A taste of Canada


As Canadians, we tend to be humble about our great and spacious nation. Our national day is upon us, and as a foodie I like to represent my patriotism in my food.

The catch is, there isn’t just one way to do that.

Americans have hotdogs and apple pie across the country, but in the True North there are regional specialties that showcase our varied history and landscape. I was thrilled to discover Canada Post honoured this recently with a stamp collection.

There are five “food stamps” available, featuring classic dishes from east to west coast. This by no means offers a complete synopsis of Canadian cuisine, but it is a taste of the many flavours of our country.

Here are the dishes:

  • Blueberry Grunt, from the Maritimes
  • Tarte au Sucre, from Quebec
  • Butter Tarts, from Ontario
  • Saskatoon Berry Pie, from Saskatchewan
  • Nanaimo Bar, from British Columbia

The folks at Canada Post didn't think recipes to accompany the stamps were a worthy inclusion. So, I did some history homework. My research made for a longer column than usual, but there is quite a bit of worthy information here.

Pour yourself a drink and read on.

The Canadian Encyclopedia is good reference for many culinary tidbits. One thing to remember about classics though, is that they are adapted over time.

As ingredients change and chefs interpret old-fashioned flavours with modern twists, new versions of those classics are remembered.

With that in mind, I chose a recipe that seemed to embody the original style and taste of each dish. Full disclosure: I am including two recipes from my own collection.

However, I'd be happy to hear of other coveted classic recipes if anyone has them. Please feel free to send me an email if you have a favourite to share.

BLUEBERRY GRUNT is a Maritime classic, but no one knows exactly where or how it originated. The best guess is that it's a combination of the Acadian tradition of using foraged ingredients with the ubiquitous British stovetop pudding format.

I can attest to the fact that "grunt" is a worthy name for the noise the blueberries make as they cook in the pot before the biscuit dough is added on top.

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a good recipe that offers advice for using either fresh or frozen berries.

TARTE AU SUCRE is the quintessential Quebecois recipe, especially for outsiders. It has the rich sweet flavours indicative of the French traditions that fill the region. Contrary to some people's idea, this recipe has no maple syrup. Instead it is the brown sugar and cream with a flaky pastry that works the magic here.

Having married a Quebecois chef, I am fortunate to have sampled some wonderful Quebecois food, not the least of which is his sugar pie. It is a cornerstone of our yearly dessert party every Christmas season. Unfortunately, it’s a secret recipe, so I can’t share that one.

BUTTER TARTS were first recorded in a recipe in Ontario, but it was considered a classic across central Canada and adapted from the 1880s to the 1920s, and beyond.

Some say this is the Canadian dessert, but oddly enough there is still much discussion about the details a hundred years later. Currants or raisins? Nuts or not? Vinegar in the batter?

This dish has been the quintessential Canadian sweet treat for me since childhood. I made it while I lived in France to showcase our character, and it was a suitable success. I was proud.

I am including my butter tart recipe as a representation here. I prefer currants to raisins, as the smaller fruit seem more fitting in a smaller package, but feel free to substitute if you wish. If you don’t have a preference, maybe try some

SASKATOON BERRY PIE is especially dear as a Canadian recipe, as the namesake berries are an endangered wild plant, now listed on the Slow Food Ark of Taste to help preserve it.

Did you know the town of Saskatoon was named after the fruit, and not the other way around?

I am thrilled to have a Saskatoon berry bush in my front yard. It stands in honour of childhood memories picking wild berries in the Kootenays. My parents and aunt and uncle argued for a whole day about what kind of berries they could be... no one had conclusive evidence to support their choice and so that summer we ate huckle-blue-toons.

I purposely took the tag off my bush, and if anyone asks, that's what we have - huckle-blue-toons.

There is plenty of history and tradition in this family recipe for pie even the photos included  have a vintage look. (There is no pastry recipe included, but you can click on my link for the Tenderflake pastry ,a true classic. 


Although the Nanaimo Bar is a popular recipe and a western Canadian classic, it's not one of my favourites. Too sweet for my taste.

However, I haven't made the recipe that has been the gold standard since 1986, when all things Canadian were kicked up a notch with the Expo in Vancouver.

This is another dessert where a bit of debate exists as to just where it was first made, and what it was originally called. A recipe was included in the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook in 1952 and that seems to have cemented the name and attachment to the town.

In 1986, a local contest was put up by the mayor of Nanaimo and a unanimous winner was chosen by the judges. Joyce Hardcastle's recipe is still listed on the city's website.

Just as the history of these desserts has been nebulous, the current favourite versions are also varied. When the food stamp collection was released, a debate started up about the proportions of the Nanaimo Bar layers in the picture.

One could argue that we shouldn’t argue about the classics, but perhaps the point is more that we keep them alive.

If people keep cooking these recipes, the classics will live on, even as they are adapted over time. In the same way, letters and cards can still be sent on occasion, even as people use the internet to stay in touch.

So, have a piece of pie, send a card or letter, and celebrate this wonderful country of ours.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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