Fabulous Fall Suppers
Down-Home Cooking, Local Ingredients, Regional Delicacies Are the Recipe for a Century-Old Autumn Tradition
It’s suppertime in Manitoba. From now through mid-November, dozens of traditional community-based "fall suppers" - buffet feasts of down-home cooking, locally grown ingredients, and family recipes - are being served throughout the central Canadian province.
These annual grass-roots get-togethers offer garden-fresh produce and main courses often prepared from locally raised poultry, beef, and pork. Home-baked pies and cakes draw crowds year after year.
In St. Francois Xavier, diners are greeted by the aromas of roast turkey and hot "fresh air buns" - light, satin-smooth dinner rolls made from handed-down recipes by members of the local Hutterite religious colony, founded by settlers from central Europe.
Visitors are always welcome at Manitoba’s fall suppers. The October supper in rural Stonewall, about a 20-minute drive from the provincial capital of Winnipeg, expects to cater to nearly 1,200 out-of-town guests during a three-hour period.
At the Stonewall supper, most vegetables, including potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbage, are locally grown, and even the pickles are homemade, according to a representative of the local veteran’s group that organizes the event.
Autumn has been a season of super suppers for more than a century in rural and small-town Manitoba. The harvest-time meals were originally called "fowl suppers" because the main course was typically duck or goose.
Over time, the culinary concept broadened, and the term "fowl suppers" morphed into the more appetizing-sounding "fall suppers."
Nowadays, the fowl is typically turkey. But a fall supper amid Manitoba’s multicultural prairies, plains, and lake lands is hardly a typical American-style Thanksgiving dinner.
Depending on the locale and a community’s ethnic heritage, supper-goers might find sweet and sour meatballs, roast beef, pierogies (filled dumplings), and cabbage rolls - all homemade by local volunteers. Ham, pork loin, and breaded chicken are other supper staples.
In some areas, visitors might find a wall-to-wall Ukrainian smorgasbord or a spread of delicacies from other European cultures, prepared according to family recipes.
The October fall supper in the French-Canadian enclave of St. Pierre Jolys will be serving hearty, if not particularly French, roast beef, baked chicken, meatballs, mashed potatoes, several salads, and a large selection of homemade pies and cakes, according to Luc Dandenault of the local Knights of Columbus.
Why no tourtière, the signature French-Canadian meat pie? "Because we have it all the time," Dandenault says, adding that the dessert table might offer tarte au sucre - a creamy maple sugar pie - "depending on who’s baking this year."
Manitoba’s fall suppers pride themselves on desserts. These can include Saskatoon berry pie, a regional specialty of the Northern Plains made from a sweet purple prairie berry with a complex flavor that includes a hint of almond.
Local residents donate the food and labor for these seasonal fundraising events. Proceeds benefit community and social service organizations, veterans groups, churches, and other nonprofit causes.
The typical per-person charge at fall suppers is 10 Canadian dollars for adults - about $10 at current exchange rates - and $5 for youngsters.
Nobody will complain if a guest returns to the buffet tables for second and even third helpings. "You’re gorging for a good cause," according to a Travel Manitoba representative.
Travel Manitoba’s website has a database of fall suppers (www.travelmanitoba.com). Type "fall suppers" into the search box at the top of the home page to display a rundown of towns and organizations hosting suppers, along with phone numbers for information.
Fall supper listings are also available by calling Travel Manitoba toll-free at (800) 665-0040.