REVIEW: Canada: the food, the recipes, the stories

By Anita Stewart

Cookbook review written by

Canada: the food, the recipes, the stories is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores

Something that Canadians have always struggled with is a clear definition of our national identity. With a country as rich in cultural, historical and geographical diversity as Canada we often succumb to a general description of being a multicultural melting pot. But our country and people are so much more complex than this rather generic description, and as a result we are continually seeking ways to better pay homage to the richness of the true north strong and free.

The same struggle to define Canadian culture can be extended to our food as well. What is traditional Canadian cuisine? With culinary influences that span the globe (including European inspiration on the east coast to the west coast’s Asian fusion), it is not easy to pinpoint the quintessential nature of Canadian food.

Anita Stewart is a renowned authority on Canadian cuisine, culinary activist, educator and food writer. Author of 14 books, Anita’s passion for showcasing the diversity of Canadian cuisine can best be described as contagious. She is also the creator of Food Day Canada®, an annual mid-summer celebration that promotes Canada’s rich culinary heritage.

Canada: the food, the recipes, the stories (published by HarperCollins Publishers, $34.95 CDN) brings together recipes from the past with the latest food trends. Each chapter is based around a traditional Canadian ingredient, including Maple, Honey & Molasses, Corn Beans & Squash, Salmon, Fish & Shellfish, Meat & Poultry, Gran, Potatoes, Dairy & Eggs, Fruit & Nuts.

Canada is part cookbook, travel guide and historical textbook that allows you to get to know the people behind the food. Initially when I bought the book my intentions were not culinary! I thought it would be a great coffee table book perfect for flipping through as a resource guide but that the recipes would be ho hum. What a pleasant surprise to discover each of the recipes I tested turned out fabulous. I can’t wait to cook from it some more! Patriotism never tasted this good.

Four-Generation Rhubarb Pie

RATING: 5 out of 5 (superb rhubarb pie with a unique egg white filling)

THE TEST: I had a fridge full of fresh rhubarb and the kids were tired of the muffins and chutney I had been making, so I decided to use the last of my stash and make this pie. The recipe is from a family in Ontario, and Anita Stewart described it as the most delicious version of rhubarb pie she’s ever tasted. Fred Gordon’s family have been making this pie for generations, each person writing the recipe out by hand before passing it down.

Ignoring the premade pie crust that was calling my name from within the depths of my freezer, I made the Sweet Tart Pastry recipe in the book which can also be used for butter tarts. The dough came together nicely and was easy to use, rolling out smoothly without any breakage or temper tantrums.

To make the filling you first need a paste made from sugar, flour, salt, the zest and juice of an orange and melted butter. To this you add egg yolks and diced rhubarb, before folding the whole thing into meringue.

THE RESULTS: When the pie first came out of the oven we were not overly wowed into digging in before it had a proper chance to cool…a common occurrence in our household when it comes to pie. It looked rather unassuming. But as soon as we took a bite we knew this was no ordinary pie. Talk about a surprise! Mr. Spock and I were both taken aback by how absolutely phenomenal this pie tasted. It was incredible! The pastry was perfect; nice and flaky with a slight sweetness that went well with the natural tartness of the rhubarb. The filling was light from the meringue but tasted almost custard-like from the egg yolks, while the orange complimented the flavour of the rhubarb and brightened the whole dessert.

I’m so glad that the Gordon family of Elora (ON) shared their treasured family recipe with Anita for inclusion in her book. It truly belongs in everyone’s family cookbook…I know it will be added to mine.

Giant Pumpkin & Apricot Muffins with Sugary Nut Topping

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (very moist, loved the combination of spices)

THE TEST: This recipe was developed by Anita Stewart as part of an article she wrote for Homemakers Magazine back in the 80’s when giant muffins were all the rage. The sugary nut topping can include the nut of your choice, including walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts.

The muffins were straightforward to prepare, a typical cake-like batter that involves creaming the sugar and adding eggs until light and fluffy before mixing in the dry and wet ingredients. (See how much I’m learning about muffins courtesy of Muffin Mondays?!) The muffins are then topped with brown sugar and the nut of your choice (I opted for walnuts).

THE RESULTS: I instantly fell in love with these muffins and cannot wait to make them again. They turned out incredibly moist with a lovely spiced flavour infused with fall flavours. The crunchy nut topping was delicious, and I am excited to experiment with different nut combinations. I think macadamia nuts would be absolutely heavenly paired with the dried apricots, perhaps with some white chocolate chips thrown in just because.

The dash of almond extract imparts a subtle flavour but is so unexpected. Personally I thought the hint of almond was the best part of these muffins. So tasty!

Salmon Spring Rolls with Sweet Plum Dipping Sauce

RATING: 5 out of 5 (addictive spring rolls & the absolute BEST plum sauce!)

For a copy of this recipe, please click here

THE TEST: This recipe comes from my home province of British Columbia, and is a fun twist on traditional spring rolls that fully utilizes the concept of Asian fusion. At first I was intimidated by the idea of making my own spring rolls, but I took a deep breath and a sip of vino and got to work taking things one step at a time. And you know what? It was pretty straight forward!

First you process the spring roll filling which consists of capers, onion, lemon juice, mayo, dill, salt and pepper, and fresh salon. I used sockeye but coho would also work. Next you brush the edges of the spring roll wrappers (typically found in produce sections of most grocery stores) with an egg wash, place a spoonful of filling in the middle and roll up like a cigar.

I opted to deep fry the spring rolls in a mini Dutch oven on the stovetop. Whether you choose to pan fry or use a deep fryer, be careful your oil temperature does not stray far from the 350 F degrees listed in the recipe. Too hot and the exterior will burn while the filling will be undercooked. Too cold and the spring roll will taste oily.

THE RESULTS: Our minds were blown by how amazing these spring rolls tasted! I must admit to initially being a tad wary of the salmon filling, fearing an overpowering fishy taste. Not the case. The salmon was cooked perfectly and tasted fresh and mellow. The capers, citrus and dill provided a classic seafood flavour profile that was familiar yet still exciting.

The Sweet Plum Dipping Sauce was hands down the best plum sauce we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The sweet plum jam was perfectly balanced with the acidic apple cider vinegar and salty soy sauce. Ginger and garlic gave the sauce a freshness that was mellowed out with apple juice, and a jalapeño pepper gave the dip a nice bite. Perfection.