Food as the ‘great equalizer’

Author and Free Press journalist discusses her Winnipeg-based cookbook

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Aficionados of Cookbooks and all things homemade gathered at Fort Garry library on Nov. 14 to listen to author and award-winning Free Press arts reporter Eva Wasney talk about her work on her community-based recipes cookbook, Homemade: Recipes and Stories from Winnipeg and Beyond.

The project, which Wasney took on last year, took eight months to complete from start to finish. 

She said the book started out as a project for the Free Press’ 150-year anniversary to “create a little memento for readers and the community to engage with the Free Press’ content over the years.” 

One of the best parts of the project for Wasney was experiencing the second-hand excitement from people and understanding how, for some, the weight of a recipe transcends the dish.

 “It’s about personal history, it’s about family memories, it’s about formative experiences,” she said.

 “Being able to talk to people about all of the experiences and memories they have wrapped up in the recipes that they submitted for this project, that was pretty fun and amazing.”

The cookbook collected 150 different recipe submissions along with some anecdotes explaining the personal meanings behind each recipe. 

It also features a look into the Free Press’ food journalism history. Wasney said she spent a lot of time digging through the paper’s archives, and ultimately included a section on food columnist Madeline Day and Recipe Swap columnist Ilana Simon.

“The idea for the cookbook came about from a home cooking feature I had been doing, and it seemed like a good way to mark the 150th anniversary of the newspaper,” said Wasney. 

Regarding some of her favourite recipes from the cookbook, Wasney explained that since the cookbook is primarily submissions, “every recipe is someone’s favourite recipe,” but, a memorable one for her was a vintage recipe from the Free Press archives—Banana Meatloaf. 

“Turns out ground beef and bananas work surprisingly well together,” she said. 

Wasney said the task of putting together a cookbook was daunting, to say the least.

What ended up helping her was having some shorter deadlines by which she had to hand in some of her stories, as the Free Press published some of them incrementally in the paper. 

Working for the Free Press and writing about home cooking wasn’t something Wasney knew she wanted. She said she wasn’t sure at first about what she originally wanted career-wise, but knew that she always enjoyed writing, and eventually, found herself securing a writing position for the Arts & Culture section at the Free Press community paper. 

The best part of her job, she said, is “getting to ask a bunch of nosy questions of somebody I’ve never met before, and getting to talk to all kinds of different people.” She feels that food and discussion around food is “a great equalizer.”  

“It’s a very democratizing thing to talk about food with people,” she said.