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Recipes as Inquiry: (Re) visiting baking recipes from Mi’kma’ki and New Brunswick

Recipes as Inquiry: (Re) visiting baking recipes from Mi’kma’ki and New Brunswick

Jessica Ross

Grounded on the east coast in Mi’kma’ki territory during her pandemic pursuit of the MES programme, Jessica Ross has returned to academia after a 10-year break following an undergrad in social anthropology and international development studies. Following their BA, Jessica spent a year in Germany working at two bakeries on biodynamic farms that operated using a unique community-business model. This launched Jessica into a career of baking & food education, starting and supporting land & business co-operatives and being active in the regional grain systems revival movement occurring all over North America. Jessica’s current research is an extension of this work and her baking practice that developed working with a wood-fired oven, sourdough cultures and locally grown and milled flours. 

    Jessica’s SSHRC-funded final MES research project, “Recipes as Inquiry: (Re)visiting baking recipes from New Brunswick”, supervised by Lisa Myers, is focused on North Atlantic recipe traditions, settler food narratives in Atlantic Canada and critical food pedagogies. She is looking at how small scale grain production, both within Indigenous and settler foodways, became anomalous and how white wheat flour became the norm. By investigating archival documentation of the centralization of wheat production as the settler colonial project unfolded across newly named Canada, she aims to share stories around the importance and persistence of local, grain sovereign food practices.

Contextualizing this research within her own baking practice, Jessica’s grandmother Jean’s collection, ‘traditional’ Maritime recipes are the starting point, inquiring what can recipes and food traditions reveal to us about the identity formation processes of settlers and also about relations established through ingredients available at the time?

Jessica's recipe work in participatory and virtual space

This research practice is employing a cooking-as-inquiry method to work with these recipes. Jessica will create contemporary recipe adaptations, moving them away from white flour foods to create whole grain versions more reliant on local food systems production. These recipes will ultimately be published in the forthcoming “Rise: A devotion to wholegrains”, a recipe book that she is creating. A foundational question within her use of cooking-as-inquiry is what information and stories emerge when recipes are used as a starting point of inquiry, both as a route for historical reflection and a way to engage with embodied knowledge transmission through the process of baking and adapting recipes? 

Within EUC’s MES programme, Jessica is also completing the diploma in Sustainability and Environmental Education. As part of their journey within York’s pedagogy offerings, she has been exploring modes of delivering both practical (hands-on) and anticolonial feminist critical food education. Both limited by the pandemic and inspired by this unprecedented era of virtual education, part of her research pedagogy praxis is hosting and curating online food sharing spaces where participants can develop whole grain baking skills and engage in conversation about the meaning of food and recipes. 

Stay tuned for Jessica’s upcoming event in the EUC’s Eco-Arts Festival curated by Sharifa Riley coming up in March 2022, where she will share their recipe work in a participatory and virtual space. While baking and being together on zoom, the group will engage in conversation about local grain systems, food & home, and virtual education & the embodied aspects of learning in this pandemic era. This experience will be an online socially-engaged arts space exploring one of her primary research questions- What happens when hands-on food education is combined with critical discussion around recipes, place and home?

As Jessica explains, “pairing a recipe adaptation process alongside historical inquiry is an attempt to create recipes and dialogue about newer, anticolonial food futures. This research practice acknowledges Maritime baking traditions while translating these recipes to reflect a different landscape and context than when my grandmother, a 4th generation Irish/Scottish settler, was young. By highlighting the embodied memory knowledge of baking work, essential to the cooking/ baking as inquiry method, I hope to create counternarratives of both earlier times in my family’s history on these lands and while also highlighting current grain sovereignty initiatives and their ingredients”.

Follow Jess on instagram at @jessrossthebaker to follow aspects of their research journey.