Eric Akis: Celebrating Canadian cuisine

Eric Akis

If you’re having a gathering to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, and are not sure what food to serve, you’ll find tasty ideas in the recently published Feast: Recipes & Stories From a Canadian Road Trip (Appetite by Random House, $35.00).

Vancouver-based writers and avid cooks Lindsay Anderson and Dana Vanveller wrote this impressive, photo-rich book. Their enthusiasm for all things Canadian literally sparked in front of a campfire.

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“We camped across the country when I was a kid, and because my parents were both teachers, Canadian history and current events were regularly discussed around the dinner table,” Anderson said.

Anderson said her interest in food began at a very young age. Noting that, interestingly, it wasn’t really a family affair; it was just a natural inclination, one that surprised her parents.

Vanveller also spent time in the great outdoors with her family and has lived in several provinces.

“I grew up eating good, homemade food from both my mom and my grandparents, and, similar to Lindsay, we also camped frequently and cooked many things over the fire,” Vanveller said. “The fact that Canada is so big and you can travel/live anywhere within its borders has always overwhelmed and excited me.”

It only seems fitting that when this duo became friends the idea to travel across Canada and write a book about that experience stirred to life during a camping trip. In the book’s introduction, the authors note that on that trip, near Squamish, they had plenty of time to discuss future plans and all signs — work contracts and rental leases soon ending — pointed to them having time off to take an adventure.

Anderson and Vanveller became obsessed with the idea of taking a cross-country trip where they would visit every province and territory. Then reality set in and they asked themselves questions such as: how would they pay for it?

Determined, they came up with a funding scheme, started a website, edibleroadtrip.com, to show there were serious, researched potential routes, identified food and drink related places to visit, such as farmers, brewers, fishers and restaurants, and pinpointed campgrounds to stay at.

“The miraculous thing is it all worked out. In fact, we travelled one month longer than we initially planned,” Anderson and Vanveller write in the book.

They ended up spending five months travelling across Canada and said that they we were met with genuine care and kindness wherever they went. Along the way, they collected food stories and recipes and took photos of places they went to, people they met and foods they tried. When they got home, they began packing as much of that information as they could into their 296-page hardcover book.

Anderson said one of the most surreal moments of the trip was when they went jigging for cod in Newfoundland during one of that province’s short food fisheries.

“With our bare hands on the line, we pulled fat, thrashing cod up from the bottom of the Atlantic, and were then taught by Bruce, a local fisherman and our guide, how to gut and fillet them. Then we had a cod feast! It was an extraordinary day,” Anderson said.

Vanveller said that one of the many wonderful experiences that stand out for her was a cooking lesson they took with Claira Vautour in Saint-Louis de Kent, New Brunswick, an Acadian cook whose food is beloved in that community.

“She taught us to make poutines râpées, a type of dumpling that’s just made with three ingredients: potato, salted pork, and salt,” Vanveller said. “It was fascinating to be introduced to a traditional food that I had been so geographically close to for so many years, but was truly new to me.”

Those types of Canadiana-rich stories can be found throughout Feast: Recipes & Stories From a Canadian Road Trip. The book also contains more than 100 Canadian recipes and is divided into chapters with themes that include breakfast and brunch, appetizers, salads and sides, vegetarian, fish and meat main dishes, preserves, desserts and baked goods. Recipes include sour cherry and ricotta perogies, Haida Gwaii halibut bake, grilled peaches with sage, molasses baked beans and Yukon sourdough cinnamon buns.

As for foods eaten on their trip they thought they might not like, Anderson said they were not certain the fermented whale fat, a “country food” staple in Nunavut, would tantalize their palates.

“It was certainly one of the strongest things we tasted, and while neither of us went back for seconds, it had a pungent flavour that made me think, if I kept eating this consistently over time, I bet I would grow to love it,” Anderson said.

Anderson and Vanveller travelled 37,000 kilometres during their trip. But they said they could have kept on going, there was so much more to see, adding that they could have easily set up up camp in Montreal for several weeks, just to eat.

Perhaps they’ll do that when they write their next book. But as for who should buy this one, the authors say it’s an exceptional resource for those who like to cook, with accessible recipes that celebrate every region of Canada. They say it’s also full of stories, perfect for those who are passionate about travel and want to find an even greater understanding of this country’s history, diverse culture and its unparalleled landscape.

 

Barbecued Salmon with Tree Tip Pesto

This recipe is from Feast: Recipes & Stories From A Canadian Road Trip (Appetite by Random House, $35.00). Information about harvesting and storing spruce or fir tips can be found in that book. The recipe also gives you the option to use parsley, instead.

 

Makes: four to six servings

 

For the pesto

1 cup packed fresh (or frozen and thawed) spruce or fir tips, or 2 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, grated and then measured

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped walnuts

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

For fish and to serve

4 to 6 wild salmon fillets, skin on, deboned

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• plain yogurt, 6 per cent or higher, to taste (optional)

 

To make pesto, put spruce or fir tips (or parsley), cheese, salt, olive oil, walnuts, lemon juice and garlic in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed.

Preheat barbecue to medium-high (450 F to 500 F). Brush both sides of each piece of salmon with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Let the fish rest a few minutes.

When barbecue is ready, place fish, skin-side down on the grill and close lid. Cook three minutes until skin is crispy and edges of fish are opaque. Carefully turn each fillet over, close lid and let cook two to three minutes longer. Fish will be opaque and flake easily when done.

Serve the salmon with spoonfuls of pesto over each piece, adding a dollop of yogurt, if desired. This dish is delicious served with a green salad and/or spring vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, peas or even fiddleheads.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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