Dedicated fans try to rediscover the sweet memories, magic of IWK blueberry crisp

From left, Andrea Penny, manager of food services at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, N.S., and Robert Munroe, cook at the IWK, hold up a pan of the much loved blueberry crisp. (IWK Health - image credit)
From left, Andrea Penny, manager of food services at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, N.S., and Robert Munroe, cook at the IWK, hold up a pan of the much loved blueberry crisp. (IWK Health - image credit)

Samantha Howell is on a quest to relive the thrill of savouring the taste and texture of the IWK Health Centre's blueberry crisp.

For Howell and her wife, Gemma, the dessert is an unforgettable part of their experiences during their three deliveries at the hospital over the years.

The memories are bittersweet, Howell told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax host Portia Clark. They have two children at home — a four year old and a 14 month old — but their middle pregnancy ended tragically with a stillbirth two years ago.

High point of every meal

During their stays, Howell said, the blueberry crisp was the "high point" of every meal they had at the IWK.

Howell said the crisp has "no pretensions about it," and is exactly like a crisp you would make at home which makes it a comfort in a hospital environment.

"This is something I have been trying to track down basically since our son was born four years ago," Howell said.

"Just trying to find different recipes and trying to replicate the magic that is that little cold cup of blueberry crisp that comes with the Dial For Dining meal. "

Howell turned to the social media platform Reddit and asked if anyone had the recipe for the IWK crisp.

Her post had 86 responses as of Friday afternoon.

Some people suggested it was made by an industrial supplier, which Howell said could not be the case since her wife has worked in hotel kitchens and can spot food prepared by large-scale suppliers "a mile away."

The spouse of one of the head cooks in the kitchen contacted Howell privately on Reddit and said his wife could not share it because of concerns about hospital confidentiality.

Chantey Ortega
Chantey Ortega

Another person shared a crisp recipe from an old IWK cookbook but Howell said it does not taste the same, while noting that her cooking skills may have something to do with that.

'It's a good feeling'

Howell's search for the secret of the scrumptious treat has not gone unnoticed by the folks at the IWK.

Andrea Penney is the manager of food services at the institution and says she first heard about the Reddit thread on Monday.

Penney said it was a great start to her week and said she found the online enthusiasm to be both hilarious and a testament to their blueberry crisp.

"I've shared that with the staff as well and it's really just made us feel that what we're doing here at the IWK and the food that we're making and delivering really, really hits home to people," she said. "It's a good feeling."

The recipe originally came from an employee and was such a hit it has been on the menu for 15 years.

The IWK tries to offer patients a little bit of comfort through their menu, Penney said, and like their homemade mac and cheese, the blueberry crisp fills that need.

Six ingredients

Penney said the recipe — which yields 112 servings — has only six ingredients: frozen blueberries; oatmeal; flour; brown sugar; white sugar and margarine.

IWK Health
IWK Health

The topping to filling ratio is 50-50, Penney said, which is likely different from what people are used to in home recipes.

Penney said the hospital has seasonal variations in its menus and they were about to replace the blueberry crisp for their winter menu but decided to keep it because of the interest on Reddit.

For her part, Howell concedes that the environment and the situation at the time may contribute to what makes the IWK blueberry crisp so special but she is still determined to find the magic again.

"If  I can get close to that texture and that flavour at home, it would be this lovely way to just kind of  bring ourselves back to those happy and those sad moments."

IWK Health
IWK Health