Rigaud, Quebec — In Canada's prairie provinces you'll find typical prairie grub - meat and potatoes, wild rice, and wild game such as moose and reindeer. But in the far west of this country they're eating peapods, steaming Chinese vegetables, and mixing pasta with basil and fresh herbs.
Such is the diversity of the regional food of this land that stretches out between Russia in the west and the United States close below.
It's a country that many think of as the source of the best lobster in the world, of superb Nova Scotia salmon, and of distinguished French cooking in Quebec. Still, there is much more to Canadian food.
''There are many wonderful regional dishes in Canada,'' says Cynthia Wine, food writer of the Toronto-based Homemaker's Magazine.
''Manitoba wild rice, Nova Scotia salmon, and fiddlehead ferns from British Columbia make a fine national banquet dinner, but we also have some unusual local specialties,'' she adds.
Canadians from various areas had a chance to talk about their local fare at the Annual Food News Forum of the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Association , held in owner Pierre Faucher's traditional north country maple sugar cabin and restaurant, Sucrerie de la Montagne, about 50 miles from Montreal.
Elizabeth Baird, cookbook author and columnist for the Toronto Star, notes a definite pattern of eating in Ontario.
''We like meat, especially well done, especially beef,'' she says. ''We are also big pork eaters. We like pork salted, cured, or fresh.
''Our climate is good for growing vegetables,'' she adds, ''tomatoes, corn, potatoes, pumpkins, and beans. And from pioneer days we've always enjoyed lamb, turkey, ducks, and geese.''
Ms. Baird also points out that Canadians like to do lots of baking.
''You can tell what month it is by the kind of pie under the crust,'' she says. ''We make them in all seasons - rhubarb, peach, apple raisin, and meat pie. Pie is served at breakfast, dinner, and supper.
Do Canadians have a national food?
''If we do have (one),'' says Mrs. Baird, ''it's beans - dried beans baked with pork and molasses. They're served all over the country, at the fairs, church suppers, and service club gatherings. Beans and tea are traditional for the loggers all winter long.''
Barbara McQuade, food editor of the Vancouver Sun, finds more sophisticated food preferences in western Canada, an area known for salmon.
''Fishing is a big industry, and our smoked salmon is sent all over the world ,'' she says.
As for keeping up with food trends, ''We were eating peapods and steaming our vegetables long before such a thing as nouvelle cuisine,'' Ms. McQuade notes. British Columbia, she continues, is also known as the cranberry capital of Canada. In addition, the region grows more raspberries than any other province.
Chutneys, relishes, and mincemeats are very popular with British Columbia cooks, Ms. McQuade explains, mentioning the heritage from Great Britain.
''The British are the ones who wrote their recipes down, so most of our recorded recipes reflect that background,'' says Joanne Good, food editor of the Calgary Herald. ''These recipes were limited, however, because in early days ingredients were few.
''Beef, potatoes, turkey, lake fish, and walleye were the abundant foods in the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba,'' she explains.
''Prairie food is come-and-get-it food. It's meat and potatoes, wild grains, honey, wild mushrooms, and berries of all kinds. In the '30s gopher stew was common fare, and so were dandelion greens.'' As for more modern dishes, ''Today's recipes use native foods with different ingredients - for example, reindeer with green pepper sauce,'' Mrs. Goode says.
Here are two recipes from Elizabeth Baird's cookbook, ''Classic Canadian Cooking'' (James Lorimer & Co., London, $12.95). The peach recipe is from Quintey's Isle, a strip of land by Lake Ontario known for its abundance of peaches. Sweet Corn Fritters 1 egg 1/4 cup milk 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup fresh corn kernels, 1 large cob Pinch salt 2 teaspoons baking powder Oil for frying
In a medium bowl beat together egg and milk. Add flour and mix well. Stir in corn kernels and salt. Just before cooking add baking powder.
Heat about 1 1/2 inches oil in a deep fryer or frying pan. Drop batter by spoonfuls into oil and fry on both sides just until crisp and golden, about 1 minute. Drain on paper toweling and serve immediately. Makes 14 fritters. Niagara Peninsula Peach Marmalade 4 oranges 1 cup water 10 cups chopped, peeled, pitted peaches 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 1 tablespoon lemon juice 9 cups granulated sugar 1 jar (6 ounces) maraschino cherries 1 cup slivered blanched almonds
Slice oranges very finely and cut slices into eighths, removing all seeds. Grind or chop finely in food processor.
Place in small saucepan with water, cover, and simmer over low heat until peel is tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Place peel mixture, peaches, lemon rind, juice, and sugar in large preserving kettle. Drain cherry juice into kettle. Stir well. Cut cherries into quarters; set aside.
Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and cook uncovered, at a good simmer, until marmalade thickens and peaches are translucent, about 1 hour.
Stir frequently, especially near end of cooking time. Add cherries and almonds and cook 5 minutes.
Pour into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Cool 30 minutes. Cover with thin layer of melted paraffin wax. Tilt, rotate jars to extend seal to rim.
Cool completely and add a second layer of wax. Cover with clean lids and store away from heat, light, and dampness. Yields about 12 (8-ounce) jars.