It’s quieter. It’s earlier. And it’s locally grown. (Sort of.)
Canada’s Thanksgiving, which takes place on Monday, is little known in the United States, although turkey, stuffing and televised football also dominate the day there. But the holiday’s northern version has its own origins and regional dishes.
Some Canadians argue that their Thanksgiving honors the fateful 1578 voyage of the English explorer Martin Frobisher, who was seeking a Northwest Passage to the Pacific. Separated from his fleet in a July storm, Frobisher and his crew abandoned hope, only to be reunited weeks later north of Labrador. They held a service to give thanks, and tucked into the standard fare on 16th-century English ships: salt beef, ship biscuits and peas, according to Dorothy Duncan, author of the cookbook “Nothing More Comforting: Canada’s Heritage Food.”
Nova Scotia appears to have taken the idea of a harvest festival from the pre-revolutionary American Colonies during the 1750s. Loyalists who went north after the American Revolution also brought the celebration with them.
In 1859, the colony of Canada proclaimed its first day of thanksgiving. Parliament passed legislation in 1957 making Thanksgiving Day an annual holiday, celebrated on the second Monday of October.
Below are examples of dishes from each of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories. For Thanksgiving recipes from across the United States, look here.
British Columbia: Roasted Heirloom Squash with Mushrooms and Montaña Cheese Fonduta Filling
Autumn brings glorious sunny days and bursts of rain to British Columbia, setting off an eruption of mushrooms along the coast: pine or matsutake, lobster, porcini, cauliflower mushrooms and delicate golden fungi known as hen of the woods.
In Vancouver, a city known for its farmers’ markets, Andrea Carlson, the chef and owner of Burdock & Co., takes members of her staff on mushroom-foraging parties for Thanksgiving weekend. This recipe incorporates their trove into a supremely autumnal dish. The earthy flavor and texture of the mushrooms, roasted in an heirloom squash, are balanced by a sauce made from aged sheep’s milk cheese (she buys Montaña from the nearby Salt Spring Island Cheese Company). Choose an heirloom squash like kabocha that can feed everyone at your Thanksgiving table.
Saskatchewan: Red Lentil Soup
Over the last few decades, the prairies of Saskatchewan have undergone a major agricultural transformation. Once known primarily for wheat and canola crops, Canada now grows 65 percent of the world’s lentils, mainly in Saskatchewan, and helps to satisfy India’s insatiable demand.
CJ Katz, author of the cookbook “Taste: Seasonal Dishes from a Prairie Table” and the host of “Wheatland Cafe,” a Saskatchewan cooking show, uses lentils in soups and veggie burgers as ground flour in a gluten-free chocolate cake. Her red lentil soup, packed with protein and warming on cold prairie nights, celebrates the province’s harvest. “Lentils stick to your gut,” she said, “but you can begin the Thanksgiving meal with it and won’t feel too full.”
Alberta: Thanksgiving Pirogi
This year is the 125th anniversary of the first Ukrainian immigration to Canada. In the prairie province of Alberta, one of Canada’s breadbaskets, more than 345,000 people can trace their roots to Ukraine. Their ancestors brought the Ukrainian language, culture and, of course, cuisine to Canada. Julie Van Rosendaal, a cookbook author based in Calgary, married into a Ukrainian family. She learned to make pirogi from a friend whose grandmother churned out heaps of them for church suppers and fund-raisers.
Pirogi are traditionally stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese or caramelized onions. After the main Thanksgiving meal, Ms. Van Rosendaal enjoys rounding up her guests after the meal to make pirogi from leftovers, using shredded roast turkey, brussels sprouts and potatoes for filling, and dousing them with gravy. “I like the idea that when people make Thanksgiving dinner, they gather around, elbow-to-elbow, sort of the same as an assembly line of pirogi,” she said.
Yukon Territory: Pumpkin Custard With Drunken Cranberries
Not long after the cookbook writer Michele Genest first arrived in the Yukon Territory from downtown Toronto 22 years ago, she discovered a favorite fall ritual of indigenous peoples as well as relative newcomers in this cold land of mountains and forests: foraging for lowbush cranberries. Small, shiny, tart and sweet, they carpet the forest floor in a good year, but “you have to wait until after the first frost to get them at their juiciest,” she said.
Known as lingonberries in Sweden and as partridgeberries in Newfoundland, lowbush cranberries have been foraged by indigenous peoples in the Yukon for thousands of years, as well as by European explorers and Gold Rush stampeders who learned that wild berries kept scurvy at bay. Today, many residents of the Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, use the berry in sauces, chutney and desserts for Thanksgiving. Ms. Genest, author of “The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking,” drizzles the results of this recipe for drunken cranberries over pumpkin custard, and she recommends using the leftover mixture for a cocktail.
Northwest Territories: Boreal Cranberry Wild Rice and Birch Syrup Pilaf
Vast forests surround Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, which lies about 250 miles from the Arctic Circle. Residents begin to tap birch sap in the spring, after the winter snows melt and the gushing liquid is clear and sweet. Traditionally consumed as a refreshing tonic or boiled over an open fire by the indigenous Dene people, the syrup, locals say, is darker and stronger than that of maple, perfect as a meat glaze or drizzled over ice cream.
Richard Mcintosh, a Yellowknife municipal employee, and his partner, Christine Wenman, made this recipe as a side dish for 160 people, as part of their entry into the World Shore Lunch Championships, an annual festival celebrating the whitefish that come from the Great Slave Lake nearby. Mr. McIntosh says the fall recipe, topped with wild cranberries, is meant to honor the boreal forest’s autumn harvest. “Thanksgiving provides that extra day to go cranberry picking,” he said. If you can’t forage your own cranberries, store-bought varieties are a fine substitute.
Manitoba: Smoked Turkey Broth with Parsnip and Rutabaga Purée, Parsnip Marmalade and Chestnut Snow
The chef Gordon Bailey moved back to his hometown, Winnipeg, last year after spending nearly two decades on Prince Edward Island, where he was known for one of Canada’s top restaurants.
Since returning, he has been cooking up multicourse meals at a series of pop-up dinners celebrating the history and mythology of Canada, including a feast inspired by the country’s 20th-century “Group of Seven” landscape painters. That was where he served this recipe, an autumnal bonanza made with locally grown root vegetables that Mike Green, editor of the Winnipeg food website Peg City Grub, describes as “the full realization of Thanksgiving in your mouth.”
Ontario: Butter Tarts
There are a number of contenders for the title of all-Canadian baked good, and the multicolored Nanaimo bar has many promoters. When it comes to Ontario, however, there’s a clear champion: the butter tart, a treat commonly served at big holidays.
“Everyone who grew up in Ontario, as I did, takes butter tarts for granted,” wroteNaomi Duguid, a cookbook author who has traveled the globe documenting Persian and Burmese recipes. “Only when we travel further afield do we discover they’re a regional specialty.”
While they certainly contain butter, butter tarts are closer to a pecan pie without the nuts. What distinguishes them from desserts like the sugar pie of Quebec are the size and the addition, traditionally, of raisins or currants to the filling. The inside of the tart is either runny, making for messy eating, or firm, depending on the baker’s preference.
Prince Edward Island: Potato Bacon Cheddar Tart
As anyone who has heard “Bud The Spud” by Stompin’ Tom Connors knows, the “best doggone potatoes that’s ever been growed” come from Prince Edward Island.
At most homes in Canada during Thanksgiving, potatoes end up mashed or scalloped. But Michael Smith, who owns The Inn at Bay Fortune on the island, and who has written cookbooks and hosted television cooking shows,suggested combining potatoes with two other foodsassociated with Canada, bacon and Cheddar cheese, as well as some Atlantic Canada cooking traditions.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Fisherman’s Breakfast
For many in Newfoundland, Thanksgiving is the day for the seafaring province’s traditional Jiggs dinner. Roast pork sometimes substitutes for turkey, but most of the meal is boiled, and it includes salt cod and an array of vegetables. Also tossed in the pot is duff, a British-style boiled pudding.
Zita Cobb, a philanthropist from Fogo Island, proposes starting the day with a traditional Newfoundland fisherman’s breakfast — a thick slice of bread, seasonal partridgeberry preserves and flakes of salt cod — but her version is served with molasses tea buns.
Quebec: Brome Lake Duck Maple Tourtière
Of all the provinces, Quebec is the one where Thanksgiving is celebrated the least, and where the holiday is known as L’Action de grâce to the French-speaking majority. The big annual feast among Francophones in the province is the Réveillon, a dinner that starts on Christmas Eve and extends into the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Among the many traditional dishes served is a tourtière, or meat pie. Two other elements of traditional Quebec cuisine are duck from the Lac Brome, just north of Vermont, and maple syrup, much of which comes from the same region. The Brome Lake Duck Maple Tourtière combines all three traditional items in this autumn dish.
New Brunswick: Cranberry Pie
The French-speaking portions of New Brunswick share many recipes with Quebec. But the province is also one of Canada’s centers for cranberries. Many of the berries end up, of course, as a sweet sauce to accompany turkey.
But Cranberry Pie allows the berries to make a second appearance at the Thanksgiving table, in a dessert. As the recipe from the provincial government notes, a top crust made of woven strips of pastry is a traditional touch of the Acadians, as French speakers in Atlantic Canada are known.
Nova Scotia: Molasses Gingerbread
By the 19th century, trade patterns between Nova Scotia, the Caribbean and Britain made molasses a staple of cooking in the Canadian province. Nova Scotia’s provincial archive has gone through traditional recipes, converted them to modern measurements and tested them to make sure they work with contemporary ingredients. They include a recipe for molasses gingerbread from the family papers of Jacob Miller, a German-born Loyalist who left New England after the American Revolution. The archivists fortunately determined that baking soda could replace its precursor, a leavening agent called saleratus. While the recipe makes no specific mention of Thanksgiving, the dessert seems appropriate for the season.
Nunavut: Country Food
Even if cold weather is moving in quickly, Thanksgiving is still celebrated in Nunavut. The astoundingly high cost of bringing in food from southern Canada by air, or by barge in the summer, is a major economic and health issue in the north. As a result, the Inuit, the indigenous people of the north, rely as much as possible on what they call “country food,” the products of fishing and hunting.
The Inuit Cultural Online Resource, a site intended primarily for schoolchildren, has recipes for several country food dishes that could be included in a Canadian Thanksgiving. Southerners might have trouble sourcing one crucial ingredient, however: caribou. The website also includes a recipe for bannock, a quick bread that is a staple for many indigenous Canadians.