Canadian Food History - Part 2
For anyone who missed yesterday's post, the idea for this two-part blog series came to me from the fine folks at Synarbor Canada. Synarbor specializes in helping overseas candidates land teaching jobs in the United Kingdom. In order to help their Canadian recruits get settled in London, they recently released this guide to help Canadian find some of their favourite home comforts while abroad. In addition to putting together this handy list of where to find poutine and hockey in downtown London, they've also asked me to write a couple posts about the history of some of Canada's signature foods.
As I also said yesterday, I had a great time researching some of my favourite meals and I feel like I know a little more about my country. So let's dive right in to part two!
Everyone thinks Canada and thinks maple syrup so, of course, I have to mention it. The exact origins of maple syrup are unknown because the first people to tap our trees were Native Americans and no written records of this discovery exist today. It was the native people who generously showed French settlers how to tap the trees in spring, harvest the sap, and boil it to create syrup and sugar.
Nowadays, a spring trip to the sugar-shack or cabane à sucre is a beloved Canadian ritual. Every year we take sleigh rides through the forest to be reminded of how the syrup is harvested and made. And at the end of the day, there are always pancakes!
Maple syrup and maple candy are pretty well-known throughout the world, with Quebec alone generating two-thirds of the world's production. But not everyone is as familiar with one of my favourite childhood traditions: tire-sur-la-neige or maple taffy.
Every year at the cabane à sucre, the staff would collect fresh, clean snow and boil the new syrup on the stove until it could be drizzled on the snow in patterns. The snow cools the syrup instantly and turns it into taffy. Then the kids all line up with popsicle sticks to pull the candy off the snow and make their own maple-lollypops.
I'll be honest, I've met some Europeans who didn't like maple syrup, but I think they were all suffering some kind of temporary mental delusion.
Bannock, a round flat-bread similar to a biscuit or savoury scone, is a staple in native North American cuisine, but there is some historic debate about its origins. The most common theory is that Native Americans were eating bannock long before they met any Europeans which makes it a truly North American food. Pre-contact bannock would likely have been made with maize flour and sap while modern bannock is usually made with our standard wheat flour and baking soda.
Bannock is also a staple in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England. There are countless variations today, both in Canada and in the UK, made with different type of flour and the addition of different special ingredients.
Probably because of its popularity in both Canada and Great Britain, some people claim that bannock was brought to North America by settlers from Britain. But this isn't really the place to try and decipher the ugly details of colonial history. In Canada, our bannock comes from native cuisine, but it is also an example of how much of our food culture is shared with the United Kingdom.
Pouding chômeur, which translates literally as "unemployed pudding", is a Canadian dessert invented in Québec during the Great Depression. This simple vanilla cake batter is cooked with syrup (usually maple!) or caramel. As the cake rises, the syrup settles at the bottom of the pan to create a gooey-maple-caramel layer. The end result is something halfway between cake and English pudding. During the height of the Depression, stale bread was often used instead of cake, which makes it our own Canadian version of internationally popular bread pudding.
Although pouding chômeur was invented so that the poor and struggling could enjoy something sweet during hard times, its come a long way from its humble beginnings. On a trip to Montreal last year, I had amazing pouding chômeur at a trendy five-star restaurant. Although it started as a "poor-man's" meal, it is now a classic part of Canadian cuisine.
And that's a wrap! I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about Canadian history and Canadian food. It's common for people to say that we don't have a strong food culture here, but I hope that after reading these posts you'll join me in celebrating our very distinct culinary traditions!