Canada Part 1: 18th c. Upper Canada
This term I shall explore Canadian Cuisine, in three parts.
Firstly, I would like to say that yes! Such a thing as Canadian Cuisine does exist. This country has a huge variety of regionally unique, beloved, and sometimes iconically controversial food items. Unfortunately, Canada has long fought against bad stereotypes or a disbelief in good cuisine. Colonel Sanders famously loathed Canadian food, calling it “plumb tasteless!” This series shall feature Canadian recipes of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in this post, and followed by posts exploring the 19th and 20th centuries.
Secondly, I would like to make a brief statement about where I am starting my journey in this three part exploration of Canadian cuisine. Many books, histories, and recountings of Canadian history begin with the First Nations, Inuit, (and later,) Metis, before moving onto settler topics. In order to highlight some of the rich and diverse foods of these three nations, I am going to feature their foodways not in the earliest post, but rather in a later post. Instead of relegating their cultures to the distant past, I want to highlight the continuous presence of their traditions throughout all of Canadian history, and into the modern day. Therefore, it is amongst the 20th century that I shall explore their recipes.
The following two recipes are both from my favourite Christmas present this year, the locally published work Setting a Fine Table: Historical Desserts and Drinks from the Officers’ Kitchens at Fort York, a delicious undertaking by the Food Historians at Fork York. According to the introduction, these recipes would have been served from the Mess Kitchen during social events hosted by the Fort, to which many prominent families and figures would have been invited. The attached dining and sitting rooms were an exclusive social club for early York citizens. While this social program began in the very early 19th century, most of the recipes date from the mid-late 18th century, with a few peaking into the 19th. These foods would have been found in early Canadian homes before gracing the tables of Fort York.
Unlike our interpretation, the word mess at this time did not mean a chaotic or disorganized state (this would not come to be until the early 20th century). When we picture a mess hall before 1900, our modern understanding of mess likely skews our understanding. According to my brief etymological research, the mess of military terminology likely stems from the Middle English mes, literally meaning “food for one meal” or “one portion or course”. Etymologists can trace the word even further back into Old English, Old French, and even Latin. A mess hall of the 18th century, such as the one found at Fort York should not be associated with chaos, but remembered by the fine dishes served there during the aforementioned prominent social events.
For a map of late 18th c Toronto, find one here from the Toronto Archives.
Hannah Glasse, The Complete Confectioner; or The Whole Art of Confectionery Made Plain and Easy, 1760
“Take a Quart of Cream, a Pint of white Wine, and a little Juice of Lemon; sweeten it very well, lay in a sprig of Rosemary, grate some Chocolate, and mix it all together; stir them over the Fire till it is thick, and pour it into your Cups.”
1 cup fruit white wine (Ontario Riesling)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups whipping cream
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
one 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
In a heavy bottomed sauce-pan, dissolve the sugar in the wine and lemon. Stir in the whipping cream, chocolate, and rosemary.
Raise to medium heat and whisk constantly until the chocolate melts and the mixture comes to a simmer. Simmer until the chocolate coats the back of a metal spoon (about 5-10 minutes). Strain through a fine sieve and pour into small cups or ramekins. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate.
Can be prepared up to two days ahead when stored in the fridge.
As a chocolate junkie, boy was I looking forward to this one! However, my idea of what it would be was very different from the end result. The richness of this dessert limited my consumption to very small, spread out moments. If you’re looking for a sweet French chocolate mousse, keep searching my friend, because this is not your standard chocolate pot. The rosemary and wine create a nice flavour, but not one I’ve ever imagined in chocolate!
The preface to Glasse’s work reveals it is actually a British cookbook, but the Food Historians at Fort York are quite correct in including it, given the predominantly english background of the early residents of the town of York. This is one of the earliest cookbooks for the English household (in Britian, Ireland, or Upper Canada) that provided such a variety of recipes using sugar. It was around this time that sugar entered widespread use amongst the middle class. Recipe books from the early 18th century seem to mostly be for exclusive use in the great households.
Hannah Glasse was a prolific author throughout the second half of the 18th century, publishing multiple editions of The Complete Confectioner, including a compilation edition published as a serial over ten weeks in 1799. The title of this edition, in the practice of the time, served as full introductory paragraph:
“The complete confectioner, or, Housekeeper’s guide to a simple and speedy method of understanding the whole art of confectionary : the various ways of preserving and candying, dry and liquid, all kinds of fruit, nuts, flowers, herbs, &c. And the method of keeping them fresh and fine all the year round; the different ways of clarifying sugar; with directions for making fruit pastes, bomboons, pastils, compotes, fruit ices, cream ices, marmalades, jellies, jams, cakes, puffs, biscuits, tarts, custards, cheesecakes, sweetmeats, fritters, creams, syllabubs, blanc-mange, flummeries, ornaments for grand entertainments, dragees, syrups of all kinds, nicknacks and trifles for desserts, strong cordials, oils, simple waters, milk punch that will keep 20 years, and all sorts of English wines. Also, the art of making artificial fruit, with the stalks in it, so as to resemble the natural fruit. To which are added, some bills of fare for desserts for private families / by Mrs. H. Glass, author of The art of cookery, with considerable additions and corrections, by Maria Wilson.”
John Farley, The London Art of Cookery, 1800
“Beat half a pound of butter to a fine cream, and put in the same weight of flour, one egg, six ounces of beaten and sifted loaf of sugar, and half an ounce of caraway seeds. Mix them into a paste, roll them thin, and cut them round with a small glass or little tins; prick them, lay them on sheets of tin, and bake them in a slow oven.”
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tsp caraway seeds
1 medium egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease lightly.
In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the caraway and then the egg. In three batches, stir in the flour. Press the dough together and gently knead until smooth. Divide in half and shape into two disks. Wrap separately and store in the fridge until ready to roll, keeps up to one day. Soften to room temp before rolling.
Roll out the dough one disk at a time on a well floured surface, up to 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness. With a fluted 5cm (2 inch) diameter cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Arrange 2.5cm (1 inch) on prepared sheets. (Optional: using a skewer and a comb, press a diamond and dot pattern on each cake, as seen here.) Form the scraps into a new disk and reroll for more cookies until finished.
Bake in the middle rack at 350F until light golden on the bottom, about 12-15 minutes. Let firm on the sheet for 3 minutes, and transfer to racks to cool.
Lasts in the fridge up to 3 days, the freezer up to two weeks.
Shrewsbury cakes are originally from Shropshire England, and could be flavoured with savoury herbs, spices, and sometimes brandy. The inclusion of caraway, an herb familiar to those who read this post, reminds us of the long-lasting influence of Roman trade and cooking in Roman Britain. Upper Canada saw the beginnings of caraway cultivation in the early 19th c, given its immense popularity in British biscuits and cakes. It has become much less popular in the 20th and 21st centuries, found only in some breads. Personally, I thought these were delicious!
If you pay attention to the original recipe, you will see that as usual, there is no oven temperature given. I was intrigued by this “slow oven”, as I have seen it named before in other recipes, and had just assumed it was a particular construction or type of stone oven. However! I have discovered my error! “Slow” and “fast” were actually used as descriptors for temperature in the days before electric ovens with our gas marks and C/F designations. “Slow oven” likely means something between 300F – 325F, though definitions of slow have varied throughout the centuries and in different parts of Europe. Cooks of my generation are likely unfamiliar to this terminology, though my mother and grandmother’s generation would have been familiar with it. The internet doesn’t say where the “slow” or “fast” terminology comes from, but my mother suggests (quite logically) that it refers to the length of time it would take to cook something. (I.e. a lower temperature would cook more slowly.) As she says “it is a term that would have been very meaningful to those generations who used ovens that did not have temperature displays, but it has generally fallen out of use.”
Next time on Historic Kitchen:
20th c Canada Part 1! In this post I shall explore the radical shift in culinary practices during the early twentieth century.
Originally published on Musings on January 22, 2016.