Our culinary identity
Canadian cuisine ever changing due to speedy transportation
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.
2 eggs 5 mL (1 tsp) salt 250 mL (1 cup) cold water 750 mL (3 cups) all purpose flour
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
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.