Beignets aux Conserves (Jam Fritters)

It’s important to recognize that Canada has always been a pluralistic nation. Pre-contact, there were language and cultural differences between Indigenous tribes, and after colonization, there were both English and French populations that had their own distinct cultural differences that extended as far as their eating habits. As seen in the last posts, I’ve been attempting to show these cultural distinctions and, as I hope you’ve discerned from the title, our latest recipe will introduce French-Canadians into this narrative.

The Recipe

The following recipe is in A French-Canadian Cookbook, acquired from the Wishart Library at Algoma University. E. Donald Asselin, a medical doctor of French-Canadian heritage, compiled these recipes from French-Canadian women. Interestingly enough, Asselin makes the claim that most of the recipes were over a hundred years old at the time of publishing in 1968. On this basis, it can be presumed that the recipes in this book provide accurate insight into early French-Canadian cuisine.

Asselin says in the introduction that “there is nothing [in this book]… that even a poor cook could spoil unless she burns it”. Overlooking the 60s sexism in this statement, I was still a little intimidated by my options. I was not feeling courageous enough to tackle one of the many Tourtiere recipes. Besides, I was craving something sweet. As I was sifting through all the dessert recipes, one jumped out at me that I found particularly interesting: Beignets aux Conserves, or Jam Fritters.

I was intrigued by the use of potato in the dough, which I had heard of in doughnut recipes before, but had never tried for myself. It looked simple enough, so I thought I’d give it a go!

Jam Fritters – Beignets aux Conserves

1 cup flour
1 cup mashed potato
4 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon or orange
4 Tablespoons butter

Mix well and roll out like cookie dough. Cut in 3 inch squares and place a spoonful of jam on each. Fold over in a triangle and crimp edges with a fork. Fry in deep fat at 375F.

Makes 24

A French-Canadian Cookbook

The Process

First things first, I decided that I didn’t need 24 fritters. My friend and I were the only ones home and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to justify eating that many fritters. So, I ended up halfing the recipe. Other than that modification, I made the dough as the recipe stated. It was a little dry, but it held together, so I rolled it out. I cut a 3 inch square, put on a teaspoon of strawberry rhubarb jam that I had in the fridge, and folded it over. When I went to crimp the edges with a fork, the dryness of the dough prevented the edges from closing, so I brushed on a little butter on the inside of the fold before crimping the edges to make sure that it was secure.

In my first attempt, the oil was WAY too hot. The fritter was brown in a minute or less, which I knew would not be enough time to cook the dough. I lowered the oil to about 300-325F and tried again. This allowed for a more even colouring.

The original Jam Fritter

Even though I lowered the temperature, I still felt that the dough wasn’t cooked enough by the time the outside was brown. Sorry, Asselin, but I had to modify. I decided to roll the dough a little thinner and try a one inch version that could be a sort of mini fritter. After they came out of the oil, I rolled them in powder sugar to mimic a sort of French-New Orleans “beignet” look.

This resulted in a much better outcome. They were crispy and sweet, two-bite pastries!

My own spin on the recipe: Mini Fritters.

Although they were tasty, the dessert itself is not comparable to any type of modern day fritter. If anything, I’d say these “fritters” were more similar to what we’d call a turnover.

Here’s the recipe I ended up with:

Jam Fritters - Beignets aux Conserves

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup mashed potato
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar (+ extra to roll the fritters in after they have been fried)
Zest of 1/2 lemon or orange
2 Tablespoons butter
Your favourite jam

Mix first 5 ingredients together until a dough forms. Roll out the dough until very thin (2-4mm thick). Cut in 1 inch squares and place a small spoonful of jam on each. Brush butter into the edges of each square, then fold over into a triangle and crimp edges with a fork. Deep fry at 300-325F for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Roll in powdered sugar and serve warm.

This recipe makes approx. 8-10 mini fritters.

The Analysis

The ingredients used and Asselin’s description can help date this recipe, or at least approximate a guess. The mention of lemons and oranges makes it difficult to know when this recipe originated. Europe had been exposed to citrus fruit since the Middle Ages, when they were brought over from Asia. This, along with the fact that Spain brought citrus trees over to their American colonies in the 1600s meant that early Canada could have had access to these fruits. This information is not extremely helpful when trying to decipher a date, but there is another ingredient that might give us a clue: powdered sugar. From a historical standpoint, it is known that powdered sugar was used in Europe in the 18th century, but technological advances made the ingredient more widely available to the public in the 19th century. Taking this information into consideration, along with Asselin’s claim that many of recipes in the cookbook were at least 100 years old (in 1968), it would not be illogical to date this recipe in the mid to late 1800s.

The simplicity and rustic feel of this dessert along with the staple food items that it makes use of does hint at the mentioned era because of the minimal ingredients used with regards to flavouring, which is seen in earlier colonists cooking. Or, perhaps, the recipe could extend into the 1900s as the use of potato as a binder along with preserves and minimal butter points to food conservation exhibited in WW I.

From a cultural perspective, this recipe differs from English Canada and any recipe found in the New Galt Cookbook. It may not be as refined as traditional French cuisine, but there is evidence that French Canadians were still influenced by their cultural roots. While the use of a mashed potato adds a rural aspect to the dish, there is still an attempt at a form of pastry dough, which is traditionally seen in French desserts.

Sources:

Asselin, E. Donald. A French Canadian Cookbook. Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1971.

Crist, Raymond E. “The Citrus Industry in Florida.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 15, no. 1 (1955): 1-12. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3484541.

Olver, Lynne. “The Food Timeline: History Notes – Candy.” FoodTimeline. 9 January 2015. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcandy.html.

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