Anita Stewart’s Canada: The Food/The Recipes/The Stories, is the latest book from the Wonder Woman of Canadian cuisine. While it contains a generous selection of uniquely Canadian recipes, this is much more than a cookbook. It is packed with dozens of fascinating personal stories that provide context for the recipes and a lovely sampling of the still largely untold story of Canadian culinary history.
Not surprisingly, there is a recipe for one of Canada’s greatest gifts to the culinary world – the butter tart. Stewart also describes the history of this uniquely Canadian invention and the national debates on whether, for example, the pastry should be made with butter or lard, or whether vinegar should be added (my mother would say “of course”).
Stewart tells the story of the world’s finest oil, Canada’s oil – canola – invented by two Canadian professors and now contributing over $6 billion annually to the Canadian economy. As well, she tells the story of Ernest D’Israeli Smith, born in 1853 into a Loyalist family and who, because of poor eyesight, could not continue his education and so stayed on the family farm to run their orchard business. Falling prices forced Smith to make jam out of his unsold fruit, and by 1905 Canada’s first jam factory, producing E.D. Smith Pure Fruit Jam, had become an icon of Canadian food manufacturing.
Thanks to Canadian expertise in food technology and the entrepreneurial genius of the McCain brothers in Florenceville, N.B., McCain Foods is the largest and most successful french fry processor, now producing a third of the world’s supply. And thanks to the scientific genius of Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) researcher Charles Zavitz, OAC variety 211 released in 1922 started the soybean revolution in Canada so that it is now the number-1 cash crop in Ontario.
Stewart provides a wealth of lesser-known stories and facts. For example, Saskatchewan now accounts for more than half of the world’s supply of mustard: the odds are that the main ingredient in your fancy French Dijon comes from rural Saskatchewan. Canada manufactures 84 per cent of the world’s maple syrup. And, in case you didn’t know, hens with white earlobes always produce white eggs and red earlobes mean brown eggs (for more information on our culinary history, see www.culinaryhistorians.ca).
Of course, due diligence required my family to test some of the recipes. My Honey-Nut Blueberry Muffins turned out pretty well and my daughter really liked my personalized version of the Beef Barley soup. My mother-in-law liked the Buttermilk Maple Cornbread with Flax, but was surprised that it was actually bread not the usual cake-like cornbread made in her native Newfoundland. She really liked the Cape Breton Gingerbread and will definitely make it again, but was disappointed that a book on Canadian cuisine had no recipe from The Rock.