Eating Well: Montreal and Quebec - #105

BURT WOLF: Quebec is the oldest of Canada's provinces and home ground to two of the world's great towns, Montreal and Quebec City. Its the place to take a look at the only spot in North America declared a World Heritage Treasure. To find out why the French Army never lets its cooks go into battle. To discover the reason that trees turn color in the fall and what those trees can teach us about the relationship of food to good health. We'll get the recipe for the traditional sugar pie and find out how yogurt got its reputation as a health food. Join me, Burt Wolf, Eating Well in Montreal and Quebec City.

BURT WOLF: During the middle of the 1500's, a sea captain by the name of Jacques Cartier was sent by the King of France to find a new ocean passage to India. In those days finding an ocean passage to India was very important. India was where spices came from and spices were very valuable. To bring those spices from India to Europe on the Overland Route was time consuming, dangerous and very expensive. If somebody could come up with a new ocean passage to India that would be worth big bucks. 

As Cartier sailed west, he bumped into Canada and headed into the Saint Lawrence River hoping that India was at the other end. Nice try, but not quite. He got as far as the Lachine Rapids near Montreal. Nevertheless, as a result of Cartier's explorations, Montreal and Quebec City were founded and set up as trading posts, military bases and staging areas for further explorations. Explorers who came from these settlements mapped huge parts of what eventually became the United States. When guys in New York were still looking for Brooklyn, the French scouts had already travelled down the Mississippi all the way to New Orleans. During the middle of the 1700's a war between England and France spilled over into North America. The French troops were defeated right near here outside Quebec City. The English troops were under the control of General James Wolfe, no relation, the French troops were under the direction of the Marquis de Montcalm, also no relation. Unfortunately, both men were killed during the battle.

Today in Quebec City there is a unique memorial to these two soldiers, the only statue in the world commemorating both the winner and the loser of the same battle.

At the end of the war the English insisted that the French give up something. The French had to choose between their property in Canada and their sugar islands in the Caribbean. They decided to give up their property in Canada because they assumed that nothing going on in Canada would ever be as valuable as the sugar on their sugar islands. Well at the time, it wasn't such a bad decision, because sugar was very expensive. These days however, with sugar being pennies per pound, it wasn't so great. I guess once again it proves that a sweet tooth, totally uncontrolled, leads to bad choices. The end result of all of this, however, is that for the past 250 years, Quebec has been influenced by both French and English culture.

The first colonists to arrive in Canada were not wealthy people; for the most part they were members of religious orders... farmers who were looking for a better piece of land, and orphaned girls under the protection of the King of France who were sent here to marry the settlers. Let’s face it, if you were rich and famous and having a great time in Paris, you're not moving off into a wilderness no matter how good a deal the landlord gives you. And those French Canadian cooks who first arrived here were under a lot of pressure. They had to get their kitchen work done as quickly and efficiently as possible and get onto the other essential tasks in their life. Not unlike the pressures facing today's modern cook.

The result was an honest food style that balanced the advantages of the natural ingredients of the area, the French family's love of good food and the pressures of time, budget and long winters. The cooking of the Province of Quebec became a classic regional cuisine that is perfectly tuned and retuned to meet the needs of the people.

Most of the recipes contain only a few simple ingredients which are easily assembled, cooked slowly and don't require much additional attention. Soups, stews, meat pies and desserts based on fruit. The cooks in Quebec are masters of the one-pot meal, an approach that's as valid today as when they first arrived here some 350 years ago. One of the most famous one-pot meals of Quebec is a meat pie. Traditionally it’s made in a big pan for an entire family. But Chef Michel Lanoux of Montreal's Ritz Carlton Hotel prepares the recipe as individual servings. Three bowls are set out. One with small cubes of veal, one with small cubes of chicken and one with small cubes of beef. Each of those gets seasoned with some chopped shallots and a selection of fresh herbs. Thyme, parsley, basil, chives, tarragon. If you like the flavor, mix it in. Then a layer of the beef cubes goes into a pie-form lined with pastry dough. Next a layer of cubed potatoes. Then some chicken, another layer of potatoes, and the veal and finally a top layer of dough. The dough is scored with a decorative pattern and a hole is made in the center to let out the steam that builds up during the cooking. A little eggwash and into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. When it comes out, the form comes off, and the meat pie is served with a brown sauce and some cranberries.

The first settlement built by the French explorers in North America was Quebec City. Cartier saw the area in 1535 when native Algonquins took him to a spot to show him how the river narrowed. The Algonquin word for narrowing river is Quebec. The real father of Quebec City, however, was Samuel DeChamplain who showed up in the early 1600's and immediately recognized the strategic military advantages of the neighborhood. He set up a fort to trade for fur with the natives and to do some shipbuilding. 

Quebec City's military history has given it a number of dramatic structures. The city gates and the city walls are still standing, but most sensational is the Citadel. It was built in the 1820's under direct orders from the Duke of Wellington who became famous not only for his defeat of Napoleon, but for his Beef Wellington, a tenderloin covered with chopped mushrooms wrapped in pastry and baked to perfection. The Citadel is the largest fortified base in North America still occupied by troops. It's the home of the Royal 22nd Regiment... the only completely French-speaking regiment in the Canadian Army.

The temperaments of the British and French military are very different in many ways. But none more so than when it comes to food. When they were battling it out here in Canada during the 1700's, the British felt that food was the responsibility of the individual soldier. “Scavenge about and feed yourself” was their attitude. But the French, on the other hand, assigned a skilled chef to each unit. And that chef was never allowed to go into battle. The theory was that if a military man was killed, he could easily be replaced by another military man. But if the chef was killed, then dinner was murder. And the French already knew that an army travelled on its stomach. This is the officer's mess. The word mess comes from an ancient Latin term used to describe a course or a particular dish at that course. During the 1500's, it was used in England to mean a meal eaten by a group of people, usually at midday and always with one dish of meat. In North America it came to mean a military eating area. And during the 1940's, it was regularly used to describe my mother's cooking.

The guys here in the Royal 22nd don't do badly; napkins folded in the shape of the French Fleur De Lis, elegant flatware on picture perfect placemats. Silver candelabras, the commander's chair just a little bit higher than all the rest, sitting under a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. This room reminds me that military history has a strange way of repeating itself. Once again these officers are fighting the battle of the bulge.

Today Quebec is the only fortified city in North America. Set on top of a massive headland that dominates the majestic waters of the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City is one of the most charming, romantic and beautiful cities in the Americas. In recognition of the area's extraordinary historic importance, UNESCO has declared old Quebec as a World Heritage Treasure. Its the only city in North America to have received that honor. As you walk through the streets of Quebec City, you are surrounded by beauty and history. Many of these buildings are over three hundred years old. Their copper roofs, striking steeples, everlasting stone walls and impressive wooden doors were once at the very center of the new world. Towns like Boston and Philadelphia were unimportant by comparison. This was where it was happening. The Basilica Notre Dame De Quebec has the oldest parish in North America, dating back to 1647. The building is on the edge of an area known as the city's Latin Quarter. The reason a Latin Quarter is called the Latin Quarter is because at some point in time, it was home to students who were attending a seminary, a seminary where only Latin was used in class. And to make sure that they were ready for their studies, they only spoke Latin all of the time. And that's why the place became known as the Latin Quarter.

Enjoying yourself in Quebec City is not difficult. Tourism is a major activity for the town, and its residents are tuned into the needs of travellers. Nowhere is that attention to hospitality and politeness more apparent than at the Loews Le Concorde Hotel. Its situated on a street called the Grand Allee, which is the city's main boulevard. Many of the most important historic sites surround the base of the building. On the top of Le Concorde is a revolving restaurant called L’Astral. It offers guests some of the more spectacular views of Quebec.

French culture is clearly the dominant influence in the Canadian province of Quebec, with British tradition running a close second. But Quebec has been home to massive migrations from all over the world. People have come here from Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Greece, the countries of Africa, the Islands of the Caribbean and India. Over eighty different populations have migrated to this part of the world. As a matter of fact, as a percentage of its population, Quebec has taken in and protected more people from political and economic hardship than any other area in the world.

The point was clearly made in the kitchens of the Loews Le Concorde Hotel. The pastry chef is from Tangiers, the Sous Chefs are from France, Switzerland and Martinique and the Executive Chef is from India. The result is an exchange of ideas and techniques that produce some outstanding dishes. One of the Sous Chefs, Driss Benmou is from Morocco, but he feels right at home in Quebec because he speaks the international language of dessert, and uses it to produce one of the classic sweets of the area -- sugar pie. A quarter cup of maple syrup and an ounce of butter go into a hot sauce pan and are stirred together until the mixture starts to boil. And in goes a half cup of cream, a half cup of milk, two cups of maple sugar and a half cup of flour. Those ingredients are mixed together and brought to a boil. At which point they're poured into a pie pan lined with your favorite pastry dough. A lattice of pastry dough goes on top and into a 375 degree oven for forty minutes. When the pie comes out, you let it cool to room temperature and its ready to serve.

The Executive Chef in the Loews kitchen is Nanak Chand Veg, who's from India. Today he's preparing chicken baked in yogurt sauce. 

Three cloves of minced garlic go into a bowl, plus a tablespoon of minced fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is usually sold in amounts that are larger than what you would use for a single recipe. The best way to store the remaining ginger is to peel off the outer skin, cut the ginger into small chunks, and put them into a jar of sherry wine. And into the refrigerator. That should keep the ginger fresh for about three months. 

Back to the baked chicken. Continue by adding in one tablespoon each of red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, turmeric, shallots and rosemary. A half cup of lemon juice and a pint of low-fat yogurt. All that is mixed together and transferred into a heat-proof dish. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are put into the yogurt mixture covered with foil and set to marinate overnight. Next day the dish goes into a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour. When it comes out, the chicken breasts are ready to serve over rice and vegetables with the sauce on top. 

The yogurt in that dish became popular in western cooking as the result of the work of a Frenchman named Louis Pasteur. 

Louis Pasteur was a Parisian chemist who developed the technique of vaccination. He also invented the process of Pasteurization which extends the shelf life of milk products. In the 1880's the Pasteur Institute was founded to continue his work.

In 1908, Doctor Ilya Metchnikoff won a Nobel Prize for the work that he was doing at the institute. His books and papers on longevity and avoiding the problems of premature aging led him to study various populations around the world. Eventually he came to the conclusion that the Bulgarians lived longer because they ate lots of yogurt. Metchnikoff pointed out that yogurt helped purify the large intestines and introduced substantial amounts of Vitamin B. So it was good old Ilya Metchnikoff who first described yogurt as a health food. At one point a friend of his, a Spaniard named Isaac Carasso bought some cultures from the Institute and began manufacturing yogurt commercially for the European market. When the Second World War broke out, his son took some cultures from his father moved to the United States and began manufacturing yogurt for the North America market. The kid’s name was Dan. His company -- Dannon. 

Today Chef Laneux is using yogurt to make one of his favorite desserts. An egg yolk is blended together with a quarter cup of sugar. Two cups of plain non-fat yogurt is whisked in. That mixture is heated to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about the temperature of a baby's bottle. Then in go two tablespoons of low- fat cream cheese, and some gelatin. The blend is whisked over a bowl of ice to help thicken it. Next a cup and a half of skim milk that has been whipped to a froth in a blender is added in. An inch-thick layer of the yogurt mixture goes into a mold with a disc of sponge cake on the bottom and layer of fresh fruit. A second layer of the yogurt mixture and into the refrigerator for 3 to 5 hours or overnight. When it comes out, the ring comes off and it’s decorated with slices of fresh fruit. A thin coating of warm apricot jam is painted on the fruit; that's an old technique for protecting the sliced fruit from the air, which would cause it to turn color. Dr. Metchnikoff would definitely call this a healthful recipe.

Each fall the trees of North America burst into color. A spectacular display of Mother Nature at work. And nowhere is it more beautiful than in the forest of the Canadian province of Quebec. Tourists come here from all over the world and drive along the roads, enjoying the neighborhood's autumn leaves. All summer long, the trees feed their leaves with nutrients so they can process sunlight. But as the days get shorter, the trees begin to plan for winter and they start to store their nutrients in their trunks and in their roots. The leaves stop producing a green substance called chlorophyll. As the green disappears we begin to see the other colors that were actually there all the time, but hidden by the chlorophyll. The same red pigment that colors apples begins to stand out. 

Trees have a lot to teach us about life. Many years ago a Native American guide told me that it is more important to listen and learn from the trees than from the animals. When the animals have a problem with their environment, they just pick up and move on. But trees are stuck in the same place, so they pay a lot more attention to what's going on. The autumn trees in particular have a lot to teach us about the relationship of good food and good health. First of all, the colors of different foods tell us about the nutrients in those foods. The more different colors we eat, the better off we are. And the daily intake of fruits of vegetables that are orange and yellow, appears to decrease the risk of a number of different types of cancers. Dark green leafy vegetables are also important. We should also remember that as we get older, our autumn years, our need for good nutrition is more important than ever. Our bodies don't burn calories the way we did when we were younger and so lots of people decrease the amount of calories that they eat. But those calories should be packed with vitamins and minerals. Pay more and more attention to your diet as you get older. We should also remember what we learned from the tree in terms of paying attention to your roots. For thousands and thousands of years, we ate a diet that was high in complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables and very low in fat. It's a good idea to follow that diet these days, it will give you a better shape to your trunk.

Fall is definitely the time for leaves here in Quebec, but it is also the time for apples. The early settlers arriving on the northeast coast of North America quickly realized that this was the perfect area for apple growing.

The apple is actually a member of the rose family and is often used as a symbol for fruits in general. For centuries whenever a new fruit was discovered it was called an apple until a more appropriate name was found. At different points in time, the word apple was used to describe avocados, dates, lemons, limes, oranges, pineapples, peaches and even potatoes. Here in Quebec where the official language is French, a potato is called a Pomme de Terre, which translates as “apple of the earth.” Contrary to popular belief there is no mention of the apple in the Genesis chapter of the Bible. All the Adam and Eve story says is that Adam was tempted by Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Historians believe that at some point in time, a painter had to give a more specific bit of imagery to the story and since then, the apple has taken the rap.

The images of a religion and the desire to have those images recognized in new lands around the world has been responsible for a great deal of exploration.

In 1642, a soldier by the name of Maisonneuve was hired by a French religious organization known as the Societe De Notre Dame De Paris to come to North America. He was asked to Christianize the native tribes. He arrived here in the area that eventually became Montreal with fifty-three brave and devoted souls. The place soon became a center for fur trappers, traders and explorers. At the very center of the new settlement, was the Sulpician Seminary. It's the oldest building in Montreal and it is still the residence of the Sulpician father. It's a fine example of rustic 17th Century architecture. And the clock on the roof over the main doorway is the oldest public timepiece in North America. For two hundred years the Sulpicians were the political power in the city. And for a very simple reason: they owned all the land. Down the street is the Notre Dame Basilica, an enormous structure that can seat up to four thousand people. It holds the largest bell in North America. The twelve ton, Gros Bourdon.

The towers each have a specific name; one is called Temperance, the other Perseverance.

Excellent concepts for religion and just as valuable when it comes to eating. More than any other idea, temperance is the key to proper diet. Each month the scientific community releases more information that clearly indicates that there are no good foods and there are no bad foods. There are just improper amounts. Temperance is the objective so just Persevere in that direction.

"As American as apple pie" is a common phrase, but not particularly accurate. You find apple pies in the cooking of dozens of countries around the world. What would be much more precise would be is “American as maple syrup,” a food that can only produced in the northeastern part of North America. It's not that you don't find maple trees in other countries, you certainly do. But it's not just the maple tree that produces maple syrup. It's an unusual balance of temperatures. You need very hot days and very cold nights. And that causes the maple sap to run in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile to tap a maple tree.

The variation in temperature around the freezing point acts like a heat pump and turns a maple tree into the big dripper. Only human beings and squirrels have figured out how to tap a maple tree.

Colonists learned the technique from the Native American tribes and put it to immediate use. Before maple syrup there were only three major forms of sweetener: sugar, molasses and honey. Sugar and molasses came up from the Caribbean and were very, very expensive. Honey required bee keeping and that was major piece of work. Almost every colonist, on the other hand, had access to a couple of maple trees, and that made maple syrup a freebie. And the sweetener of choice. 

Just outside of Montreal is a maple sugar production facility called La Sucrerie de la Montagne. It belongs to Pierre Foucher and his family. BURT WOLF: Pierre, what happens here?

PIERRE: Well Burt, here all the trees that surround us here are maple trees that we tap every springtime to gather the sap and make maple syrup. So in the springtime in the month of March, we'll drill a hole in the tree not deeper than two or three centimeters and we'll put the spigot in the top in like this, inside the tree. And then we do four thousand of those tappings. Two thousand five hundred tappings on my farm and one thousand four hundred tappings on my neighbor's farm across the street when he goes to Florida.

BURT WOLF: Does your neighbor know you're tapping his trees?

PIERRE: Well, he's not supposed to.


PIERRE: And then we hitch up our horses to a sleigh and on the sleigh we put it on, we wear our snowshoes and we go from tree to tree to pick this up. We'll pick around four to twelve tons of sap in one day, we'll take it to the shop over here and evaporate it with fire. It takes forty gallons of sap to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup. So that's what it all boils down to.

BURT WOLF: But the Sucrerie is more than a maple forest; it's also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Each day throughout the year, people arrive at the edge of the property, and are transported by horse-drawn wagon to the main building, a 100-year-old restored barn. 

Inside, a rustic banquet hall offers an ongoing folkloric festival. Music, singing, stories and the traditional foods of the province of Quebec. Bread that's baked in an old fashioned wood-burning oven. Pea soup, smoked ham, sausages, meat pies, homemade ketchup and pickles. Dessert crepes and lots of maple syrup. 

The architectural style of the late 17th Century Renaissance was used for the Parliament Building that seats the National Assembly of the Province of Quebec. Above the entrance are the words Je Me Souviers, which translates into English as “I remember.”

It’s a reference to the remembrance of Quebec's French heritage and the new France of the sixteen and seventeen hundreds that dominated the commercial and cultural life of North America, it's also a reminder to remember what we saw here in terms of eating well. 

Temperance and Perseverance are two keys to proper diet. There are no good or bad foods, only inappropriate amounts. The color of a food can tell you about the nutrients within. The more different colors in our diet, the better off we are. Fruits and vegetables that are orange, yellow and green are very important in terms of good health. Low-fat yogurt, easy to digest, a good source of calcium and other valuable nutrients. And remember our roots: lots of complex carbohydrates, small amount of fat.

That's eating well in Quebec City and Montreal Canada; please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that make it easier for us to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.