Our culi­nary iden­tity

Cana­dian cui­sine ever chang­ing due to speedy trans­porta­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FOOD - Mar­garet Prouse Mar­garet Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writ­ing her at RR#2, North Wilt­shire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at mar­garet@is­land­gusto.com.

One thing that stood out to me, as I re­flected about our coun­try on Canada Day, yesterday, is the di­ver­sity of land­scape, cli­mate, and pop­u­la­tion.

The nat­u­ral out­come of all that di­ver­sity is that Cana­dian food cul­ture, rather than re­flect­ing a sin­gle, iden­ti­fi­able cui­sine, is abun­dantly, richly var­ied, and al­most im­pos­si­ble to pin down.

Tra­di­tion­ally, Cana­dian cui­sine has been in­flu­enced by the taste pref­er­ences of the in­hab­i­tants, what they could grow on the land, the types of an­i­mals they could hunt or raise on their farms, and the seafood that they had ac­cess to.

This is a big coun­try and re­gional dif­fer­ences must have been pro­nounced when peo­ple had to stick al­most ex­clu­sively to lo­cally-pro­duced foods. Even in the early days, Cana­di­ans from dif­fer­ent cul­tural groups in­flu­enced one another. For ex­am­ple, First Na­tions peo­ple in the Mar­itimes taught the Euro­pean set­tlers how to cook and eat lob­ster.

As nei­ther peo­ple nor food trav­elled much, dis­tinct re­gional trends de­vel­oped. There’s P.E.I. lob­ster, Digby chicks, Lake Erie perch, and Dun­geness crab from Bri­tish Columbia. A scoff of salt cod and blue pota­toes would have been just as fa­mil­iar to fam­i­lies liv­ing on Nova Sco­tia’s south shore as a plate­ful of pork chops, mashed pota­toes and car­rots was to peo­ple in south­west­ern On­tario.

With speedy trans­porta­tion, we have for­got­ten about many of the lim­i­ta­tions im­posed by land­scape and cli­mate, and learned to ex­pect easy ac­cess to not only foods from other parts of Canada, but from around the world.

Cit­i­zens raised in other parts of the world bring a taste for their cul­tural foods when they come to live in Canada. As de­mand in­creases, those im­ported foods are added to res­tau­rant menus and placed on store shelves for ev­ery­one to try. Cana­dian farm­ers then be­gin grow­ing new crops, such as, for ex­am­ple, a num­ber of Asian green veg­eta­bles.

With these changes, Cana­dian cui­sine evolves daily. Chick­pea cur­ries, sashimi and sushi, and Viet­namese pho are noth­ing like the meat and pota­toes meals of my child­hood.

My cup­boards re­flect the in­creas­ingly di­verse Cana­dian cui­sine. Along with my old sta­ples, rice and spaghetti, I have quinoa, three kinds of lentils, orzo, bul­gur, chia seeds and ra­men noo­dles. There are gar­banzo beans next to the yel­low eyes, a can of co­conut milk be­side the evap­o­rated milk. In the fridge, there’s feta cheese along with the ched­dar.

Here is an ex­am­ple of some­thing de­li­cious that I knew noth­ing about when I first started cook­ing. It makes use of in­gre­di­ents that I have known all my life, but they are put to­gether dif­fer­ently. They are nei­ther ex­otic, nor are they new to Canada, for there have been peo­ple with Eastern Euro­pean roots liv­ing in Canada for gen­er­a­tions. But it took years for me to learn to make them.

THE BEST PERO­GIES

From Stewart, Anita: “Anita Stewart’s Canada”. Harper Collins, Toronto, 2008.

DOUGH

2 eggs 5 mL (1 tsp) salt 250 mL (1 cup) cold wa­ter 750 mL (3 cups) all pur­pose flour

FILL­ING

6 pota­toes, peeled and coarsely chopped 2 onions, minced 30 mL (2 tbsp) but­ter 500 mL (2 cups) cot­tage cheese salt and freshly ground pep­per

GAR­NISH

30-45 mL (2-3 tbsp) but­ter sour cream minced green onion (op­tional) crisp ba­con bits (op­tional) In a medium bowl, beat the eggs; whisk in salt and wa­ter. Beat in flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured sur­face and knead un­til smooth, 5 - 6 min­utes. Cover and let rest while mak­ing the fill­ing. Cook the pota­toes in boiling wa­ter un­til ten­der. Drain and mash. In a small skil­let, cook the onions in the but­ter un­til browned. Mean­while, rinse the cot­tage cheese un­der cold wa­ter; place in a colan­der or strainer and drain well. Stir the onions and cheese into the mashed pota­toes. Sea­son to taste with salt and pep­per. Roll out dough as thinly as pos­si­ble on a floured sur­face. Cut into 5 cm (2 inch) squares. With floured fin­gers, pick up a square and stretch it slightly. Spoon a small mound of fill­ing on the cen­tre and pinch shut. Lay on a floured bak­ing sheet and cover. Re­peat un­til all the squares are filled. The pero­gies may be frozen in a sin­gle layer on a bak­ing sheet prior to cook­ing. When frozen, pack­age in plas­tic bags. To cook, bring a pot of salted wa­ter to a boil. Re­duce heat to medium and cook 6-8 pero­gies at a time, un­til they float to the sur­face, about 10 min­utes (12-14 min­utes if frozen). Re­move with a slot­ted spoon; toss with a lit­tle but­ter and keep warm while cook­ing the re­main­ing pero­gies. To serve, melt the re­main­ing but­ter in a skil­let and fry the pero­gies un­til golden brown. Pass a bowl of sour cream ei­ther plain or lib­er­ally laced with minced green onion and per­haps some crisp ba­con bits.

This Canada Day, try some­thing new. Learn from our neigh­bours. Savour the di­ver­sity of Cana­dian food.

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