Sitting on the edge of summer with our national day (Canada Day) of pride upon us, I am reminded of that phrase our neighbours to the south use: “As American as hot dogs and apple pie”.
That doesn’t sound like much of a meal, and I am not sure where they cornered the market on apples being American, but let’s not get into that here. My point is, what food is quintessentially Canadian?
In the past, I have brought up the idea that across a country as vast as ours, it is quite the job to come up with a single ingredient or dish that would signal national pride for all. It’s a challenging task.
Many years ago, when I was in France as a teaching assistant, my students would ask me to give examples of Canadian foods. I came up with butter tarts, maple syrup and peanut butter as things I considered as having some traditions in Canada.
We tried them all in class, with two out of three being winners. (French children cannot see why you would eat something like peanut butter on a perfectly respectable baguette, especially with something as horrid as cold milk.)
My husband and I have discussed many times the differences between growing up on opposite sides of the country. His Quebecois traditions are not at all the same as mine from the west. Most of our favourite special things are different, too. For example,I enjoy more seafood and he enjoys more pork.
I did some research and discovered rhubarb is something that is grown across Canada. That seems like a good representative ingredient, wouldn’t you say? It’s hearty, colourful and very tasty when treated with just a bit of care.
We are a nation that likes to take care, I think. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a bit of rhubarb compote, or a piece of pie, or even a bit of chutney, if it was offered. It’s far more original than apple pie (can you see me smirking between the lines?)
Of course, the Americans with their melting pot culture are more focused on making sure everyone has the same concept. Our cultural mosaic is more encouraging of the notion that everyone has their own twist on an idea. Both systems have their advantages, and disadvantages.
I do think the Americans with their focus (OK, and a bigger budget) do put on a great show. Their fireworks are amazing. We would most often rather put on a series of little vignettes, each with its own expression. We are more discreet.
Even as a kid I understood these differences. I remember one of the Muppets—those lovely American creatures from Sesame Street—saying “Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear!” If he was a Canadian bear he wouldn’t have been that forthcoming.
I was in the United States over the long weekend one year with our Girl Guide unit. We exchanged enthusiasm as the girls met with Girl Scouts from Spokane and celebrated their Fourth of July.
At 12 or 13 years old, these girls didn't care too much about patriotism and national identity specifically, but I know they found differences between them and their American counterparts. That was the point, after all – we wanted them to appreciate both the similarities and the differences.
When I was their age and attending a basketball camp outside Spokane, Washington, things like Almond Joy and Dr. Pepper were not available here. I thought that was cool even if the U.S. girls thought I lived in an igloo. Nowadays many more things have crossed over, but our girls still shared some funny misconceptions.
Here’s to enjoying your slice of pie with your neighbour this long weekend, whether it be apple or rhubarb or anything else. Thankfully we live in a country, even on a continent, where you can do that and not have to worry about repercussions.
Hip hip hooray!
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.