Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The American Feast in Canada

Jill’s preparations for the American Feast in Canada on March 18th are characterized by a relaxed, smoke-free morning, a search for appropriate wine (always an admirable goal) and a ticking clock. She writes:

I begin the day of the American feast at a leisurely pace. After all, my guests aren't arriving until 6 p.m., so I have lots of time to prepare the remaining dishes.

I spend the morning rolling out and chilling a rich, buttery pastry and baking sweet potatoes for the pie. By noon, the house is filled with the candied aroma of the roasting potatoes.

In honour of the day, I decide to pop out to the coffee shop to pick up a butter tart for lunch. Unfortunately, with its cakey crust and meagre filling, my Canadian tart doesn't compare to your American-made rendition.

Back home, the preparations continue. I brown the chicken, and prepare a fragrant sauce of tomatoes, red bell peppers, wine, curry, onions, garlic and currants, with a dollop of mango chutney, for the Country Captain. Heeding Waldorf salad creator Oscar Tschirky's instructions to dress the salad with a "good mayonnaise", I whip up a batch. No problems so far: the mayonnaise stays together and there's no smoking oven at my end. The sweet potato pie comes out perfectly, and all appears to be going smoothly when you call to report on the unfolding Canadian feast.

But as the clock ticks toward 6, I begin to worry. The table isn't quite ready and I've forgotten that the Boston brown bread needs to steam for a full two full hours. Where has the time gone? I blame it on my last-minute late afternoon trip to the wine store for a final attempt to find a bottle of wine from the eastern U.S. While I'm rewarded for my efforts with a bottle of Finger Lakes Riesling from New York, it's cut into my prep time. I have to laugh, though, at the thought of running late for a meal that's been nearly two months in preparation. A quick call to my guests delays their arrival for a half hour.

As I'm putting the final touches to my red, white and blue table, my dining companions arrive promptly at 6:30 - so promptly I suspect they've been waiting outside since 6. Fitting for our tour of American east coast specialties, most of my guests have roots in Canada's Atlantic provinces. They come bearing bottles of California wine to add a west coast touch to the meal. We enjoy a glass of the New York Riesling, then move on to begin sampling the dishes.

New England Clam Chowder served with Boston Brown Bread is our first course. Overnight, the chowder has thickened and the flavours combined, while the clams and potatoes have remained tender. I serve it sprinkled with chives and salty pork cracklings. There's approval all-round, and most of the table dips into the pot for a second helping. The bread, fresh from steaming, is warm and moist. My guests also think it tastes similar to a bran muffin, and one picks up the taste and texture of the cornmeal, suggesting that it is like a molasses-spiked cornbread.

Next is the Country Captain, served with rice. Almonds and coconut provide a crunchy topping for the sweet and savoury dish, perfumed with curry spices and chutney. No wonder those "country captains" - and Cecily Brownstone - liked this dish so much.

Waldorf salad is a pretty green and red, from a combination of Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples. Together with the celery, they produce a sweet-tart, crunchy and refreshing dish. Several Waldorf salad-savvy guests inquire about the absence of walnuts, but I've chosen to go with the original walnut-free recipe.

Sweet Potato Pie is the hit of the evening. It's reminiscent of pumpkin pie, but lighter and fresher-tasting. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves complement the sweetness of the maple syrup and the potatoes. No marshmallows for this pie, just a little vanilla-scented whipped cream to add to the decadence. It may replace pumpkin pie on my next Thanksgiving menu.

With that, our culinary tour of the eastern United States is complete. We've sampled dishes with links to the soup cauldrons of France, the Puritans of early New England, the heyday of an elegant New York City hotel, colonial India, and the traditions of African cuisine. I say goodnight to my guests and savour a final bite of sweet potato pie before heading off to sleep...behind schedule, of course!

The American-Canadian Cooking Project comes to a close, but not without a final tête-à-tête to compare notes on what we learned. Keep watching.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

What another feast! I love the chowder and the salad! My kudos to you and Jill for this huge culinary effort. Nicely done!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I've really enjoyed reading about how you and Jill have explored the culinary traditions of each other's country. And to see the final feasts laid out...well, it makes me wish I'd been invited to dinner -- at both tables! Thank you for sharing this collaboration with us.

Patricia Scarpin said...

T.W., the table is so beautifully set. The food sounds delicious. Pefection.

Bradley said...

Looks fantastic! Two two of you really pulled of something interesting and tasty looking. Sweet potato pie is quite good as well!

Thanks for the hard work!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Veron - I remember having Waldorf salad growing up, and would like to try it again.

Lydia - I have a feeling you would make an excellent dinner guest!

Patricia - Jill has quite a flair, doesn't she?

Bradley -- I was wishing I could have headed to Canada for that sweet potato pie!