Recipes of British Columbia 1979 cover

Iconic BC Foods

Once in awhile the BC Food History Network gets asked what is an iconic BC Food or what to serve if you were having a BC meal or celebrating BC day, like this one received from readers in Ontario:

“We are doing a BC day at work. We would like to do something (breakfast, baked good or lunch) that is traditional to BC. Nothing too complicated!”

So we begin to wonder.  What is “BC Food” or “traditional BC food?” Does it refer only to foods that are native to BC, naturally occurring prior to European contact and typically part of the foodways of the local indigenous people? For example, wild pacific salmon, shellfish, herring roe, seaweed, rice root lily, fern rhizomes, or wild game? Or does it refer to any foods that are grown/raised in BC including those that were introduced by settlers and have become a big part of the foodways of the province? For example any of the following foods could be considered “BC Food”:  apples and tree fruits from the Okanagan, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries grown in the Fraser Valley, cattle raised in the Chilcotin, grains from the Peace River, and Salt Spring Island lamb. Or does it refer to recipes developed in BC and associated with the province, for example Nanaimo Bars?

In her book, Speaking in Cod Tongues, Lenore Newman[i] asserts that Canadians’ love of wild food like salmon and berries makes Canadian food culture unique.  A menu of BC food therefore would have to include something wild but it could also include something from each of the other categories, e.g., recipes featuring foods that have gained prominence in the province and/or recipes that were developed here and have become well known.  Perhaps a lunch menu might include seafood chowder or casserole, salad with smoked/candied salmon, with BC fruit salad or Berry Crumble and Nanaimo Bars for dessert.

Here is a recipe for B.C. SEAFOOD CHOWDER from British Columbia Heritage Cookbook[ii]

It is described as “a lovely old recipe that was given to me by my favourite seafood shop proprietor.”

4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed.

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 medium onion, chopped

¼ c. (50 mL) carrots, thinly sliced

¼ c. (50 mL) celery, thinly sliced

1 ¼ lb. (550 g) fillet of fresh salmon, skin and boned removed, cubed

¼ lb. (125 g) fillet of fresh cod skin and bones removed, cubed

¼ lb. (125 g) fresh shrimp, peeled and cleaned

¼ lb. (125 g) fresh crab meat

4 cups (1 L) milk

1 tbsp. (15 mL) cooking sherry

1 tsp. (5 mL) dry white vermouth

1 tsp. (5 mL) fresh parsley, minced

¼ tsp. (1 mL) dry mustard

few drops of lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Put potatoes in a pot.  Add enough cold water to cover potatoes and bring water to a boil. Boil potatoes for 12 minutes until tender.  Drain potatoes and set aside.  Sauté onions, carrots and celery in butter in a large soup pot for 10 minutes until tender. Add salmon, cod, shrimp and crab meat to the vegetables, then add milk, sherry vermouth, parsley and mustard and blend in.  Add more or less milk for desired thickness.  Gently simmer for 30 minutes.  Add lemon juice and blend in.  Season with salt and pepper.

The following salmon casserole recipe has a real 1950’s flavor and was featured in the British Columbia Women’s Institutes Centennial Cook Book from 1958 [iii], with the note that “this dish was served at a Banquet in Brock Hall for a Women’s Institute Convention”.

Cover of BC Women's Institute Centennial Cook Book 1958

BC Women’s Institute Centennial Cook Book 1958


BC Dogwood provincial flower BC WI Cook Book back cover

The BC dogwood – the provincial flower – back cover of the BC Women’s Institute Cook Book

Preheat oven to 375° (moderately hot) and grease a 10-cup casserole dish.  Into a large mixing bowl turn 2 cans (approximately ½ pound each) salmon and liquid…flake fish and mash bones…add 2 cups cooked rice and combine lightly.

Next heat 2 tbsp butter and add 1 chopped large onion and 3 tbsp. chopped green pepper.

Fry until vegetables are tender.  Add to the salmon mixture and mix lightly.

Mix together 2 cans (10 ounces each) condensed cream of mushroom soup.  Gradually blend in 2 cups of milk.  Prepare 2 ½ cups coarsely crushed potato chips (you will need about a 12 ounce package of chips). Place half of the potato chips in prepared casserole.  Cover with alternate layers of salmon mixture and soup mixture. Cover with remaining potato chips.  Sprinkle on 2/3 cup blanched almonds.  Bake uncovered in preheated oven about 45 minutes.  Yield 8 to 10 servings.

[i] Newman, L. (2017). Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. Regina, SK: University of Regina Press.

[ii] Evans-Atkinson, M. (1984).  British Columbia Heritage Cookbook: a treasury of British Columbia treats.  North Vancouver: Whitecap Books.  Page 32.

[iii] British Columbia Women’s Institutes (1958). British Columbia Women’s Institutes Centennial Cook Book: Adventures in Cooking, Vancouver, BC: Mitchell Press. Page 89.