I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Speaking in Cod Tongues explores the centers of Canadian cuisine, from ocean to prairie, and from the height of urban dining to picnics in the wilderness. From bakeapples to fiddleheads, from maple syrup to k'aaw, Speaking in Cod Tongues celebrates a young and vibrant cuisine.
When I was a child, I had a pen-pal in Korea. He asked me what should have been an easy question: what is the national dish of Canada? My mother and I talked it over, but really couldn’t come to any conclusion--Canada is so regionalized that you really can’t use any one recipe to represent all of us.
What we do have (to some extent) are Canadian ingredients: maple syrup, wild berries of several types, maybe salmon. We claim two sweet desserts: the butter tart and Nanaimo bars. We have some of our very own junk food: Cheezies, Smarties, ketchup chips, among others.
This author points out that Canadian cuisine features many wild foods: berries, fiddleheads, mushrooms, wild rice, bison, fish, dulse. My maternal grandmother came from New Brunswick, and through her I was introduced to fiddleheads (young, curled fern shoots) and dulse (dried seaweed). I can’t say that I enjoy either of those foods. Through my paternal grandmother, I was introduced to Danish delicacies--I especially remember the heavy, dark rye bread that she produced in her kitchen.
Growing up on a farm, I remember the seasonality of our food, back in the day. I’m still a scrounger for the first rhubarb of the season and I was thrilled when my sister gave me some fresh spinach and a head of lettuce out of her garden on the weekend. Vegetables were limited by the end of winter and we were always excited for the new garden produce. It turns out that Canadian cuisine was local and seasonal before that was cool. We have made Farmers Markets a very popular item throughout the country.
Another popular Canadian pastime is taking the food outdoors. Summer is short and we believe in going on picnics, hosting outdoor barbeques, and eating in the backyard or the camp-site as often as possible. I live in Calgary, the epicentre of pancake breakfasts. People set up the outdoor pancake griddle for virtually any occasion.
I had never realized before that J.L. Kraft was from Ontario, but left to the United States to “perfect” his cheese-preserving technology. And Canadians have certainly embrace what we call Kraft Dinner or KD. You know that neon orange cheese and macaroni? “Canadians buy 1.7 million of the 7 million boxes sold globally each week” according to Wikipedia. Not sure we should be proud of that….
The other national obsession seems to be the Tim Horton’s chain, where Canadians gather to swill coffee, and eat doughnuts and Timbits (supposedly the doughnut holes, but actually made with a completely different dough formulation). The double-double is a Canadian thing (a coffee with two creams and two sugars). While we can’t claim to have invented the doughnut, we have certainly embraced it.
The cooking of our immigrants has also become a permanent part of the Canadian scene. See Ann Hui’s book Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants for the saga of the Chinese cafe and restaurant in Canada. The talent of the Chinese immigrants was to take fresh local ingredients and use their own cooking techniques to create food for their communities. Speaking as a Calgarian, I love our local “Chinese” dish, ginger beef. Other regions have their own beloved creations.
I have to also say that I was delighted to find reference in this book to my favourite history professor at University of Calgary, Henry Klassen. Dr. Klassen was a methodical lecturer and a meticulous researcher. I loved the courses that I took from him and he was always ready with a smile when I met him on campus, even many years later. I was saddened when I learned of his death in 2005. This reference to his work means that he lives on and for that I am glad.
All in all, I could have used this book back when I had that Korean pen-pal, but I am glad to have read it now.