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magazine / jf02

January/February 2002 issue

Canadian food firsts

Harvest of Goodwill (Feature) | Canadian food firsts | Just the beer facts
Food nutrition lables get a facelift | Securing a meal | Archives
The ABCs of healthy eating | Comfort food | Dining al fresco | A taste of Paris

Canadians enjoy food, and we’ve cooked up a number of unique delectables and growing and processing techniques that are all our own. Although the origins of some of these inventions are debatable, here is a sampling of our culinary claims to fame dating back more than 100 years.

McIntosh apple
Apples are Canada’s most important fruit crop, and the McIntosh variety is a Canadian original. French settlers brought apples to Port Royal, N.S., as early as 1606 and from there, apple cultivation spread inland. In 1811, John McIntosh, who immigrated to Canada in 1796, discovered an abandoned stand of apple trees near present-day Dundela, Ont. He transplanted some of the trees to his own land, and one in particular produced superior fruit — this was the birth of the McIntosh apple. In 1835 his son, Allan, learned the technique of grafting, moving the family’s apple production to a grand scale. That first McIntosh tree lived until 1910, and bore fruit for more than 90 years.


Electric cooking range
An electrical engineer and businessman, Thomas Ahearn of Ottawa reputedly invented the electric cooking range in 1882, which was installed in the Windsor Hotel.

Ginger ale
Although ginger ale is also claimed to be an Irish invention, many recognize this tasty beverage as a Canadian creation by John McLaughlin, a chemist and pharmacist. Having established a soda water bottling plant in Toronto in 1890, McLaughlin began developing flavour extracts to add to the water in 1904. That year, he introduced "Pale Dry Ginger Ale," the bubbly libation that would be patented in 1907 as "Canada Dry Ginger Ale." An instant success, Canada Dry products were accepted by appointment to the Royal Household of the governor general, and although the company has changed hands a number of times, today the products are sold around the world.

Marquis wheat
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the development of the Prairies was limited by its short growing season. In 1875, the introduction of a hardy wheat variety called Red Fife improved farmers’ prospects in the difficult climate, but it was often damaged by frosts. It wasn’t until Sir Charles Saunders developed Marquis wheat that the western farmlands were on their way to becoming the "Wheatbasket of the world." Saunders carefully developed Marquis wheat by selecting the best heads from a cross of Red Fife and an Indian variety called Hard Red Calcutta. The resulting strain produced high yields and matured earlier than Red Fife, making it more likely that the crop could be harvested before the frosts of fall touched the fields. Introduced to farmers in 1909, by 1920 Marquis accounted for 90 percent of Western Canadian wheat. When Saunders passed away, one newspaper wrote that "he had contributed more to the wealth of his country than any other man."

Chocolate bar
Although chocolate has been around for a long time, a Canadian, family-owned chocolate factory, Ganong Brothers Ltd., is credited with introducing the five-cent chocolate nut bar in 1910. Legend has it that Arthur Ganong and factory supervisor George Ensor were inspired to create the bar as a convenient snack for fishermen, as the company factory in St. Stephen, N.B., was near popular fishing grounds where the St. Croix River enters Passamaquoddy Bay. The Ganong company remains successful today, and is still located in the same town.

Processed cheese
When J.L. Kraft was a young man growing up on a dairy farm in Stevensville, Ont., he was annoyed at seeing the wastefulness that came of selling cheese. Stores tended to have big wheels of cheddar sitting out, and each day the shopkeeper would scrape off the dried-out surfaces and throw them away — along with profits and the cheese’s quality. In 1903, Kraft moved to Chicago to enter the wholesale cheese business. He was driven to improve cheese’s marketability and modify it to keep better, cook better, minimize waste and be sold in convenient sizes. Experimenting with different formulas using a double-boiler and a copper kettle, Kraft’s efforts resulted in success with his 1916 patent for what would become known as processed cheese. Buying a Montréal cheese factory, Kraft entered the Canadian market in 1920. His cheese and expanded line of products quickly made Kraft a household name.

Frozen food
It’s probably no surprise that the first frozen food should be fish, and that this innovation should happen on Canada’s East Coast where the fishery has been an important industry for centuries. But the history of frozen food is a bit more complicated than that. In 1926, the Biological Board of Canada (later the Fisheries Research Board) in Halifax decided to investigate the market potential for high quality frozen fish. Archibald Huntsman, a marine scientist on the board, developed "Ice Fillets" within two years. The board introduced the fillets in Toronto in 1929, the first time that packaged, quick-frozen food was sold to the public. Despite the high price, the frozen fish was an instant success. However, much to Hunstman’s disappointment, the fishing industry and private companies lost interest and the project was scrapped in 1931. Despite the Canadian debut in 1929, an American, Colonel Clarence Birdseye, claimed credit for starting the frozen-food industry in 1930. He had been developing frozen foods independently at the same time, but his products did not enter the market until March 6, 1930.

In 1930, three doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children developed Pablum, the vitamin-enriched and pre-cooked baby cereal that saved thousands of children from death and disease. Doctors Alan Brown, Theodore Drake and Fred Tisdall created the cereal from a mixture of wheatmeal, oatmeal, cornmeal, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, bone meal and alfalfa. And besides providing children with a nutritious food, royalties from the product were used to fund research on hip dislocations, scoliosis and "blue baby" heart defects.

Everyone agrees that the fatty, gravy-laden treat called poutine was created in Quebec, but lots of people claim to have been the inventor. However, many accept that the first order of the french-fry-and-cheese-curd concoction was served up by restaurant owner Fernand Lachance in 1957. These days, poutine can be found in a variety of fast-food joints across the country.

Instant mashed potatoes
Research scientist Edward Asselbergs put a new spin on our biggest vegetable crop, the potato, when he invented instant mashed potato flakes in 1962. Asselbergs created the dehydrated flakes while working for the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa. The powdered food technique he developed was applied widely to fortify foods with protein in nutrient-deficient countries and to create convenient foods that could be used by campers or in military field rations.

Developed over several decades by Canadian plant breeders, canola is a genetic variation of rapeseed, an important vegetable oil crop grown in Asia for almost 4,000 years. After the Second World War, however, associations between the high levels of erucic acid plus glucosinates in rapeseed and certain health problems were discovered. Recognizing this, the federal government’s Health and Welfare Department encouraged the production of varieties of rapeseed with reduced erucic acid and glucosinate levels. In 1974, Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba bred the first "double-low" variety, called Tower, that met these goals. It would go on to become the crop we know as "canola." Because canola is considered to be a relatively healthy oil, its growing use in cooking and in processed foods is making it an increasingly important Canadian crop.


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