Monday, September 2, 2013

The Gathering of the Tribe

In the early days of the Writers’ Union, Pierre and Janet Berton used to host a gathering of the tribe of writers after the annual AGM. Tribe was the word that Margaret Laurence coined for the community of writers. We are a tribe, god damn it. Back then, it was possible to know just about every published writer in Canada, and not only that, it was also possible for a single enthusiastic reader to be able to read just about all their published works.

Berton’s home at Kleinberg was a perfect place to host about a hundred writers. Janet had a crew of paid staff who served up glazed ham, baked beans, purple cabbage cole slaw, and much, much more. Most of the recipes for the food that they served can be found in their 1966 cookbook: Pierre & Janet’s Canadian Food Guide. It’s a book that has stood the test of time. I still use their baked beans recipe; their Caesar Salad dressing makes a great sandwich spread; and my usual  Christmas turkey stuffing is an homage to their celebrated Morton Thompson turkey.

At one of their gatherings, I recall that there were at least three or four men kitted out in white shirts, black slacks, and bow ties, gliding around the room with silver trays holding bottles of Pimms. I was about thirty years old at the time, totally blown away by the fact that I could even be there. Waiters in someone’s home – and me being part of it all. Who’d have thunk it? One minute I would be absorbed in conversation, notice that I had nearly drained my glass, and then all of a sudden, it was full again. I should have paid more attention.

I hadn’t realized how far gone I was, until after I had excused myself to go to the bathroom. It turned out that the reason that I was unable to flush was because my thumb had been pressing down on the top of the toilet tank, not on the lever. With this insight into the state of my inebriation, I walked back to Andreas, tugged at his sleeve a few times until he turned away from some engaging conversation, and then whispered in his ear, I’m drunk. I think we should leave.

Not that he was drunk, he told me. Not at all.  Even so, we said our goodbyes, and the door closed behind us. Between us and our car, there was a large expanse of mowed lawn. We didn’t get far before the two of went ass over tea kettle. Blame a slight decline, in the lawn that is. The two of us, giggling like fools, sat in my Volkswagen Rabbit out on the road for the next several hours until we were sober enough to make the drive back home to Toronto.

Today, it is a sheer impossibility to know, let alone read, all the works of Canada’s current writers, and the notion of tribe is more elusive. Many of the mentors and custodians of those early years, Pierre, and Janet, along with June Callwood, Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence and so many others, are long gone. Still, it is in that spirit of them, and their traditions, that Andreas and I usually try to host a much more humble gathering during the Sechelt Festival of the Written Arts.

All of which is a very long winded introduction to some recipes which various writers asked for after our most recent event:

The morning after - I took no pictures at the event.


  1. Your lamb recipe is simply divine. Thank you sharing!

  2. I guess that could be one of two mistakes and could read, "Thank you Sharon!" or maybe what I meant was, "Thank you FOR sharing!"
    You can pick one or both...