Canadian traditional Christmas dinner menu – a journey through time.
The evolution of Canadian Christmas dinners reflects the nation’s rich cultural tapestry, blending indigenous traditions with European influences. From humble pioneer beginnings to modern feasts, the Canadian Christmas dinner menu has evolved significantly. In this article, we will trace this culinary journey, exploring the dishes that have graced Canadian tables over the years.
Inspired by the Great Britain
Canadian Christmas dinner menu is heavily inspired by the Great Britain. You cannot imagine it without oven-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables and fruit cake or apple pie for dessert. The meals are often particularly rich and substantial – food worth celebrating.
Christmas dinner can take place any time from the evening of Christmas Eve to the evening of Christmas Day itself.
“For many of the islanders, this anniversary is memorable (apart from all religious significance) because it evokes a great slaughter of turkeys, geese and all kinds of game, a wholesale massacre of fat oxen, pigs and sheep; they envisage garlands of black puddings, sausages and saveloys . . . mountains of plum-puddings and oven-full of mince-pies… On that day no one in England may go hungry …. This is a family gathering, and on every table the same menu is prepared. A joint of beef, a turkey or goose, which is usually the pièce de résistance, accompanied by a ham, sausages and game; then follow the inevitable plum-pudding and the famous mince pies.” ~ Alfred Suzanne (“English and American Cookery”)
Pioneer Era (17th – 19th Century)
In the pioneer days, the diet depended on local produce and was generally nourishing but monotonous. When the family and friends sat down to their Christmas feast, the menu would include bread, butter, cakes, boiled fowl, pork, mashed potatoes, cream and sugar, cheese, stewed red currant, a pork pie, a mince pie, as well as home-cured ham, applesauce made from their own orchard, and plum pudding that had been liberally doused with brandy and set afire.
During the pioneer era, Canadian Christmas dinners were simple affairs, influenced by the limited resources and harsh winters. Common staples included:
- Roast Venison or Wild Game: Hunters would provide the main course, often roasting venison, moose, or other wild game they could find in the surrounding forests.
- Root Vegetables: Potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables were abundant and formed a substantial part of the meal.
- Puddings and Porridge: Dishes like hasty pudding and porridge made from locally available grains were common desserts.
- Fruit Preserves: Preserving fruits and berries was a way to enjoy a taste of summer during the long winter months.
The Victorian Era (19th – early 20th Century)
Preparing food for the Christmas season took months in making. It began in harvest time when the best root vegetables were set aside. By late October the housewife would already be busy making cakes, puddings, and crocks of minced meat for her pies and tarts. Christmas baking began in the weeks leading up to the great feast.
As Canada entered the Victorian era, culinary influences from Britain became more pronounced, leading to a shift in Christmas dinner traditions:
- Roast Goose or Duck: These rich, flavorful birds became popular alternatives to game meats.
- Plum Pudding: A dense, boozy pudding filled with dried fruits, spices, and suet, often doused in flaming brandy for a dramatic presentation.
- Mince Pies: Sweet pies filled with a mixture of dried fruits, spices, and suet, reflecting British influence.
- Roast Beef: A nod to the British tradition of enjoying a hearty roast, especially during festive occasions.
Mid-20th Century to Present
As Canada became more diverse, so did its culinary traditions. The Christmas dinner menu expanded to include a wider range of dishes, reflecting the multicultural tapestry of the nation:
- Roast Turkey: By the mid-20th century, roast turkey became the centerpiece of Canadian Christmas dinners, influenced by American and British holiday traditions.
- Tourtière: A savory meat pie, especially popular in French-Canadian households, made from a mixture of seasoned meats.
- Butter Tarts: These sweet, gooey pastries became a beloved Canadian holiday treat, showcasing the nation’s sweet tooth.
- Vegetarian and Vegan Options: With the rise of dietary preferences and ethical considerations, options like stuffed acorn squash, lentil loafs, and plant-based roasts have gained popularity.
Turkeys on Christmas Day in Canada
The tradition of turkey at Christmas also came to Canada from England in the 17-18th centuries. However, back then, turkeys were so abundant in the wild in North America that they were eaten throughout the year and were not considered appropriate food for celebrations.
Pork ribs were at the Christmas tables outside of the Thanksgiving-New Year season. Only well-off people could afford it. For the same reason, among the working classes in England it became common to serve goose, which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. But time has changed: in the United Kingdom in 2009, 7,734,000 turkeys were consumed on Christmas Day (the UK population was about 65 millions)
“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Eded out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet everyone had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows.” – Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”)
While specific historical records on turkey consumption in Canada on Christmas Day may be hard to come by, it’s estimated that millions of turkeys are consumed during the holiday season across the country each year. Turkey has become a symbol of Christmas feasting in Canada, and it’s not uncommon for families to gather around a beautifully roasted bird during their holiday celebrations.