UBC Food Group: Cinnamon Buns, Ponderosa Cake and more.
There is something about the short cool days of December that turns our thoughts to comfort foods – chili, soups, stews and calorie-laden cookies, squares and breads. This year it has made me think of cinnamon buns and delight in discovering the best in my neighbourhood. My discovery is enough to make everyone want to turn off Highway One at Abbotsford and head to the Sprouted Oven at 1828 McCallum Road (https://www.sproutedoven.com). The best cinnamon buns!
This discovery made me wonder about cinnamon buns I have known and how they can evoke fond memories and past events and why a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee can be so comforting. In my years at The University of British there were many times I lined up at the snack bar in the basement of the Scarfe Building to pick up a before class treat hoping for that boost of energy and enthusiasm to sustain me through a late evening class. Like many of the students in my classes, I asked for a cinnamon bun. Every university I have taught or studied at had their famous cinnamon buns or equivalent. At the University of Alberta we all knew about the cinnamon buns at Tuck Shop. The University of Illinois had sought-after gigantic pecan sticky buns. And, at UBC it was cinnamon buns that were and are famous!
During the 1980s, the cinnamon buns were famous and recognized as such on the cover of Favourite Recipes From The U.B.C. Bakeshop.[i] Inside this little recipe booklet, some history is shared. Food Services at U.B.C. began as a concession operated by Frank Underhill in the cafeteria in the “Old Auditorium.” In 1950, Food Services became the responsibility of the School of Home Economics and the first Director was Elizabeth Little. In 1954 Grace Hasz who was baker at Brock Hall turned out the first UBC Cinnamon Bun. She produced two dozen per day and demand rapidly grew. She was moved to the “Old Cafeteria” and production skyrocketed to 120 dozen buns each day. Grace made all the buns by herself, working during the nights in later years at the Student Union Building, until retirement in 1971 at age 72.
The origin of cinnamon buns is debated but Sweden claims them as their own and celebrates October 4 every year as National Cinnamon Bun Day! The secret to the Swedish ones is cardamom in the dough (also a secret of good stollen). The Swedish variety is less sweet and lighter than we have come to enjoy in North America but a variety of doughs can be used. My family used to enjoy a quick bread rather than yeast bread variety. I also remember indulging in Cinnamon Twists (also Cinnamon Snails) at U.B.C. that are made from a quick bread dough.[ii]
In the 1990s, U.B.C. Food Services produced a larger 138 page cook book Treats to Remember that is more readily available today. Check online and in used bookstores for this one. It contains a vastly expanded number of UBC recipes including all the favourite Christmas ones including: Dutch Squares, Shortbreads of all kinds, Stollen, Fruit Cake, and Christmas Pudding.[iii]
It’s a tribute to UBC Food Services that many of their recipes have been created or contributed by staff and that probably accounts for the home baked quality that is so appreciated by home-sick students. A close runner-up to cinnamon buns in student popularity is Ponderosa Cake and the creation of this treat is a story worth telling. Thomas O’Donnell writing in The Ubyssey provides an entertaining account of Ponderosa Cake, a U.B.C. original recipe.[iv] For many years the “Ponderosa Huts” located down on Lower Mall housed a café and office space for members of the Faculty of Education. It appears the name is retained in new student housing called the Ponderosa Commons. Imagine the number of students and visitors that experienced this treat in one year when Food Services made and sold 17,484 Ponderosa Cakes!
UBC Food Services continues to turn out great food today, straddling the demand for comfort food treats and introducing new trendy foods with an emphasis on healthy and local eating. You can keep in touch at food.ubc.ca or facebook.com/ubcfoodie.
[i] Louie, Shirley (Ed.) (1986, 1987, 1988). Favourite Recipes From The U.B.C. Bakeshop. Vancouver: U.B.C. Food Services.
[iii] Samson, Christine & Leong, Allen (eds.). (1995). Treats to Remember. Vancouver: UBC Food Group.
The Recipe for Ponderosa Cake: https://food.ubc.ca/ubc-ponderosa-cake-recipe/