Gardening: Lucky to enjoy an international Christmas harvest

One favourite is potato pancakes with sour creme, raisin tarts good too

  • Dec. 20, 2012 6:00 a.m.

A gift from me to you

It was a classic battle of wills, one which lasted well over a decade.

On one side, my grandmother, baker of the most delicious raisin tarts I have ever tasted in my life.

One the other, none other than a younger incarnation of me, determined to eat as many of these Christmas delicacies that I could get my hands on.

She tried freezing them in large tins, but I would only eat half the lower layers and create support pillars (of tarts) so that no one would find out about the early taste testing until Christmas Eve, and adults never get mad at kids on Dec. 24.

Then she started hiding them in odd places – behind the cereal boxes, in the linen closet, out in the garage – all to no avail.

Finally, she did the unthinkable. My Gran told me she had one last hiding spot left and if I kept eating her tarts, she would just stop baking them altogether. Then she dared me to find them.

I tore the house apart in vain while Gran sat back with a cup of tea and a determined grin on her face. It took another 20 years before she revealed her hiding spot (which turned out to be the oven), but no matter where I lived across Canada, she always mailed me a small package of raisin tarts each Christmas. Even when she passed away, there was a large tin of tarts waiting in her freezer marked ‘for Mike, Love Gran’ – so in a way, we were even able to celebrate one last Christmas together.

I am talking about food this week because many of our holiday traditions are firmly rooted in the garden, meaning that someone somewhere has grown the ingredients used to make our favourite seasonal fare.

Personally, my holidays wouldn’t feel quite the same if I didn’t have potato pancakes with sour cream sometime during Hanukkah (even though I’m not Jewish). And Christmas dinner just isn’t complete without the token five Brussels sprouts on my plate (I don’t eat them at any other time of the year).

When I consider the food that graces my table on Christmas day, it includes such diverse items as cranberries from Pitt Meadows, Brazil nuts from South America, Brie cheese from France (those dairy cows eat a lot of forage), red and white wine from Australia, raisins from California, chestnuts from Italy, potatoes from Manitoba, and Mandarin oranges from Japan.

So I am hoping that this year you will take the time to consider how lucky we are to enjoy this harvest from the four corners of the planet and as a small gift to you I am sharing my daughter’s awesome potato pancake recipe.


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (


Nicole’s holiday potato pancakes

• Peel and grate four-five large russet potatoes.

• Peel and grate two medium-sized white onions.

• Mix grated potatoes and onions in a colander and squeeze out excess juices.

• Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over the mixture.

• Let the mixture sit for a half hour and squeeze again.

• Add two eggs and pepper to taste, mix and form into patties.

• Fry on medium heat (using grapeseed oil) until crispy and brown on both sides.

• Serve immediately with sour cream or apple sauce.

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