Wishes and dishes Recipe Swap column’s call-and-answer format created community of home cooks

Basement floods, international moves and at least one husband who “tidied up too much” — recipes go missing for all kinds of reasons. For nearly 25 years, Free Press readers turned to the paper’s Recipe Swap column to track down long-lost and elusive dishes.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2022 (271 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Basement floods, international moves and at least one husband who “tidied up too much” — recipes go missing for all kinds of reasons. For nearly 25 years, Free Press readers turned to the paper’s Recipe Swap column to track down long-lost and elusive dishes.

Share your recipes with the Free Press

In celebration of the paper’s 150th anniversary, the Winnipeg Free Press is collecting recipes to be published in a community cookbook, entitled Homemade, later this year.

Visit Homemade to learn more about the project and submit your own recipe. Each submission will be entered into a draw to win copies of the cookbook, Free Press swag and other prizes.

In celebration of the paper’s 150th anniversary, the Winnipeg Free Press is collecting recipes to be published in a community cookbook, entitled Homemade, later this year.

Visit Homemade to learn more about the project and submit your own recipe. Each submission will be entered into a draw to win copies of the cookbook, Free Press swag and other prizes.

Dishes can be cherished family favourites or everyday staples — just make sure to tell us the story behind the recipe.

Join our Facebook group for discussions, recipe swapping and event updates.

The crowd-sourced articles ran every Wednesday from 1992 to 2016 as a kind of classified section for local food lovers. It was a place to glean information and build community around the hunt for a memorable morsel.

“Alf Brooks can get on with making his steak and kidney pie, now that readers have found a recipe for him,” reads an early edition of the column. “Thanks to Shirley Hall of Dunrobin Avenue for sending it along.”

Though it spanned the whole province, the section read like a small-town newspaper, where names and co-ordinates are published with abandon.

“Swappers,” as they were called, wrote in from every corner of Manitoba looking to satisfy nostalgic cravings and recreate dishes from their favourite restaurants. Dupes for menu items from the Eaton’s Grill Room were a popular topic.

Recipe Swap’s longevity can be chalked up to its loyal following. It was about the food, yes, but it was also about the people. It was about the names that appeared week after week.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enid Barnes, longtime contributor and avid reader of the paper’s Recipe Swap column, still has her huge collection of recipe clippings.

“Even though we never met each other personally, we felt like we knew each other,” says Enid Barnes, who was an avid contributor during the column’s heyday. “There would be names that I would see all the time — one of them was Mroz.”

That would be Edna Mroz of Beausejour. According to those interviewed for this story, Mroz was among a group of rural women who sent in neat, handwritten letters almost weekly. Her name and recipes were published nearly 150 times over an 18-year period. While her dedication to the column was in a league of its own, many people got hooked on the call-and-response format.

Gloria’s Skillet Cornbread

Supplied by Alison Gillmor, originally submitted by Darlene Smith

Vegetable oil spray or soft butter for greasing
1 cup (250 ml) yellow cornmeal
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
1 cup (250 ml) grated old Cheddar cheese
3 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup (310 ml) buttermilk
1/4 cup (60 ml) melted butter

Supplied by Alison Gillmor, originally submitted by Darlene Smith

Vegetable oil spray or soft butter for greasing
1 cup (250 ml) yellow cornmeal
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
1 cup (250 ml) grated old Cheddar cheese
3 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup (310 ml) buttermilk
1/4 cup (60 ml) melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Thoroughly grease a 25-cm (10 inch) cast-iron or oven-proof non-stick skillet with spray or butter. In a medium bowl, place the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk until combined. Stir in the cheese and green onion.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg until the yolk and white are well blended. Mix in the buttermilk and melted butter. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared skillet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cornbread springs back when touched gently in the centre. Cool the cornbread on baking rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the pan, invert and cut into wedges. So good!

Tester’s notes: Another great cornbread recipe, this one from Darlene Smith. I liked the green onions so much I’d probably double or even triple the quantity next time.


For Barnes, it was a chance to share knowledge. Food has been a lifelong fascination for the Winnipegger, who started cooking as a child and collecting recipes as a teenager. Barnes is now in her 60s and has an impressive archive of yellowed newspaper clippings stored in bulging manila folders.

As a Swapper, she enjoyed finding just the right recipe for someone’s query. It was also fun to see her name in print.

“My friends loved it,” Barnes says. “They would get a chuckle out of it.”

Recipe Swap worked until it didn’t. Waning readership and the rise of the internet — where forgotten dishes could be unearthed in seconds — had a lot to do with its demise. Why wait a week or more to find a recipe when millions of cooking websites are a few keystrokes away?

Still, for some, there’s a Recipe Swap-shaped hole in the Free Press.

“I still actually get a hard copy that I read in the morning, starting with the obits and then the food and the arts before I get depressed with the politics,” Barnes says with a laugh. “I really miss the recipe column.”

● ● ●

Before Recipe Swap there was Kitchen Hotline, a regular column launched by the paper’s then-food editor and home economist, Evelyn Larson, in 1977. The purpose was similar: “to provide readers an opportunity to exchange interesting or little-known recipes.”

Kitchen Hotline folded in 1980 when Larson left the Free Press to pursue a career as a food researcher. Her post was quickly filled by political columnist Alice Mullin (née Krueger), who was looking for a change of pace.

“Food was kind of a hobby for me,” Mullin says over the phone from her home in Morden. “And I decided, ‘Gee, I’m getting a little cynical about writing about politics. I’m gonna see how this works.’”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Freshly baked skillet cornbread

While she took a hard-news approach to food writing — focusing on things like food prices, the restaurant industry, grocery-store marketing tactics and nutrition — recipes often worked their way into her articles. In 1992, she relaunched the home-cooking exchange as Recipe Swap.

These kinds of columns were gaining traction at newspapers across North America, and the Association of Food Journalists — a professional organization dedicated to responsible food reporting and reviewing — started promoting the format as an effective way to engage with readers.

The latter certainly rang true for Mullin. “I got stacks of mail,” she says.

“I’m back at the (Legislature) and you’d go to interview a cabinet minister and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but after we’re finished, I want to talk to you about that rib recipe.’ I couldn’t believe the kind of following it had.” – Alice Mullin

Interest continued long after she returned to politics several years later.

“I’m back at the (Legislature) and you’d go to interview a cabinet minister and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but after we’re finished, I want to talk to you about that rib recipe.’ I couldn’t believe the kind of following it had.”

Home cooking, it turned out, was a great equalizer. Mullin got messages from homemakers, doctors with a passion for food, local chefs and even then-premier Ed Shreyer’s wife, Lily, who once sent in a lasagna recipe.

At no other time during her 28-year career with the Free Press did Mullin have such a close connection with the public as when she was writing about food.

“It was a really wonderful way to find out who my readers were,” she says.

Mrs. Linderholm’s Hamburger Soup

Supplied by Alice Mullin, originally submitted by Anna Linderholm

1 1/2 lbs (675 g) lean ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cups (1 litre) beef stock
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery (with leaves) chopped
1 can (796 ml) of chopped tomatoes, and juice
1/3 to 1/2 cup (80 to 125 ml) of pot barley
Salt and pepper to taste

Supplied by Alice Mullin, originally submitted by Anna Linderholm

1 1/2 lbs (675 g) lean ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cups (1 litre) beef stock
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery (with leaves) chopped
1 can (796 ml) of chopped tomatoes, and juice
1/3 to 1/2 cup (80 to 125 ml) of pot barley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup kettle brown the ground beef along with the chopped onion. Add the stock, carrots, celery and tomatoes, partially cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add pot barley, salt and pepper; reduce heat and simmer for an additional 30 minutes or until barley is tender.

Suggested seasonings (if desired) include savory, marjoram or thyme. You can also add a handful of fresh or frozen peas and some corn if more vegetables are desired.

This freezes well and makes about eight servings.

One reader in particular stands out. While working on a story about easy recipes for seniors (“tea-and-toast syndrome,” a malnutrition issue experienced by elderly folks unable to cook like they used to, was a trending topic at the time), she received a hamburger soup recipe from a Winnipeg woman named Mrs. Anna Linderholm. The pair started chatting over the phone and eventually met in real life to share a bowl of soup.

“What a lovely, lovely person she was,” Mullin says. “When she died, I got notified by her family from Minneapolis, inviting me to her funeral — you really did engage with people.”

As a food writer, Mullin joined a long line of women to hold the position. Food and cooking have historically been the domain of women and, in some ways, the idea persists today — the vast majority of Free Press food writers, critics and columnists, for example, have been women.

At the Winnipeg Tribune, where Mullin worked as a news reporter for four years in the 1960s, food content was relegated to the “Women’s Section” of the paper. The topic got the same treatment over at the Free Press.

“(It was) as if the rest of the paper was not of interest to (women),” University of Winnipeg history professor Janis Thiessen says. “It tended to focus on fashion and domestic health, household hints and recipes.”

While women’s sections were largely designed to sell products to homemakers, they offer historians a valuable glimpse into domestic life. Food and recipes are intrinsically linked to the history of people and places.

“(It was) as if the rest of the paper was not of interest to (women). It tended to focus on fashion and domestic health, household hints and recipes.” – U of W history professor Janis Thiessen

“One of the most important sites of food production is the home, but… there isn’t often a paper trail of what goes on in the home,” Thiessen says, adding that newspaper cooking columns, such as Recipe Swap, fill an important gap in the historical record. “That, to me, is a wonderful way of knowing how people are actually cooking.”

For Mullin, writing about food and recipes was an important pursuit because it was important to others. Everyone eats, after all.

“People tend to think of food writing as kind of fluffy and that political writing or the hard news end of it is the tough stuff,” she says. “It is different, but in seeing the kind of response there was from the food page, it was very gratifying.”

• • •

 

Winnipeg Free Press Alice Krueger launched the Recipe Swap column in 1992; it ran every Wednesday.

Taking over Recipe Swap was a career-defining moment for Ilana Simon, who ran the column from 1994 to 2006.

“When the opportunity came up, I jumped at it,” she says.

It was a natural fit for the local freelance writer and foodie that would later open doors to the national cookbook market. Simon penned two Recipe Swap cookbooks during her tenure with the Free Press and later published four more about everything from fondue to indoor grilling.

The column honed her skills as a recipe tester and developer. Simon’s goal was to share recipes that had been vetted in her own kitchen in order to build trust and reliability. Over the years, she tried out more than 1,000 submitted recipes. It was a lot of taste-testing — not that her family minded.

“Both of my boys had very sophisticated palates from a young age,” Simon says with a laugh.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Supplied by Ilana Simon, originally submitted by Brenda Marantz

Crust:
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) gingersnap crumbs, fine
1/2 cup (125 ml) ground almonds
1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp butter (100 ml)

Supplied by Ilana Simon, originally submitted by Brenda Marantz

Crust:
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) gingersnap crumbs, fine
1/2 cup (125 ml) ground almonds
1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp butter (100 ml)

Batter:
3 packages Dairyland cream cheese (8 oz/250 g each)
4 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) almond extract or vanilla extract
1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt
16-oz (450-ml) can of pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 ml) ginger
1/2 tsp (2 ml) nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cloves

Topping:
1 pint (500 ml) whipping cream, whipped
1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted, sliced almonds

For crust: Combine crumbs, almonds and sugar. Melt butter. Add melted butter to crumb mixture and mix. Pat in bottom of 10-inch (25-cm) springform pan.

For batter: In large bowl, combine cream cheese, eggs and 3/4 cup (175 ml) sugar. Mix well. Add almond or vanilla extract and salt. Pour three cups (750 ml) of batter into springform pan.

To remaining cheese, add pumpkin and spices and 1/4 cup (50 ml) sugar. Mix well. Pour over batter and swirl the pumpkin into batter (or leave as is to make two distinct layers). Shake springform pan gently to smooth batter.

Bake in 350 F (180 C) oven for 40 minutes. Chill for eight hours.

For topping: Beat whipping cream, adding icing sugar until thick. Sprak whipped cream on top (and sides if desired). Sprinkle toasted sliced almonds on top of cheesecake.

Taste-tester notes: I have used 9-inch (22 cm) springform pan with success. You can also omit additional sugar and almonds in crust if desired.


Recipes ran the gamut from old-school fare that had been passed down for generations to Manitoba staples — such as borscht, pickerel and butter tarts — to imitation Jeanne’s cake and other dishes from iconic Winnipeg restaurants.

Naturally, the work expanded Simon’s own recipe repertoire. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but the pumpkin cheesecake sent in by Brenda Marantz during her first year as a columnist has become a family Thanksgiving tradition.

A lot can change in 12 years. Simon watched culinary trends evolve (appetizers, for example, had a major moment in the early 2000s) and communication methods shift in real time. The internet was still in its infancy and social media hadn’t yet become a gathering place for those with niche interests, like recipe sharing. It was a sweet spot in time for a column that relied on a captive audience.

Still, even as email gained popularity, Simon had a dedicated contingent of letter writers. Pen pals, as she called them.

“I can still see those handwritten recipes on yellow lined paper; I would recognize their handwriting on the envelopes,” she says. “It was touching that they spent so many hours writing out their recipes and posting them.”

For the column’s 10th anniversary, she recognized 10 loyal Swappers who contributed regularly. Edna Mroz was, unsurprisingly, at the top of the list.

Simon got to know people through regular exchanges and started connecting with readers in-person during cooking demonstrations at The Forks and elsewhere. Those who followed along felt a sense of ownership over Recipe Swap. Community was the goal and the best part of the job.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ilana Simon, longtime editor of the Recipe Swap column, puts the finishing touches on one of her favourite recipes, pumpkin cheese cake.

“The tone that I wanted to set was a kind of coffee klatsch vibe,” she says. “We were just a bunch of Manitobans… sitting around the kitchen table sharing family recipes with each other. And I think that resonated with people.”

When she resigned from the column in 2006 it was because life was getting busy. She had moved into a communications job and there was little time left over for freelancing.

The news was met with a letter to the editor imploring the paper to reinstate Recipe Swap. There must’ve been more than one letter because the feature returned several months later with Darlene Henderson, an avid home cook who worked in the Free Press’s advertising department, at the helm. She carried the torch for three years until Alison Gillmor took over in 2010.

Up to then, Gillmor had been working as the paper’s freelance movie reviewer and pop culture columnist. Food was, at that point, an interest, not an area of expertise.

“I had some spectacular failures,” she says, laughing while reminiscing about her recipe-testing days.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A pumpkin cheese cake recipe submitted by reader Brenda Marantz is among Ilana Simon’s family favourites.

It was daunting to take on such a popular, long-running series, but the fact that all of the Recipe Swap columnists were home cooks without any formal culinary training quelled her anxiety.

“In one way I sort of felt underqualified, but then the core of it is the idea that you’re (also) a home cook doing the best you can,” she says. “You were in there trying to figure things out, too, and trying to become a better cook and learn alongside the readers.”

And Gillmor learned a lot from readers. Her baking skills — especially when it came to pie crusts, pastry and bread — got stronger thanks to hours spent in the kitchen trying out submissions. A skillet cornbread made with cheddar cheese and green onions that was published in 2013 remains a personal favourite.

Like Simon, Gillmor’s family were happily enlisted as taste-testers. The Free Press photo crew, tasked with getting food pictures for the column, also became a regular part of the dinner routine.

“They would be setting up their lights and stuff and sometimes we would be waiting around for them to finish so we could eat,” she says.

“In one way I sort of felt underqualified, but then the core of it is the idea that you’re (also) a home cook doing the best you can.” – Alison Gillmor

Gillmor ran Recipe Swap until 2016, when it was decided the feature had run its course. The torrent of letters had slowed to a trickle and there was no longer enough reader engagement to keep up a weekly publication. Online cooking forums and food blogs had exploded, making a newspaper recipe section somewhat obsolete. It was also around this time that she started writing restaurant reviews.

Recipe Swap was Gillmor’s first foray into food writing, and reviewing was an entirely different world.

“I think home cooking, at its heart, is about expressing your love and care for people around you,” she says. “And restaurant cooking is often a little bit more about showing off your expertise.”

Simon agrees, adding that the column often created a reciprocal relationship between relative strangers.

“You’re helping someone else and you’re also pleased that someone will be trying your recipe,” she says. “I think interacting with other people over recipes sort of speaks to that labour of love… when someone goes to the trouble of preparing something for (you), that’s the joy of cooking.”

• • •

The act of recipe sharing is something Prof. Janis Thiessen thinks about often. She is the lead investigator with the Manitoba Food History Project and has spent the last several years travelling around the province in a retrofitted food truck collecting recipes and personal stories.

Like the dishes featured in Recipe Swap, much of what’s shared on the truck has deep connections to personal and regional history. The simple act of sharing a recipe can add new layers and meaning to that history.

“There’s tremendous amounts of (information) transferred from individual to individual. It’s an important part of understanding food.” – Prof Janis Thiessen

“There’s tremendous amounts of (information) transferred from individual to individual,” Thiessen says. “It’s an important part of understanding food.”

As recipes get inherited and passed along they inevitably get tweaked to suit the tastes, ingredients and methods of the day, with each maker adding a dash of their own story to the meal.

It’s one of the reasons food is a universal language and a “way to have conversations with folks with whom you might not have anything else in common,” Thiessen says.

It’s why breaking bread, even over newsprint, is an effective way to build community.

—-

This is the latest story in our Homemade series, which looks at the Free Press’ history through its food content while also sharing modern recipes and food stories from Winnipeg.

These features will be compiled into a community cookbook, alongside recipes submitted by local residents. Visit winnipegfreepress.com/homemade to learn more and share a recipe.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

 

ilana recipe swap
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Alison Gillmor with freshly baked skillet cornbread, the recipe for which was submitted by a reader when she edited the Recipe Swap column.
Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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