Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Hats off to Canadian casseroles

Bang your pots on principle and fill your pot-belly with good



Grab your pots, grab your pans, grab your wooden spoons. Now stand out on your balcony or open your most public window, lean out and bang away.

Welcome to Canada's casserole movement, which is growing, growing, growing like a big belly after you've had too many good eats.

They're banging their pots and pans in Calgary, in Vancouver and Winnipeg as well as Montreal, home to Canada's casserole movement where it all sprang up barely a month ago after Québec brought in "emergency" legislation requiring student demonstrators, who had taken to the streets to protest tuition hikes, to inform police about their actions. Ha!

Bang, bang, bang! Out came the pots and pans on the streets and balconies of Montreal, picking up on the casserole demonstrations — from "cacerolazo" or "stew pot" in Spanish — that started in Chile in 1971 to protest shortages under then-President Allende.

Cacerolazos are effective because they're so down-home, middle class and appealing — inoffensive some might say, referring to their non-violence — just like the casseroles we love to eat. More to the point, anyone can make one.

It was middle class housewives who started the first cacerolazo, but it didn't take long for them to spread across gender and class boundaries.

They popped up again in Chile in the early '80s in protests against Pinochet, and have since spread around the world. Argentines, Mexicans, Uruguayans, Spaniards, Icelanders and now Canadians have become casserolers in protest against governments and their actions that can no longer be tolerated.

June 22 was the last organized Canadian casserole night, which are mostly communicated through Facebook (go to Casserole Nights or La soirée des casseroles Canada). Casserolers banged on in Toronto, East Van and even the Canadian embassy in Copenhagen, some of them taking to rewriting "O Canada" with appropriately pissed off lyrics.

This Canada Day, July 1, should be pretty interesting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as casserolers plan to show up en masse banging their pots and pans for a "Stop Harper" casserole day. I wonder if they'll be able to drown out the traditional CBC broadcast.

Personally, I plan to make a very Canadian, down-home tuna casserole and watch with great interest as I eat.

The thing that's so interesting to me about these cacerolazo events — the Spanish idiom with its connotation of "stew pot" and subsequently getting all stewed up is so much more colourful and bang on (wink) — is that the whole idea of a casserole itself is unapologetically democratic and egalitarian.

Casseroles are supposed to be made from this and that, whatever is at hand. Contrast that with haute cuisine (currently translated as foodism), based on the difficult, the exotic, the imported, and rife with prestige, unease and classicism.

How about this from Flandrin and Montinari's excellent Food: A Culinary History: "Only the common man is content to eat whatever the land provides," wrote one Cassiodorus, on behalf of his sovereign Theordori in sixth century Gothic Italy.

One full thousand years later, a court chef to a Renaissance prince explained that "a noblemen should not have to worry about food being in season or about the natural limitations of the region in which he happened to live, because with a 'substantial purse' and a 'good charger' he could have what he wanted all year round." (You couldn't dream up a better explanation of where our current cultural valuation of food comes from.)

Well, bring on the common casserole, I say, which can be easily trotted out as the original slow food with time standing calmly by its side.

Casseroles are best made when you have a bit of time to chop and mix unhurriedly. Even if you are all heated up and wound tighter than an unsproinged spring, they tend to slow you down, both pre- and post-eating.

Casseroles are comfort food to the Nth degree, an unassuming antidote to the digital circus. They might take some doing to create, but payback is 100-fold in saved time and energy with leftover after leftover delivered on time every time from the comfort of your own home. Plus they get way more delicious with time as complex flavours mix and mingle.

So in honour of the great democratizing effect of all casseroles, both those eaten and those organized, I share with you two choice Canadian middle-class casserole recipes — one baked in the oven, one made in a "stew pot" — in plenty of time for Canada Day. Don't forget to keep your wooden spoon and pot handy when you're done.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who has great respect for her wooden spoon.

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