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Apr 19, 2010 09:03 AM

Ontario Recipes?

So, buoyed by the bonanza of recipes for home fermentation, homemade bitters, and a variety of other classics that have fallen by the wayside, I'm trying to see if I can find a good source for some traditional/historical Ontario recipes (beyond butter tarts and peameal bacon, although those are good too).

Can anyone suggest a good source (book, website, blog...) for traditional Ontario dishes/foods?


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  1. Off the top of my head, no, but a good source might be Toronto's Cookbook Store:

    1. My mom has The Old Ontario Cookbook

      Not sure how available it is on the market.

      1. Check out and try the Quebec Meatball Stew recipe.

        5 Replies
        1. re: LindaR

          May be good, but I grew up in Ontario (English and Irish parents) and there was never a meatball on our table. Food traditions are very different between Ontario and Quebec. To the OP: The Canadian Living cookbooks and website should help with your search, as should the Edna Ferber Coocking that Schmecks series (she was from the Kitchener area, Mennonite-tradition Ontario cook extraordinaire).

          1. re: buttertart

            The title I came across was..

            "Food That Really Schmecks" by Edna Staebler. Still available from Amazon

            1. re: Paulustrious

              Damn, I knew Ferber wasn't right and didn't Google the name or the title. It's a charming book, have had it since high school. You're in Toronto, no? The books are a nice snapshot of the Kitchener area in mid 20th C.

              1. re: buttertart

                Si, Toronto.

                Not many people realise that the name Kitchener is due to the many excellent cooks from the area.

                1. re: Paulustrious

                  Haha indeed there are but...we know better, don't we? A little thing called the Great War had a slight influence on the name. We used to go to Kitchener from London to go to the market when I was a kid.

        2. Hmm....

          Buttertarts. (Sorry)

          Early Ontario cooking was Victorian north-of-England into Scotland cooking mostly (with regional German influences, as noted), so a lot of dishes that were "traditional" in Ontario were simply those, including:

          Buttertarts. (Sorry)

          Beet and cabbage relish (with horseradish) generally served with roast beef.
          Empire cookies.
          Carrot pudding.
          Chow-chow was not as common as out east, but Indian relish, picallili, mustard pickles, etc were big. Again to go with beef.

          Beef has always been a big Ontario product - all those yellow brick farm houses you see were built in the 1860's, when Ontario farmers got rich selling beef to the British army (Crimean war.) It was generally cooked pretty plainly and I don't think there are any particularly Ontarian ways of cooking it; all the usual noEiS recipes apply.

          Pork was the other big meat. Both of these were commonly salted, smoked or otherwise preserved for the winter. So lots of ham, corned beef, bacon, etc.

          Chicken was seasonal and expensive. Chicken salad (chicken, celery, mayo) was regarded as pretty much the ultimate fancy summer party dish, no kidding.

          In general it was the old "Meat and 2 Veg" where one of the veg was guaranteed to be potatoes and the other veg was not guaranteed not to be potatoes. Although a hell of a lot - I mean a HELL of a lot - more rutabaga was eaten than nowadays too.

          Bread, baked beans, cabbage. More staples of everyday cooking for just about everybody, especially in winter.

          The only vegetables native to Ontario (not brought by European settlers) were Jerusalem artichokes, and some varieties of beans and squash. White beans I think, although I know less about them, and acorn and crookneck squashes.

          Old cookbooks, if you can find them, include The New Galt Cook Book (1898), The Canadian Home Cook Book (1877) and The Canadian Farm Cook Book (1911?).

          Looking back to when I was a kid in the 1960's, chicken was *still* seasonal and expensive, although that changed fairly rapidly - intensive raising of chickens started on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. in the 1930's and had been gathering steam ever since.

          Also every small town restaurant tended to make their own pies with seasonal fillings, and take pride in them particularly. That pretty much died out in the '70s, I'd say.

          Yes, this is a favourite topic of mine!

          16 Replies
          1. re: Ferdzy

            Buttertarts - sorry? why sorry? I chose my screen name to reflect that part of my dearly loved mom (London, Ont. born and bred) made the best butter tarts ever. This is a very good summary of the traditional food culture I was brought up in at the same time as you. Don't forget tomatoes, peaches, and corn - unmatched anywhere else we've lived.

            1. re: buttertart

              Nothing personal intended, Buttertart! Just that he was asking for "beyond buttertarts".

              Actually, now I come to think of it, "squares" of any sort, but especially date squares. Also those old cook books tend to be half cakes and cookies of various sorts, but remarkably few that are unique to Ontario.

              Wish I could make a good buttertart. I'm not the world'sgreatest pastry maker and I always tend to wimp out in the face of all that fat and sugar and try to make them more "dietetic", ha. Doesn't work. Still, it's not like I ought to be making them, or anything like that.

              1. re: Ferdzy

                Squares, great idea. Mom made those too! (the secret to the bt crust: Tenderflake lard...)

                1. re: buttertart

                  Yeah, another reason my pastry isn't great. I'm going to have to master my Fear of Lard. (Not that I would *ever* touch shortening.) I tend to make my pastry with whole wheat flour and a mixture of butter and oil. I've mastered an acceptable pastry for pies this way but it just ain't the same when it comes to things like buttertarts.

                  1. re: Ferdzy

                    Nope, you want that flaky shattery kind of pastry that practically makes you have to shove the whole thing in your mouth at once. Canadian Living has a nice BT square recipe or two, ever make those?

                    1. re: buttertart

                      No, I haven't. I'm pretty sure I've seen that recipe and considered it though. Still, I try not to do TOO much baking. I just don't need the calories, unfortunately.

                      Currently mind you, (ha, that's kind of a pun) I'm working on perfecting a recipe for Garibaldi biscuits. They were available for years in Ontario as "Sultanas". I think that's all they were called when they weren't being refered to as squashed fly cookies; you know, 5 rectangular thin little biscuits in a perforated sheet that came in a package of 4 or 5 stacks. The perfect thing to have with a cup of tea but discontinued some time in the '90's, I think. I miss them. *sniff* But again, orginally an English thing.

                      1. re: Ferdzy

                        If you get there with the recipe, please post. I love those. Did you know that they live on in Asia? there are versions from Hong Kong and Singapore available in the Asian markets here (in New York City).

                        1. re: buttertart

                          Yes, I'd seen that when I went hunting for them. I'll post them on my blog when I get them done. If you like, I'll let you know when (if) that happens.

                        2. re: Ferdzy

                          You can still get them in the UK. Crawfords make them. I've also seen them in Toronto.

              2. re: Ferdzy

                I was brought up in the 50's and 60's in Northern England and recognise those meals. We had them every day at school. Mashed swede / turnip / carrots were frequently on the menu. Meat pies were common, probably to stretch out the meagre amount of meat available. I remember the white blocks of lard and suet in the butchers displayed in the window and not hidden from sight. I suspect most shoppers today would be somewhat repulsed by large blocks of fat resting next to their boneless, skinless, seran-encased chcken muscle.

                So if Fredzy is right then try and find a copy of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. It was the Joy of Cooking, Silver Plate and aJulia Childs rolled into one for the Victorians. To survive Canadian Winters there would have been a lot of root vegetables that would keep in a clamp. Meats must have been poached and preserved in fat.

                1. re: Paulustrious

                  Except for the meats poached and preserved in fat (there was a good bit of salting and smoking done but not confit-ing that I recall, maybe it was more commonly done in Quebec), you are close to it. The population in SW Ont at the time was of about 90% UK and Irish origin, with some German, Dutch, and Italian immigrants of long standing and a good number of what were called "New Canadians", displaced people from WWII. More Hungarians came after '56. There were very few Chinese or other Asian Canadians at the time. Home and restaurant food culture was very UK-based and "fine dining"pretty much unknown outside of major cities (and there, on the UK club model, Winston's and so forth). This is not to say you couldn't eat extremely well, the foods available from butchers and farms were of extremely high quality. You just ate rather plainly (yes, lots of potatoes, turnips, cabbage, etc). The first "ethnic" restaurants (other than the smattering of Chinese places) that I remember were Hungarian - and damn good they were too, I wish there were more these days. Since the restaurant business is a relatively good way for an immigrant to start off and support a family in a new country (my Chinese teacher of very highly professional and educated background's answer when I asked her what her family would do when they emigrated from Taipei to San Francisco was "open a restaurant, of course"), it was the successive waves of immigrants who enriched the restaurant scene and gastronomy in general over the years to the point that the diversity and quality of food in Canada now seemed unimaginable even as late as the early 1970's.

                  1. re: Paulustrious

                    "TO FRY DOWN PORK. - Take fresh pork, slice and fry as for table use, pack in crocks and cover with the hot dripping; be sure it gets well around the slices in each layer, cover and weight to keep the pork well under the dripping. Have kept it for summer use for years, and find it quite as nice as if freshly cooked. Mrs W. H. Warner, Forest Rd. West, Cobourg, Ont."

                    That's a recipe from the Canadian Farm Cook Book so preserving meat in fat was certainly used at least somewhat in Ontario.

                    We also need to determine what exactly the opening poster meant by "traditional" Ontario food. I've been thinking 19th century through turn of the century, although as noted by Buttertart and myself that style of cooking lingered on until the 1960's in a lot of ways.

                    1. re: Ferdzy

                      Isn't there a Four Roses flour company cookbook that has a lot of the midcentury recipes? My mom had one (just about the only cookbook she really used).

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Five Roses, but yes. Actually, when I went looking for it I hit the jackpot. Behold:


                        See ya in a month or two.

                        1. re: Ferdzy

                          Have been in the States too long, forgot whether Four or Five! Chhers.

                  2. How about the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook? Likely available at the cookbook store...or on line somewhere!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: LoN

                      I also grew up in Toronto in the late 50's early 60's with a mother who could not cook. She died when I was a teenager and my step mother taught me how food should taste - a great start to my later life in California. I recall step mom making tapioca pudding and stuffed pork tenderloin - stuffed with a type of bread stuffing like we had in turkey. Blew me away - I still remember it. My idea in those days of really really good food was either Swiss Chalet or the local Chinese take out. I also had the Schmecks cook book - unfortunately long gone from my shelf. But I recall clearly the fabulous corn and tomatoes in the summer. The rest of the year it was mostly caned vegies - frozen ones were very gourmet.. After Mom died and before step mom my Dad and I cooked -- lots of canned cream soups poured over hamburger and "ham in a can" with frozen sweet potatoes. Oh - creme de menthe poured over vanilla ice cream - very la di da!!!