I wasn’t much of a cook when I was young. I was too busy travelling, but I always loved to eat and try new dishes. That is one of the joys of travelling, to discover new places, meet new people and try the local food.
I came to Canada in 1966. Within months, I was married to a man who already had two children, and in quick succession we produced three more. I had to learn to cook. I was in a new country, so I naturally thought I should be cooking Canadian style. I set out to explore what was true Canadian food and soon discovered the queen of Quebecois cooking – Madame Benoit.
Jehane Benoit (1904-1987) was famous in the sixties and seventies. She was born in Westmount, Quebec and studied at the Sorbonne and Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. On returning to Canada, she opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Montreal. She was often interviewed on CBC radio and on TV. It was on the programme Take 30 that I first saw her. I loved her French-Canadian accent, followed her every word, then went out and bought her books. She was the Canadian culinary expert. How could I go wrong? I became a Madame Benoit groupie; I even went out of my way to see her farm when we were driving through the Eastern Townships.
I tried many of her recipes – the baked beans (my husband’s favourite) and the tourtière, for example – but the one that has endured to this day is Madame Benoit’s Chili Sauce. I have made it every year for 50 years. I used to grow many tomato bushes at the side of my house, just so I would have the pick of the 12 largest and most succulent tomatoes to go into the making.
My children all have the recipe, but of course they don’t make it because they know I will and will give them jars of it every summer. Whenever I served sausages, hamburgers or meat pies, the chili sauce would always be on the table. And the chili sauce accompanies us to the cottage to go with whatever is being cooked on the BBQ. I also give the chili sauce to my friends. It makes a great Christmas gift or hostess gift or any other sort of gift.
But I have a confession to make, and I hope Jehane Benoit is not turning in her grave. The chili sauce is no longer Madame Benoit’s Chili Sauce, it is now Mum’s Chili Sauce. When I’m gone, the children will still have the recipe and part of me.
Margaret Bott is an emerging Ottawa writer who is currently working on a memoir of her life and travels for her children and grandchildren.
After 50 years, Madame Benoit’s chili sauce has somehow become “Mum’s” chili sauce. Photo: Margaret Bott