One of only 3000 Syrian immigrants to Canada, his name anglicized to George Jacob Salloum, he found that working for his cousin was not ideal, and he briefly became a peddler. When his family arrived three years later, George’s wife, Shams, arrived with Syrian dietary staples – lentils and chickpeas – in her luggage.
The couple acquired a homestead near Val Marie, close to the US border. Drawing on their family’s agrarian traditions, they built an adobe house and planted a large garden. George and Shams had a large family over the years, and the children worked hard on the farm, picking rocks, gardening, seeding, harvesting. But the Dirty Thirties arrived instead of bumper crops.
In efforts to assimilate, and because she thought her immigrant fare not good enough for non-Syrian palates, Shams did not cook Arab food for the threshing crews when they came to the farm to harvest. Instead she offered fried chicken with simply prepared garden vegetables, and lunches of bologna sandwiches, which young Habeeb loved. But one year, a man on the crew brought her three jack rabbits, and she marinated, stuffed, and roasted them with Syrian ingredients. The threshers were thrilled.
Those healthful “foreign” foods that helped the family survive the drought years became important in the province’s food culture, as much-loved food, and agriculturally and economically. Lentils and chickpeas – lentils in particular – became commercial crops in Saskatchewan several decades later. In 2020, Canadian-grown lentils (95 percent of which are grown in Saskatchewan) generated over $2 billion in export sales. Crop specialists at Sask Agriculture see the Salloum family’s plantings in the ‘30s and ‘40s as forerunners, but there are no official government records providing a link.
His book combines a scholar’s diligent research with the memoir of an immigrant family. The result is a marriage of personal, cultural, culinary, geopolitical and economic history served up with traditional Arab recipes. The book was recognized by the Saskatchewan Library Association as their 2022 selection for the annual “One Book One Province” – the book chosen for provincial residents to read for literary and cultural bonding. In this chaotic year of war, refugees, pandemic, and escalating food prices, a little bonding is a timely idea. First we eat some lentils, then we talk about an end to all the rest.
“His region had been occupied by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, then by the French, and it seemed to him that Canada was a long way from this strife.”
“Bread & Water is an emotionally arresting, beautifully written series of essays.”
~ Jurors’ Citation, Saskatchewan Book Awards, University of Saskatchewan President’s Office Nonfiction Award
“Food is a wonderful agent for storytelling... and Bread & Water demonstrates this brilliantly.”
~ Sarah Ramsey, starred review, Quill & Quire
“[Bread & Water is] An amazing feast... riveting... eloquent.”
~ Patricia D. Robertson, Winnipeg Free Press
“[Bread & Water is a] sensuous experience; she brings her poet’s eye and ear to everything within her purview.”
~ Professor emerita Kathleen Wall, Blue Duets
“A deep love of the art of cooking that includes the language of fine dining (cassoulet, confit) even if the lamb was raised in Olds and she picked the rhubarb herself... she impressively manages this collision of worlds with a wholesome, approachable style.”
~ Megan Clark, Alberta Views
“These finely focussed poems [in Wildness Rushing In] invite us into a sensuous and emotionally rich landscape.”
~ Don McKay, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize
“The writing [in Wildness Rushing In] is honed and textured, the senses so alive that you can practically taste the language. There are moments of brilliance rare in a first book.”
~ Jurors’ Citation, Saskatchewan Book Awards
“dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s stories [in What Can’t Be Undone] are written with a poetic edge. Her descriptions, particularly western landscapes, are often luxurious, lending themselves a kind of nuanced impression, a delicate fingerprint on the reader’s mind. "
~ Lee Kvern, Alberta Views
“[Foodshed is] A rich encyclopedia of facts, farm-gate lore and original recipes... a politically engaging narrative in which Hobsbawn-Smith articulates the challenges and joys faced by small-scale producers... don’ t let the alphabet theme fool you. This is no tame nursery rhyme; it is a locavore call to arms.”
~ P.D. Robertson, The Globe & Mail