Every fall in the 1920s, pioneer woman Noreen Catt set out from Victoria, British Columbia for the wilderness of northern B.C. where she cooked at a remote fish camp. Once the snows came, the access route became impassible. She and the work crew were stranded in isolation until the following spring.
Before she left civilization, she had to estimate how many tons of flour, sugar, coffee, bacon, and other food staples were needed to cook three meals a day for the workers for the next six to seven months. If she forgot the ketchup, she couldn’t just run down to the corner store.
Noreen didn’t have the luxury of wasting food. If there was leftover oatmeal and bacon grease from breakfast, it went into that day’s batch of bread. The pickles are gone but there’s still juice in the jar? Toss it in, too.
She couldn’t throw out her recipe fails–she figured out imaginative ways to make the goof edible. If she ran short of ingredients, she had to think outside the box to substitute something different.
“Waste not, want not” were the words she lived by every single day.
Noreen was my great aunt. While she taught me how to bake bread, she’d tell stories about fish camp and a wondrous machine she’d used that made up to a dozen loaves at a time. It was a metal bucket that clamped on a table. A dough hook fitted through the lid and a hand crank mixed the ingredients. The dough rose in the bucket in a warm place near the wood stove for an hour or two. Then she cranked it down, shaped it into loaves, let it rise again, and baked it.
After she no longer cooked for big crews at fish camp, she gave away the bread machine.
When my husband and I were getting married in 1972, Noreen knew how much he loved my homemade bread. She went on a quest to find a special wedding present for us: a bread machine like the one she’d used. She advertised for months across Canada and finally found one for sale. When the package arrived, the metal bucket had dents in it that looked familiar. Upon examination, she realized she’d bought the same machine she’d given away decades before!
The engraving reads: Universal Breadmaker, Awarded Gold Medal St. Louis Exposition 1904, Made by Landers Frary & Clark.
Needless to say, that bread maker was our most memorable wedding gift.
In these times of shelter-in-place directives, empty supermarket shelves, and only essential travel allowed, dear Aunt Noreen often comes to my mind. While at fish camp, she used resourcefulness, imagination, and thriftiness to carry her through many months of isolation cut off from supplies.
Never throw away food. Use it in a soup or casserole or even a batch of homemade bread.
Be inventive and creative. If you’re out of an ingredient, use your imagination to find a substitute.
Be resourceful. Don’t let shortages stop you. Discover workarounds.
Aunt Noreen’s spirit is helping me through these troubled days and I want to share her legacy to help you, too.