My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Faith, Patience and Brown Bread

I have learned that bread making, like so much in life, requires patience. The end result of my bread making last weekend was completely edible, but would have been considered a "bad batch" by my mother. I traced the error to the first rising while the bread was in the bowl. I do believe it is important to let the dough rise, and it is even better if you can punch it down, and allow it to rise back up again.  This produces a lighter loaf.
It can take quite awhile, a few hours, for the bread to rise. Although it can be slow, and one can lose hope, the bread will eventually rise. My Grandfather from New Zealand learned this lesson in bread making when he visited Canada in the early 1970s. My Grandfather made only the one trip to Canada but he and my Grandmother stayed a few months. My Grandparents were a fun loving couple and brought a lot of laughter to the farm during their visit. They both had been involved in theatre in their youth and still enjoyed to put on little plays. I remember one play where they reenacted our neighbor, Dick Elgood, killing a bobcat that was trying to come through the window of his house. The bobcat, for some reason, had been stuffed, and they had it sitting on the front lawn. My Grandmother, not in costume thus she had a summer dress on, had a large gun and was inching her way towards the stuffed bobcat.
My Grandfather had decided that during his stay he would learn to make my mother's brown bread. He had become discouraged by the slowness of the dough rising, and had decided that he had made an error. He took the dough out to the garden and buried it.  A few hours later, to everyone's amazement, the dough rose right through it's garden grave, proving that bread does require faith and patience.

My Grandparents and I standing in the garden where the dough was buried.

Nobody warned me about the bread,
the sweetness of the yeast,
how the bread grows all by itself, in a warm corner of the room.
As if it was alive.
Even when you punch it down, it rises back up, twice it’s size.
The resilience.
The soft rolling on the flour, a temporary submission into tidy pans.
But the forever rising, growing, is unexpected.
It cannot be left alone.
Finally in the oven the loaves are frozen.
They come out hard crusted. Brown bread of course.
With grains.
Even in this state they are somewhat formidable, lined up on the counter.
As if they had not forgotten their wild growth, the freedom of reaching into the sky.
Making bread was more than I bargained for.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Brown Bread

Making bread on the Ranch was a necessity, not born out of whim or a need for a hobby. The trips to town were not frequent enough to insure fresh bread for the family. Betty, my mother, was the bread maker in our family and she was loyal to the role for many years, well into the time when she could have bought the bread in town. She used a recipe from a nursing colleague and dear friend, and never did sway from that except to make french bread.
The bread is legendary. My family in Switzerland used to love the bread so much that my mother once brought a loaf over with her during one of their visits. I remember as a teenager I developed an addiction to the bread toasted with honey for an entire summer. I would take my toast and a coffee down to the beach and truly enjoyed my breakfast.
The only time the bread was not so popular was in elementary school when I felt self conscious of it's "lumpy" and brown nature, wishing that I had white bread like everybody else. Thankfully this period passed quickly.
We rarely make bread in my family, and most of our bread comes from our close friend, Janice Cannon, who has the Little Red Hen Bakery,  My daughter is an "apprentice baker" at the Little Red Hen and was my knowledgeable assistant as we made this bread.

"Cec's Whole Wheat Bread"

Mix 1.5 tsp. of yeast with 1 tsp. of sugar in a 1/4 cup of cold water. Set aside.

I have confessed that I am not much of a cook and that includes baking. I do take a very precision approach to baking, following the recipe exactly. I remotely recall from my high school cooking class days that baking is more scientific in nature, and to insure success it is important to use exact measurements, hence the measuring spoons.

In a beautiful antique bowl. or whatever you have around if you must, mix together 1.5 tbsp. of oil, 1 tbsp. of malt or molasses, half a cup of brown sugar, and half a spoon of salt. Add 4 cups of hot water and 1 1/2 cups of cold water. Mix it all up.
Add 3/4 cup of Sunnyboy, Red River or any 7 grain cereal. 1 tbsp. of wheat germ, 1 tbsp. of bran.

Next is 5 cups of brown flour.  Now for the not so scientific part where I had to call in the expert, my daughter, who has put in many hours with the local bread guru, Little Red Hen (alias Janice).
It is at this point that we have to add the yeast but I recalled a vague childhood memory where my mother dictated that the yeast mixture had to look frothy in order to be "ready". My in house expert insured me that was not the case and that I had to just be sure that the yeast granules had disintegrated, which they had.

 The yeast, contrary to childhood memory, ready to be added in after the brown flour.

Now we have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky. There was some controversy as to when this had happened, and finally as the chief bread maker, I added a bit more flour. This is also a time when it is very nice to have an assistant to keep adding more flour under your direction so you don't have to take your hands that are all covered with dough out of the bowl to add more flour.

The dough, ready to be covered up. It was at this point that another childhood memory surfaced, which was to coat one side of the dough with oil, and then flip it over into the bowl, thus making it easy to take out later on.

Make your dough as cozy as can be and find a warm spot. We are fortunate to have a massive propane stove that has the perfect resting place, very similar to what my great-grandparents would have used in the days of the wood cooking stoves. Allow the dough to rise until double. It can be punched down and allowed to rise again, time permitting.

Divide into four and put into pans. Allow to rise double the size again.

Cook at 400 degrees for 10 min. and then 35 min. at 350 degrees. The bread is ready when knocked it makes a hollow sound.

I know that there are those out there that believe I have no right to these family recipes or stories that they inspire. This collection of stories is the sights, sounds, smells and taste of the Ranch. Every story that I write I claim my part of this history and a commitment to the present.

It is the truth as I know it to be.

The lovely sound of T in True. A ringing sound, like a bell.
The R, like a deep roar.
The rest of the word, a whisper.
Where does this word hide when you are beaten down with lies?
It slips into those little corners where the broom does not reach.
It lies, quietly, waiting.
Many days can go by, feeling deserted by the sweet ring, the soft whisper.
Gone, and alone you feel.
It is only patience that can save you now.
In the dark moments in between truth and doubt is when the horrors arrive,
waving their flags of defeat, blowing horns of despair.
A loud raucous call to your doom.
Don’t go.
No, wait.
Wait, and I am sure hope will arrive, and quick on the heals, optimism.
Take that force, no dramatics. A rambling kind of journey, with love.
Oh yes, love will be there too.
And with all of that the world opens, opens right up and hugs you tight.
Sets you up on your feet, dusts you off.
It is just as it will be.

 "Caroline helping to make bread". A sketch of me done by my grandmother, Renee.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Raclette is a perennial favorite Swiss dish, and unlike the fondue which is considered a winter dish, the Raclette is considered appropriate for year around consumption. Perhaps because of it's origins as a picnic food. The semi-hard cheese is easy to transport thus it was a meal enjoyed by shepherds in the mountains. The cheese was cooked over a campfire and then the melted cheese scraped onto whatever the shepherds had on hand.

Raclette is over 700 years old and has not changed over the years. Raclette was first made in the Canton of Valais, home of the Matterhorn. It uses unpasteurized milk, characteristic of all the best cheeses, and due to it's balanced fat content lends itself perfectly to melting, not becoming oily or separating. (credits to E-how).

We have not enjoyed Raclette on the Ranch as long as our favorite, fondue. The Raclette can be cooked by a fire, which we have done, but it is more effective to use an electric grill especially made for Raclette. These grills are now readily available in Canada, but our first grill was a gift to my parents from family in Switzerland many years ago. It still works perfectly. When we moved to our current home in 1993 we were not here very long when my father came over and added an electrical socket, 220, which allowed us to use the Raclette machine.

I do believe that my father considered us to be valuable additions to the Ranch and meant for us to stay here. The strongest demonstation of this intention was when my father assisted in moving our home into the middle of what was once the barnyard, enabling us to be close to the cows. We endured the odor and the flies because of the convenience of having the livestock so close. I feel safe in assuming that he installed the electrical outlet as he wanted to enjoy Raclette in our home. These material symbols of culture and family are powerful. The cow bells are another one of the ties to Switzerland that my father enjoyed sharing with us. He often discussed how we could better display them. He favored hanging the bells on a wrought iron bar over the mantlepiece, unfortunately like so many wonderful ideas it has not yet come to fruition.

Raclette becomes more about the people and the place than a meal. I have some incredibly memorable Raclette meals but when I went back to find the photos I did not find the meal, but only the vista. Raclette, the cheese, is easy to find in Canada, but very expensive. We only purchase small pieces of it. One of my mountain Raclette meals, near Verbier, was made using an entire wheel of Raclette. The cheese was stored in the cold room between use. My family used the fireplace in their mountain chalet to melt the cheese. It was a wonderful meal with my cousins and my Aunt, that due to the slowness of melting the cheese, went on for some time.

View near the chalet.

This summer I again enjoyed Raclette with family, this time in France, who seem to have happily adopted the Swiss dish. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that felt more like a visit with family. In fact our hosts did have two children who were very adorable.

At  the guest house below the village of Megeve.

View from the guest house

The guest house had panoramic views.

January 2009, celebrating my son's birthday with Raclette. The eclectic Raclette machine from Switzerland.

Raclette is classically served with potatoes, dried meats and pickles. We find that the addition of fresh vegetables is delicious. The family that I stayed with in France also served the Raclette with fresh vegetables which reassured me that we had not swayed too far from the recipe.

Every trip I make back to Switzerland the family endeavors to serve either a fondue or a raclette. It is wonderful to be able to share these family recipes with our loved ones back in Canada. It makes the distance between the countries smaller. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cheese Fondue

There is not a more traditional Swiss food than the cheese fondue. There is some controversy over the origins of the cheese fondue.  Some believe the fondue's origins was as a "peasant" rustic dish from the mountains, made as a means to use up dry, old cheese. Others state that the fondue started among the wealthier people as it used expensive cheeses, primarily Gruyere and Emmenthal, however different cantons in Switzerland have their own cheeses that they like to use in their fondue.

The first published recipe for the cheese fondue using cheese and wine was in 1875, and was presented as the Swiss national dish. With the invention of corn starch in 1905, which allowed the fondue to have a creamier consistency, the cheese fondue gained in popularity. In the 1930s the Swiss Cheese Union actively promoted the dish as a means to increase cheese consumption. Through the activities of the Swiss Cheese Union the fondue spread across Switzerland, with regional dishes being created, and slowly the fondue became a symbol of Swiss unity. Before World War 11 the promotion of the cheese fondue was part of the "spiritual defense of Switzerland". (credits to Wikipedia).

Cheese fondue has been enjoyed on the Ranch for years. Gus was the only person who made this dish until the arrival of Brent, my husband. Brent very quickly took an interest in the fondue, and became Gus's sous chef until he had mastered the recipe. The fondue is one of those recipes that is best learned through observation. It is a wonderful communal dish that lends itself to large gatherings, bringing guests together as they learn the intricacies of the dish, both the creation and the consumption.

2002. Mico, our oldest son, watching Gus add wine to the cheese. Mico had dressed in yellow shirt and blue pants to match his grandfather for his first lesson in fondue making.

Christmas Eve 2010.  Brent has been making Gus's fondue for over 20 years. It is one of those dishes that is different each time. We have made a few modifications, suggested originally by Gus, to adjust to what is available in our Canadian grocery stores.  We often use a combination of extra aged cheddar and Havarti instead of Gruyere and Emmenthal. I prefer the Gruyere and Emmenthal but they are very expensive to purchase here.

Our beautiful fondue pot and stand given as a wedding gift from my Aunt Michele and Uncle Paul. It is important to use a caquelon, a heavy earthenware dish, for even heat distribution.  The fondue is cooked on the stove and then transferred to the table and kept warm with an alcohol heater. Long fondue forks are used to dip the bread into the cheese. Proper etiquete is to carefully eat the bread off the fork without touching the fork with your mouth as it gets dipped back into the pot.

The first step to the creation of the fondue is to rub the bottom of the pot with chopped up garlic. About one clove for a large fondue pot (Brent always adds more garlic, this is where the magic lies).

The grated cheese is added to the pot and the pot filled to one third of the level of the cheese with dry white wine (the wine is best cheap and very dry).

The cheese is slowly melted over low heat.

Christmas Eve 2011, Brent with our friend Ian demonstrating the spoon to be used to stir the fondue. This spoon is actually a Scottish of origin, however very similar to the fondue spoon, the key being to have a hole in the spoon.

 Kirsch, a cherry liqueur, is the other expensive ingredient for the fondue. This is used to mix with the cornstarch to prevent the cheese mixture from separating.

The Kirsch is mixed with about a tablespoon of cornstarch making a milky looking mixture. When I was a young child my grandpa Gus fooled me once into thinking the glass was milk, and I drank a good portion of it. I thought at the time that it tasted terrible but now as an adult I like Kirsch.  Kirsch mixture is mixed into the cheese and allowed to cook until it looks like the cheese is about to boil over. A small amount of nutmeg is grated into the fondue at this point and then the pot is moved to the dining table.
Fresh nutmeg being grated into the fondue.

Christmas Eve 2010. We often serve the fondue with fresh cut up vegetables, and dip those into the fondue instead of the bread. This is something that is never done by our family in Switzerland who would not even serve salad with the fondue. I find it amusing to see how immigrants add their own flavour to traditions. The bread best used is a crunchy baguette.
Christmas Eve 2011. The bottle of pop on the table is not a recommended beverage to have with a fondue. To avoid a stomach ache it is best to consume tea or wine. There is some that would declare that white wine is the preferred choice however the right type of red is also a good pairing. We served the fondue above with small glasses of Kirsch.  The Kirsch could either be sipped or the bread piece could be dipped into the Kirsch before going in the cheese.

The fondue forms part of our family's "spiritual defence" as we struggle with loss. For over 20 years now it has formed one of the many ties that we share with family in Switzerland. It is fun to share the many fondue rituals with our guests, such as when a man drops his bread in the fondue pot he has to buy the next bottle of wine, and when a woman drops her bread she has to kiss everyone at the table. It is always a good night when we dust off the fondue pots and start grating cheese.