Spring traditions across Canada

By Stacey Stein

Spring’s arrival brings warmer weather, longer days and a chance to take part in the season’s many traditions and pastimes. Some of these, like trout fishing, are more specific to certain regions while others, like berry picking, are popular nationwide.

Here’s a round-up of some popular Canadian springtime traditions that also highlight the bounty of delicious food available at this time of year.

Maple tree tapping

“Sugaring off” is a favourite pastime in early spring, with many maple syrup festivals taking place, especially in Quebec and Ontario. Sugaring off refers to the process of collecting sap from maple trees and turning it into maple syrup. Maple syrup festivals are a fun way to celebrate this time of year while learning about the process of maple tapping and trying it out for yourself.

Sugaring off festivals also feature a bounty of maple products, including freshly made maple syrup, which can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, such as a butternut squash and bocconcini salad or a tasty breakfast parfait.

Morel mushroom foraging

Late April to May is prime time for hunting for morels, a mushroom known for its distinct, nut-like flavour. Morels aren’t farmed, only foraged, meaning their supply is entirely dependent on what foragers manage to find (which also accounts for the steep price they can command in farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores.) Morel mushroom hunting is a popular tradition in the Prairies and other parts of Canada, including Ontario and the Yukon.

Morel mushrooms are versatile and can be used in a variety of egg dishes – you can easily add them to a quiche (like this one, made with chicken and asparagus), omelette or frittata. “Morel mushrooms would be delicious sautéed and added to a pizza with a smoky cheese,” says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker, adding you can also roast them and use them as a side dish. You can also toss them into this dish, which pairs a variety of mushrooms with scallops and whiskey cream.

Fiddlehead or ramp hunting

For those who really love to forage, spring is also the season for fiddlehead and ramp hunting. Ramps (wild leeks) can be found from coast to coast but are especially prolific in Northern Ontario and Quebec, while fiddleheads (furled baby ferns that shoot up in spring) are most commonly found in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.

Fiddleheads are a great source of iron, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and C, and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for asparagus. “You cook them just as you would asparagus, so you can steam, sauté or lightly boil them,” says Crocker, adding they work well in an omelette, stir fry or pasta dish.

You can also use them as a side dish – try substituting fiddleheads in this asparagus gratin recipe. If you’re pressed for time, you can simply steam them, then drizzle them with some melted butter, lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt.

With a more mild flavour than green onions, ramps can be enjoyed raw – chop them up and toss them into a salad or thinly slice them and add them into a grilled cheese sandwich. For a hearty lunch, you can make this roast beef grilled cheese sandwich, substituting ramps for the horseradish.

Similar to fiddleheads, you can roast ramps for a tasty side dish or add them to a stir fry or pasta dish. They also make a great garnish– try adding them to this roasted garlic soup.

Spring fishing

Trout breed from mid-April to late June, making fishing for this species a popular springtime activity, particularly in Ontario and Quebec where trout are most commonly found.

Aside from being a fun pastime, after a day of fishing you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

“Rainbow trout is an excellent source of protein and it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids,” says Crocker, adding that Health Canada recommends eating two servings of fatty fish a week.

Roasted rainbow trout with cucumber relish makes for a light spring dish and pairs nicely with fiddleheads as a side.

If you enjoy grilling, spring is the perfect time to start up your barbecue. “You can grill fish on the barbecue and you don’t have to put a lot of seasonings on it – it cooks really easily,” says Crocker.

Strawberry picking

June’s arrival kicks off strawberry picking season – a popular late spring tradition from the east to west coast.

Strawberries work well in everything from appetizers to desserts. You can give a traditional app like a crostini a sweet twist by adding some sliced strawberries, or add them into this sour cream berry cake for a light dessert. Or for a sweet breakfast, try tossing them into this berry-rich skillet pancake.

Strawberries make a great addition to smoothies, parfaits, muffins or scones. You can also enjoy freshly picked strawberries as is for a tasty and healthful snack, or, if you’re feeling decadent, with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

The final word

Spring is often associated with new beginnings – this is a great time of year to try something new by taking part in a local tradition. Whether you try sugaring off at a maple syrup festival, go hunting for fiddleheads or ramps, forage for morels or gather strawberries at your local U-pick farm, you’re bound to have fun while also getting a chance to sample some fresh, local spring fare.

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