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Food history truck collects recipes and research at MHV

By: Geralyn Wichers

Posted: 06/27/2018 10:00 AM

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Kent Davis and Anna Sigrithur keep busy aboard the Food History Truck, which will be stationed at Mennonite Heritage Village until July 7.

GERALYN WICHERS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Kent Davis and Anna Sigrithur keep busy aboard the Food History Truck, which will be stationed at Mennonite Heritage Village until July 7.

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A warm wind blows through the open window of the food truck and threatens to scatter the wild greens on the cutting board. Butter melts in a frying pan on the stove, diffusing a rich aroma.

"Who doesn’t like crepes and garlic, right?" says Anna Sigrithur, who hovers over the heating butter.

Researcher Kent Davis stands across the narrow kitchen assisting her and throwing out occasional questions. Researcher Sarah Story leans in with a microphone and recorder to catch their conversation.

It’s the inaugural use of the kitchen aboard the "Food History Truck," mobile base of operations for the Manitoba Food History Project. The project, based out of the University of Winnipeg, seeks to answer two questions: how has food been produced, sold and consumed in Manitoba; and, how has this changed over time?

The researchers have parked their truck at the Mennonite Heritage Village and gone out to interview food producers, butchers and restauranteurs. They’ve also invited home cooks like Sigrithur to come aboard the food truck and cook with them.

They’re not looking for expert chefs. "We just want people who will share a food tradition that matters," said principal investigator Janis Thiessen. "We’re not putting any limits on it. Just whatever helps you share your life story with us."

Together they cook and record an interview about the subject’s life story and how food fits into it.

Sigrithur tells Davis she’s the child of two "Scandanavian mutts." She was born in Hamilton, but her family moved around a bit when she was small before settling in Winnipeg when she was five.

It was about that time, aged five or six, that she remembers the first recipe she invented. She called it "peanut salad," a mixture of iceberg lettuce, lemon juice and peanuts—whole peanuts shelled and removed from the husks.

"I really liked the husks so you had to make sure that you took the husks separately and then you, like, sprinkled it as garnish on top of the salad," Sigrithur said, laughing.

Around age 11 or 12, Sigrithur realized she could make recipes and started cooking for her family. "I just remember suddenly I was, like, obsessed with food," she said.

At first she was just curious about the food she saw around her, but as she grew older she branched outside the European canon of dishes.

Sigrithur produced the podcast "Ox Tales" for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery this year, and has taught cooking classes. The foraged Lamb’s Quarters they’re cooking are the result of further food curiosity, which led her to study wild plants and ecology.

Davis and Story capture this all in an audio recording to be archived at the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg.

Thiessen says food traditions have always evolved. "There’s never been a pure food tradition that’s been preserved," she says. "There are no pure traditions. They’re all part of sharing and evolution." The project will map out that evolution.

The Food History Truck is at MHV until July 7, after which it will travel the province for the next three or four years gathering research and recipes.

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