The Indus Country Kitchen has come up with a unique way to use up their leftovers, keep the local recreation centre thriving, and warm hearts and bellies filled with some good old-fashioned country cooking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lisa Brister, manager of the Indus Recreation Centre (an arm of the Bow Valley Agricultural Society), said the Indus Country Kitchen’s take-and-bake meal program started as a way to get residents who were cooped up in their homes out and mingling with others in the community.
According to Brister, prior to the program, she often witnessed residents waving or calling to each other from across the parking lot when restrictions were strict. She said, at its core, take-and-bake meals are a “feel good” program meant to draw others together safely during the pandemic.
“Who doesn’t want a homemade pie or a homemade loaf?” she said. “The community loves supporting the rec centre and this is a great way to [do that].
“It brings revenue in, it keeps some staffing going, and it keeps our community coming around, which is really nice.”
The Indus Country Kitchen is a popular aspect of the rural community’s recreation centre, featuring a concession stocked full of chef Linda’s much-loved rice crispy squares, peanut butterscotch bars, and puffed wheat squares from Thursday to Sunday each week.
Brister said when the pandemic hit and the recreation centre was temporarily shut down, the country kitchen was left with a fully stocked kitchen in preparation for a yearly fundraiser held for the Agricultural society, for which Linda had already been baking pies for. She added the annual men’s auction can take upwards of 60 pies from the kitchen.
“When we got shut down, we had lots of inventory, we had all this stuff, and so we didn’t quite know what to do with everything – and then we came up with this idea,” Brister said.
She added Linda, who is a senior, was struggling financially when the pandemic hit. Her monthly pension plan just wasn’t enough to get by on, and she couldn’t subsidize her income in any other way with the closure of the recreation centre.
“We thought it’d be a great way to get rid of some of our food and to give Linda some hours and stay relevant to the community,” she said. “We talked about doing some pies and then somebody suggested some of our meals – it just kind of grew from there.”
According to Brister, the program has been running since restrictions eased enough for people to meet in person again, and once Linda felt safe going back to work.
“She started coming back to work and making pies and doing the dinners and Maddie (the assistant chef) would go out and do some of her shopping and then help with lots of the prep work,” she said.
Despite the program's slow beginnings, it really picked up steam during the holidays, and Brister said orders have continued to trickle in during the hockey and curling season.
“We’re seeing a little more action and it's kind of hit and miss,” she said. “Our pie sales are down because of course, it’s January, so people are probably eating a little healthier, but having said that, on Dec. 23, we did a record amount of pies – I think there were 112 pies that went out of this facility.
“It was insane – the community went crazy,” she said with a laugh.
She added residents who place orders with Indus Country Kitchen are helping to support the local economy.
“Both of our girls who help with the program and myself, we’re all local, and so they’re supporting local jobs and the food is good-old fashioned cooking,” she said.
Brister said the girls use real ingredients, such as butter and cheese, and if the recipe calls for one cup, they might just put in a little extra for good measure.
“We try to get all of our stuff as fresh as possible and they are recipes brought from me and my family, from Linda and her family, that we tried over the years because we’ve been cooking at this rec centre for a long time,” she said.
According to Brister, one customer once told her the food was reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner, to which she took no offence.
“It’s like when you’re travelling and you find a really, really good diner that’s got home cooking – that's what our food reminds them of,” she said. “It’s not an insult, and I said, I totally don’t take it as an insult.”
Since the kitchen hired Linda, Brister said one of her main jobs has been baking pies and sweet treats for the concession, and the baked goods have been a big hit in the community.
“Everybody loves those squares and she made good pies when she first started, but I think when she’s baking so many pies all the time – I can’t imagine there’s anybody better,” she said.
Brister added she hopes to keep the program going in the future. She said the kitchen prepares weekly homemade meals that serve up to six people with minimal preparation on their part and a maximum cook time of 45 minutes.
“We have so many customers right now that rely on this once-a-week treat,” she said
Residents who would like to place an order can do so online at induscountrykitchen.com. For those who are not online, they can call the Indus Recreation Centre directly to place an order prior to the weekly deadline at midnight on Tuesday.