In 2003, when international borders were closed to Canadian beef by our largest trading partners, Canadians responded with the World’s Longest Barbecue. Chefs across the country came on board, sanctions were lifted over time, and that show of solidarity with our beef farmers morphed into Food Day Canada/Journée des terroirs, a nationwide party held every August long weekend in celebration of Canadian food.
Fifteen years on, with our blustery neighbour once again preoccupied with building walls, and our food producers under fire (from those, I believe, who would be allies if they better understood the reality), I have to agree with Food Day Canada founder, Anita Stewart, when she says that “Today we face similar, perhaps even graver, challenges”.
And I’m definitely on board with her call to all Canadians to not linger on lament but to throw a party instead, to “honour our own ingredients”.
Perhaps it’s my usual giddiness at the bounty that’s all around us at this time of year, but my personal Food Day Canada will be a celebration of delight as much as solidarity. I’ll be pulling out some sweet discoveries that I made for my Canada Day barbecue in 2017.
I’ll start things out with my favourite summertime cocktail, the Dominion Dram, created by Calgary mixologist, Myles Petley. This drink has me gleefully picking new spruce tips in my backyard, and features a gin with botanicals traditionally used by the First Nations of the Arctic tundra.
We’ll nibble crostini baked from Canadian wheat flour, topped with aged Ontario cheddar and a drizzle of birch syrup that I sourced from a producer on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. We’ll crunch through more than we should of Lobster Roll Bites (riffed from the delectable lobster rolls of Atlantic Canada, via George Brown culinary school alum/instructor, Annabelle Waugh).
My husband will rule the grill with his famous West Coast Salmon (from a recipe shared by an old friend in Nanaimo) and *Nish Kabobs created by Aboriginal Television’s Chef David Wolfman (another George Brown notable. *Note: “Nish” is slang for Anishinaabe First Nations). With a few more mouths at the table, we might add Quebec Maple Pork Skewers to the platter, or some Bison Cherry Burgers (always a family favourite).
I’ll turn to Chef Wolfman again for Three Sisters Corn Relish salad, loaded with zucchini, onions, and peppers from my favourite Calgary Farmers’ Market producers. And there will be heaps of Alberta-grown greens, carrots, and cucumbers, and sweet tiny tomatoes picked fresh from my garden pots.
Still to be determined are which Okanagan wines to drink. So, too, is dessert – although it’s likely to feature the just-ripened fruit from my Juliet sour cherry tree (bred for Canadian prairie hardiness by the diligent researchers at the University of Saskatchewan).
To mark this 15th anniversary of Food Day Canada, Toronto’s CN Tower will light up the sky, and the film Before the Plate will make its sold-out premiere at that city’s Isabel Bader Theatre. (This documentary, which takes one plate created by Chef John Horne at Canoe restaurant and traces each ingredient back to its Canadian source, includes revelations about modern farming and distribution that are sure to surprise. Watch for it – this doc is destined to appear at film festivals and indie cinemas everywhere).
Chefs will be hosting Food Day Canada events across the country; look for one near you from the list of restaurant partners at fooddaycanada.ca.
SO REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU’RE INCLINED TO CELEBRATE – be it solidarity with our country’s farmers, delight for Canadian-grown/raised/fished/foraged/brewed/distilled/aged or otherwise-crafted ingredients, or simply a glorious long weekend in our oh-so-short summer – be sure to rustle up some culinary treasures from your local farmers and food artisans this weekend or hustle down to the digs of your favourite chef-creator of Canadian cuisine. There’s a patio or deck with your name on it somewhere and a cornucopia of Great White North flavours close at hand.
(And for my Alberta homies, there’s a brand new resource out there to help you find all that delicious local goodness. Food Artisans of Alberta by Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri combs every corner of the province to highlight the best growers and producers harnessing and nurturing our unique terroir from land and water to plate, jar, and bottle. Once you read their stories, you’ll want to track them down – and much of their fare is closer than you think! Find this guide at bookstores, cafes, cooking schools, food artisans – even the odd gas station around the province – or online at Chapters/Indigo.)
Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot (except where noted)