Helen Webber today. Cranberries at Seal River!

Helen Webber today. Cranberries at Seal River!

by Helen Webber

It was during the early days of our foray into the tourism business. The girls, Jeanne, Toni and Shari, were still very young, between six and 11, and we had recently moved into my family home in Churchill, which had been torn apart for renovations.

We were just starting to develop Dymond Lake and we hadn’t started building the fishing lodge yet. This was also before polar bear tours in Churchill, so there were not many people in town geared up to look after tourists. Polar bears weren’t even being mentioned at that time.

One day Doug received a call from a fellow we knew at Travel Manitoba. A Duke and Duchess from Italy were on their way to Churchill for a few days with nothing really planned, and would like Doug to take care of them. They just wanted to see Churchill. Of course Doug said he would look after them.

Doug and Helen Webber

Doug and Helen Webber

Even in those days, Doug didn’t feel a visit to Churchill was complete unless he could bring you home for dinner. He assured me the bare walls, plywood floors and lack of curtains was NOT a good enough reason to pass up having the Duke and Duchess for dinner! I don’t remember any drywall being installed at the time. I think the pink insulation was still hanging out!

My sisters and I had learned to cook as members of the Churchill Ladies Club, preparing meals to raise money for the Lions Club. We made something different every time and that’s what really got me interested in cooking. And I was already cooking at the hunting lodge. This was about 20 years before Marie (Woolsey) and I wrote the cookbooks.

The real dilemma was what to serve a Duke and Duchess for dinner? They were from Italy, so there was no way I was serving them any type of pasta dish. I settled for a Moose Burgundy* with all the trimmings for the main course and Kirschenoberstorte** for dessert.

A very showy grand finale, I started to make the dessert and didn’t realize, until I needed the cherries, that they had pits in them! There was no way I could expect the Duke and Duchess to spit out the pits. I was sure they would just politely swallow them rather than spit them out. I didn’t own a cherry pitter. I don’t I even think I knew such a tool existed. So there I stood, carefully removing each pit with a sharp knife.

I remember the Duke and Duchess both spoke English and they were very, very gracious people. The Duke did Origami, and he made something special for each of the girls. And they didn’t have to spit out the pits when eating their dessert! But I hadn’t stopped to think about what the cherry-pitting had done to my hands.

I served dinner with royal purple stains all over me!

*Adapted from Beef Burgundy, page 143 Blueberries & Polar Bears

**Kirschenoberstorte, page 170, Black Currants & Caribou

Cookbook authors Marie Woolsey (left) and Helen Webber at Dymond Lake in the early days.