Only in Saskatchewan is Naomi Hansen’s ode to a flourishing food scene
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Our cookbook of the week is Only in Saskatchewan by Naomi Hansen. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Baba’s Homestyle Perogies’ potato and cheddar perogies; Crave’s mustard potato salad; and Oda’s rhubarb crumble cake.
Baba’s Homestyle Perogies in Saskatoon sells more than two million hand-pinched dumplings each year. But even more impressive than the sheer number of perogies Baba’s cooks roll, fill and pleat is how the orders are filled: Through Canada’s only perogy drive-thru.
“It’s just such a Saskatchewan thing to have a perogy drive-thru,” says writer Naomi Hansen, who documented the province’s food scene in her debut book, Only in Saskatchewan (TouchWood Editions, 2022).
True to the book’s title, Baba’s perogy delivery system is a uniquely Saskatchewan phenomenon. As Hansen writes, “owner Rob Engel claims he’s never heard of anything like it anywhere.”
In addition to showcasing recipes from restaurants across the province — including Baba’s top-selling potato and cheddar perogies — Hansen explores Saskatchewan’s culinary history through archival photographs and profiles of the people behind the food.
Some of the restaurants she features are long-standing institutions. Regina’s Italian Star Deli, for example, has been operating for 56 years.
The bakery on Only in Saskatchewan’s cover — Melfort’s Golden Grain (creators of the recipe for bismarks in the book; jam-filled, icing-topped yeast doughnuts) — is one of a long line of bakeries housed in the building since 1908.
“Those are just so central to Saskatchewan’s culinary history. And they’re still there today, which is really quite an incredible piece to that history,” says Hansen.
Hansen pitched Only in Saskatchewan to publishers prior to the pandemic. When she began writing it in July 2020, COVID-19 added a layer of unanticipated complexity.
Restaurants have been especially hard hit: Over the past two years, 13,000 foodservice businesses have permanently closed, according to Restaurants Canada, and 205,800 restaurant workers have left the industry.
Some of the restaurants Hansen initially hoped to profile had closed permanently or chose not to participate because of an uncertain future. Well-loved Prince Albert spot Amy’s On Second, for example, which had been operating for more than 30 years, closed permanently due to the pandemic.
“Given that the pandemic was difficult for so many industries, I just had so much gratitude for the business owners and the chefs and the bakers and everyone who did take that leap of faith and said yes to participating despite everything that was going on at the time,” says Hansen.
As restaurants start to rebuild, frequenting them is key, she adds. “Supporting local businesses, like restaurants and eating establishments, has always been important. But I think it’s even more important now.”
In the book, Hansen covers Saskatchewan’s north, centre and south with dedicated Saskatoon and Regina chapters. Representing the province’s geographic and cultural diversity was important, she says. Many of the chefs and families she profiles merge prairie ingredients with the culinary traditions of their heritage.
Anie Alpuerto, owner of The Rolling Pin in Weyburn, for example, serves Filipino dishes such as pancit (stir-fried noodles) and tapsilog (marinated beef sirloin, fried egg and fried rice) as well as German fare, like the borscht Hansen features in the book.
At Saskatoon’s Botté Chai Bar, Saskatchewan-grown lentils are on the brunch menu in adasi, a Persian lentil soup (also in the book). And at Regina’s Malinche, which is temporarily closed, chef Mariana Brito blends the culinary traditions of her native Mexico with prairie ingredients.
Odd Couple, one of Hansen’s favourite Saskatoon spots, draws on Cantonese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines for its prairie-inflected food. “Think maple glazed bacon and a farm fresh egg atop a heaping plate of Chinese BBQ pork and jasmine fried rice,” owners Andy and Rachel Yuen and Andy’s mom, Jane, say on their website.
“There is such cultural diversity here, and so that was important to me to include,” says Hansen. “A lot of people specifically mentioned they were taking Saskatchewan ingredients and using those with traditional recipes and coming up with something new. And that’s just so cool to see.”
Along with the creativity and commitment restaurants show for local Saskatchewan ingredients, Hansen wanted to expand what people think of as prairie products. Wheat and pulses may immediately come to mind, and while they are staple crops, there’s so much more.
She also includes province-wide products such as flax, oat, mustard, lentils and chickpeas; bison, northern pike and Diefenbaker trout; and fruit like sour cherries, Saskatoon berries and sea buckthorn.
“I could go on,” says Hansen, laughing. “We have so many amazing ingredients here.”
The book’s recipes use these ingredients in unique ways. The Nightjar Diner in Swift Current, for example, calls for sea buckthorn juice in their “Flat-Land-Hattan” cocktail.
And at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park Restaurant in Saskatoon, Julie Bear of Shoal Lake Cree Nation and Darci McAdam of Pelican Lake First Nation created a recipe for bannock pockets stuffed with pulled bison and served with cranberry marinara for dipping.
Cook this: Crave’s mustard potato salad from Only in Saskatchewan
Cook this: Baba’s Homestyle Perogies’ potato and cheddar perogies from Only in Saskatchewan
Cook this: Oda’s rhubarb crumble cake from Only in Saskatchewan
Hansen had two main goals in mind when writing the book: to celebrate Saskathewan’s culinary scene by sharing recipes for people to recreate at home, and to offer a guide to visitors.
She’s seen “immense growth” in recent years as new restaurants, distilleries, breweries and market-style stores have popped up around the province. The timing was right to share Saskatchewan’s food scene with people outside its provincial borders.
Tracy Kelly-Wilcox of Grain & Pulse Bakery Café in Imperial said it best in an interview for the book, Hansen recalls: “It’s been wonderful to see how the food scene has flourished, and to see the whole province waking up to what we have, what we do well, and to the producers who have been here all along.”
To highlight even more Saskatchewan businesses and help people find some of the lesser-available ingredients, Hansen concludes the book with a “Sourcing Local Guide.”
While the guide will be most relevant to Saskatchewanians, some of the producers — such as Indigenous-owned and -operated Boreal Heartland in Air Ronge, which sells herbal teas and mushrooms — ship nation-wide.
Covering the entire province of Saskatchewan, rather than focusing on a single city as some regional Canadian cookbooks have done (e.g., Vancouver Eats, Edmonton Cooks), enabled Hansen to take a wide view.
“Given the population size, I felt that the province would be a better fit for the book. And I’m really happy that I focused on the province as a whole because it really expanded the scope of what I was able to include, even with the photographs,” says Hansen.
Garrett Kendel’s photography not only captures Saskatchewan’s restaurants, bakeries and their food but its stunning natural landscape: serpentine rivers, mirrored lakes, sweeping prairie and boreal forests.
Hansen hopes that her tale of a thriving prairie food scene resonates as much with readers outside Saskatchewan as those within. She sees people’s commitment to supporting the local food system as a testament to their passion for the province.
“Saskatchewan people know Saskatchewan is amazing. We’re proud of our province. We always have been,” says Hansen.
“Hopefully, what this book partially does is that the rest of Canada can see that, too. See that there’s something special about Saskatchewan. That the Prairies have a lot to offer, and really showcase that talent and passion for local food and provincial ingredients.”