“Pantry and Palate” book review

Tourtière, photo by Noah Fecks

Pantry and Palate
Author: Simon Thibault
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing

A review by Karl Wells
(First published by http://atlanticbookstoday.ca/)

Pantry and Palate is more than a cookbook. It’s a story. A story thoughtfully told through prose and recipes. Author Simon Thibault’s painstaking interpretation of decades of ink smudged, handwritten family notes and imprecise formulas, reveals the essence of a cuisine. Acadian cuisine. Unique, because it was largely shaped by 18th Century French culture, the imagination of a maritime people and ingredients of the Maritimes.

Pantry and Palate

Although the book contains less than fifty recipes, each has been lovingly excavated like the individual fragments of a shattered, ancient serving bowl, and reconstructed or reinvented thanks, in large part, to Thibault’s intuition and culinary knowledge. Each recipe is easy to follow and understand.

Thibault is nothing if not passionate about his subject, and, like a culinary Sherlock, appears dogged in his pursuit of answers to perplexing questions of how and why. I enjoyed being taken along on these sleuthing adventures. The author’s curiosity is infectious.

Palate Gâteau à la mélase, molasses cake, photo by Noah Fecks

Most dishes will be familiar to Atlantic Canadian cooks: pickled beets, boudin noir (blood sausage), meat pies and molasses cookies. Others employ unusual ingredients, like tamarind from the tropics, along with explanations of how and why such things became ingredients in Acadian recipes.

Thibault displays a predilection for classic techniques that might be thought too labour intensive today. Yet, how to render leaf lard, making head cheese from a pig’s head, and other traditional methods, used through generations, are some of the most interesting parts of Pantry and Palate. Even if pig heads aren’t that easy to come by nowadays. (At least, not in my neighbourhood.)

Heartwarming admiration and deference is shown frequently towards mothers and grandmothers in Pantry and Palate. Thibault understands that without their dedication, ingenuity and skill, it’s doubtful Acadian cuisine would have become the varied and delicious cuisine celebrated in this fine collection of recipes and stories.