Great food grows a soul when it binds people to places and to each other. Regional cuisines define these links, and are a cultural portal for outsiders. Much of the lore of regional cuisine is transmitted through cookbooks, and their tenor affects how a society is viewed around the world.
Italians have drawn fierce divisions between their various regions, the Japanese have bonded their food to the sea and the seasons, and the Indians have used a lexicon of spices to spell out their local tastes. On the prairies, the activities of our respective kitchens are still coalescing into a defined regional cuisine. We often excuse ourselves by blaming the weather.
The Boreal Gourmet (Michele Genest, www.borealgourmet.com) explores the food of the Yukon and puts to rest any notion that our challenging seasons are to blame for our lack of cultural definition. In land even more frigid than Manitoba, it is perhaps the relative scarcity and high cost of fresh imported produce which has helped maintain a connection to the foodstuffs of the land.
A great regional cookbook not only includes recipes on how to cook local ingredients, but should give a little whiff of the breath of the people. Interspersed with recipes such as ‘Wrapped Caribou Roast with Rowan Jelly’ and ‘Moose Curry with Rhubarb Chutney’, The Boreal Gourmet tells wonderful stories about bush-camp cooks with frostbitten fingers and about how to find the best lowbush cranberry picking spots. This book will introduce you to new Canadian staples -rosehips, spruce tips, and caribou. It will tell you how to make sure soapberries set up in gelatin and how the elders make them into ice cream. Because of her travels through the Mediterranean, Genest spins local ingredients with global creativity – Moose Moussaka, anyone?
Inundated with food publications and celebrity chefs from the US, has our attention has turned too far southward? Perhaps the true bounty of Canada is to the north – grazing through and blooming out of the snowbanks we so often blame for our culinary inattentions.