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Wordsleuth (2004, vol. 1, 2): Canadian English: A Real Mouthful

Katherine Barber
(Language Update, Volume 1, Number 2, 2004, page 26)

This article was first published in the Spring 2004 edition of Tabaret, the magazine of the University of Ottawa. It is reproduced with permission of the editor, Linda Scales.

Cape Breton pork pies contain no pork, bumbleberry pie contains no bumbleberries, CPR strawberries are not strawberries: are Canadians hopelessly confused when it comes to naming items of food?

Canadians will probably be surprised to know how many uniquely Canadian names for food there are. Nanaimo bar and Montréal smoked meat and Winnipeg goldeye are easily identifiable as Canadian, but did you know that asking for Boston bluefish in an American grocery store (even in Boston) would cause confusion? Of course, Americans call back bacon "Canadian bacon," so perhaps this is our way of returning the compliment.

Many food terms in Canadian English have borrowed from other languages. No slouches at appreciating another culture’s mouth-watering delicacies, we borrow the word along with the food itself. So from French we have tourtière and poutine (some might admittedly dispute that this concoction of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy is a "delicacy"), panzerotto from Italian, holubtsi (cabbage rolls) from Ukrainian, pemmican from Cree, and perogy from Polish.

But some wonderfully evocative words have also been created out of the existing English word stock. In Nova Scotia, a blueberry grunt is a hearty dessert of berries topped with a dense cake-like dough. A Newfoundland delicacy is flipper pie, which is indeed made with flippers—seal flippers that is.

Newfoundland, in fact, is a whole culinary adventure unto itself. Bangbelly is a dense pudding or cake made of cooked rice, flour, molasses, raisins, salt pork, and spices. Fish and brewis is a classic Newfoundland meal made with salt cod soaked with hardtack and served with molasses and salt pork. Newfoundlanders’ fondness for molasses is reflected in their name for it: lassy.

And if you’re still wondering about those apparently misnamed dishes: Cape Breton pork pies are date-filled tarts with a rich pastry, often topped with icing; bumbleberry pie contains a mixture of fruits, usually blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, sometimes also apples and rhubarb; CPR strawberries is a jocular term formerly used in remote areas for prunes or dried apples.