With her new cookbook, aptly named, Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky, the Edmonton-based blogger behind The Kitchen Magpie, takes us back in time with recipes for classic Canadian desserts of yesteryear. Passed down on scraps of paper or typically only published in community cookbooks, Johnston has brought together a perfect selection of long forgotten sweets from Prairie kitchens past and present.
Flipping through the cookbook, each page takes you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, school bake sales and community halls, where many of these desserts have been enjoyed for generations.
“My grandma, out on the farm, would always have danties in the freezer for company,” says Johnston. “That was a big part of Prairie life.”
For Johnston, her love of baking started at a young age, where she spent summers in her grandmother’s farmstead kitchen in Dauphin, Manitoba. There she was put to work turning buckets of freshly picked blueberries and Saskatoons into dozens of freshly baked pies, made with classic Canadian Tenderflake dough.
“Pie days were a lot of work,” says Johnston. “She’d start in the morning. If you could fit three in the oven, you’d bake those for an hour and have the next ones ready. It was a huge assembly line.”
From there, the pies were cooled, wrapped and frozen for the cold Prairie winter. While she ample experience mixing, rolling and baking pie dough, she admits that she doesn’t quite have her grandmother’s touch.
“She had the lightest touch, out of everyone I know,” she says. “By touch she always knew if it needed a little more vinegar or cold water. She made the best pie pastry.”
Johnston prefers to make the simple graham crust of the classic Prairie flapper pie, which dons the cover of her book. Known as the ‘almost’ forgotten pie, the custard-filled treat topped with meringue is a family favourite across the prairies, with variations abound.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s the proper one, because it has cinnamon in the graham crust,” says Johnston, who received the recipe from her mother. Once she baked it up, and posted it on The Kitchen Magpie, she was flooded with nostalgic notes from readers.
“I had hundreds of people telling me they had forgotten about it,” says Johnston. “I think it is one of those foods that their grandmas and their aunts used to make and it just has the memories attached to it.”
“My mom didn’t make it, but she remembers her mom making it. Her generation forgot about it and now my generation is going back and recapturing all those memories.”
Johnston isn’t surprised by the newfound love for classic recipes, especially Canadian ones. With new, over the top food trends popping up almost daily, she thinks that people still crave that down home comfort.
“It is fantastic to go to a restaurant and eat it, but these (classic recipes) are the recipes that mean the most to us,” she says.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t open to creative twists on the classics. Her book is riddled with new interpretations of Canadian sweets, including her new favourite: Saskatoon Butter Tart Pie.
“There’s something about the flavours that are perfect,” she says. “You won’t think they would work but it does really, really well. It is like the culmination of everything Prairies in one recipe.”