Food from five generations with an Oak Lake flavour

Donna Couling has persisted through challenges to accomplish a dream. She has gathered some 800 recipes, edited, and proofed her own cookbook and this September, she has the published work in her hands.

“With Love, Across the Table” is the name of the beautiful 284-page book published by Family Keepsake Cookbooks. Family, friends, and neighbours are getting this book - that’s why is was published.

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Within are Mom (Gladys) Couling’s recipes where terms like “top milk” appear, to today’s recipes from Couling’s grandchildren Kelsey, Braden and Shane.

The book was a project that Couling began in July 2019. Illness slowed her down last fall, but the  loss of a very good friend, Anita Vachon at 55 years, inspired Couling to press on to produce this book as a type of memorial to her friend and as a family keepsake. So, at 76, she felt an urgency to complete the dream in her heart.

“That’s part of the reason that you write, because you realize that you have grandchildren, grand daughters and granddaughters-in-law coming up and … these recipes are going to be gone.”

To be sure, Donna is a good cook now, but she wasn’t a cook at all, at first: “When I married Clare, I had not a clue how to cook. I went right from high school into a three-year nursing program. And if it hadn’t been for her…” she says of Clare’s mum, “she was my mentor.”

She treasures her collection of recipe publications which she reads like a book, from cover to cover. “With Love Across the Table” is one of those books that has an interesting turn of phrase as each purposefully included recipe reflects Couling’s network of family, friends and neighbours.

The Coulings lived at Oak lake for about 50 years and the book has a distinctive Oak Lake flavour, but it includes recipes from people all the way to Swan Valley and Benito (where Couling was raised), Souris, Hamiota and of course Virden.

The artistic quality of the cookbook including divider pages and baking tips are details that Couling approved. “I said to them (publisher), I would prefer that the dividers were not the usuals. The dessert one has three big brown eggs, and we used to have chickens and they laid brown eggs.”

Those many scraps of paper with the most precious of recipes are now beautifully presented in Couling’s coil-bound book.

None of the recipes were completely her own invention. She says, “I make them to suit us. There’s a recipe in there from Maureen Buckley. Her version of spaghetti sauce and then on the facing page, there’s how I adapted it for us.

“It’s very seldom I leave a recipe alone unless it’s baking. Baking is like chemistry… and some recipes you can’t double at all.” But she believes in saying thank you to the person who provided the original blueprint.

Gladys Couling Shepherd’s pie recipe, the first of her mother-in-law’s cooking that Donna relished, is on page 88. “She couldn’t believe I would love a dish made up of leftovers.”

Perogy recipes abound, Oak Lake Salad is recorded here for posterity, and of course the pies that made community fowl suppers famous.

The book is not widely available, but for those who want “With Love Across the Table”, please text Donna Couling at 204-851-0415. As of this update, she only has a few books left. 


© Virden Empire-Advance