Glenbow Archives NA-2878-15
Russian Doukhobors settled in Saskatchewan from 1899 to 1901. This photo was taken in 1903, four years after the family's arrival.
At the heart of the traditional Russian fruit tart is very thick cream and a person. The cream would come from one of the family cows and was reserved from the shipment to the creamery. The person was a grandmother whose labour to produce the cream made possible the singular softness the tart dough acquired because of all that butterfat.
“My grandmother’s recipe called for a quart of heavy, thick cream,” recalls Bernice Makowsky. Her grandmother, Tatiani (Tanya) Nadane, was part of the Doukhobor settlement near Kamsack in 1899. “I would watch my mother make them all the time and I am trying to pass the recipe on to the next generation. A person is never interested in this until they get older.”
Makowsky’s memories of her grandmother Tanya are rooted on the farm. She was an adult when her grandmother died in the mid-1960s. “My mother wrote down the history of our family,” she says. “I got interested in baking traditional foods as a result of being a home economics teacher for 21 years in Kamsack. I baked things for multi-cultural days and other events. I’m trying to pass these recipes on to our grandchildren, too.”
The role of women in Doukhobor settlement was significant and it is little wonder they left such a deep impression on succeeding generations. The scarcity of resources at the time of settlement meant that able-bodied men left their families to work and the women stayed behind to build the original Doukhobor communities such as the one at Veregin, just west of Kamsack. This work included breaking land and planting crops.
The construction of flour mills, barns, gardens and even homes depended enormously on the labour of Doukhobor women. All of that is present in the enduring Russian fruit tart. It’s as if the Doukhobor settler mothers looked at the results of all their farming labour and knew exactly how to make something celebratory and heartwarming. Flour, cream (these days more likely butter or vegetable shortening), sugar, and water are the core ingredients for the dough. Seasonal or preserved fruit of any kind and sugar make a typical filling. There is no question, all the modern modifications considered, that a quart of thick fresh cream makes the silkiest and most flavourful version.
“I’ve modified my mom’s recipe over the years,” says Makowsky. “I try to use whatever fruit is in season. It’s very traditional to use saskatoon berries.”
To get the recipe for Pyrahi (Russion Fruit Tart), purchase the digital edition of the magazine, or get the print copy here. To get another great recipe from a settler woman, read our online extra, Hakkebof: Hearty Danish Chopped Steak.