The meals here are in many respects different from those in the English provinces. This depends upon the difference of custom, taste, and religion, between the two nations. French Canadians eat three meals a day, viz. breakfast, dinner, and supper. They breakfast commonly between seven and eight, for the French here rise very early, and the governor-general can be seen at seven o’clock, the time when he has his levee. Some of the men dip a piece of bread in brandy and eat it; others take a dram of brandy and eat a piece of bread after it. Chocolate is likewise very common for breakfast, and many of the ladies drink coffee. Some eat no breakfast at all. I have never seen tea used here, perhaps because they can get coffee and chocolate from the French provinces in America, in the southern part, but must get tea from China. They consider it is not worth their while to send the money out of the country for it. I never saw them have bread and butter for breakfast.
Dinner is exactly at noon. People of quality have a great many dishes and the rest follow their example, when they invite strangers. The loaves are oval and baked of wheat flour. For each person they put a plate, napkin, spoon, and fork. (In the English colonies, a napkin is seldom or never used.) Sometimes they also provide knives, but they are generally omitted, all the ladies and gentlemen being provided with their own knives. The spoons and forks are of silver, and the plates of Delft ware. The meal begins with a soup with a good deal of bread in it. Then follow fresh meats of various kinds, boiled and roasted, poultry, or game, fricasees ragouts, etc. of several sorts, together with different kinds of salads. They commonly drink red claret at dinner, either mixed with water or clear; and spruce beer is likewise much in use. The ladies drink water and sometimes wine. Each one has his own glass and can drink as much as he wishes, for the bottles are put on the table.
Butter is seldom served, and if it is, it is chiefly for the guest present who likes it. But it is so fresh that one has to salt it at the table. The salt is white and finely powdered, though now and again a gray salt is used. After the main course is finished the table is always cleared. Finally the fruit and sweetmeats are served, which are of many different kinds, viz. walnuts from France or Canada, either ripe or pickled; almonds; raisins; hazel-nuts; several kinds of berries which are ripe in the summer season, such as currants, red and black, and cranberries which are preserved in treacle; many preserves in sugar, as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and mossberries. Cheese is likewise part of the dessert, and so is milk, which they drink last of all, with sugar.
Friday and Saturday, the “lean” days, they eat no meat according to the Roman Catholic rites, but they well know how to guard against hunger. On those days, they boil all sorts of vegetables like peas, beans, and cabbage, and fruit, fish, eggs, and milk are prepared in various ways. They cut cucumbers into slices and eat them with cream, which is a very good dish. Sometimes they put whole cucumbers on the table and everybody that likes them takes one, peels and slices it, and dips the slices into salt, eating them like radishes. Melons abound here and are always eaten without sugar. In brief, they live just as well on Fridays and Saturdays, and I who am not a particular lover of meats would willingly have had all the days so-called lean days.
excerpted from Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, II: 473-75 (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1966); you can find an online English edition from 1772 here.
Much of what Kalm reports is still true today. Quebec traditionally calls its three meals déjeuner, dîner, et souper, and all of the summer and autumn fruit grown in Quebec is a matter of considerable national pride. The sort of vegetable melange Kalm describes on fast days is a kind of national dish–cabbage, onions, carrots, beans, turnips, or what have you from the garden all boiled and served together. Kalm’s report tracks with what I’ve seen in the archival records elsewhere–early Quebec residents ate well, and they made an art of observing Church fasts.
13 Responses to “Summer bounty in Quebec, 1749”