Exploring Canadian Cuisine
Examining Canada’s culinary legacy through the eyes of cooks and writers
Image from PANTRY AND PALATE, REMEMBERING AND REDISCOVERING ACADIAN FOOD by SImon Thibault
Photo by Noah Fecks, PANTRY AND PALATE, REMEMBERING AND REDISCOVERING ACADIAN FOOD
The mention of Canadian cuisine may conjure an image of heaping piles of flapjacks stacked in pools of warm maple syrup, or beefy gravy-covered fries that, with assistance from a hefty dose of squeaky cheese curds, make up the nation’s favorite comfort food, poutine. Neither of those admittedly swoon-worthy reflections would be incorrect, but they fall as short of adequately summarizing the culinary story of our neighbors to the north as any visitor’s initial presumption that the American diet is made entirely of hamburgers and pizza.
Despite the fact that only five percent of Canada’s footprint is deemed arable, its pantry is vast and varied. Whether looking to the coasts and the Maritimes where seafood and shellfish abound, to Alberta for its fantastic beef, or Quebec for its French-influenced fare, Canadian cuisine is no less exciting or diverse than our own. Additionally, its native people’s rich foraging and preserving traditions, along with the influences of its first waves of immigrants, have created a delicious edible history not entirely dissimilar to ours, and arguably, appreciated more broadly by its citizens.
Here, at the close of Canada’s celebration of its 150th anniversary, we’ll take this opportunity to more closely examine the nation’s culinary legacy through the eyes of cooks and writers.
Friends Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller spent five months in a car exploring their country. All ten provinces, a couple of islands, and almost 23,000 miles later and the two ended up with a blog anointed “Best Culinary Travel Blog” by the food gods at Saveur, as well as a cookbook entitled Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip. With contributions from farmers, First Nation elders, top chefs, and others, Feast is a wild and varied exploration of Canadian cuisine, a concise and beautifully photographed hodgepodge of recipes encapsulating the old and new, the contemporary and everyday, the time-tested and the unconventional.
Divided into regions, Feast offers plenty of recipes for anyone with strong preferences: meat eaters, hardcore brunchers, seafood enthusiasts, veg-heads, and others will appreciate the breadth of its offerings. Since much of the country’s cuisine is influenced by its native ingredients, Feast contains a suggested list of substitutes for those who may struggle to source items such as partridgeberries or birch syrup (cranberries; an equal-part mix of maple syrup and molasses, respectively). A handful of offerings may initially seem amusing to American homecooks (Reindeer Meatloaf, anyone?), but each recipe features techniques and flavor profiles easily transferrable for cooks who know their way around a kitchen.
Simon Thibault’s Pantry and Palate shares homey recipes that represent his Acadian heritage. The New France colony known as “L’Acadie,” which once included lands bordering the Atlantic coast—roughly between the 40th and 46th parallels—left a rich culinary legacy behind. Inspired by his grandfather’s journals, Thibault explores every aspect of the foodways preserved within, from bread baking and preservation to lard rendering and tete de cochon, or as the author puts it, “Head: The Other Meat.” The book’s warm tones and intimate photography will certainly inspire any homecook’s desire to create a thematic wintertime feast, replete with any one of the many recipes featuring potatoes, a hearty staple of the Acadian root cellar. But as a cook and a reader, I find it is Thibault’s casual and easy storytelling that makes this cookbook special. With remembrances and family lore woven into the prefaces and preambles, working your way through Pantry and Plate feels more like you’re cooking your longtime BFF’s family history than following an instructional how-to from a stranger.
Celebrate Canada’s culinary history with either (or both!) Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip, by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller (Appetite by Random House, 2017) or Pantry and Plate, by Simon Thibault (Nimbus Publishing Ltd., 2017). They each provide an excellent opportunity to explore and indulge in Canada’s rich and delicious traditions. Order them online or find them at your local bookseller. Au bon repas!
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree’s former food editor and founder/producer of Nickel City Chef.