Come January, Jindra Maskova will have spent 11 years in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Originally from the Czech Republic, Maskova may be familiar to visitors to the
St. John’s Farmers’ Market, where her European gingerbread treats have appeared this fall. She is also a visual artist, painter, mushroom hunter, gardener, and she works building dental implants and is mother to three children.
On her love for fresh mushrooms, she suggests there may be a growing number of people in the province with an interest in local finds. She has occasionally encountered other mushroom hunters while out on the trails with her husband, Vlascimil Masek, who is also from the Czech Republic.
“There are some which are a little bit different from Europe, so we don’t pick them, but most of them are same. Some of them you don’t have them here, some of the types we like in Czech,” she said, noting family excursions to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have helped her discover a few more varieties.
At her home in St. John’s, her painting is a favourite creative escape.
“I used to do oil, before kids. Now I feel like it must dry quickly,” she laughed, “so mostly watercolour.”
As the holidays approach, by popular demand she has taken to passing off her paint brush for the challenge of decorating gingerbread.
“American gingerbread is a lot of fat and molasses. We use only honey and just very little fat. So it’s kind of different,” she said of her European recipe.
The brownish colour of her gingerbread typically comes from cocoa powder, she explains. An egg wash, icing and a light dusting of sugar brings out colour contrast and a decorative sparkle.
“I did it for many years for my friends and they all loved it, and they just spread it to friends, from friends to friends,” she said.
The same friends and family encouraged her to try producing for orders and the weekend farmers’ market.
Her cookie designs are inspired by magazines sent to her by her mother, from her home country, where great gingerbread is about the look sometimes as much as the taste. The Czech people produce some of the most time-intensive structures and detailed decorating patterns.
“Every city has a big nativity scene and some of them are gingerbread ones,” Maskova said, pointing to a picture of just such a nativity in one of her magazines.
She said the gingerbread she ate as a
child was less of a craft, but welcomed all the same.
Having lived in Sweden for a time before coming to Canada, Maskova and her family maintain some of the Czech holiday traditions aside from gingerbread — including the lighting of candles through Advent and the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day.
She acknowledged Newfoundland and Labrador is far from the Czech Republic in more ways than one. Her home country is landlocked, with more freshwater carp produced than saltwater cod. The country is a key producer of hops. Its capital city, Prague, is home to about 1.3 million people — more than twice the total population of Maskova’s new home province.
Despite the differences, life is good here, she said.
“We like it. I don’t like the wind, that’s the only thing.”
What is your full name?
Where and when were you born?
I was born 40 years ago in Czech Republic. That was Czechoslovakia then. In Budweis. That’s the Budweiser beer hometown. My husband is from Pilsen and I am from Budweis.
Where is home for you today?
What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading a book about the Holocaust ... “Whispers from the ghettos,” by Kathy Kaser and Sharon McKay.
What is your favourite movie?
I’m not a very big movie watcher.
Growing up, did you ever get into trouble?
I was pretty good. ... No, I don’t remember anything big.
What is your personal motto?
I have one I think is perfect: “Nobody’s perfect,” which helps me with this (motions towards gingerbread), because I want to do everything perfect.
What is your most treasured possession?
That would be family.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
That’s what we never do. We never buy a lottery ticket, because we believe you have to earn money by work. But if I won the lottery, I always wanted to do something with the environment, so I would probably invest it in saving our planet.
How did you get into hunting mushrooms?
Oh that’s a national sport in Czech Republic, because everybody does it. And we used to, we were camping every summer. That’s what we, as a family, did. ... But I think Czechs are famous for mushroom picking. Everybody does it.
Who is one person you’d love to have lunch with?
Let’s say Martha Stewart. Our friends say I am like Martha Stewart. I would love to meet her.
What’s the best meal you’ve had?
That would be when we go camping and we make mushroom... something. Risotto. ... That’s my favourite thing. Just simple, wild mushroom.
What do you like to cook (or prepare, as the case may be)?
What’s your favourite garden plant?
Maybe the grapevine in the greenhouse.
What household chore do you hate the most?
What is your favourite place in the Czech Republic?
That would be my hometown.
Is there any place in Budweis you would recommend visitors see?
That’s the square. It’s one hectare. It’s very special. And we have a lot of markets, Christmas markets, everything.
What is one misconception about the Czech Republic, one reaction you get here, you would like to see disappear?
What I don’t like is if I say my name, everybody thinks I’m from Russia.
What is one thing about European gingerbread you wish people knew?
I think it’s healthier. It’s just so different. It’s a chewy, honey cookie, it’s not full of fat ... and it can be very pretty.
What is your favourite Christmas tradition?
When we go to cut the tree. We have our special spot, and the tradition in Czech (is), you don’t want the perfect one. You actually choose the ugly one and you put it into the corner. (Laughs). So we usually take one without one side and we put it into the corner and decorate it to make it pretty.