by Allison Reimer
Cooking is an art form. While the primary function of food is to fuel our bodies, when it’s thoughtfully prepared, it has another purpose that is just as important: it fuels our souls.
This is what I’ve learned from watching my Ama (Helen Webber) and her best friend, Marie Woolsey, craft hearty and delicious meals for guests, staff and grandkids alike. Food has the power to bring people together, to dig up long forgotten memories, to provide comfort and to bring joy. Yes, I’m a foodie, but how could I not be? I grew up on the recipes from the award-winning Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook series!
This year we are celebrating two milestone anniversaries: both Churchill Wild and these revered cookbooks turn 25 years old in 2018. The Churchill Wild family would not be where it is today without the cookbooks written by Helen and Marie, so as we take a look back at how their ideas came to delicious fruition, try not to take a bite out of your computer screen.
Little did Helen and Marie know that when the first book of the series, Blueberries and Polar Bears, was launched, it would serve to whet the appetites of families around North America, and later, the world. It’s a cookbook with a taste of their life stories, which makes it a page turner both in and outside of the kitchen.
While Helen and Marie shared all their favourites in this first volume, the recipes centred around wild game, northern fish and tundra berries were the most popular, with Jalapeño Goose Breasts being the biggest hit among guests who visited Helen and her husband Doug’s northern Manitoba wilderness lodges. Beyond that, the books include stories of polar bear encounters, exploring the Manitoba Arctic, and hilarious mishaps in the wilderness. I guess you could say it’s a berry, “beary” good book.
Helen and Marie put did all the legwork to promote and sell Blueberries and Polar Bears. With 5,000 copies in hand, they knocked on countless retailer’s doors while road-tripping across Canada. They learned to get crafty at tradeshows, casually cooking cinnamon buns in an electric turkey roaster behind the booth and luring people in with the scent, a well-executed trick commonly used in real estate. Very effective with cookbooks too!
During the first few years of the business, Helen and Marie’s books were featured in newspapers and radio stations across Canada. The cookbooks were also featured in magazines such as Chatelaine, Winnipeg Women, Canadian Living, Farmlife, and Uphere. By 1995, they had a second book, Cranberries and Canada Geese, and the wild ideas kept coming. By 2000, Black Currants and Caribou was in print, bringing more recipes and laughter to our tables, and in 2002, Icebergs and Belugas rounded out the collection.
The personal insights shared by Helen and Marie about life in the north, and the unique situations they came across while living in a remote area inhabited by polar bears, make these books even more special. Along with their recipes and stories, photos of family, the lodges and life in the north draw you into a world of adventure and beauty.
Helen and Marie pioneered Arctic gourmet cuisine at many northern lodges and delivered a first-class dining experience in the middle of nowhere — but their skill set extends far beyond the kitchen. They are both unstoppable forces who have carried out an array of tasks including but not limited too driving snowmobiles, unloading and loading airplanes, fending off polar bears, pumping water, refilling generators and driving boats. (Helen also has her private pilot’s license, so let’s add ‘flying airplanes’ to the list!) Helen and Marie have done it all — and they did it with limited resources, children underfoot and, sometimes, a long-distance friendship. I come from a line of strong women, there is no doubt about that!
So where are they now?
During the off-season, you can usually find Helen and Marie vacationing in Arizona or visiting family. They still contribute to the success of Churchill Wild’s culinary story and are often spotted out on the tundra, harvesting berries for tasty treats such as Wild Arctic Cranberry Cake with Warm Butter Sauce, Sour Cream Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce, homemade Cloudberry Jelly, and more. Their cookbooks are the backbone of our culinary experience.
Helen and Marie also continue to innovate, taking classics such as cinnamon buns (Blueberries and Polar Bears, p.39) to a whole new level of divine — I affectionately now call them Ooey, Gooey, Klabooey Cinnamon Buns — and there are rumours of a new cookbook featuring all their updated creations. Over the past 25 years, they’ve sold more than 100,000 copies of their cookbooks.
That’s what I call delicious success!
Join the discussion 11 Comments
Love all the cookbooks. Such a difficult time replacing my Cranberries and Canada Geese book when it was lost. Would be lovely if the series was republished so that I could gift my daughter and granddaughter with their own.
Hi Darlene, you can find the Cranberries and Canada Geese cookbook at the Blueberries and Polar Bears website here: https://blueberriesandpolarbears.com/ ~ Thank you for stopping in for a visit!
Love my cookbook, a great keepsake from my time in Churchill, I had taught at the Duke of Edinburgh in the late 70’s to early eighties, wonderful memories!
Thank you so much for letting us know Lucy! Nice to hear from you! Yes, we too have wonderful memories from that time 🙂
Congratulations Helen & Marie. Imagine 25 years! Who would have thought? I too have taken your books to many overseas destinations and given them as gifts. We all have our favourite recipes from your cookbooks; mine is the Cranberry Cake with warm butter sauce. It is always a hit! Hope you can enjoy a quiet summer – at least until the berries are ripe! Cheers!
Thank you so much Lynda! And thank you for sharing our books around the world. Very much appreciated! Wishing you a fabulous summer too! The Cranberry Cake with Warm Butter Sauce is one of our favourites too 🙂
Oh my gosh I so love these 4 cookbooks!!! I cooked in a fishing hunting lodge in northern BC with Collingwood Brothers in 1992 for 8 years and I used these cookbooks all the time! I had all the ingredients in camp it was a perfect match! Everything was tried tested and true!!! I don’t think there was a recipe that I tried that I didn’t like!! I still use the cookbooks today at home. Would so love a copy of a 25th year addition of these cookbooks! ????
Thanks you so much for your kind words Janice! It’s so nice to hear from you. Wow, 1992, that’s so long ago! The books have changed a little since then, but the recipes are still basically the same. All have stood the test of time 🙂 There are four books in the main Blueberries & Polar Bears cookbooks set. Which ones do you own? Thanks!
Thank you for your reply!!! I have the Blueberries and Polar Bears, Cranberries and Canada Geese, Black Currants and Caribou and icebergs and Belugas! Love them all! ????
I inherited these books from my mother in law, who hailed from Kenora, she was a camp chef who used the recipes so often that she had written down larger measurements beside the originals to easily make it for a huge crowd. I always say you know when you have a great cookbook when the pages are stained and tattered, and all four of mine are most certainly that! I’ve had the books for over 15 years, and I am leafing through Cranberries and Canada Geese right now. In this age of finding anything and everything online, recipe wise, I find great comfort knowing that every single recipe I’ve tried in this series have always been so wonderful. To be able to use what our country has to offer, game wise, in a fun, unique way, is hard to find in the way that I’ve found it through Helen and Marie, truly. You’ve been an influential part of my cooking life a long time, and I’m so glad for that. Many, many thank you’s! Btw I caught two huuuuge pickerel and couldn’t resist to name them, Helen and Marie, on Lake of the Woods, just a tribute, if you will…. thanks again ladies.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this Shannon! What a wonderful story. We’re so happy you have enjoyed the cookbooks. We’ll pass your message onto Helen and Marie and we’re sure they will love it. Thank you for warming our hearts today. 🙂 Happy Cooking!