So, a cherished Canadian recipe, eh?
It took me a while to think of one, to be honest. If there is one really cherished family recipe that I have, its my father-in-law's great aunt's good chocolate cake recipe. I don't know if I will ever post that one, to be perfectly honest. I am of the firm belief that there should always be a couple of 'secret' family recipes that need to be passed down through the generations, and this one, along with Grandma Horan's butter tarts are the ones that I will be passing down. I do email the recipes on occasion, if people ask nicely :)
My in-laws were here, visiting us, and as is our wont, MIL and I were sat down with a nice cup of tea (or coffee, depending on the time of the day and MIL's mood :)) and we were chatting away about anything and everything. The conversation steered towards recipes, in particular, family recipes, and I remembered the Canadian Food Experience Challenge for this month (a little late, but that seems to be my life at the moment) I asked her what her cherished recipe would be. And this led to a quite an interesting discussion, not just on recipes, but everything that makes Canada what it is, and the uniqueness of our blended heritage. I found it a really interesting and stimulating discussion, especially as a non-Canadian (albeit a permanent resident) and an immigrant. My cherished family recipes usually come from my mother, as tends to be the case with
Canada, in particular, has been built on immigrant traditions, be it Ukrainian/ Eastern European, French, English, Caribbean, Chinese, Japanese or East Indian... and many more. If I had to look for a true 'Canadian' recipe, I would have to go back to Native traditions. So again, what should have been a simple theme, turned into another round of soul searching, and conflict, of worrying about my place in the world, and of being true to one's heritage, as opposed to blending in into a homogenous mass.
It also linked in with a post I saw about a Calgarian who saw his neighbours ritually slaughtering and roasting a goat in their backyard and got really upset about it. But he also posted about why immigrants should follow the 'culture' of the country they live in and leave any 'unsavoury' bits behind. This is how one poster put it - as he/ she says, bluntly 'When you come to Canada, there's only so much of your "culture" that we can tolerate. The rest needs to be checked at the border. Behave like a Canadian, and you'll be treated like one. Slaughter animals in your backyard ritual? Well don't be surprised when your friendly Canadian neighbor isn't too fond of having you in his neighborhood.' I wondered if this person has gone hunting that seems so important in the great Canadian tradition.
This obviously upset me, as Canada really is built on immigration and its these cultures that bring so much to the community. Suddenly its now all about emphasizing what the differences are, rather than getting along with each other. Its also ignoring some essential aspects of being Canadian and Canadian culture. How can one 'culture' be superior to another? Where is the famed Canadian tolerance? Are we really going to go the American way (generalising a bit here, I know) and live in fear of difference?
The whole story led to more soul searching for me about what really is Canadian culture... or even if there is any such thing. Obviously culture also includes food, and when it comes down to it, what really can be defined as Canadian food? I could just as easily claim that the food I cook is Canadian, just as on the flip side, my neighbour's food is not Canadian, but Ukrainian, and the ones on the other side cook English food, and the ones a few roads down cook Caribbean and Filipino. Food is just as political in this sense, as all those debates on multiculturalism and cultural homogeneity. And its a debate I keep having with myself, as I struggle to come to terms with my 'otherness' as people here see me, just as much as I see myself and my child as Canadian.
What is it like to be a Canadian after all? Are we not all Canadian, despite our heritage? Should I forever be doomed to be seen as the 'other' just because of my skin colour? Is that British family next to ours more Canadian than me?
At this point I wondered if I should even be taking part in the Canadian Food Experience Project. After all, as an immigrant, for a lot of people it seems like the 'otherness' will always be there. Whether it is manifested in cooking Indian food, and writing a website that concentrates on my heritage, a niche, if you will, or the rest of my life, which is as solidly Canadian as you can get. I don't celebrate Indian festivals, I don't dress Indian, I rarely speak my native languages, I have all but lost touch with my roots. I am not even considering bringing my child up to be in touch with her mother's side of the world (this is a whole other debate in itself) The only thing about me that is even remotely Indian in any way is my skin colour and this website. Its my way of keeping my memories alive. But then I am told/ bombarded with messaged about how I should be more integrated into Canadian culture... a culture that has evolved by assimilating other cultures in itself. The assumption that I am different is killing me. My place in this country is hardly assured. It is easy to get caught up in my own difference, and these conflicting pieces of news/ media/ opinions were not helping.
But then I realised something else. That for every person that assumes a difference, there is another one who accepts. My wonderful family, for one. They have been Canadian for many generations, going as far back as the second voyage of the Mayflower and the subsequent exodus to Canada. And to them, I am just me. Not an immigrant, not an Indian/ British person, not brown (or blue or green or yellow) just... me. And my friends here. And the people I work with, who come to me to learn about Indian cooking. My blogging community. Its no surprise that some of my popular posts are on Indian dishes. For every person who sees me as an interloper, there are hundreds, thousands others who accept me for who I am, who respect my diverse life experiences, and more importantly, love me. This is what keeps me going, and this is why I will continue to blog about my Canadian Food Experience Project.
After all that angst, though, the more practical, unsentimental food blogger/ sous chef side of me realised that all this drama wasn't going to get my post done on time. And in the end it was kinda easy to find my cherished Canadian recipe, seeing as I had already posted it anyway. I just had to rewrite it a little.
This recipe is my favourite for many reasons. Not just because these muffins are just out of this world good (hello... bacon??) but also because I love their quirky back story. My MIL gave me this recipe for cheese and bacon breakfast muffins quite a number of years ago. And she called them Thomas Crosby muffins. Both MIL and I figured that this has to be our Canadian recipe, not least because of its unique heritage, but also the copious amount of good old Canadian cheddar that goes into it.
Thomas Crosby was a missionary who worked primarily among the native Americans in the BC area of Canada. Legend has it he used to go by boat to the various hamlets, converting people and preaching to them. His big success was the conversion of the Tsimshian chief. The United Church, to which my in-laws belong, had a missionary boat that used to traverse up and down the coast. There were several of these boats, and the last one was the Thomas Crosby V. A lot of these small communities didn't have a resident minister and one of the tasks of the minister on board the missionary ships was to go into these villages and perform all the rituals associated with the religion. Officiate at a bunch of marriages, for example, christen a whole lot of babies, preach, help out with disputes, and then head on to the next place. One of our friends was a preacher, who still does similar work, except that he's bowed down to modern life and now flies in to the villages.
For a lot of people on the coast, including lighthouse communities, this boat was a lifeline and it was not just a religious boat, but also a source of information about what was going on in the mainland. It brought in supplies and provided communities with sustenance and also little luxuries. Simply put, it was their connection with the world.
So what does all this have to do with muffins, you ask! Nothing, really, its a quaint story :-) The reason my MIL calls these Thomas Crosby muffins is that when she went on the Thomas Crosby V Missionary Boat as a tourist, the lady that cooks for the boat had made these muffins as a welcome to their guests. MIL loved these and wanted to make them herself, so she persuaded the cook to hand over the recipe. And so a family favourite was born (er, baked!) and is handed down to this generation... story, angst and differences, all buried under tender, buttery, cheesy, bacony, muffiny goodness.
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 + ½ teaspoons baking soda (bicarb of soda)
1 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons margarine or soft butter
¾ cup rolled oats (normal oats)
1 cup grated (Canadian, if available) cheddar cheese
4 slices crispy bacon, crumbled (optional)
1 beaten egg
Preheat oven to 400 F (205 C)
Whisk in the 1 teaspoon baking soda into the buttermilk and set aside.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, salt and sugar. Rub in the soft butter/ margarine, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Stir in the oats, cheese and bacon and mix well.
Stir the beaten egg into the buttermilk mixture, then gently fold the liquid into the flour mixture.
Drop heaped tablespoons of the mixture into a lined muffin tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 - 20, until well risen and lightly golden.
Serve warm with butter. Makes about 12 – 15 based the size of your muffin tray.