I hear many times the answer to 'what is Canadian food" to be Canadian bacon, maple syrup, poutine and beaver tails. Being a history major and a chef for many years, I can tell you that Canadian food is more than that. It is interesting to know that every province has its own traditional Thanksgiving dinner that consists of foods that are natural and plentiful to each province, as it is a celebration feast for a good harvest. During the medieval period in rural England is where this tradition among the farmers began. The celebration in Canada began way before the official day was declared. When Europeans arrived in Canada, they witnessed First Nations giving thanks to to their Sacred Mother for their harvest. The Iroquois' feast lasted 3 days where they honoured the three sisters. Three sisters soup was one of their feast items that consisted of corn, beans and squash. This is definitely a soup worth trying or making for your feast. Not only is this soup a taste bud sensation, but they would plant these 3 vegetables together for protection from predators. The pole bean would grow up the corn and the squash would spread their rough leaves to deter animals from feasting on their crops.
Cranberries were found in bogs in late summer, which was used for drink, food and medicine. Wild Rice Festivals where common as it was an important staple needed to survive the winters. There are many reasons to give thanks like sailors on British ships gave thanks for their survival. Halifax gave thanks in 1763 when the Treaty of Pairs ended the 7 year war and Upper Canada gave thanks in 1816 when the war ended between Great Britain and France. Let's take a look at some Canadian foods created to celebrate, especially after a bountiful growing season. Canada's Thanksgiving is celebrated at the end of the growing season in October.
Honey glazed carrots, fried green tomatoes, apple-blueberry crisp, Artic char steak and wild rose jelly on bannack was a common feast in British Columbia. Green tomatoes can be common throughout Canada when the growing season is cut short. I prefer to make green tomato soup and my mom likes to make chili sauce with her green tomatoes. I like to cut my carrots into sticks and slow cook them in a pan with butter until half cooked. Then I toss them in 1 tbsp of raw honey.
It is surprising to see that Ontario's Thanksgiving is still traditional with roasted turkey and bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, apple cider and pumpkin pie. Corn is a very popular side dish too. There are many complaints if my mom tries to skip out on one of these items. Our Christmas feast is very similar with a few added traditions of our own like my Grandma's coleslaw. This keeps memories alive of past family members and the conversation is a happy one.
Nova Scotia complimented their turkey with oyster stuffing, maple syrup squash, cranberry relish, clam chowder, mincemeat or apple pie. I can remember eating maple syrup with pepper square to help with the bitterness. Minced meat pies are a little different today, as they contain no meat at all. Originally, they contained some meat with added spices and dried fruit when meat was scarce. This was a great way to stretch resources in order to feed the family. Eventually meat was eliminated to have just dried fruits and spices as the filling.
Manitoba enjoyed corn fritters or bannock, wild rice stuffing with partridge, scalloped potatoes, acorn squash and carrot pudding with a brandy butter. Interestingly, carrot pudding contained potato, carrots and raisins with other ingredients. Corn fritters are well known in the South, but these traditional corn fritters have their roots deep in First Nations traditions.
Every province had different tradions that made Canadian food uniqued. One common factor amongst the provinces was preserves. Depending on well the growing season was that year and what was native to each province, the type of preserves may vary. Although, they were an added treat to every table. Pickled beets, onions and cucumbers were very common. Relish made from corn, cucumber and rhubarb was another favourite compliment to the table.
Canadian food has evolved with new creations like the poutine from Quebec. This province would celebrate Thanksgiving with maple syrup pie, apple dumplings, caribou, pork, red wine and a black current liqueur. Immigration has helped create more modern versions of Canadian food like the Canadian pizza or Canadian bacon known as peameal. Irish bacon is very similar to Canadian bacon, but it has a shorter being brined.
What is Canadian food? Hard labour, short growing period, provincial natural resources and family recipes combined to celebrate. Take pride in Canadian grown and prepared food. Visit your local farmer's market and enjoy all the advantages in front of you like preserves, honey, maple syrup, oils, baking, vegetables and meat because the mass production of grocery chains cannot give you this Canadian quality. Enjoy real Canadian food!