A B.C. woman’s culinary legacy continues to live on digitally and will now help support North Island College (NIC) students.
Ruth “Rootitoot” McCusker of Campbell River was well-known in the online Instant Pot recipe community. She shared her family recipes, which were adapted for the counter-top kitchen appliance, with a loyal online following and had self-published two cookbooks.
McCusker passed away earlier this year after a brief illness. She was 65.
But McCusker’s – also known as Rootitoot, a childhood nickname given to her by her father – legacy is living on.
Her children, Brian Wilkowski and Linda Ramos, have set up an endowment with the NIC Foundation to honour their mother’s memory and to support students who are interested in pursing a career in the culinary arts.
“She was passionate about cooking and so this seemed like a perfect way to honour her memory,” said Wilkowski in a press release. “It’s so fantastic how many lives she’s touched over the last couple of years. Even when she found out that it was going to be a terminal diagnosis, she was grateful for what she had experienced, especially in the last portion of her life.”
McCusker first became active in the online Instant Pot community on Facebook in 2018, according to her obituary in the Vancouver Sun.
She ended up starting her own group, Rootitoot Instant Pot Recipes & Help, which has grown to more than 100,000 members. (Her family continues to run the group.)
“Many were drawn to McCusker’s unmistakable sweetness – she began most posts with the words, ‘Good morning, O Best Beloveds.’ But she was also endlessly helpful, spending the majority of her waking hours fielding queries and developing recipes as needed,” wrote Harrison Mooney in the Sun.
McCusker altered many of her recipes,”treasured family heirlooms” that were developed over four decades to be suitable for the One Pot. She had recipes for Beef Stew and Rootitoot Cinnamon Pork Chops; Rootitoot Cheesecake and Rootitoot Lemon Curd; even Rootitoot Scalloped Potatoes and Rootitoot Sweet Potato Dream. She offered tips and tricks to her “flowers,” the name given to the group’s members.
When one of her flowers posted: “Hubby went squirrel hunting n [sic] brought one home. How long in pot whole?” McCusker entertained the question, despite growing up in Banff National Park where squirrels were her “friends and pets.”
“WHOLE?” she responded, “You want to cook it WHOLE? I’d cut that little beggar up into tiny tidbits. Lots of onion and garlic. 1 1/2 cups of squirrel broth. Badger broth if you’re fresh outta squirrel broth. 12 minutes HP. 15 NR. I hear squirrel drumsticks are delish.”
Further down the thread, she follows up with a recipe for “Rootitoot Squirrel Stew” where she refers to preparing the “cute little squirrel” because “I, Rootitoot, am all about the recipes right?”
She was remembered by writer (and One Pot user) Katie Baker in another obituary, this time published on the online sports and popular culture website, The Ringer.
Baker calls McCusker “pure digital sunshine” and her Facebook group, “a place that would become one of the most cherished, cheerful corners of my internet life.”
The group, now at 102,342 members, continues to grow. But McCusker also had a website, where followers could find recipes and order the two volumes of her self-published cookbook. It’s on this site and the Facebook group that her family notified followers that McCusker had died. It’s also where Wilkowski and Ramos began a fundraiser and matched donations. The final tally, $42,862.48 (after being matched by the siblings) will be put into the Ruth “Rootitoot” McCusker Wilkowski Memorial Bursary Endowment Fund and will be put towards a yearly award for an aspiring culinary student.
“We’ll never be able to fully appreciate the entire significance of what we’ve done here,” a message signed “Ruth’s family” on the website says. “This will have a lasting impact on countless lives, just as Ruth’s recipes and help have also had a truly unimaginable lasting effect on all of us.”
As one flower wrote on her website: “I, like many, feel as if I have lost a friend even though I had never met her. She gave us confidence and a place to laugh together over our ‘mistakes.’ Her influence will still be present in generations ahead.”
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