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Given our harsh winters and short summers and corresponding penchant for survival, no other nation had to be as ingenious in things culinary as Canadian. Time, was indigenous Canadian cuisine consisted of what was readily available prepared as imaginatively or as simply as circumstances allowed. Some of the original Indian recipes were roast polar bear, boiled reindeer, moose meat soup, sweet pickled beaver, squirrel fricassee, fried woodchuck. Stuffed whale breast, steamed muskrat legs, boiled porcupine, boiled caribou hoofs. Baked skunk, dried buffalo meat, baked salmon, roast or boiled corn, and acorn bread.
Today recipes for the above are almost impossible to find, because the palate of the nation graduated to more sophisticated or worldly foods.
With the influx of immigrants from the four corners of the world and foodstuffs imported, many new techniques in food preparation have been adopted. Slowly but surely the nation’s eating and drinking habits are changing. Delicacies previously never heard of before can be found in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
Such foodstuffs are Atlantic lobster, Belon oysters and Bras d’or from Nova Scotia, Matane shrimps, Brome Lake Duckling, fresh of smoked Gaspe salmon, corn fed pork, Lake Erie sturgeon caviar, Arctic char, Winnipeg gold eye, wild rice, fiddleheads, cod tongues, Alberta beef, domesticated buffalo, farm-raised pheasants, quails, reindeer, “cultured mussels,” salmon caviar and Pacific oysters.
So interested are people in different tastes of meat that occasionally even Tibetan yak filets can be obtained in Toronto. Various flavoured vinegars originating in France, Italy and the US A, also olive oils are routinely found in delicatessen stores in many large urban centres.
Some pundits suggest that Canadians have inadvertently managed to skip the intermediate cooking stage,. and leaped more or less directly to modern age delicate and light cooking. New strains of shellfish, poultry, and cattle are being raised to satisfy a seemingly lucrative gourmet market.
Partridge, wild turkey, Muscovy duck, salmon trout, golden caviar, pond-raises trout, lotte (monkey fish, eel, barnacles, dulse (dried seaweed) are just a few of the products widely available.
Newfoundland is famous for its wild partridge berries, seal flippers, and cod tongues when they are caught ( these days cod is almost an endangered specie. Once upon time fishermen could scoop cod in nets but the specie has been fished almost to extinction). Squid and shellfish are now being fished to compensate for the losses suffered.
Prince Edward Island was the first province to produce cultured mussels. They are plump, contain virtually no sand and are larger than their natural counterparts. Because of these highly desirable characteristics, chefs use them more than previously. Today, one company alone raising mussels on nylon strings in water sells over three metric tonnes a week and could market four times as much if only production could be increase. Cultured mussels (muscults) are harvested after 16 months of their seeding, whereas a comparable wild mussel requires double that time to achieve the same size.
Nova Scotia has been always famous for its outstanding quality of lobster, scallops, smoked mackerel, and Belon oysters, which were once imported from France. These most delicious oysters are hatched under controlled conditions to ensure the best genetic stock. Strong and promising spat are transferred to carefully selected nursery sites for their first summer. At the end of the summer only the best juvenile oysters are placed in nets suspended in clean cool coastal waters of Nova Scotia, to grow slowly to full size. Grits do not find their way in oysters grown away from the bottom of the “pond”.
Canadian food standards, especially those applied to fish and shellfish are the highest in the world. All seafood farms must be approved by the Department of Fisheries and are controlled routinely by marine biologists to ensure the best possible quality seafood and free of pathogenic bacteria, and of unsurpassed taste.
Nova Scotia is also famous for its Bras d’Or oyster, which was developed the Department of Fisheries.
New Brunswick is the site of many eel ponds. The eels are marketed live or smoked. A proportion of eel raised in this province is exported to Europe, although demand in other provinces is also increasing. New Brunswick potatoes are famous and exported to many countries. The world’s largest potato processor, McCain, is located in Florenceville, New Brunswick. The company maintains many plants throughout the world
Quebec, long considered to be a province where eating and drinking are a part of good living, offers many delicacies, Brome Lake duck, apples from Rougemont, Matane shrimps, cider vinegar, genuine maple syrup, honey, salmon and cheeses are just a few of the gamut of specialties of Quebec.
This province has an enviable cheese industry consisting of small family operations. Oka is well noted for the cheese by the same name, but there are many others that produce excellent cream type cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Triple cream just to name a few. The following cheeses are worth looking for: Cheddar (nine year old), Cheddar ( eight year old), Cabriole, Mamirolle, Le Metis, Bluebry, Ermite, Le Pied de vent, Le Bleu de la Montonniere.
Lactantia, a creamery located near Montreal, is well noted for its high quality butter. Belgium endive, long noted for its refreshing taste, is now being cultivated near Montreal by a Frenchman who found conditions very suitable for growing this delectable and versatile salad green. Needless to say Quebec’s foie gras d’oie and shallots are staple ingredients of high-end restaurant kitchens not only in Canada but the U S A as well.
Ontario is justly famous for its superb quality corn fed pork, and back bacon (a k a Canadian bacon), pemeal bacon, just to name a few.
The Niagara Peninsula boasts a large fruit and vegetable production Holland March is well noted for its Bib lettuce, celery, and other salad greens. Brantford is known for its tasty vegetables.
Leamington, close to Pelee Island, is the most southern point of Canada, produces substantial quantities of seedless cucumbers and tomatoes both in hot houses and fields.
Ontario strawberries and raspberries in season are excellent, Northern Spy apples unsurpassed for baking. Pears, plums, peaches and all kinds of other fruits yield fine wines, or distillates. Some are marketed fresh and others go to canneries.
Ontario grown grapes of vitis vinifera family (Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah) yield extraordinary wines. Ontario icewine is now exported to many Pacific Rim and European countries. The provinces icewines win golden awards every year in European wine competitions.
Ontario’s cheddar cheese manufacturers compete for the coveted reputation of Canada’s best, with their counterparts in Quebec. A large proportion of Ontario cheddar is exported to both the US A and UK. Other cheeses such as ricotta, Friulano, Scarmoza, Brie, Camembert, Feta, Auricio dolce, and goat cheese are produces by small dairies and marketed though delicatessens stores and cheese merchants.
Toronto pasta manufacturers, Primo and Lancia specialize in high quality pasta. Primo has won several gold medals in pasta expositions in Paris. Trout farming became a fashionable in Ontario since 1970’s and many entrepreneurs are now raising trout or salmon trout in ponds supplied with pure, mineral rich fresh water from unpolluted sources.
Ontario also boasts several game farms specializing in ring-neck pheasants, quails, ands partridges.
Ontario maple syrup is well noted for its superb flavour and purity. It is exported to many countries, but the largest market is the U S A.
Cattle production in Ontario is well developed but insufficient for this most populous province in the country.
Milk fed veal or provimi veal is raised around Kitchener in specialized farms. Lamb, modestly popular meat with Canadians, is raised for local markets.
Goat, the animal indigenous to rugged terrains, is being bred in southern Ontario farms mostly to satisfy the demand of immigrants from Caribbean Islands., Fiddleheads harvested north of Toronto are excellent, Mushroom hunters can harvest flavourful mushrooms such as cepe, chanterelles and even some grey truffles, but alas, not the black truffles of Perigord.
Recently a company in Mississauga, started producing high quality Japanese shiitake and oyster mushrooms,. The Ottawa Valley is justly famous for its wild blueberries, which are far superior to their cultivated counterparts. The newest food item in Ontario is sturgeon caviar from Lake Erie.
Of course cottage breweries most not be forgotten. They produce excellent quality brews. Creemore, Amsterdam Breweries, Connor’s Muskoka Lake, King City Brewery are only a few that come to mind.
Manitoba is known for various foodstuffs: Winnipeg gold eye, wild rice, whitefish, mullet, pickerel, northern pike, lake trout, carp, golden caviar and arctic char, harvested in the many pristine lakes of the province.
Wild rice is not rice at all but a water grass native to north-eastern North America, and historically cherished by First Nations. \Canada produces approximately two million kilograms of this rice every year from the unpolluted lakes of Manitoba. Ontario, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island all produce wild. Manitoba and Ontario are the biggest producers of this surprisingly versatile food.
After harvesting wild rice is reduced to 48 percent of its original weight after drying.
Wild rice is exported to the U S A, France, Germany, Japan ad to other countries. European chefs consider Canadian wild rice superior in taste to those cultivated elsewhere in the world.
Alberta is justly famous for its superior quality beef, pork and potatoes. Small dairies started to market specialty cheeses successfully.
Alberta is now breeding commercial buffalo, which happens to be leaner than beef, and finer in texture, richer and more flavourful. It is more expensive because of its longer life cycle than cattle.
British Columbia is not only famous for its salmon, fruit and vegetables but for oysters, Manila clams, cepe mushrooms and other delicacies.
ster beds, approximately 1`60 kilometres north of Vancouver in Hotham Sound produce excellent quality oysters. Manila clams first imported from Japan, thrive in this pristine bay. Salmon of course has been bred ad released to the Pacific Ocean, later to return to native rivers. Fresh, frozen or smoked British Columbia salmon is now exported to many European countries.
British Columbia’s wine industry is second to none and excels in dry and sweet white wines.
Salt Spring Island lamb and goat cheese are famous both n the province and elsewhere in the country.
Chefs everywhere buy Canadian foodstuffs and create recipes to regal the palates of their appreciative clients.
They have only begun to utilize the potential of Canada’s vast and varied food industry, which is expanding at an astonishing rate from coast to coast.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu