Modern Dad’s Black Bean Veggie Burger for his Vegan Son

This guest blog post comes from Darcy Higgins. Darcy is the Executive Director of Food Forward. He cannot vouch for the factual accuracy of this piece, as it is based upon his recollection of his father’s truthiness.

I didn’t always eat as I do now with all the vegetables, the local sustainable, and culturally diverse dishes. And neither did my dad.

Allow me to share a few anecdotes of his – sans permission – that explore some of the origins of his, and perhaps my food culture.

As a child growing up in rural New York, his father took him hunting, not for sport but for food. And nothing extravagant at that, but rabbit, bird, and other small mammals. Pretty far from my own existence as a small-city grocery store kid. A few years ago before his death, my tough former boxer/cop grandfather surprised us both by recanting hunting entirely as ethically wrong and unnecessary. But in those days it was food.

Later as as a student he’s recalled putting on his first extra pounds or two working in the school cafeteria after the lunch ladies took a liking to him. They would heap extra piles of food on his plate, surely the most wholesome of delights, that he would happily accept. By the end of that term, well maybe that was the beginning of his motivation to become a life-long runner, allowing calorie consumption to never be a big problem.

In college he must have felt a little embarrassed one day when he opened the fridge and found that a girlfriend, feeling sorry for his financial and/or gustatory state, had left food for him without saying a word. I guess there’d been no care package of squirrel from home that week.

My dad was never the strongest of cooks, and therefore I greatly enjoyed helpings of hot dogs and ice cream as a child. But his teaching work levelled off and my mom’s picked up around the time that I started becoming interested in where food comes from and began to eat my veggies. He spent more time in the kitchen, doing the primary amount of cooking in the family, and picked up a variety of skills.

He may not realize of his supportiveness in my becoming vegetarian/vegan. And though still skeptical about the more recent definition of the word “organic”, he enjoys cooking vegetarian and culturally diverse foods and visiting some of Toronto’s little gems when in town.

Since rabbit is also a big part of my mom’s Maltese background, I thought I’d include a recipe of how my dad may have eaten it after the hunt (but really I don’t think they were quite that hillbilly). I continue to enjoy my rabbits in the park, or hopping in the house. And here’s a modern dad recipe he’s been doing for a few years – give it a try.


Learning Through Eating

This submission to the Apron Strings Contest comes from Neil Faba. Neil is a food blogger. He and his wife Jenny (whose submission you’ll see soon) started Communal Table to channel their love of  “cooking, eating out, and dreaming about delicious things” when they’re not working. Thanks Neil! Be sure to check out the rest of the Apron Strings contest submissions and rate them. The lucky winners will receive gift certificates to shop at Fiesta Farms.


I don’t have a lot of childhood food memories that include my father. He worked a lot, and while we were fortunate to be able to sit down to meals as a family on a fairly regular basis, my mom was often the one to cook those meals. And since she’s always been something of an amateur gourmet chef and genuinely loves cooking, I tend to consider her my most important culinary influence.

But in so many ways, my dad is responsible for how I think about and approach food. He was born in Italy, moving to Canada when he was 11 years old. Since crossing the ocean for a new life, his family has held on to the recipes and food traditions that had been so much a part of their ancestry and history in the “Old Country.” My zios (Italian for uncles) keep expansive vegetable gardens at their suburban Toronto homes, cellar salumi and cheeses in their basements to eat when they’ve been aged to perfection, and make their own (addictively drinkable) wine. Those ingredients have been central to many family meals I enjoyed as a child, and continue to enjoy now with my wife and other new family members.

And while I’ve only recently realized it, my father is a pretty amazing cook in his own right. My parents separated when I was 16, and in the years immediately after that I don’t recall a lot of great meals with my dad. What I do remember (and what my sister and I tease him about still, even though I think it only happened once) was my dad serving us mashed potatoes that turned out to be from a box.

At 19, I moved away to go to university, and after graduation I continued to live away from home for another five years. It was over that 10-year stretch that a slow, almost imperceptible change began to take place in my dad’s kitchen. Each time I came home and sat down to a meal, something new and different was in front of me – expertly prepared fish, risottos and meat dishes. When I started bringing Jenny to dinner at my dad’s, she was quick to compliment him on what he’d made, often asking for the recipe and for his cooking tips.

I remember how I felt the first time she said to me, after a dinner my dad had cooked, “I can see where you get your great cooking skills from.” It was at that point that I began to realize that my father had always had great culinary skills. It had just taken him a while to feel the passion needed to really showcase those skills, and it took me even longer to recognize a part of him we’d both taken for granted. And I think that’s a lesson about fathers: Often, it’s so easy for kids to focus on ways they think their dads don’t measure up. But by doing that, we’re often missing out on appreciating the great men they truly are.

Hugh’s Classic Reuben, with A Healthy Serving of ‘Profound Associations’

This Apron Strings guest post in celebration of Father’s Day was written by Sarah B. Hood is the author of several books, most recently We Sure Can: How Jams and Pickles are Reviving the Lore of Local Food.  I have a copy on my bookshelf and Sarah’s recipes kept me inspired all through the harvest. Check out Sarah’s blog Toronto Tasting Notes for her musings on the Toronto food scene.


My dad, Hugh Hood, was a prolific author. Like my mom, he was born in a Year of the Dragon: a circumstance that, my sister points out, had its disadvantages. The dragon is strong, dynamic and inspiring, but, unfortunately, imaginary. Thus, she says, both our parents have endowed us with a rich creative life, but a comparatively tenuous grasp on everyday matters like money.

Unlike my mother, whose father was a popular dentist in a prosperous town, my father’s family was hit hard by the Depression. His mother did something that no one did in those days: she separated from her husband for several years, while he struggled, beset by numerous challenges, in an unsuccessful banking career.

Through poverty, precarious housing and family upheaval, dad found comfort in familiar, predictable repetition and routine. This tendency helped him excel academically; he earned a PhD at the University of Toronto. Much of his sustenance and pleasure came from the comfort food of diners like Fran’s, and through my childhood the meals he best enjoyed were the diner-style fare we so often ate: hamburger patties, baked beans and French fries; Shepherd’s pie; hot beef sandwiches; fish sticks, with ice cream or fruit cocktail for dessert.

He loved deli food, especially smoked meat, and I recall one great innovation in the routine, when my mother figured out how to prepare a Reuben Grill as he remembered them from the ’40s: a culinary landmark in our home.

Dad actually interdicted the serving of spaghetti for some years, on the grounds that my mother “never makes it the same way twice!” Although he adored Italy, he stuck staunchly to a short list of familiar trattorias there, and would visit Italian McDonald’s rather than risk being served an unexpected or unfamiliar dish.

Perhaps it goes without saying that Dad was not much of a cook. However, I do have one early food memory that dates from about the age of six, before my sister was born. My mom was for some reason away, so Dad prepared and served up the evening meal for me and my two brothers.

I don’t recall the details of the meal, except that it consisted of “meat and two veg” (and that the carbohydrate content in this case was potato chips.) I do remember what he said about it. “I’m not like some fathers, who can’t cook a meal for their children,” he said. “When your mother is away, I can prepare a good meal. Women shouldn’t have all the responsibility for feeding the kids.”

I also remember how this made me feel. I felt loved and cared for. I felt proud of my father. I also understood and learned his little lesson about fairness in marriage and equity in general: typical of my dad, who was a loving and involved father, a considerate husband and a very decent man. And characteristic, too, that the food itself would be secondary to the profound associations that went with it.

Happy Father’s Day, Hugh Hood (1929-2000)!

Hugh Hood’s Favourite Deli-style Reuben Grill

This is a mid-20th century diner standard that was largely abandoned in the wave of health-consciousness after about 1970. However, it’s right in line with the food trends of the moment, and I see it’s making a comeback on the menus of a few high-end retro eateries. It’s also delicious.

  1. Layer thinly-sliced corned beef or pastrami, Swiss cheese, and cole slaw or sauerkraut on a slice of rye bread (the kind with caraway seeds).
  2. Spread plain yellow mustard (not Dijon) on a second slice and close the sandwich. (I see that some people use Russian dressing instead, but Dad never did.)
  3. Butter the two outside layers of bread and toast the sandwich over low to medium heat in a cast iron frying pan or the equivalent until both sides are golden. The goal is to warm the sandwich right through and melt the cheese before the bread begins to burn.
  4. Serve hot on a plate with a dill pickle on the side.



Grandpa’s Succotash, By Robert Eaton

This Apron Strings blog post comes from Chris Eaton. Chris  is a local novelist. His books include The Inactivist and The Grammar Architect. He is als a musician
with the band Rock Plaza Central and father of the spectacular Idris. The photo features many Eaton generations including Chris’ grandfather, both his dad’s grandfathers (one of whom is Idris’s namesake), Chris and his dad. Chris is the smallest fella pictured here. 

My father didn’t cook much when we were growing up. In fact, I asked my siblings for their memories about this, and all anyone could recall was charred hamburgers
and hot dogs. My grandfather, however, was very connected to his food, with a huge garden every summer, and his father was apparently also a very good gardener and
cook. And it turns out that my father learned a few things from great-grandfather that he just never shared until he was ready.

I have always been immensely proud of my father. He’s amazing. And since retiring, his activities as an activist and environmentalist have made me even more so. He
has been campaigning to save heritage buildings in my hometown of Sackville, NB,built an energy-efficient home to live in, and took up the family mantle of a huge
garden. He even started cooking, and I love that his recipe for his grandfather’s succotash has a total prep and cooking time of several months.

My take on Grandpa’s Succotash

Take 3 8-foot poles and make a tripod to sit in the garden. Around the base of each pole, plant 12 magic purple beans (I save my scarlet runner beans from the
year before) in a 1 foot circle. At the same time plant several rows of peaches and cream corn. In August, the tripod will be covered with a brilliant display of scarlet
blossoms. Allow the beans to fully mature before picking and shell to discover the large purple beans. At the same time, pick the mature ears of corn.

Select a strong 1½ cups of beans and soak overnight in 4 cups of water. The next morning, cut the kernels off 6 good-sized ears of corn and throw both the cobs and
kernels in a large pot together with the beans and water. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour. Then discard the cobs. Place half of the mixture in
a container for the freezer to make a future batch of succotash.

To the hot pot, now add the following ingredients:
• can of peaches and cream corn kernels
• can of evaporated milk
• 500 ml of coffee cream
• several ounces of sherry
• a dozen shakes of Worcestershire sauce
• half a handful of garlic powder
• half a handful of tarragon
• and a large chunk of butter
Stir and allow to cool and refrigerate overnight.

For serving use a large ladle to fill a large soup bowl and place a small pad of butter
on top. Nuke (about 4 minutes) until the butter is completely melted.

Delicious (especially with fresh bread and butter) !!!

A Taste for Something Better, From Father to Son


Jonah Schein is an MPP for Davenport. He is a dedicated teacher, social worker, and community organizer. Below are his reflections on what his dad taught him about food, justice and the politics of sharing what tastes good. It is part of Fiesta Farms’ Apron Strings Project, a celebration of dads and food in honor of Father’s Day.


Some dads teach their sons to “bring home the bacon.” My dad taught me to bring it home, cook it, enjoy it, and share it with the people around me.

I am lucky. I grew up in a food-positive home, where food was abundant.

My parents shared parenting responsibilities for my siblings and me, but my dad was primarily in charge of food in our family. He was the one who shopped for groceries and cooked. He made us breakfast and packed our lunches, and he often made breakfast, packed lunches, and made dinner
for our friends too. My friends always felt welcome in our home. We could often find my dad in the kitchen preparing food, happy to talk to us and to feed us.And so I learned to like food. And to share it with my friends.

My dad has always loved food, but he was never a picky, or a precise cook. My parents are “crunchy granola” era hippies, so we ate pretty healthily – always whole foods and never from a can. We ate vegetables and salads, but my dad has always loved rich food. He believes in making food taste good, with lots of meat and eggs and vegetables and butter and sugar. He loves to make macaroni and cheese with lots of cheese and lots of butter. He loves ice cream. And he believes in making a lot of food. Both my parents believe that baking and cooking with kids is important. Baking with my dad always involved a lot of tasting and licking the bowl.

While I was growing up, my dad would often reflect with distaste that too many people and too many parents used food as a form of power and of social control. And so my dad never fussed about our food – in his mind, his job as a parent was to provide us with enough food. He knew that we would eat what we needed, and he was always willing to help eat anything we couldn’t finish on our plates. This thinking shaped my own values as they relate to both food and politics.

I was first politicized as a young adult working with kids in Toronto’s shelter system. I saw kids who simply did not have enough to eat, and I was stunned to hear the remarks of some co-workers who said that if we fed the kids more, their parents would “never learn to take responsibility” for feeding them. It became clear at this point that not everyone shared the values I learned from my dad.

My work with homeless people in Toronto and my first-hand encounters of the food inequality in this city have continued to politicize me. Denying people access to food – particularly in a rich province like ours — is clearly inhumane, and we have an obligation to ask questions about the political and economic systems that allow this to happen.

When I saw the health impacts of poverty in our city – both physical and emotional – and the cruel cuts to social assistance that limited so man people’s access to nutritious food, I felt compelled to get involved. I became an advocate for food justice, first through my work at Queen West Community Health Centre, then at The Stop Community Food Centre.

This led to me to the NDP and my current role as MPP for the riding of Davenport in Toronto. My dad rarely uses a recipe and does not consider himself to be a good cook. But in fact, my dad’s food always tastes good, because it meets the definition of “comfort food”: it is cooked with kindness and generosity.

My dad’s cooking taught me about love, about compassion and about sharing. In the end, it taught me to feel lucky, and inspired me to work to make it possible for all kids to grow up knowing they have enough food to share.

Recipe: “Ice Cream Log Cake”

Here’s the real recipe for JELLY ROLL from For the Love of Baking by
Lillian Kaplun. (We always called this “Ice Cream Log Cake” and it was a
favourite birthday cake in my family.)


  • 1 cup plus 2 T. sifted cake flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 to ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 T. water


  • Heat oven to 350. Grease jelly roll pan (15″ x 11″ x1″). Line with heavy waxed paper – grease paper. Fit the waxed paper into the pan so it is ½” to 1″ away from the edge on all sides. Then you won’t tear the cake.
  • Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Beat egg whites until foamy, add 1 cup sugar gradually and beat until a meringue consistency. Remove from the machine and by hand fold in the yolks, one at a time, blending thoroughly. Add sifted dry ingredients .
  • Fold in water and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Turn out on a linen towel sprinkled with sugar. Peel off waxed paper carefully. Cool to lukewarm. Trim off side crusts with a serrated knife.
  • Roll cake with towel. Cool 5 min. Unroll.
  • Remove roll and fill with favourite filling (lemon filling, any jam or jelly, ice cream, chocolate filling or whipped cream.)

In my family’s version, my mom usually baked the roll, but my dad enjoyed filling the roll and decorating the cake with us. We always used ice cream inside and whipped cream on the outside. It never rolled like a real jelly roll because my dad used so much ice-cream that the cake just wrapped around the ice cream. Several different flavours and colours of ice-cream in layers look nice when you slice the cake.

  • After filling with ice cream, wrap in foil and freeze until the party.
  • The next step is the whipped cream. My dad usually used twice as much as anyone else would. He whipped it just before serving.
  • The final step is the decorations. We usually decorated with fruits (berries, kiwi slices, peaches) or with other toppings like chocolate shavings, cookie bits, or smarties.