Iconic Foods of Canada: Saskatchewan
Of the prairie provinces, Saskatchewan is the MOST prairie. It’s the flattest, wheatiest, and squarest of them all. Sounds kinda like a breakfast cereal, amirite? Speaking of breakfast, Saskatchewan brings home the bread. Literally. It is the “breadbasket of Canada” and one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat. It’s also loaded with chickpeas, barley, rye, oats, mustard, canola, flax and 67% of the world’s lentils. But Saskatchewan food is more than just crops: Saskatchewan is home to the second largest beef herd in Canada.
Tourists love the Tunnels of Moose Jaw and Grasslands National Park. And no, the whole province isn’t flat and Saskatchewan is tired of your jokes. Oh, and they have oil. Saskatchewan is in many ways Canada’s best kept secret. Just look at those Roughriders fans with the watermelons on their heads. They know what’s up.
(To better understand Saskatchewan culture, see The Lost Girl’s Guide on Saskatchewan Dialect and 12 Things You Definitely Need to Know When You Date a Girl from Saskatchewan. Spoiler alert: she’ll want to borrow your bunnyhug).
Saskatchewan has the largest proportion of people with indigenous descent of all the provinces, so First Nations culture and cuisine are well represented in Saskatchewan food. Also prevalent are Ukrainian and German Mennonite foods. I think you’ll find a few surprises thrown in the mix as well, so grab a Pilsner and here we go into the “Land of Living Skies”!
1. Saskatoon Berry Pie
By: Amy Jo Ehman from Home for Dinner
Amy Jo Ehman blogs about Saskatchewan food on her blog, Home for Dinner. She is the author of two food books: Prairie Feast: A Writer’s Journey Home for Dinner and Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens (pb)
“Saskatchewan tastes great,” she says. “I wrote the book on it!”
“For those in the know there is no “berry” in the name of this iconic pie, though it be filled with the berries that nourished the First Nations, fed the fur trade (in the form of pemmican) and gave name to the province’s largest city. Ubiquitous at fall suppers, farmers’ markets and many-a-family feast – the saskatoon pie is a taste of Saskatchewan old and new.
A relative of the apple, the berry has a nutty flavour (many recipes call for a dash of almond extract) that creates a dense and purple pie particularly suited to a sweet scoop of vanilla ice cream. The filling may be pre-cooked or made with raw berries, either fresh or frozen. Personally, I like to pick those berries myself, which I do every summer in the footsteps of my father and grandmother and their grandparents before them. It’s a known fact that a hint of nostalgia makes saskatoon pie taste even better.”
Saskatoon Berry Festival (Mortlach, SK)
By: Amy Jo Ehman from Home for Dinner
“Ostensibly, the Doukhobors were vegetarians. But some among the thousands of Doukhobors who settled the Canadian prairies did not eschew meat, thankfully, for it gave us one of the most unique regional foods in Saskatchewan: shishliki.
Shishliki is an old world Russia recipe of meat (primarily lamb) marinated in salt and onions, skewered and grilled on open coals. Aficionados will tell you the secret is in mixing the meat and marinade with your hands. No utensils allowed.
Admittedly, not everyone in Saskatchewan has even heard of shishliki (their loss!) but it’s made in copious quantities around the communities of Yorkton, Canora and Kamsack, where it is essential fare at weddings, summer barbeques, community events and family reunions.”
By: Amy Jo Ehman from Home for Dinner
“At first, it might seem odd to speak of potatoes and donuts in the same breath, but call them “spudnuts” and you’ve got the attention of just about everyone who’s ever attended the Saskatoon summer fair. Spudnuts are a classic on food alley (along with slices of warm Doukhobor bread and jam). Made of flour and potatoes, spudnuts were introduced to the fair as a fundraiser by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, then assumed by the Boy Scouts and now offered by the exhibition itself, which employs some 90 people who make 45 batches of 200 spudnuts – by hand – every day of the fair.
As an interesting side note, these “official” spudnuts are no longer made with mashed potatoes but a special (and secret) dry potato/flour blend. Though spudnuts are not ubiquitous across the province, summer in Saskatoon be not the same without them.”
Did You Know? Saskatchewan is the world’s largest exporter of mustard seed? The Great Saskatchewan Mustard Festival is held every year in Regina. Gravelbourg Mustard even produces a “Saskatoon Style Mustard” containing Saskatoon berries!
4. Perogies, Borscht and Cabbage Rolls
Photo Courtesy of Baba’s Homestyle Perogies
I remember hopping off the train in Saskatoon in my mid 20’s and not really knowing what to do with myself. The tourism folks told us about the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, but we were hungry so we trekked across the city to a restaurant called Touch of Ukraine. There we found an all-you-can-eat buffet of perogies, kubasa and borscht! We were in heaven!
While we were basking in the glory of our starch filled bellies, the owner stopped by our map ridden table to see how we were doing. We were lamenting that the Berry Barn was closed on the one day we were in Saskatoon, and boy were we desperate for some Saskatoon berry pie! The owner jumped to the rescue, whipping us up a special batch of SASKATOON BERRY PEROGIES! This was one of the most memorable moments of my Saskatoon visit – nay, of my cross-Canada trip!
Saskatchewan food has lots of influence from Ukrainian, Polish and Russian cuisine. Festive meals such as Christmas or the uniquely Saskatchewanian “Fowl Dinner” (Fall Harvest Dinner) are celebrated with perogies and cabbage rolls alongside turkey and ham. Ukrainian churches are also known to host all-you-can-eat perogy dinners.
Perogies are so popular in Saskatoon, Baba’s Perogies even have drive-thru.
The most famous spot in Regina is Peg’s Kitchen.
5. Deer Sausage
Sure, Saskatchewan loves its Ukrainian and Mennonite sausages, but they also have a unique affinity for deer sausage. Hunting is a popular pastime in in the province and a common practice is to bring deer meat into a butcher to have sausages made. Deer sausage often turns up at rural gatherings, where neighbours can show off the spoils of prior hunting trips.
Did You Know? Saskatchewan is the leading producer of lake grown wild rice in North America. Wild rice is an aquatic grass native to the Great Lakes region, but it was deliberately spread to the Boreal forests of the northern prairies. The commercial wild rice industry emerged in Saskatchewan in 1965 and is largely operated by aboriginal growers.
Photo Courtesy of Big Al’s
Bannock is a First Nations bread with Scottish roots, though there is evidence a similar dish was made with wild plants before European contact. The Scots used oats or barley to make “bannock”, which is what they called scones, but wheat was the choice crop in North America.
Today, bannock is baked, fried in a griddle or deep fried. Restaurants all over Saskatchewan serve bannock with soup, bannock burgers, and “Indian Tacos”.
At Wanuskewin Heritage Park (a National Historic Site of Canada) you can enjoy some plains foods while exploring 6000 years of history.
The Bannock House (a non-profit supporting Indigenous self-enrichment) in Regina specializes in bannock pizzas but also sells baked and fried bannock, “Indian Tacos”, a Bannock Bologna Sandwich, a Bannock Dog and Dessert Bannock.
Big Al’s Restaurant in Martensville (8km north of Saskatoon) serves fresh soup and bannock, “Indian Tacos” and bannock burgers.
Or you could just wander into one of the 6 casinos governed by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. They all serve bannock.
Did You know? Saskatchewan does in fact, (all jokes aside), eat wheat. Kutia is a Ukrainian dish of boiled wheatberries, poppyseeds and honey, traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. See the recipe on Home for Dinner. There is also “Wheat Salad”, which is actually a dessert containing wheatberries, vanilla pudding and pineapple.
7. Regina-style Pizza
Picture this: a thick ‘n crispy pan crust (think focaccia) with a Greek spiked tomato sauce, pounded with mountains of toppings and smothered with a blanket of golden brown cheese. This is prairie-style pizza and Saskatchewan takes it to a whole ‘nutha level! (I mean literally – this pizza can be 3 inches high!)
Regina is particularly well known for its distinctive “deep dish” pizza (not to be confused with Chicago deep dish). It is the thickest and cheesiest of them all, cut into squares revealing its heights of pepperoni. Houston Pizza is the big name, and I’m told their “All Dressed” pizza is the way to go, while the Copper Kettle is known for their spinach and feta pie. Western and Tumblers are also popular.
Saskatoon has Vern’s Pizza (with locations in Calgary and Winnipeg) but if you ask anyone from Regina they’ll tell you it doesn’t come quite close enough to the glory of a Houston’s pie.
Photo Courtesy of Home & Family – “How to Use Chokecherries”
This wild cherry was central to the diets of many First Nations peoples in the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains and Boreal forests of Canada. The Blackfoot and Plains Cree would dry and grind the cherries to use in soups, stews and pemmican. The berries are slightly bitter and need to be combined with a sweetener. They are used in jellies, jams, juices, syrups and wines.
Cypress Hills Winery makes chokecherry and Saskatoon berry wines. The winery is closed to the public but the wines are available in liquor stores across Saskatchewan and online.
Did You Know? Girl Guide Cookies originated in Regina in 1927 when a Girl Guide leader baked some cookies for her girls to sell to raise money for uniforms and camping equipment.
9. Dry Ribs
Dry ribs are a popular pub food across the prairies, also commonly found in pizza shops, Chinese restaurants and family diners. These little deep fried bites of pork can be bone-in or boneless, breaded or lightly dusted, and often tossed in a spice rub like salt ‘n pepper. Ranch dressing is the choice dipping sauce.
Dry ribs and Caesar salad are a very popular Saskatchewan food combo.
Did You Know? Saskatchewan has highest proportion of Canadians of Norwegian descent of any province? The communities of Birch Hills and Weldon celebrate “Syttende Mai” (National Day of Norway) with Norwegian foods such as lefse (a potato flatbread), krum kager and sandbakkels (types of cookies) and open-faced smorbrod sandwiches.
Photo from Riverbend Plantation
This is a high energy food, invented by First Nations peoples and adopted by fur traders and explorers (who would often make it into a stew). Lean meat was dried and pounded into small pieces, then mixed with animal fat and sometimes dried berries.
Commercial pemmican is made in Saskatchewan – check out Canadian Prairie Bison.
Foods I missed: pickerel cheeks, bison, Farmer’s Sausage, flapper pie, rhubarb pie, nalysnyky (Ukrainian cheese crepes), Grayson Sausage.