Anita Stewart talks turkey (and buttered squash, and pumpkin pie…)

When planning Canadian Thanksgiving with your family, what flavours spring to mind? Crisp apples, brined turkey and spicy pumpkin pie? For this post, we went straight to the top and asked Canadian cuisine expert Anita Stewart to share her thoughts about what will be on her family’s table for Thanksgiving.

With a passion for Canadian cuisine, Anita’s travelled by icebreaker, boat and dogsled to seek out the flavours that put Canada on the culinary map—and, fittingly, her work has recently earned her the Order of Canada (among the many other honours this food laureate already holds). Here, she chats with us about our hands-down favourite holiday, and how you can use this opportunity to teach your kids about Canada’s many flavours.

Better Together: Better Together brings parents and kids together in the kitchen. What was Thanksgiving like when you were a kid? Were there any special dishes you helped out with? 

Anita Stewart: Thanksgiving was the best of all the holidays! There wasn’t the furor that usually exists around Christmas and New Year’s Eve; the harvest was in (much of it in the fruit cellar or freezer) and the autumn colours were at their best. I usually helped with the pumpkin pie…and of course, whipping the cream. By the way, the cream was delivered with the milk in small glass bottles.

BT: We want to encourage kids to learn about different foods, how to prepare them, and enjoy them with family. As an expert and advocate for Canadian cuisine: why do you think it’s important that kids learn about Canada’s different flavours? 

AS: The best way of understanding other cultures is to eat them! We are blessed with an abundance of great ingredients from all over the world and this isn’t a new phenomenon. We can taste the world here in Canada, but we do it on our own terms with ingredients that arrived with the earliest settlers overlaid on fantastic flavours from the First Nations. 

BT: What’s on the menu when you host Thanksgiving and how do you keep it Canadian? 

AS: Honestly, I head to the farmers’ markets that dot my region of Southwestern Ontario and just shop. That’s how the menu evolves. It’s on Thanksgiving that we break into the summer’s pickles and preserves. I always bake my mother’s soft dinner rolls and there’s that same pumpkin pie. Someone else will whip the cream and lick the beaters. The chances are good that there’ll be a brined, roasted turkey, baked buttered squash, and a huge salad. There’ll be a plate of artisan cheeses for sure and some quince paste that I make every year from a quince tree that’s at least 70 or so years old. 

BT: You’re making our mouths water! OK, so what’s the most important thing for a family to keep in mind when they’re planning a Thanksgiving meal?

AS: To enjoy the process and share it with all those who partake. Making it a potluck can ease the stress if that is easier, but cooking together is almost as much fun as sitting down for the meal.

BT: Can you tell us about your family’s favourite holiday meal tradition?

AS: Christmas morning breakfast is always a sweet bread, freezer strawberry jam, mild cheeses and barely thawed summer peaches from the previous summer’s harvest. 

To get you in the mood for the weekend, Anita shared with us her mother’s recipe for pumpkin pie... and it is to die for. If you decide to go for her suggestion and use real squash in the pie, definitely enlist little ones to help you with the scooping and the mashing (it’s almost as fun as licking the beaters!). And if you love this recipe, you’ll find it and more in her collection Anita Stewart's CANADA: the Food, the Recipes, the Stories.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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