Two and a half months into Canada’s sesquicentennial year, you may find yourself looking for ideas on how to celebrate a nation as diverse and vast as this one on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of confederation.
Of course there is free Parks Canada access to national parks and plenty of Canada Day celebrations in the works like Canmore’s annual parade, but if you are looking for a creative and delicious way to mark the occasion, then Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller’s Feast – Recipes and Stories form a Canadian Road Trip is the destination you are looking for.
VanVeller and Anderson penned the recipe book, released by Random House on March 7, after completing one of the most epic road trips in Canadian culinary history – 10 months visiting every single province (10) and territory (three) in the country to experience the diversity Canadian cooking has to offer.
“We had only known each other about a year and a half before we started planning the road trip and a lot of people thought it was crazy,” Anderson said. “We were fast friends and shared a lot of similar perspectives and when we started talking, originally it was a road trip and the bigger idea was to write about Canadian food.”
A friendship, even a newly minted one, can be tested on even the shortest road trip, let alone five months on the road, 10 provinces, three territories, seven islands, eight ferries, two flights and one 48-hour train ride.
But Anderson and VanVeller not only survived, they thrived in the face of the challenge and shared their experiences through an online blog as they travelled. After returning to the west coast upon completing the epic journey, the idea of turning the experience into a cookbook took shape and the preparations and test kitchen cooking began.
Both not only brought with them their experiences during the trip, but each of them had backgrounds in the food industry on either side of the country and could use those connections as well to find the depth and breadth of the country’s cuisine to fit inside one book.
“We come from the corners of the country and we both felt at the time we lacked a solid identity of what is Canadian food and what is the food we identify as Canadian,” VanVeller said.
Both felt they had a solid understanding of what Canadian food was, and a look through Feast’s pages presents a good variety of what many would consider typically Canadian food – Nanaimo bars, tourtiere, granola and a full turkey dinner.
But Anderson said they underestimated the depth and breadth of what they would find on the road – and within the book’s recipe sections crafty curious Canadian culinary home cooks can find a way to better understand the vastness of the country’s food and its ingredients.
“We learned so much on this trip,” Anderson said. “We hoped to learn a lot, and we learned more than we ever could have imagined.”
Interspersed within the recipe book is the chronicle of the journey Anderson and VanVeller took. The story follows the route as they left British Columbia and headed north to the Yukon and N.W.T. before making it to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the rest of Eastern Canada and finishing in Nunavut.
While you expect a lot of the story to be about restaurants and chefs who prepare the food found around the country, the pair also focused on food producers and farms.
As the Canadian local food movement grows and gains momentum, they said food production and local farmers are an integral part of the entire system.
“I think there is a huge segment of the population that prioritizes supporting Canadian farmers and that industry is growing, which I think is amazing,” VanVeller said. “Even as we were driving, you are passing so much agricultural land and it has a huge impact on local communities, rural communities and people who make their livelihood off the land.”
Braised arctic hare, slow cooker moose stroganoff, reindeer meatloaf and elk burgers all make for interesting recipes to try for the creative cook and a well-sourced butcher.
The role of immigration to Canada has flavours throughout the recipe book as well. VanVeller said immigration has been a major influence on the country’s cooking because when people arrive here to build a new life, they bring their own food culture with them.
Recipes like Sri Lankan curried shrimp, Moroccan chickpea soup, beet borscht, sour cherry and ricotta perogies, to name just a few, are included.
Not all of the 114 recipes in the book came as a result of the road trip and not all the stories from the road made it into the book. Anderson and VanVeller approached industry friends and connections to find enough recipes to deliver a cross section of Canadian cuisine that covers all of the country’s geography, as well as breakfast, appetizers, vegetarian mains, meat mains, seafood mains, salads and sides, desserts and preserves and pickles.
Of course, the recipes include a lot more variety and challenge for the bold Canadian home cook and include recipe substitution suggestions if you can’t find things like birch syrup, red fife flour, spruce tips or Camelina Oil (which is available at Nutters in Canmore from Three Farmers, the only Canadian producer of the oil).
“We basically wanted the recipes to still be accessible to people no matter where in the country they are,” Anderson said.
The most inspiring aspect of the cookbook, however, recounts the pair’s visit to Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, a place so remote they couldn’t travel there by car. It is in the north that Indigenous cuisine became a real focus and treat for the reader. Whales are important in Inuit culture and for centuries belugas, bowheads or narwhals have provided Indigenous cultures with food, bones for tools and oil to keep the traditional qulliq burning.
Not many people would be open to trying whale, but VanVeller and Anderson tried it two ways – aglannguaq – the skin and blubber of a narwhal served raw – and misiraq – fermented whale fat.
Their stories about the experience and lighting the qulliq with an elder in Rankin Inlet really ensure that Feast captures the food traditions of the people who live within the geographical expanse we recognize on a map as Canada today.
These experiences reflect a time when Canada wasn’t a country yet, and the importance of Indigenous people and cultures that were here first and finding sustenance on the land regardless of if it is in the north or on the west coast.
Bannock, pemmican with Saskatoon berries, traditional arctic char pipsi, roasted soha (or salmon) cooked over a kyuquot fire using cedar sticks to prepare the fish first the traditional way, and arctic char sushi are all featured.