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Food is the tie that binds, bringing people and communities together and connecting us to our past. For Indigenous people, the bonds between food sources, nature, and spirituality may be one of the most profound relationships in the world. 

As told by Jenna White

Jenna’s Nut-Free Dessertery, New Brunswick 

My Nanny Fowler taught me how to cook and bake using an old stove at the camp on the Renous River, and that ignited the flame inside of me. Not only was food universal, it was used for gathering those you loved and feeding one’s soul in more ways than one. Food could be gathered in the wild, cooked with the fire, baked with the fire. It was something you could create out of simple ingredients found outside where we played with virtually no equipment — flat stones and sticks will do.

One thing was apparent from both my early years in Ontario and then when we moved to New Brunswick: nature was abundant and nature could provide … what we need to thrive, like we have since time immemorial.

My life turned upside down six years ago. I had an intense allergic reaction to nuts, something I had eaten so many times before. I live only three minutes from the hospital, but almost didn’t make it. I was in my 30s and food, something that always brought me joy almost killed me. Not long after that I lost a good chunk of my vision. My independence was gone, I would never drive again, had a hard time recognizing people, and I would never peer up at the twinkling stars at night.

After some time adjusting and feeling bad about myself and my limitations, I decided that I needed more. I needed my children to see that even when life doesn’t turn out as planned, you can take control and work with what you are given.

From knowing all of this, I became so many things: a wife, a mother, a proud Indigenous chef, business owner, Indigenous food consultant, festival founder, and a speaker.

So, I went back to what made me happy: feeding people.

In June 2019, I set up a couple of tables at the Boyce Farmers Market selling nut free baked goods. It was a great place to test my niche market. Not only was I 100 per cent nut free, I was also a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned business. I was just getting going and breaking sales (records) week after week. And then the pandemic hit.

I wondered, do I bow out? Do I wait it out? I spent months taking every online seminar I could find. I built a business plan and I heard “no,” so many times. Finally, Women in Business New Brunswick connected me with a food consultant who was able to develop my recipes into baking mixes and then I opened my own bricks and mortar shop.

In June 2021, I opened the doors of Jenna’s Nut-Free Dessertery and welcomed customers to a place that represented my roots and honoured the land that I now call home. There is a beautiful mural created by Samaqani Coqum of Tobique. She blended and mixed it with Wolistoquey art to create something that brought my space to life.

I honoured the importance of birchbark by building my tables and counters out of birch with my own two hands.

My menu has nods to my Indigenous heritage. I saw the culture represented in the space, but something was still missing, so I created a traditional meal series, held four times a year, to allow people to experience Indigenous cuisine. I believe that by using many traditional ingredients that non-Indigenous people have already adapted into their own way of eating, that we create a new bridge towards reconciliation.

From the success of this endeavour and being inspired at my first Indigenous tourism conference, I launched the A Taste of the Atlantic festival that is not only a beautiful celebration of Indigenous cuisine and culture, but a way to create a network of Indigenous chefs. We can all grow together and create a group of like-minded people with their own unique skill set and knowledge.

There are so many amazing opportunities when we work together to create new visibility in new spaces and inspire our youth to see our culture in a whole new light. This helps us all to dig a little deeper into our culinary history and find ways to bring back some of what was lost, including that feeling of connectedness.

Bourbon Maple BlackBerry
Fire-roasted Trout or Salmon

4-6 servings  

1   whole fillet of trout or salmon with skin on
1   pinch (each of salt, pepper and burnt pine needles) 

For the glaze  

¼ cup (75 mL)   butter
¼ cup (75 mL)   Wabanaki maple bourbon syrup
¼ cup (75 mL)   blackberries 
1 tsp (5 mL)       balsamic vinegar

Get your fire ready with a good bed of coals (you don’t want big flames to reach the fish). Mix a pinch of salt, pepper, and burnt pine together. Sprinkle over your fish. Place all other ingredients in a cast iron pan. Place the fish skin-side down on a grill over fire. Place cast-iron pan on the grill. Once the butter has melted and starts to bubble, brush the fish with the glaze. As the glaze cooks down, the flavour complexity will change and add layers of taste to the fish. The fish is done when it starts to flake or you can lift off the skin.

Remove the fish and pan from fire. Plate the fish then drizzle with glaze. It pairs well with wild rice.

Note. You can make this recipe in the oven or on the barbecue. Create sauce on stove. Brush fish every 5 min.

Recipe by Jenna White 

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