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Anita Stewart’s Canada: The Food, the Recipes, the Stories

by Anita Stewart

Anita Stewart is a renowned authority on Canadian cuisine. Her 2000 book The Flavours of Canada was one of the best surveys of Canadian cooking ever published, omitting only the far North in a surprisingly diverse and cliché-free gastronomical tour of the country. But those hoping her new book will continue that journey may be disappointed, depending on where they live.

Anita Stewart’s Canada offers dozens of excellent recipes, and even a few gems. It is structured around traditional “Canadian” ingredients, as shown in such chapter headings as Maple, Honey & Molasses; Corn, Beans & Squash; Salmon; Grain; and Fruit & Nuts. Each chapter opens with an essay covering topics such as pre-contact First Nations cookery, the immigrant experience, Canadian culinary symbolism, health and bio-science, industrial developments, and sustainable farming.

Stewart offers such delights as Mennonite Oatmeal and Whole Wheat Waffles, Bison and Cheddar Pie, Finnish Coffee Bread, Salt and Chili Pickerel, Potato and Buttermilk Donuts, and Nova Scotian Rhubarb Cobbler. There is a detailed description of Northwest First Nations bentwood box cooking, a method of poaching food in handmade cedar boxes. There is even a wonderful – and rare – recipe for the Icelandic cake Vinarterta, made with multiple thin layers of prune jam and cookie dough.

Stewart visited dozens of amateurs and professionals to assemble this recipe collection, and she recorded numerous personal anecdotes and family histories. Yet despite her apparent thoroughness, there is not one recipe here from the far North, Manitoba, or Newfoundland. There are only a few each from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. Meanwhile, recipes from Ontario and B.C. comprise almost two-thirds of the book, with more than 90 offerings. The Maritimes score 24, but don’t expect a bounty of salt cod and lobster – out of more than 20 seafood recipes, only three are drawn from Atlantic traditions.

Stewart provides no introduction to this book, so her objectives are not clear. The title implies that this is meant to be another survey of Canadian cooking. Indeed, a foreword by His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond (husband of current Governor-General Michaëlle Jean), to whom Stewart is a culinary adviser, states that the book “takes us on a pan-Canadian journey.” Clearly it doesn’t, which is a shame, because while there is much valuable Canadian culinary culture in Anita Stewart’s Canada, there is also much left out.