The sight of a man carrying a pig’s head through the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market would make most people pause. But it’s just another adventure in the name of research for Acadian food writer Simon Thibault.
His first cookbook, Pantry and Palate, debuted at number one on Amazon’s Canadian Cooking Best-Seller list when it launched in early May. “When Atlantic Canadians create a cultural product, we want it to go national, but you figure it’s probably only going to be spoken about by other Atlantic Canadians,” says Thibault. “Then all of the sudden it’s on the cover of the Globe and Mail Life section and Chatelaine is calling me.”
The book is part cookbook and part family memoir, but didn’t start out that way.
Thibault has written about food for Halifax Magazine, East Coast Living, and CBC, among others. In 2012, he interviewed then-Nimbus Publishing managing editor Patrick Murphy for an East Coast Living article about traditional Atlantic Canadian cookbooks.
In addition to getting the story, he earned an invitation to write a cookbook of his own. He originally planned an overview of Acadian cooking across the region.
On a visit to his parent’s home in Clare, N.S., his mother gave him a stack of recipe notebooks written by her mother, grandmother, and great aunt between the 1930s and 1950s. In their pages Thibault found his focus and more.
“My grandmother passed away when I was four,” he says. “[The notebooks] gave me this insight into her that I never got. Cooking from them, and learning what life would have been like for her, I feel like I got to know my grandmother through this project.”
Readers will discover classic Acadian cuisine through the book’s 50 recipes, including rappie (AKA rapure) pie and chicken fricot. The narrative parts of the book offer snapshots of the lives of Acadian women in the mid-20th century and glimpses into Thibault’s kitchen, including his attempt to cook a whole pig’s head.
“That’s part of what makes me so happy about this book,” he says. “I’m not a trained chef… But I was able to do all of this research and recipe testing in my teensy-tiny kitchen. If I can do that, you can do it.”