Many people have asked why we focused our menu plan on the prairies. Don’t all Canadians eat alike? That’s a really good question and since, between the two of us, we’ve lived in half the Canadian provinces, from east to west, we have some personal experience about Canadian eating patterns. It’s certainly true that a lot of what we eat is consistent from Fogo Island to Tofino. Meat, potatoes, apples, carrots, bananas can probably be found in most households and recipes like spaghetti with meat sauce, tuna sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies are universal favourites.
There are some great Canadian cookbooks that highlight special foods and recipes enjoyed across the country. The Canadian Living Cookbook that’s been in Cathy’s kitchen for about 20 years begins with a chapter on the regional cooking of Canada. Another personal favourite is The Flavours of Canada by Anita Stewart. For BC, there’s a focus on fish and acknowledgement of a strong Asian influence on cooking. Atlantic Canadians like fish, too, but there the emphasis is on shellfish – clams, lobster, mussels and scallops. In the North, people still live on the land to some extent and use lots of game meats and wild berries. Quebec cuisine is famed for its split pea soup, sugar pie, and tourtiere (their hearty meat pie) while in Ontario and abundance of tree fruits and vineyards, as well as long-standing cultural diversity shapes menus.
So what about prairie cuisine? What influences the food we eat? Well, let’s not forget the weather – unlike BC and Ontario, the growing season is limited and cold winters prohibit many plants from surviving. The reliance on vegetables that can be stored over a long winter – potatoes, root vegetables, cabbage – is still strong. Geographically, we’re a long way from an ocean, so we have a tradition of pickerel and walleye rather than salmon and mussels. Culturally, the immigration of Eastern Europeans introduced everyone else to borscht, cabbage rolls, rye bread and pyrogies that remain features of the prairie diet.
It’s one of the great things about Canada that we can select from a veritable smorgasbord of foods from coast to coast, influenced by the foods we grow and the cultures that define us. The Pure Prairie Eating Plan celebrates a way of eating most familiar to residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba but easily adaptable to other regions with a little imagination and locally-available ingredients.