I’m at the head gardener’s house at Misty Acres Hutterite Colony in Saskatchewan, and I can’t stop eating. I have just asked for a third helping of Gascha, and Justina Waldner is more than happy to oblige.
Gascha is a Hutterite soup made with fresh garden potatoes and onions simmered in sausage broth. It’s served with thick lengths of sausage that the colony made a week ago, and the broth is so savoury that I am lulled into second and third helpings. I feel a pleasant pop every time my teeth pierce the skin of the sausage and its salty juices flood my taste buds.
“Who knows what kind of tronk (slop) you eat in your English life,” Justina says, pleased with my excess. “You’re probably full of fillers from all da store-bought food you buy. You’re like a Osche-breckel (piece of driftwood on the ocean) in dat big, old world out dere!”
I smile at her sweeping assessment sweetened by her charming accent. All Hutterites speak an ancient Tyrolean dialect called Hutterisch. Some, like Justina, find the th sound impossible to pronounce.
Justina has been the head gardener at Misty Acres for twenty-five years, and her husband James is her assistant. “When dey vote in a gardener, da husband is part of da deal. He gets trone in for good measure, a two-for-one special,” Justina laughs.
I follow Justina to the garden on the outskirts of the colony where the women are bent over thirty-foot-long rows of green and yellow beans, carrots, squash, beets, onions, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and tomatoes. The vegetable plot is a lush paradise of healthy vines and plants, and the satisfaction in Justina’s voice is as big as her garden. “You can almost watch it grow,” she coos.
Misty Acres Colony has five acres cultivated for food crops, but they only seed two and a half acres each year. The remainder lie fallow. James sows the unplanted land with oats, and just before it starts to shoot he’ll plough it under as mulch.
Cucumbers, squash, green beans, and carrots are planted on the twenty-second of May each year, rain or shine, when the soil has warmed and the last danger of frost is past. Justina likes to sow the carrots late in the spring so they don’t become too large or hollow, especially if they need to be stored for winter use.
There are three patches of corn and eight rows to each patch, with enough space for a tractor to maneuver on both sides of each section. Planting the crop in smaller blocks assists with pollination and cuts down on the long walk out of the rows at harvest time.
Like most colonies, a section of the garden is devoted to strawberries, raspberries, and saskatoons, ideal for making crisps, jams, or pies. Some years, when the yields are abundant, they will invite other colonies to come and share the bounty. The young women make a day of it, and the head cook provides a picnic-style dinner for them to enjoy under the shade of a nearby tree.
What the colony can’t grow, they’ll purchase from orchards in British Columbia and Washington state. Crab apples trees in back yards of private homes have also caught the eye of enterprising Hutterites who realize that many homeowners are too busy or unable to harvest the fruit themselves.
“Last fall our girls got arrested,” Justina tells me. “Someone called 911 and said dat a bunch of women wearing polka-dots were crawling up da neighbor’s tree and stealing apples. Da girls were hauled off to da police station. Can you imagine? Dey told da cops dey were friends wit da owner who told dem to come anytime and pick dose apples. But da cops didn’t believe dem. After phoning Dr. Wilson, da police realized dey made a big mistake and let da girls go.”
Two weeks after the misunderstanding was resolved, a red-faced staff sergeant took possession of five, freshly baked crab-apple pies from Misty Acres Colony.
The above is an excerpt of Mary-Ann Kirkby’s national best-selling and award-winning book, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen. Order your copy today!
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her award-winning books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available in book stores and at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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