TORONTO - When veteran foodies Rose Murray and Elizabeth Baird invited Canadians who are passionate about food to send in their best-loved recipe, they were amazed at the variety and touched by the stories that flooded in.
But most of all, they were able to compile a cookbook that shows the distinctiveness of Canada's cuisine.
It seems there is a huge appetite for such a volume. "Canada's Favourite Recipes," published by Whitecap Books last month, quickly went into a second printing, with 15,000 in both print runs.
"I think these are recipes that people don't want to lose and that was one of our reasons for writing the book," said Murray in an interview when the two touched down in Toronto during a cross-country tour to promote the book. "They're favourites because they're good and so many people agree that they're favourites."
"We definitely want to keep them in the Canadian repertoire," added Baird from her Toronto home where the two were in the midst of making gingerbread people.
Murray, who lives in Cambridge, Ont., and Baird have been on the food scene for more than 30 years, writing cookbooks, magazine and newspaper articles, teaching and cooking. For 20 years Baird was food editor at Canadian Living magazine. The two have crisscrossed the country to learn about Canada's food and culture.
Writing the book, which took about three years, has "given us a chance to look back over some of the travels that we've had across Canada and to reflect on what we thought were interesting recipes and then the people that were associated with them," said Baird.
A range of people contributed the 160 recipes and stories.
"And so some of them are chefs, but they gave us nice home kind of recipes they cook at home like John Bishop in Vancouver, who gave us his Braised Lamb Stew with Rosemary Dumplings and something he would not serve at (his fine-dining restaurant) Bishop's in Vancouver but something he would love to make," Baird explained.
"And then we also had recipes from people who were real icons in our life like Marg Fraser or Carol Ferguson, who were really important to the development of recipes in Canadian Living and gave Rose and me a wonderful opportunity early in the '80s to be part of that," said Baird.
There are even contributions from people who are not in the food world, like Wayson Choy, author of "The Jade Peony."
"He is fond of food and I know him quite well," Murray said. "He was very anxious for his aunt's recipe to be there." Mary Low's recipe for Lettuce Wraps is a family favourite and "one of the many that Mary makes every year for Chinese New Year," Choy wrote.
What is regarded as typically Canadian food has changed over the years. Foods such as jerk chicken, pizza, souvlaki, pad Thai and hot and sour soup are just as much a part of our food culture as roast turkey with stuffing or potato salad.
It goes back to the development of Canada, "which is a colonial country with very varied immigration over the centuries. Every group that has come has brought a dish or two which has become part of our Canadian cuisine," Baird said.
"So it's part of the old home cooking plus these new additions plus an extra layer of chefs training and restaurant food which is very much a part of people's lives."
Baird said she first tasted jerk chicken in Jamaica at the hotel where she and her husband George honeymooned and then she began finding the West Indian dish in Toronto. Michael Bryne, who was then food and beverage manager of what's now Jamaica's Boscobel Beach Resort, learned to make the dish from people in his kitchen. He came to Canada one year and taught her how to make it. It's an excellent seasoning for chicken and pork.
"Now it's been here long enough people grow up and they think jerk chicken is like pizza, which is of course new as well. It's part of our panoply of Canadian dishes now," said Baird.
"It's the same thing with the Thai things and the Chinese hot and sour soup. They've really become part of what we think of as comfort food of our own," said Murray.
The sweets section includes such luscious offerings as Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake, a variety of delectable cakes and juicy pies, as well as Butter Tarts and Mocha-Hazelnut Nanaimo Bars.
"One thing Rose and I were very conscious of is Canadians are such great bakers," said Baird. "A lot of the recipes that came in when people mentioned their favourites, it was often something (like) a cookie they'd made with their grandmother or a special cake that came out on their birthday.
"So we had to make sure that we didn't overrepresent the sweet side of Canadians. We really have a sweet tooth and are excellent bakers. ...
"There are good bakers, patisseries, all that kind of stuff in Europe, but this is home baking that's got a spoonful of Grandma's love in it," she added.