The perfect soup to warm heart and soul
by Conrad Boyce, Wandering the Cosmos
When faced with the thematic challenge of this year’s Canada Day section in the Cosmos, I was forced to admit that I’m not really a “foodie”; I’m not the most adventuresome person when it comes to trying out exotic cuisine from different lands. In part, I blame my dearly departed parents for that; dad didn’t cook at all, and mom’s creative impulses extended to writing, painting and interior design – exposing her children to a variety of food was very low on her priority list. She had a few reliables, and they had little in the way of spice.
Also, Edmonton in the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t exactly an ethnic melting pot. We had some very basic Chinese and Italian restaurants, and if you were lucky, you had some friends of Ukrainian heritage, and occasionally got invited to a supper that included perogies or cabbage rolls. That was about it.
So what should I write about? The Yukon, my home for many years, is famous for salmon, but I’ve never been a fish fan. I like a good virgin Caesar, but friends tell me it’s not really the same without the vodka. In the end, I’ve gone with a winter favourite, good for warming the cockles on a chilly February evening. It comes from Quebec, of course, and has long and deep roots in the old country. Even the Greeks and Romans loved it.
For more on the history of this soul-warming food, read on. But first, start your soup.
Split-Pea Soup with Ham
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 kg. ham, diced
2.5 kg. dried split peas
1 bay leaf
1 litre chicken stock
2.5 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the butter in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Stir in onion, celery, and sliced garlic. Cook slowly until the onions are translucent but not brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
Mix in ham, bay leaf, and split peas. Pour in chicken stock and water. Stir to combine, and simmer slowly until the peas are tender and the soup is thick, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Season with salt and black pepper to serve.
Serves 4 to 8, depending on the appetite, and whether it’s an appetizer or the focus of the meal. And accompany with a lovely fresh baguette.
You can, of course, ditch the ham and chicken stock if you want to go vegetarian, or toss in other veggies for variety (carrots are a common addition). You can also add a full ham bone or ham hock to the soup at the beginning, letting the ham pieces fall into the soup as they become tender. And you can garnish with shredded cheese or sour cream. Or if you’re really pressed for time, HABITANT makes a very nice canned version.
As you’re stirring your pot, ponder some history. Pea soup has been eaten since early ages and it’s heartiness, high nutrition value and low-cost has made it part of the cuisine in many cultures. The soup is typically made from dried peas that vary in color from grayish-green to yellow depending on the regional variety and cooked with various root vegetables and pork to add flavor. In Canada, split pea soup is made with yellow peas and it very popular nationwide.
In Britain, “Pease” is used as the singular and plural form of the word pea. In 1765, a popular diddy you may know was first sung:
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
Pease pudding was a low-cost high-protein food staple and it was easy to store dried peas. Before the nineteenth century this was an ideal food for sailors to boil with salt pork, which became the origins of pea soup.
Nineteenth century literature makes several references to eating pea soup as a simple food for farmers and a sign of poverty:
Enjoy, and happy Canada Day!
No one barbeques like we barbeque
by Shelagh Fitz, Writing Fitz
There are a few BBQs in places around the world that have had their origin in Canada. Not the actual physical barbeque but the idea of cooking with fire outside over coals or propane. Summer has always been a high season for the outdoor kitchen enthusiast. A time that coincides with the arrival of overseas guests. Over the years, I have witnessed the ooohh’s and aaahhh’s that accompany the first tastes off the grill by barbecue virgins. While they seem fewer and fewer, there are still people who arrive from civilized places in the world that have not savoured the satisfaction of this commonplace culinary marvel.
I presume I, like most of us, began my connection to the summertime feed-a-crowd standby in a time of charcoal and portable grills. As a child, barbecuing was an event that began with the stacking of charcoal and the fire throwing magic of lighter fluid. The sight and smell of black to red to grey coals was heightened by the foil wrapped delights being assembled in the kitchen from simple ingredients and the knowledge that summer in all its glory was being served tonight.
My childhood home figures prominently in my recollection of family barbecues and that moment when the door was thrown open to year-round barbecues. We were one of the first families in our area to have a natural gas supplied barbecue installed. Heating up the barbecue was no longer an hour-long episode. And the experimentation began. Guests became guinea pigs to try out new recipes on; a tradition that continues to this day.
The question began as what could be cooked on a barbecue and soon transformed into trying to figure what couldn’t be cooked over the gas flame. An old high school boyfriend was informed that barbecued spaghetti was on the menu for the following night. A bright boy, he lay awake trying to figure out just how we were going to accomplish it. We weren’t going to. Spaghetti was one we had relegated to the couldn’t (or at least wouldn’t try) list. My mum would play when she just hadn’t decided what was being served and said the first thing that came into her head.
In some southern states, the word ‘barbecue’ on a menu denotes pork done on a grill. There is much more variety here, north of the border. Over the years, a few favourites have surfaced and a few flops remind us to never rely on a single option, especially when company is coming. Burgers, hot dogs, sausages, steak, pork, chicken or fish – a mixed grill offers something for everyone, but my joy comes from the accoutrements that accompanying the protein platter. Never am I more in a state of epicurean ecstasy than when the veggies make their way to the grill. Success has been had with tomatoes, peppers, portabello mushrooms, garlic, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, leeks and asparagus. Not so much radicchio and eggplant. Corn on the cob has been hit and miss.
But for me, it is not summer until I have scrubbed a few russet potatoes and put two almost-the-whole-way- through cuts into each. I place the potato on a piece of foil and insert into each cut a slice of onion, a generous pat of butter, salt, pepper and whatever other spice might suit my fancy at the time. I fold up the foil around the spuds and place them on the heated grill for one hour.
This simple recipe has made its way across the ocean and nothing has pleased me more than to find myself with hot potato hands, pulling back the blackened foil to buttery goodness that goes with just about anything else my hosts have cared to toss on their grill.
Canadian curlicues of culinary creativity
by Nancy Melcher, the Nature Nut
When asked to consider the ultimate “Canadian” food, several items flashed through my head: maple syrup, bannock, cod tongues, poutine, and fiddleheads. Mmmm, slather maple syrup on freshly-baked bannock at your campsite. Or have a side of poutine with a fry-up of cod tongues! What’s more Canadian than either of these combos? For purely selfish reasons I’ve decided to write about my favourite spring delicacy: fiddleheads.
All ferns have a “fiddlehead” stage of growth, the young frond emerging tightly curled from winter’s frozen grip into the warm spring sunshine, gradually unfurling with each warm day. However, it’s the shoots of the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) that have become synonymous with the term “fiddlehead.” That’s what you’ll find on your grocer’s shelves in May. If you like the taste of asparagus, broccoli and spinach, you’ll probably enjoy fiddleheads too.
Ostrich ferns grow in wild, wet areas of eastern Canada. While I have a few plants growing in my garden, those destined for the dinner table are picked farther afield. The locations of prime fiddlehead patches are closely guarded secrets, to protect the plants from over-harvesting. They can be found off the beaten path along the edges of rivers, streams and wetland areas. Not all fiddleheads are created equally: some varieties of ferns are carcinogenic. If you think you’ve stumbled upon a patch of Ostrich fern, ask an expert to confirm your suspicions, or check carefully in a reputable guidebook such as A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, by Lee Peterson.
Clean them carefully, rubbing off as much of the brown papery covering as possible. Rinse in two changes of water. Boil for at least 12 minutes, to kill off any microbes or insects that might be tucked away inside. Then drain well and sauté in a little oil or butter for five minutes. There are always reports of food poisoning from the consumption of fiddleheads every spring. Eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads can cause symptoms of foodborne illness. Cook them well to avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic or headline!
In addition to being a welcome change in diet, fiddleheads also have many health benefits. Touted to have twice the antioxidants of blueberries, they are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids – excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Fiddleheads are also rich in beta-carotene and a half-cup serving contains only 22 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, niacin, iron, and potassium.
These curlicues of culinary creativity are only available in the spring. However, the rest of the year they may be found in the freezer section of grocery stores. Cooked to perfection, with a little salt and garlic, they are one of my favourite spring side dishes. It’s too late to enjoy them fresh this year, but come next May, I’ll put on my bug jacket and head out to my preferred patch to pick a container of gorgeous green gastronomic greatness.
Fiddlehead & Gruyere Tart
1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, trimmed & sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 pound fiddleheads
Preheat the oven to 375F. Rinse and steam the fiddleheads for 10-12 minutes, or boil for 15 minutes. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the leek and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, and mix in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the phyllo dough in half lengthwise, and place a sheet of the phyllo dough on a greased baking sheet – brush it with oil. Repeat with the remaining sheets, placing each on top of the last. Sprinkle the leek mixture on top of the phyllo followed by the cheese and finally the fiddleheads. Bake until the phyllo dough is golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
Fiddleheads with soy sauce
2 lb(s) fresh fiddleheads or the equivalent in frozen (900 g)
¼ cup good quality soya sauce (60 ml)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil (15 ml)
1 Tbsp. white sesame seeds, lightly toasted (15 ml)
- Trim the fiddleheads by cutting off some of the tough base. Put the fiddleheads in a large bowl of cold water and soak. Remove from the bowl and drain.
- Steam the fiddleheads for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender.
- Immediately remove from the steamer and toss with the Soya and sesame oil.
- Place the fiddleheads in a bowl, sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve.
French Canadian melt-in-your-mouth pie
by Susan Gallé-Pollard
Even as I write this, my mouth waters in anticipation of this, my absolute favourite dessert of all time – Maple Syrup Pie.
I am passing along a very old French Canadian recipe that came from my grandfather’s sister-in-law to his wife, my grandma. My Grandma (Margaret Mackay-Ranger) always made this recipe because it was my Pampa’s (that was my word for Grandpa) absolute favourite dessert of all time, as well.
I don’t remember much about the particulars of when we had this when I was a child – I just know that my grandma would make it for family get-togethers. It didn’t have to be just a Christmas or Easter treat, or get served only in March when the sap was running. It wasn’t nearly as expensive to make then as it is now, because in Quebec, where maple syrup is probably the hottest commodity going, it was much easier to get the syrup cheaply. I think nowadays this dessert would be a delicacy – one and a quarter cups of real maple syrup (do NOT use “butter flavoured table syrup”!) isn’t exactly cheap. If you’re making this, splurge and get a top quality amber syrup, and go all in.
While we’re on the subject of top quality ingredients, it’s worth noting that this recipe has no what I would call “contaminants” in it – no brown sugar, no eggs, as you might find in other maple syrup pie recipes. This one is pure and simple, and the maple syrup flavour just shines through. It isn’t as sweet as one might expect, and when it’s topped with real whipped cream (no Cool Whip here, folks), the whipped cream cuts through the sweetness somehow.
I especially love it when my mother makes this pie – my daughters and I clamour for it, and usually fight over it – not easy when a pie is cut into four and there are three of us!
If you do make this recipe, you might want to consider doubling the quantities, as it does make a fairly small pie. Perfect for one, is what I say…
Finally, the filling recipe is what belonged to my grandma. Everyone has their own favourite pie crust recipe (mine is Tenderflake), but I’ve included one here that I have made before – this way you can tear out this page, take it to the grocery store with you and get everything you need for the only dessert you will ever crave for the rest of your life.
French Canadian Maple Syrup Pie
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup milk
1 and 1/4 cups real maple syrup
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.
Whisk in cornstarch until well blended.
Slowly add maple syrup and milk, whisking constantly.
Bring to boil over medium-high heat, letting boil for 1-2 minutes while whisking constantly.
Lower heat and stir untill thickened.
Spoon into a baked and cooled pie shell.
Do not bake! Let sit until filling is completely cooled. Serve at room temperature, topped with unsweetened (real) whipped cream. Unsweetened to cut the sweetness of the pie filling. Enjoy!
Super flaky pastry recipe
2-1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup (75 mL) ice water
In bowl, whisk flour with salt. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until in coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces. Stirring briskly with fork, drizzle ice water over flour mixture until pastry holds together, if necessary sprinkling dry spots with more water, 1 tbsp (15 mL) at a time, until pastry holds together.
Divide in half; press into discs. Make-ahead: Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for up to 3 days or enclose in airtight container and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Let come to room temperature before rolling out.
Canadian films among best in the world
by John Foote, Film with Foote
Happy Canada Day!
I am not into fireworks anymore, having got my fill of the oooo’s and ahhhh’s when my girls were young. The last time I attended fireworks in Port Perry, someone stole the beautiful cane my wife gave me before she died.
That said, I am proud to be Canadian and believe we live in the greatest country on the planet. Sure, there are issues here, but our leader isn’t named Trump, is he?
I will spend Canada Day watching some of the films made in this country, a practice I started three years ago. There is, sadly, still a belief among much of our population that we do not make great films in this country. Baloney. Or given the holiday, should I say poutine! Some of the films emerging from Canada over the last 40 years are world class films, acclaimed by both critics and audiences. Some have been nominated for Academy Awards, major critics awards and made many ten best lists.
I combed through the best in homegrown films and came up with these five as our greatest. You will not find car chases, explosions, or films loaded with great visual effects. Instead, Canadian films are chock full of humanist stories about life in the past, present or future. Oh, that Hollywood would take a lesson. Oh, that our films would actually play in cinemas for more than a mere week.
All these, of course, must be watched with popcorn (I’m trying to stick with the food theme, here, but I do films, not so much food.)
- GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD (1970) Don Shebib directed this spiky, brilliant film about a couple of maritimers who come to Toronto in 1970 looking for better jobs, women, good times and a better life. Sadly they encounter nothing but despair. Uneducated, ignorant of the ways of the city, they are fish out of water who never stood a chance. Doug McGrath and the late Paul Bradley are superb in this gritty film, their subtle work as two losers struggling to just exist is remarkable, giving the film a documentary feel. Stubby beer bottles, Maple Leaf Gardens, a bustling Yonge T., Sam the Record Man – the Toronto iconography of the 70s is well represented. When their lives fail in the big city, they pack their tacky car and head down the road again. In 2012, a sequel was released, Down the Road Again, with McGrath returning east, following letters from the late Joey that offer clues to his past. Bittersweet, it lacks the raw power of the first, but is a very good film.
- C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) The province of Quebec has an excellent, highly regarded film industry that frankly does not need the rest of Canada. Denys Arcand’s great films Jesus of Montreal (1990) and The Barbarian Invasions (2003), which won an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film, put Quebec on the map as a major filmmaking province. C.R.A.Z.Y. from writer director Jean Mark Vallee is a superb film that spans two decades about a blue collar family in Quebec with five sons whose names make up the title. In many ways they are a typical Canadian family with the same troubles as anyone, grounded by a fierce love for one another. Powerfully acted with a rawness that can lead to some discomfort watching the film, it is altogether brilliant.
- ATARANJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER (2002) Shot on digital video in the frozen wastelands of the north, the film tells a story which takes place 1,000 years ago. Warring tribes force a man on the run, eventually running naked across the frozen tundra to save his life, one of the most extraordinary images I have witnessed on a movie screen. Much like a western, though set among the shocking white vistas of ice and snow, the sprawling film is a majestic wonder of a film directed by the gifted Zachariah Kunuk. Acclaimed around the globe, winner of several Canadian Screen Awards, it is without question a stunning piece of history for the Inuit people and all Canadians.
- THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997) The bus is moving down the curving mountain road, the children have their faces pressed against the windows waving, the bus driver good-naturedly talks to her kids. Then suddenly, an ice patch, the driver loses control and drives off the road, down an embankment, onto a lake. The bus slides, helplessly across the lake and stops. Then there is a horrible cracking sound cut through the silence and the bus goes through the ice. All but one child dies, and she is left paralyzed from the waist down. The driver too is spared, but one gets the feeling she wishes otherwise. This staggering, powerful drama about grief and loss in small town Canada possesses near overwhelming power. Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood, Alberta Watson, and Ian Holm are superb in this landmark film that landed director-writer Atom Egoyan in the Oscar race as a Best Director, Best Screen writer nominee. Haunting, unforgettable.
AWAY FROM HER (2007) Gifted actress Sarah Polley directed and adapted the Alice Munro short story into this powerful love story about what we are willing to sacrifice for those we love, what we will give them for their happiness. Fiona (Julie Christie) has Alzheimer’s and is becoming a danger to both herself and her retired husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent). Knowing the burden she is about to be to him, she checks herself into a long-term care facility, where in the initial non-contact month, she forgets her husband.
Devastated, Grant watches helplessly as she appears to have fallen in love with another man, a patient in the same facility. Yet Grant persists and the deep bond between them keeps a flicker of their love alive. Christie was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress and Polley received a nomination for her exquisite screenplay.
Well, slap me with a beaver tail…
by Roger Varley
When my editor, Lisha, proposed this year’s Canada Day theme, Canadian food that her contributors enjoy, I was a little hesitant. At first, I couldn’t think of a Canadian food I had tried. I’ve never tried Arctic char – (I’m not sure whether that’s the name of the fish or the way it should be served) – nor have I ever consumed cod tongues.
I have tried poutine once, but for someone who spent most of his childhood in England there is only one way to eat chips – or, as people in North America are determined to refer to them, French fries. That’s with copious amounts of malt vinegar and salt. French Canadian pea soup is okay, but it has to be just right or I don’t want it.
There are probably lots of other foods that could be labelled distinctly Canadian but I can’t think of them.
But then there’s beaver tails! Even the name is about as Canadian as you can get. I had my first beaver tail at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival a few years ago and instantly became a fan. Eating a hot beaver tail loaded with cinnamon sugar on a cold winter’s day took me back to my aforementioned childhood years because the beaver tail’s texture and consistency is almost exactly the same as the doughnuts I used to buy as a boy: soft and spongy. When I was a boy, doughnuts were nothing like the doughnuts sold in North America today. And, like the beaver tails, they were sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Those thoughts of childhood came flooding back when I purchased my beaver tail from a cart alongside the Rideau Canal. I have had other beaver tails since then, but, delicious as they are, somehow they’re not the same if they don’t come from a cart in Ottawa.
That’s probably because an Ottawa-area company, BeaverTails Canada Inc., turned the snack into a commercial success. Grant Hooker used his grandmother’s recipe for breakfast cakes and started selling them in 1978. They became known as beaver tails in 1980 after his daughter remarked on the shape of the cakes.
Apparently, early settlers cooked their bread over an open fire, using a dough that requires little to no rising. This bread is referred to as bannock, similar to the dough used for beaver tails today. However, today’s beaver tails are deep fried and come with a range of toppings other than cinnamon sugar. In Nova Scotia, toppings include lobster, in Quebec you can load them with ham and cheese and in Vancouver they cover them with salmon and cream cheese.
I have never made these myself, nor do I trust completely that this is the original recipe. However, it looks convincing, and if someone out there would like to try it and let us know how it turns out – or perhaps share – I shall be most grateful.
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages instant yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
Oil for deep-frying
Cinnamon sugar (1 cup white sugar + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
Toasted flaked almonds
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add warm water, a big pinch of sugar and yeast. Allow to sit until frothy.
Into the same bowl, add 1/2 cup sugar, warm milk, melted butter, eggs and salt, and whisk until combined.
Place a dough hook on the mixer, add the flour with the machine on, until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to proof for 1 1/2 hours.
Cut dough into 12 pieces, and roll out into long oval-like shapes about 1/4 inch thick that resemble a beaver’s tail.
In a large, deep pot, heat oil to 350 degrees. Gently place beavertail dough into hot oil and cook for 30 to 45 seconds on each side until golden brown.
Drain on paper towels, and garnish as desired. Toss in cinnamon sugar, in white sugar with a squeeze of lemon, or with a generous slathering of Nutella and a handful of toasted almonds.