Getting Back to Basics in Cumberland

I recently had the pleasure of attending some food skills programming at Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre in Amherst. Starting in early October, Maggie’s Place has been running a series of weekly food skills workshops focusing on cooking fundamentals. Everything from preparing simple dishes with chicken, fish, canned beans and lots of fresh veggies, to baking apples, is being covered in this six week series.

The classes are open to the public, but were primarily accessed by area moms, who are welcome to pop in every Tuesday morning with their children. A group of about 10 – 15 young mothers are being provided free childcare while they spend time in the kitchen each week. At the 3 classes I attended, everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time in the kitchen together, and the group managed to whip up several recipes each session. I was amazed that even though the kitchen was abuzz with activity (pure mayhem really), the atmosphere was stress-free and full of laughter. Usually about 7 dishes were prepared each week and then everyone sat down for a meal together at the end of the morning. Everyone then helped clean up and several leftovers remained to pack up to take home.


When I asked participants if they found the cooking skills classes helpful, everyone acknowledged appreciating the time to learn together and to have skills to bring back home. For those who came with few skills, they felt that the classes helped them to be more confident in the kitchen. According to Karen Leblanc, Education Programmer at Maggie’s Place and spearhead of the Back to Basics initiative, these cooking classes tend to revolve around simple, inexpensive and healthy recipes. They often promote seasonal eating and try to incorporate ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible. In the workshop I attended, Karen brought in a HUGE zucchini and compared it next to a tiny store bought one saying “this is what we grow here in Nova Scotia” referring to the giant one, “this could feed your family for weeks!”. She went on to relay the many ways in which zucchini could be used in cooking and also on how to put some by, by shredding and freezing it.

Karen would love to see families receive more help with learning how to prepare their own food, so they can become less reliant on processed food. One benefit she cited was that if you cook your own food, you know what’s in it and can have more control over the amounts of salt and sugar in the foods you eat. So many prepackaged sauces and foods are loaded with sugar and salt and not very healthy. Several of the participants concurred the feeling that cooking more would save their families a lot of money and is so much healthier.

Here are some of the people hard at work and dishes prepared in the cooking classes I attended:




My favourite recipe:

Baked Nova Scotia Apples

Preheat oven to 375 degrees 

1 – 9 x 13 inch baking pan


6 medium sized apples, washed

½ cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ cup apple juice

Core 2/3 of the way down each apple. Arrange apples upright in baking dish.

Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon and evenly fill the core of each apple (about 1 tbsp.).

Pour the apple juice around the apples.

Bake uncovered for about 45-60 minutes. Baste with juices every 15 min.

The apples should be cooked only until they are slightly puffed and tender.

Check them after 30 mins., as the cooking time will vary according to type and ripeness of apples used.

Allow the apples to cool for 5-10 min. before serving.



Karen and Maggie’s Place are hands-down the local leader in teaching cooking skills to those who need it most in the County. They host several food skills workshops throughout the year, on their own, and in partnership with other community organizations such as CFAN and the YMCA. They are currently co-hosting a series of Ethnic Cooking Classes with the Cumberland YMCA Y-Reach Program ( They also provide food skills programming at the Amherst Community Food Bank. They host men’s cooking workshops as well and provide childcare to remove any barriers to attendance. For more information on Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre see:

Karen Leblanc is also a founding Board member of the Cumberland Food Action Network (CFAN) (, a local non-profit dedicated to community food security and improving access to sustainable local food. As a dynamic and passionate individual, Karen is one of our local food heroes in Cumberland and many thanks go out to her for her tireless efforts on behalf of those less fortunate members of our community.

Blog Written By: Su Morin, Ecology Action Centre, Community Food Coordinator – Cumberland.

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre .Learn more about our program at 

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