"What is Canadian cuisine? Lenore Newman distils much of the current thinking into the erudite and elegantly readable Speaking in Cod Tongues. Her odyssey across the country provides a wealth of culinary detail, giving us a vivid contemporary portrait of Canada's complex and ever-evolving foodways." James Chatto, National Culinary Advisor, Gold Medal Plates
"A captivating work. Newman recognizes that our food is intrinsically linked to the land and the sea, where foraging and fishing sustained and comforted many generations." Barry C. Parsons, creator of RockRecipes.com
"As someone deeply connected with regional expressions of food culture in Canada, I know this book will occupy a special place in my library. The idea of an overarching national cuisine for Canada is as complex as the country is diverse. What a wonderful gastronomical journey of discovery!" Jamie Kennedy, C.M., owner/chef Jamie Kennedy Kitchens
About the Author
Lenore Newman holds the Canada Research Chair in Food Security at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is an Associate Professor of Geography. Lenore is a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. She researches regional cuisine, agricultural land use, and urban food systems. Her love affair with food began on her family's fishing boats, where she gained an early introduction into the world of direct marketing of local products, and she is a strong advocate for fresh, local food. Lenore lives in Vancouver with her partner, Katherine, and spends her spare time tending her family's orchard.
Sarah Elton is a journalist and the bestselling author of Locavore and Consumed.
Read an Excerpt
Speaking in Cod Tongues
A Canadian Culinary Journey
By Lenore Newman
University of Regina PressCopyright © 2017 University of Regina Press
All rights reserved.
INTRODUCTION: SIDEBOARD DIPLOMACY
Canada was born at lunch. Tension was high in the summer of 1864 in Britain's North American colonies. The American Civil War was drawing to a close, and the colonies faced the prospect of a unified United States that might return to a policy of Manifest Destiny. This threat to the thinly populated and weakly defended settlements came at the same time that Britain, feeling the strain of the expense of its North American holdings, was urging settlers to work together to be more self-sufficient. The colonies of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick responded, calling a meeting in Charlottetown to discuss unification into a larger and more defendable whole. That the colony of Canada, which consisted of what is now Ontario and Quebec, wasn't invited to the meeting didn't stop eight delegates from Upper and Lower Canada from inviting themselves. These central Canadians were particularly worried about the Americans and were suffering through internal struggles. They were bogged down with the expense of constructing a grand set of Parliament buildings in the remote lumber town of Ottawa, a defensive position that rivalled the great citadel at Quebec City. Why shouldn't these new buildings, resplendent in the Gothic style, not rule over all of the eastern colonies rather than just Ontario and Quebec? Led by George Brown and John A. Macdonald, the Upper Canadians planned one of the greatest adventures in sideboard diplomacy of all time. The two men were not natural allies; in fact, they were thought to dislike each other. They were leading voices from different parties in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, and they surprised everyone when they joined together in what is known as the "great coalition." It was framed as being necessary to stabilize the government, but Macdonald's larger goal was much grander: Confederation. They stuffed the government steamer Queen Victoria with champagne and enough food for a small army and headed from Quebec to Charlottetown, where they would make the case for a broader union. A few good meals, they reasoned, might do the trick.
At 170 feet in length, the Queen Victoria was more sturdy than luxurious. However, with just the eight men, their secretaries, and a few other members of government, the steamer served as a fairly roomy base camp with a formidable galley and crew. Aboard this vessel, Brown and his colleagues intended to wine and dine their way to the creation of a country. We are lucky that Brown greatly missed his young wife, Anne, for his letters to her comprise one of the few accounts of the events of that summer. From his lovingly detailed descriptions and reports in the Charlottetown newspapers, we can sketch a general picture of what happened at the conference, and thanks to his enjoyment of fine dining we have an idea of what the meals of Confederation looked like. Even before the conference the men lived well; they steamed along in fine weather, according to Brown, and the general pace of their trip seemed to be more like a culinary cruise than a serious round of nation building. He noted that the breeze was warm while they lounged under an awning on the deck of the Queen Victoria, playing chess and backgammon. They had with them an "unexceptionable cook," in his words. The galley chef and his team would play a key role in the talks ahead. The men stopped at Gaspe and took on more seafood, enjoyed saltwater baths, and fished for the odd lobster, anticipating the political cut and thrust to come. Although the politicians of the age often spoke for hours at a time, Brown's letters suggest that the fathers enjoyed themselves, proving that "man does not found nations on bread alone."
It is hard not to be haunted by the surviving descriptions of grand Victorian meals. As the eight founders of Confederation steamed along the St. Lawrence River, they passed a Canada emerging out of the hardscrabble years of colonization, during which food was more a worry than a recreation. But the rough life described so well in Catharine Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada — with its bush pudding, bartered meat, and maple beer — was giving way to a period that Dorothy Duncan describes as a time of "prosperity, opulence, and gracious living." The Victorians enjoyed showing off and seldom laid a formal meal that could possibly be finished by the assembled guests. Bonnie Huskins describes the period as heavy eating and hard drinking; she outlines a feast in Halifax in 1863 that included an astonishing array of dishes, including mock turtle soup, salmon and haddock, chicken curry, macaroni, beef, turkey, ham, veal, goose, plum pudding, lobster salad, and Charlotte Russe. The great banquets and balls of the Charlottetown Conference would be no different. As Luella Creighton describes in The Elegant Canadians, the 1860s marked the emergence of a sophisticated society in the colonies. The Charlottetown Conference would stand out; she describes it as "the first great convivial occasion in British North America."
The reception that greeted the arrival of the Canadians at Charlottetown did not bode well for the negotiations. The Canadians were slightly ahead of schedule, and thus no one came out to meet them. The Queen Victoria anchored offshore, and Brown glossed over the lack of a reception committee, describing the eight men dressing and rowing to shore in a small flotilla since they didn't have one boat large enough to hold them all. Meanwhile, William Pope, a member of the Prince Edward Island government, the editor of the Islander, and a great proponent of a larger national union, rushed to the docks. He was rowed out to the Queen Victoria while sitting on barrels of oysters and some jars of molasses. This haphazard beginning was reported smugly in the rival and anti-Confederation newspaper Ross's Weekly, which made much of Charlottetown being more interested in the arrival of the Slaymaker and Nichols Olympic circus, the first such event in over twenty years. The hotels were full, and for the most part the Canadians had to stay on the Queen Victoria; it didn't help that Prince Edward Islanders were overwhelmingly suspicious of a union with colonists to the west, for they rightly feared that the larger central colonies might eclipse the maritime settlements. Brown managed to find a room at Pope's grand house, Ardgowan, where he and Pope could plan their attack. It was there at Ardgowan that the first great meal of the conference was held.
Precise culinary forensics can be frustrating, but we have a good account of three key meals at the conference, including that from Brown of the déjeuner à la fourchette held in the afternoon of Friday, September 2, at Ardgowan. After a long morning of speeches, the twenty-three delegates retreated to Pope's lovely house outside town overlooking the sea to dig into a spread of oysters, lobsters, champagne, and island luxuries. Such parties involved far more than food; Julie Watson describes Ardgowan as having over seventy acres of grounds, with facilities for croquet, lawn tennis, and archery. Brown noted that the party "killed the day" and spent a "beautiful moonlit evening walking, driving, or boating as the mood was upon us." This lunch and garden party was the first chance for all of the delegates to mingle informally as a group and consider the creation of a country. Garden parties were a particular favourite of the Victorians, and public picnics occurred throughout the colonies. Macdonald was no stranger to using such events for political gain; his favourite campaign tool was to deliver a rousing outdoor speech accompanied by a grand potluck luncheon catered by the wives of local supporters. Canadians in eastern Canada still enjoy Tory pudding with Liberal sauce (similar in recipe to Quebec's pouding chômeur), a reminder of the days when voters were plied with food.
The ice broken by the déjeuner à la fourchette and the evening's leisure, the Canadians used the next morning's proceedings to forcefully argue for the benefits of a broad confederation. After the day's formal meetings, they invited the delegates onto the Queen Victoria, where the galley crew had crafted the lunch that would be the stage for the creation of a nation. Shipboard at three in the afternoon, the delegates sat down to a meal that Brown described as being served in "princely style." Creighton describes this grand meal: "Champagne cooled in tubs of ice; jellies flanked with Charlotte Russe and fragile meringues quivered on the long damask-draped serving tables. Lobsters boiled and chilled and piled on great platters, the gleam of freshly polished glass, flowers, and fruit." The Vindicator noted that the steamer had excellent stores and a talented cook; in such a setting, misgivings about union somehow fell away. Brown and the others launched into eloquent, champagne-fuelled speeches, and he noted that, "whether as the result of our eloquence or of the goodness of the champagne, the ice became completely broken." As James Careless, author of Brown of the Globe, remarked, "there, in the chief stateroom of the Queen Victoria, amid the wineglasses and the cigar smoke, twenty-three men had warmly agreed to found a new nation. Other states might have a more dramatic start — but few surely ... a more enjoyable one."
In that convivial setting, a new nation was brought to life as the champagne flowed and the delegates mopped up the last of their Charlotte Russe slathered in the best fruit of the season. The rest of the week dissolved into mornings spent hashing out details of Confederation and afternoons and evenings of fine dining. The conference capstone was a grand ball held on September 8, 1864, in the Colonial Building. Perhaps embarrassed by the conference's rough initial reception of the Canadians, or taken aback by the lavish excess of the luncheon on the Queen Victoria, the government of Prince Edward Island spared no expense.
Brown said little about the ball since he had indulged so heavily that he was down with a bilious attack, which he described as "the natural result of such a round of dissipation." Pope's newspaper, the Islander, however, reported on the ball in detail. As Creighton notes, never in the island's history was there such a party; from the Islander, we are given a vision of a hall resplendent with lamps and mirrors and flowers. The meal, eaten at midnight after a round of dancing, was catered by John Murphy of the North American hotel. The result, the papers claim, did him great credit. He provided "everything that could minister to the taste of the epicure": substantial rounds of beef, splendid hams, salmon, lobsters, oysters, and all kinds of fowl that the season and the market could afford, all vegetable delicacies of the season, pastry in all of its forms, fruits in almost every variety, wines of the choicest vintage — there was "scarcely an inch of vacant table space on the wide tables." The paper describes the quadrilles in the ballroom, the beginning of seven hours of dancing. The legislative library was turned into a room for light refreshment, filled with tea, coffee, cake, and delicacies, along with sherry, claret, champagne, and wine. They planned seven toasts among the speeches after dinner and added a few for good measure; it is interesting to think of the staid Victorians, drunk and stuffed with the finest cuisine, listening to rousing speeches by gaslight far into the early hours of the morning. The evening would live on in many a memory; Creighton notes that a young Robert Harris, there to play in the band, needed no great urging to fill his pockets with snacks for the next day. Nineteen years later he would paint what could well be his best-known work, The Fathers of Confederation. The stiff portrait captures a moment that existed in his mind only; his personal experience of the founding fathers at the Colonial Building at three in the morning was without a doubt much more exuberant.
Although many people found a new appreciation for the idea of Confederation during these great meals and balls, not everyone was as enthusiastic; the anti-Confederation Ross's Weekly complained bitterly about the upcoming "profitless fandangos" of the ballroom and the fiery intoxication of the midnight banquet. But fandangos aside, the plan came off perfectly. The Canadians invited the Atlantic delegates onto the Queen Victoria (perhaps explaining why they had come in such a large ship) and sailed on to Saint John, Halifax, and then Montreal, feasting all the way.
The Victorian era seems far removed from the country that we live in now, but though the food of the time tended to be sweet and heavy, and was washed down with copious amounts of alcohol, the antecedents of Canada's cuisine were already emerging with the presence of local seafood, the best of seasonal produce, and indigenous ingredients prepared in the style of the great chefs of France and Britain (the latter cooking predominantly in a French style). One hundred and fifty years later the country that emerged from the Charlottetown Conference and the meetings that followed has a thriving cuisine that brings together flavours from the land and sea with tastes and traditions of Indigenous peoples; British, French, and Acadian settlers; and the many groups from around the globe who have come to Canada since the nation was founded. Driven together out of a mutual need for company and protection in a vast and formidable wilderness, the Canadian people enjoy a cuisine not based upon recipes and techniques in the classical way; it draws on defining elements mediated locally. Nationally, Canadian cuisine is heavily steeped in the use of wild and seasonal foods. It remains a regionally diverse cuisine, and it is highly multicultural, incorporating recipes from around the world using local ingredients to create an emerging creole that stuns with its ingenuity and devotion to the fresh, the local, and the wild. Canada is a mosaic of evolving culinary traditions held together loosely by the land itself.
When I was given the opportunity to spend several years devoted to the study of our culinary culture, I decided to attempt to position Canada as what Carolyn Steel calls a sitopia or "food place." Sitopias, she claims, have strong links to a food-producing hinterland through a lattice-like network, with active markets, local shops, and a strong sense of food identity. But how to do such a thing? Food studies draw on diverse research methods, for often the story of what we have eaten and what we are eating must be teased out of many disparate sources.
I began with a thorough exploration of the existing writing on Canada's cuisine, supplemented with an examination of Canadian cookbooks. However, much more has been written on cuisine in the grey literature, so my research assistants and I collected food blogs and newspaper articles on Canadian cuisine from the past two decades. We analyzed this material in numerous ways, including word cluster analysis, which reveals the terms in most common use at any time.
From this starting point, I plotted a course across the country by boat, plane, train, and automobile. I included several types of culinary sites in my travels, including the big cities with their markets and restaurant scenes, the smaller centres, particularly in agricultural regions, and recreational rural landscapes. Given Canada's vastness, I had to choose my trips to smaller centres. I tried to spread these villages out regionally and was sure to visit places that appeared to be of interest in the earlier literature searches. I had to make one exception out of necessity; in the Far North, I stuck to the main roads, meaning that I didn't get to sample food in the fly-in communities of Nunavut, or visit the port community of Churchill, experiences that I would dearly like to have one day. In the major cities, I revisited key sites such as public markets on several occasions at different times of the year to observe seasonal changes, a technique that Henri Lefebvre called rhythmanalysis.
I don't delve deeply into the pre-settlement cuisines of North America save for their influences on post-settlement Canada. However, I do attempt to highlight where Indigenous cuisine has impacted post-settlement foodways.
Blog analysis was particularly useful when I was choosing individual restaurants, and I thank Canada's active complement of food bloggers for their contributions to our culinary culture. On the road, I interviewed chefs, producers, and other food researchers, and I used photo-documentation to capture both dishes and menus. And, yes, I ate things and recorded my experiences as I did so. The use of smell and taste as a research method is one of food study's more unusual features, and in general I like to position the experience of eating a dish within a context of literature. Where possible I timed my journeys to encounter food festivals and other culinary events, and occasionally I took along companions to share the driving and eating. For those interested, Food Studies does an engaging job of exploring the many ways that food researchers approach their subject.
Excerpted from Speaking in Cod Tongues by Lenore Newman. Copyright © 2017 University of Regina Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Regina Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Sarah Elton - ix
Acknowledgements - xii
Part I: From Confederation to Cuisine
Introduction: Sideboard Diplomacy - 3
The Language of Cuisine - 20
From a Cold Country: The Cuisine of an Imagined Wilderness - 36
Seasonality in an Age of Eternal Summer - 53
The Canadian Creole - 70
Ingredients: As Canadian as Maple Syrup - 91
Part II: A Tour of the Regions
Quebec and Ontario - 115
Alberta and British Columbia - 138
The East Coast, the Prairies, and the North - 158
Part III: Canadian Cuisine Looks Forward
Food and Public Life - 183
Between Places - 199
Coming Home to an Uncertain Future - 217
Notes - 239
References - 255
Index - 267
"Speaking in Cod Tongues is full of mouth-watering examples and histories that eloquently demonstrate how Canadians are what they eat, regardless of whether dinner that night is at a Chinese-Canadian restaurant in a small town in the prairies, at a roadside stand selling poutine in eastern Canada or at a trendy, high-end sushi joint in a Vancouver bistro."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a Canadian ex-pat living in the United States, I really appreciated this book. I am constantly being asked about Canadian cuisine, but I always replied that there isn't one. At the same time, I always find myself trying to explain that Canadian food isn't at all the same as American food, and to dispel the myth that the two countries share a cuisine. Trying to explain that there is no Canadian cuisine, but that Canadian cuisine is distinctly different than American cuisine, I would eventually end up arguing against myself. I bought this book hoping that it would explain Canadian cuisine to me, or at least help me to answer questions about it. It provided a great analysis and was immensely valuable to me. At the same time, it was a fun and engaging read. In fact, I enjoyed this book so much that I had to buy another copy as a gift. Now I want all of my friends to read it!