Part 2. Food for Canadian Soul and Fans – Shaped by Climate, Soil, Water and Culture

Several fish vendors at outdoor farmers' market from Vancouver Island area. Trout Lake Farmers' Market, Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Several fish vendors at outdoor farmers’ market with fish from Vancouver Island area. Trout Lake Farmers’ Market, Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J. Chong. This is full fledge market with fresh veggies, fruits and baked goods every Saturday except for winter. Not just fish.

I’ve been spinning my journey as a Canadian who has lived in several contrasting regions –Ontario, Pacific British Columbia coast and Alberta.  Last time, I blog-galloped across our vast geography and rattled on about living in a place with many time zones and weather tantrums.

So let’s talk about food now –what Nature nutures in Canadian climatic regions, soils and waters.

Canadian Regional Comparisons- A Bounty Here, Means a Food Desert Elsewhere
Tied to Nature, are our local food sources –or shall we say, lack of it. British Columbia Pacific coast’s bounty of wild salmon, several different varieties of clams, spotted shrimp, huge Dungeness crab, giant fresh scallops and oysters, is Alberta’s local seafood desert. Except trout.

Craving for Pacific Fresh Seafood in Prairie Heartland
While in Alberta, I get cravings for luscious, fresh local seafood. My craving was the same when we were visiting New Mexico where there was only 1 Japanese restaurant in the city of Alberqueque. I’m sorry to say that local sushi and sashimi in Calgary, is very modest and often spritzed with mayonnaise squiggles. Maybe it’s to dress up

A must in Vancouver BC: Home cooked pan sautéed sockeye salmon with asparagus and noodles on the side. Spring  2014
A must in Vancouver BC: Home cooked pan sautéed sockeye salmon with asparagus and noodles on the side. Spring 2014

lacklustre sushi and sashimi cobbled from frozen salmon. In contrast, Metro Vancouver boasts several hundred sushi and sashimi restaurants. In fact, at Vancouver business buffet lunches, it is not unusual to see sushi as one of the selections.

 Distracted by Beef and Bison Bounty
I do know some long time Albertans who rarely eat seafood. No wonder. They’re surrounded by rows and rows of

Wild buffalo at Waterton National Park. Protected species in this area. Alberta 2012. Photo by J. Chong
Wild buffalo at Waterton National Park. Protected species in this area. Alberta 2012. Photo by J. Chong

superior red Alberta AAA beef in all local supermarkets. Even at the natural organic food store –trays and slabs of beef at reasonable prices. No wonder why Japanese tourists might go crazy from high quality beef lust. Until I lived in Alberta, I never saw such shocking amount of beef bounty. It’s quality beef which not surprisingly, Ontario and B.C. restaurants may note on their menus, that they are serving Alberta AAA beef. The reverse is true: Alberta higher quality restaurants, tout B.C. fresh or smoked salmon. Why not?

While British Columbia has their cold fresh smoked as well as, hot smoked salmon, Alberta has their beef, bison and elk jerky –dried meat from those animals. Bison and elk are familiar in Alberta. Bison burgers are just ho-hum common in Calgary, whereas bison dishes in Ontario and Vancouver are more exotic fare.

Bison prosciutto (on left) and smoked salmon on our sandwiches:  the best of Alberta and British Columbia.  (Proscuitto was made in B.C. Alberta is slowly moving beyond just bison burgers.) Photo by J. Chong 2014.
Bison prosciutto (on left) and smoked salmon on our sandwiches: the best of Alberta and British Columbia. (Proscuitto was made in B.C. Alberta is slowly moving beyond just bison burgers.) Photo by J. Chong 2014.

Moving to Eastern Dairy and Elegant Gourmet Cheese Connections
Even though Ontario doesn’t have an iconic wildlife-food source like salmon or bison, it does rank higher above western Canada…for dairy cattle. When you travel across Alberta, it’s beef cattle, not your white and black Holstein

Profusion of fresh squash blossoms, garlic, zuchinni, melons and strawberries from Ontario farms. St. Lawrence Market, Toronto 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Profusion of fresh squash blossoms, garlic, zuchinni, melons and strawberries from Ontario farms. St. Lawrence Market, Toronto 2014. Photo by J. Chong

dairy cows, grazing the flat range pastureland. British Columbia does have dairy farms, confined to a small part of the mountainous province–the fertile southern valley areas.

Cycling Quebec’s Goat Cheese Farming Route
While Vancouver area and Vancouver Island have some fabulous local cheeses that go far beyond cheddar and mozarella cheeses, it’s Ontario and Quebec that truly produce European-like complex, richly cured gourmet cheeses. A decade ago, Jack and I cycled some  southern Quebec’s bike routes, Route Verte, where some routes are dotted with local goat cheese farms. The Quebec government promotes these cheese farms as part of their agri-tourism. Since we were cycling for over week, we had to ration our enthusiastic goat cheese purchases.

When I lived over 3 decades in Ontario, I took for granted Ontario’s diverse local vegetable and fruit choices. You can get local asparagus, leafy greens, herbs as well peaches, plums, strawberries, apples and so forth. I thought the rest of Canada food-wise was like Ontario.

Fresh tomato in a west-end midtown Toronto community garden 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Fresh tomato in a west-end midtown Toronto community garden 2014. Photo by J. Chong
British Columbia is Canada's largest producer of raspberries.  North Saanich, Vancouver Island 2014. Photo by J. Chong
British Columbia is Canada’s largest producer of raspberries. North Saanich, Vancouver Island 2014. Photo by J. Chong

Lacking Local Fruit Diversity- Alberta
Nope. For inexplicable reasons, during Albertan winters, it’s very difficult to find much local fresh herbs in the supermarket. Alberta is also a local fruit desert. Most of its fruit is from British Columbia — if the shelves aren’t already saturated with pickings from California, Chile or Mexico. Saskatoon berries are the only indigenous fruit which distinguishes Alberta from British Columbia and Ontario. The difficulty of growing fruit-bearing orchards with Alberta’s long hard winters and short growing season, has beaten down a lot of fruity hopes.

Going Berry Nuts in British Columbia
Did you know that British Columbia is Canada’s largest producer of raspberries? The fresh local raspberries are sweeter and abit cheaper than other parts of Canada. Until I lived in Vancouver, I never knew the lusciousness of wild blackberries, kissed by the sun. We cycle along some park routes and can pick off wild blackberries.  A handful of B.C. wineries produce a lovely light port-like blackberry wine –surely, very Canadian. However blackberry wine is not produced in the Ontario Niagara wine region. You don’t find rampant blackbery bush growth in Ontario.

Washing fresh B.C. blueberries for making his homemade rhubarb, blueberry and raspberry compote, 2013.  Photo by J. Chong
Washing fresh B.C. blueberries for making his homemade rhubarb (stalks are in the sink), blueberry and raspberry compote, 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Ontario and Quebec: Maple Syrup Leaders and Theft
The natural elixir syrup from Ontario (and Quebec) is maple syrup. Yes, as an eight year old child in Ontario, I did go on school trip to a local maple sugar shack where we lined up for a popsicle stick taste of freshly pasturized maple syrup, dunked in fresh clean snow.

Maple syrup sold over 4,000 km. west of its source (Ontario and Quebec). Granville Market. Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Maple syrup sold over 4,000 km. west of its source (Ontario and Quebec). Granville Market. Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J. Chong

Again as an Ontarian-born soul, I didn’t realize this lovely sweet sap from sugar maple trees, cannot be extracted in British Columbia nor Alberta. The neat glass jugs and tin can displays of maple syrup had become like common wallpaper to me –until I lived in western Canada. Now we flavour our bison with maple syrup or savour candied hot smoked salmon with maple syrup.

Maple syrup is so iconically Canadian.  It is tied to our national flag with the red maple leaf.  A recent massive warehouse theft of $20 million worth of maple syrup in Quebec, made national news headlines. Thankfully 16,000 barrels of syrup that were siphoned off, was recovered from New Brunswick. This incident has inspired a to-be-released comedy movie.

Canadian Ice Wine: Sweetening the World
More valued than maple syrup but in smaller batches, is ice wine . Canada is the world’s lead producer of ice wine. A handful of wineries pump out this rarer wine in the British Columbian Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara

Some Canadian ice wine from Niagara, Ontario wine region for Christmas dinner. Photo by J. Chong 2013.  Reif Winery was one of the first Canadian wineries to produce ice wine from its grapes. Niagara region in Ontario began producing ice wine before Okanagan wine region in British Columbia.
Some Canadian ice wine from Niagara, Ontario wine region for Christmas dinner. Photo by J. Chong 2013. Niagara region in Ontario began producing ice wine for consumer markets –even though before Okanagan valley winery in B.C. did produce privately their first small batch of ice wine in the 1970’s.

region. It’s Canada’s more consistent combination of frost, light snow for harvesting frozen grapes from their vines, at the right time and winter temperature. Such winter conditions are not widely nor always found consistently in Germany –the birthplace of “eiswein”.

From giant pumpkins and squash because of Alberta’s long dry summers that end at 10:00 pm, to precious glitter drops of ice wine, we celebrate the miracle of Nature, Canadian weather tantrums, soil and waters, that gives us these iconic foods for the table at home and abroad.

Black Angus cattle --a quality prime beef source.  Claresholm, Alberta 2013. Photo by J. Becker
Black Angus cattle ranch farm –a quality prime beef source. Claresholm, Alberta 2013. Photo by J. Becker

 More Foodie Reading:
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Quebec Maple Syrup Heist Set for Hollywood Film. Sept. 25, 2013.

Canada Beef Inc. Beef Quality. Get the scoop on beef grading system. From Canada’s beef marketing organization here and world-wide.  Canadians often take for granted, our local access to beef.  We forget that our huge stretches of grazing land allows us to raise a lot of cattle  –unlike Europe or Asia.

Chong, J.  Looking into Canada’s Soul. Part I. Freaking Out Over Vast Time, Distance and Climatic Toughness.  In Cycle Write Blog, Jul. 2, 2014.

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30 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue Slaght says:

    A very well researched post Jean. I did not know that Canada is the top producer of ice wine not that BC is Canada’s leading producer of raspberries. Thank you for all of the information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Editorial+Foodies+celebrate+harvest/10178566/story.html Includes blueberries and sweet cherries from B.C. as Canada’s top producer. I was surprised by the ice wine but then Germany may not have ideal frost conditions over larger regions like we do. Certainly when we went bike touring in southern Germany (area where Jack was born), one sees centuries long land intensive use of farmland for vineyards and some other fruits. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, Sue last month.

      Like

      1. Sue Slaght says:

        Thanks for the link Jean and your Thanksgiving wishes. We returned form Italy on Thanksgiving weekend so it was a pretty quiet time for us. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving too.

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  2. Lani says:

    Wow. What an informative post. I always think of Canadian food as non-existent. You have to understand, it’s not something us Americans are educated on (among other things) and it certainly didn’t help when a popular TV show 30 Rock made fun by claiming someone ate at an “Canadian restaurant”.

    But I enjoyed learning about the regional differences. I really hope to see all of Canada one day. My Christmas trip to BC turned me on! And all that land and space. Must be so lovely. You are so lucky. Bon appetite!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      “and it certainly didn’t help when a popular TV show 30 Rock made fun by claiming someone ate at an “Canadian restaurant”.

      That’s a strange joke -especially when outside the major U.S. cities, the cuisine might be similar to small Canadian towns less than 100,000 people. 😉 Metro Toronto is over 3 million I think.

      Yes, British Columbia is lovely. As you know not all Canadians see the whole of their own country in a lifetime. Costs money to travel vast distances (unless one bikes????:)) Just like the U.S. I met some Americans in Hawai’i who had never been on the mainland. These were women over 45 yrs. old.

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      1. Lani says:

        Yes, I’ve met those people who are contented to stay in their hometowns or their home state. It takes all kinds, eh?

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  3. livelytwist says:

    “Maple syrup is so iconically Canadian.” I knew this but not much else. Canada’s vast distance makes for a diverse and rich mix.

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    1. Jean says:

      Hi lively! So vast is Canada, is that I actually have problems finding a good agricultural/food map on the Internet. Most of the food harvested is along the coast and southern part of Canada. Have you had real maple syrup yet? I live in a province where Canada produces most of its beef cattle, also known for bison, wheat, canola (for cooking oil), pork and lots of root vegetables.

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  4. buntymcc says:

    Because you haven’t lived east of Ontario you missed all the Maritime goodness: lobster, oysters, mussels, potatoes, cole crops, blueberries, cloudberries, strawberries, honey. Did I mention potatoes? Did I mention that it’s hunting season for moose, deer, geese and ducks?

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    1. Jean says:

      No I haven’t lived in the Martimes. Just went cycling for 3 weeks on our own and we camped in Nova Scotia, PEI and 1 day in New Brunswick in mid June to early July. My partner has cycled there for several wks. about a decade ago. From a cyclist’s perspective, one really does see which crops dominate, soils and time to drop by the lobster pound, etc. 😉

      Lobsters are great and we feasted on them. Maybe you can confirm whether or not it’s the Maritime Canadian provinces that has the largest annual catch? Yes, potatoes are Maritimes signature veggie. I think you need to be aware that in Ontario and B.C., the Canadian strawberries that we get are grown within the province. Yes, Malpeque mussels..are plentiful. We cycled by the enormous processing/cleaning plant. Since moving to Vancouver area, we tend to get the different oysters, clams and mussels from the Northwest coast. But I have seen some Maritime eastern coast mussels.

      Thanks for the eastern Canada Maritime notes, bunty.

      We cycled 1,300 km. on that trip. It’s amazing how much mileage can pile up from cycling among towns, taking detours, etc. This was before Confederation Bridge was built. 🙂 Before digital cameras. I have all the real photos. I should scan a few signature ones since it was the longest cycling and camping trip I’ve been on.

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  5. zestyjazz says:

    I must have started reading this post 3 times, before I was able to finish! Not sure what pulled me away from “bringing it home”! Thank you for outlining the differences in food climates in Canada! I love how you illustrate the richness and variety in local food options. I want to explore my local CT food, I think the only way to really do that is by cycling or at least taking a lot of back road trip’s.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Hope you learn new things in northeastern USA home there. Learning about food is always a great motivator for cyclists! 😀

      Like

  6. jbw0123 says:

    Might have to try that blueberry and rhubarb compote. Next year. Both are shivering now. Lovely post as always. We need more people like you thinking about what grows where, and how to make the most of it.

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    1. Jean says:

      Back in Vancouver and to the rain. I had forgotten how sweet real local raspberries tasted, jbw.It was dessert with a huge dollop of fresh yogurt, after a pannini sandwich with smoked salmon and local goat cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and surprisingly he added toasted pine nuts. Happy thxgiving, jbw!

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      1. jbw0123 says:

        Happy Thannsgiving!

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        1. Jean says:

          We enjoyed the Canadian Thxgiving over 1 month ago. Ours is always that early.

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          1. jbw0123 says:

            Ha! Happy belated!

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  7. Mabel Kwong says:

    A food post, how nice, Jean. I’ve been waiting for this. I didn’t know there wasn’t that much trout around the British Pacific Coast. I don’t know about you, but if I eat too much seafood in one go – or a seafood buffet – I get itchy at night. Allergies.

    A tourism body that promotes cheese. I would very much like to visit Quebec since I love cheese. I don’t know if Quebec are targeting a specific tourism demographic by promoting cheese?

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    1. Jean says:

      Trout for Canadians is more a freshwater fish, not saltwater. I believe you are referring salmon, which are bigger and they do a long annual migration to lay eggs by swimming in from Pacific Ocean into our inland waters whtere they swim upstream. We have several varieties on the Pacific Canadian coastal waters: coho, pink, chum, sockeye salmon varieties.

      A niece and nephew are allergic to shellfish and must be very careful…meaning them end up hospital. It’s life threatening. But no, for rest of extended family, we love fresh seafood. I suppose Australia has what local seafood that dominate?

      Quebec simply is just promoting its wonderful farm products since there are way more dairy cattle in southern Quebec where those cheese farms are. I would recommend Quebec for you as an Australian, since French is the required language there. Montreal and Quebec City are especially nice and date back to 1600’s in their central downtown core areas.

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      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        It’s hard to say what seafood is most popular in Australia. Calamari and prawns are very popular here. They are also very pricey per kilo. There have been reports that some of the seafood we consume here are imported from parts of Asia like Thailand where there are more fish compared to in Australian waters.

        I would love to travel to Quebec but I think I better brush up on my French first!

        Like

  8. Jane Thorne says:

    Thank you Jean. It’s lovely to gaze upon all the fresh produce and I love the pottery tumblers. Xx

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    1. Jean says:

      Appreciate your visit, Jane. We use the pottery tumblers as our wine glasses. I don’t have any wine glasses.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a wonderful post, Jean. I’m one of those people with only a cursory knowledge of food. It’s something I take for granted, I’m afraid. A post like this really opens my eyes.

    The line about “high quality beef lust” really made me laugh. I love a good steak or burger, but I don’t indulge too often. Now I may have to move up to Alberta and adopt a new lifestyle… : )

    I think you referenced ice wine in a previous post– not sure. I’d never heard of it before. Making wine with frozen grapes– seems incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, Jean, and my appreciation of Canadian cuisine has increased a hundred-fold. Many thanks for this very tasty post!!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Perhaps in New York state there may be ice wine –unless one heads up to Niagara on the Lake area in Canada.

      Your humour and good spirits are most appreciated here and in your animation blog, Mark. Warmest wishes for a good 2015 ahead!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Jean,

    I found this a very comprehensive post, and it did, in my case, dispel to a great extent several pan- Canadian stereotypical beliefs that I hold.

    But what really jumped out at me was this pearl string of wisdom, and I quote, ‘Canadian Regional Comparisons- A Bounty Here, Means a Food Desert Elsewhere’. If only more people all over the world were to hold this consciousness, we, as a species, would have progressed significantly towards sustainability.

    Shakti

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      What main stereotypes of Canada did you have prior to my blog post? Food deserts are partially created by not creating communities that embed good people-scaled transportation systems that are affordable for the user (not every one can afford a car), grocery stores within walking distance, etc.

      Like

  11. Rita H. Azar says:

    What a great post Jean and it was lovely to travel into Canadian delicious food. Isn’t Quebec cheese amazing! And, I adore the ice wine. I brought a bottle to Australia and my husband adored it.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      We were impressed by the range and taste depth of the Quebec cheeses when we were cycle touring there. I’m sure a bottle of Canadian ice wine there in Australia would be quite expensive! If your parents go to Niagara on the Lake wine region, Rief Winery even sells smaller bottles. That was 2 years ago.

      Like

  12. Wow, those are big bottles of maple syrup…You guys must love pancakes so much..

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Canada is one of the rare world country producers of maple syrup. We buy only one medium size bottle which lasts for a year. Used for homemade crepes, in marinade for flash frying bison, in our homemade fruit compote for flavouring along with ginger root, anise, cinnamon when it’s being cooked in big batches and just a tablespoon to flavour for certain homemade salad dressings. It’s better than straight sugar or corn syrup.

      My partner is fabulous fast crepe maker –they’re lovely and thin. Unlike pancakes.

      Liked by 1 person

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