I've been learning more about the my family ancestry, in Canada's province of New Brunswick. Though my family genealogy goes back to Normandy, France, the last several generations are based in New Brunswick.
I always marveled at the traditional dishes of my family, brought with them to Massachusetts back in the 1950's. Some of these dishes made me shake my head in wonder, but gladly ate them. Others baffled me and I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole! Most were extremely hearty dishes, that definitely do not readily fit into our Mega-Fitness and Health World of today (as made in traditional recipes, anyway).
I think one of the things that really amazes me is, seeing how most of those Canadian Acadian dishes were so bland; those same Acadians are the people that got tossed out of Canada and ended up in Louisiana, USA....the Cajuns...with their hot and spicy cuisine!!! Talk about two sides of a coin!
Here's a look back into this interesting culture:
The first Acadians to settle in Canada were mostly farmers, soldiers and craftspeople. Many came from rural areas of mid-west France and brought with them the agrarian and culinary traditions of their native France. Their diet resolved around the agricultural products that they brought with them from France and those introduced to them by the Amerindians such as, seasonal fruits of nature, fishing and hunting. During the Spring and Summer months, wild game and fish provided settlers with a steady source of protein, while the family gardens provided peas and a large variety of other vegetables.
Among the agricultural products that the Acadians adopted from the Amerindians were corn, beans, and squash, known to the Amerindians as ”The Three Sisters”. These products were the result of the companion-planting of corn, beans and squash each beneficial to the other. The sturdy corn stalk gave the beans vine support; the beans produced nitrogen for the corn and the squash nines; shaded the grounds, keeping down weeds and conserving moisture in the soil. Not only did the Amerindians plant the Three Sisters crop together, but they believed that these vegetables were supposed to be eaten together. One dish that resulted in this concept was SUCCOTASH.
The Acadian farmers found the land in Acadia, protected by mountain ridges and suitable for growing wheat, buckwheat, corn, turnips, cabbage, potatoes and beans. They grew fruit such as pears, apples, plums, and cherries. They supplemented their diet with wild game such as moose, bear, rabbit, partridge, geese, ducks, teal, plover, pigeons and marsh birds and they fished for cod, salmon, shad, bass, eel, smelt and a variety of shell fish. Staples of the Acadian diet included herring, cod, potatoes, pork (mostly in the form of salt pork) and local grains made into pancakes (plogues), biscuits and bread.
During the months of August, the Acadians harvested wheat, barley and rye… and transported their grain to local mills for grinding. Although the Acadians raised a lot of cattle, sheep and pigs, they did not eat a lot of meat, especially veal or any other young animal. In Autumn, the most surplus livestock were allocated for trade, or sold outright. They slaughtered their animals only when they were no longer fit to use as work animals or able to provide them with milk, eggs, wool etc.. When they did, the choicer cuts of meat were sold, Some beef and pork was consumed immediately, but most of the meat salted for use during the approaching Winter
The Acadians had an affinity for salt pork. Turnips and cabbages were staple of their Winter diet. The cabbages were allowed to remain in the snow-covered field until they were gathered in small amounts for immediate consumption. The turnips were harvested and stored in cellars.
A portion of the apple crop was made into cider. Alcohol was available (both imported and smuggled rum) and home-made wine and cider however, the beverage preferred by the Acadians, was spruce-sprout beer.
Like in other areas of French Canada, some of the recipes brought to Acadia from France generations ago, are still made exactly as they were in Europe. Others were adapted to the foods and the way of life in Acadia, resulting in a combination of true French cuisine, Acadian-French alterations and many dishes that were born in Acadia and had never been served in any other country.
Traditional recipes evolved mainly from the use of foods that could be stored for the long cold Winters and every home maintained a supply of dried salt codfish, potatoes and salted pork fat and, a favourite dish was a combination of these ingredients. Some other favourites wereGROSSE SOUPE (a hearty soup of beef shank, onions, herbs, beans, peas, green beans, cabbage, turnips, corn, carrots and potatoes;RAPURE (a baked casserole of a mixture of salt pork, pork fat, onions, grated and mashed potatoes); and MIOCHE AU NAVEAU (mashed potatoes and turnips). Buttered bread spread with molasses often served as dessert. Pastries and cakes were reserved for Sundays, but dishes such as pancakes (plogues) and poutines (dumplings) would be considered ‘special’ desserts today. Potatoes provided the staple of the Acadian diet and, boiled in meat or fish stock, made a wholesome and satisfying dish called FRICOT.
They supplemented their diets with wild game such as black bear, moose, snowshoe hare (rabbits) and partridges, Canada goose, ducks, plover marsh birds and the now extinct passenger pigeon. They also fished for salt water cod, salmon, shad, stripped bass, eel, smelt and a variety of shell fish.
Following the expulsion of the Acadians, those who escaped the deportation and those who returned and resettled mostly along the coastal areas, found themselves in a completely different environment that they had been accustomed… isolated culturally, the Acadians had to respond to new and different circumstances, forcing them to make the most of what they had. Unlike their forebears who had continued agrarian traditions brought from France, the resettled Acadians living by the sea, lost their agricultural and culinary traditions and put new ones in their place. By necessity, they learned to tap the rich resources of the sea. Over time, the struggle to put food on the table developed into a unique culinary tradition and imaginative response to the land and the sea.
Unlike the staples of the Acadian diet, the gaspereau and shad which served as important secondary sources of protein, required less cooking but higher temperatures. Hence, fish were usually fried in oil… probably bear oil (much to the chagrin of French travelers) because butter was practically unknown in Acadia.
On the whole, Acadian cooking was uncomplicated, keeping the number of ingredients to a minimum and the method of preparation simple. In fact, many dishes were a one-pot meal, such as FRICOTS and CHOWDERS. If there is one dish that could be called “typically Acadian”, it would be FRICOT, which is a soup containing potatoes and meat (usually chicken), fish and/or seafood. Although a fricot may vary from one region to another, to this day the dish will always have the same basic ingredients… meat and potatoes in a hearty broth, with dumplings called poutines or grand-pères. Fricots are rich in calories and, with fresh bread… “a meal in themselves”! Fricots and poutine rapéescontinue to be a central part of today’s Acadian cuisine, together with meat pies and paté à la rapures… followed by poutines a trous.
Ordinary meals did not usually include a dessert and the main meal was often followed by bread and molasses, or included pancakes and dumplings (called POUTINES).
The morning meal (breakfast) was usually the heartiest and was served after they had worked-up an appetite from the morning chores and would BOUDIN (blood pudding), CRETONS, GRILLADES and TOURTIERES (meat pies) as well as leftovers from the previous day’s meals. The three meals of the day were called déjeuner (breakfast), dîner (dinner) and souper (supper).
Age-old Acadian cooking techniques remained fundamentally unaltered throughout the late eighteenth century, despite radical changes in their diet. The Acadians utilized two main cooking techniques; boiling or frying in chaudrons (black cast-iron pots). Turnips and cabbages were cooked by boiling together into a “soupe de la Toussaint”, an extremely popular pre-expulsion delicacy during Winter months.
In general, cooking techniques for fish were quite simple… salted herbs, a combination of onions, chives and green onions cut into 1/2 inch cubes and layered with coarse sea salt and pepper in a glass crock, and boiled until a brine formed. The fresh fish (caught daily) were then simmered in this seasoned water and then fried.
Except for a few dishes, frying was restricted to fish and baking was restricted to bread. Whole wheat or mixed grain bread was served at major meals, according to eighteenth century observers, and loaves were inevitably consumed with molasses and locally produced maple syrup.
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