Monday, May 07, 2012

Tribute to Canadian Food Part 1–Vachon

One of the things people always ask me is “what do you miss about Canada?”  After the standard answers of family and friends (true of course!) I can get on to the subject of food pretty quickly.  Not just restaurants and pubs and things like I have been covering in previous posts, but some of the little foodie items that are just typical for Canada.

Vachon cakes are a fine example of this.  I made a Vachon photo stroll down the aisles of the local grocery while there…


Vachon is a Canadian manufacturer of snack foods, most of them cakes and pastries.  They have been around since the 1920s apparently and their products have been a staple of Canadian lunchboxes for all of my life.

I may as well start with the Ontario heavyweight… the Jos Louis

This yummy treat is two chocolate cake pieces with a cream filling within a milk chocolate shell.   I have no idea about the name, it always evokes thoughts of the boxer Joe Louis, but I really have no idea at all about the origins of the name.  These come from a time when parents were not really that worried about allergies, healthy snacks, childhood obesity…  You just gave your kid a Jos Louis for a dessert and everyone was happy.  Like giant Oreo cookies, people developed many techniques for eating them. 


Across the border in Quebec, the more popular choice is the May West.  Pretty much the same as a Jos Louis but with white cake instead of chocolate.  The cake used to have the spelling Mae West and is clearly inspired by the actress, but was changed in the 1980s probably to avoid litigation.  I have been told by a former Montreal resident, that a standard Quebecois meal is “Pepsi, May West”


Very similar to, BUT COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to the Jos Louis is the 1/2 moon.  Where the Jos Louis is two chocolate cakes filled with cream and then covered in chocolate, the 1/2 moon is two chocolate cakes filled with cream and then covered in chocolate.  They are not the same.  Totally different and anyone who claims otherwise is a fool.


The 1/2 moon also comes in a vanilla variety.  See, another differentiator.


The Swiss Roll… this one was a favorite in our house.  This is again a new and exciting kind of cake, consisting of chocolate cake filled with cream, covered with milk chocolate.  However, you will see that rather than a circle or half circle shape, the tube has been adopted.  I have been to Switzerland quite a few times and I don’t think I have ever seen a Swiss roll there.  There are also no Swiss Chalet restaurants, but that is another story.


The “Passion Flakie” was another favorite in our household.  Flake pastry with fruit and cream filling.  There were quite a few flavours offered on this product, but I think we had apple or strawberry the most often.  This was actually not one of my favorites compared to the cake treats, but it was certainly much better than no having a sweet treat in your lunch bag.


Last and by no means least…. the butter tart.

I probably should do an entire post on the merits of butter tarts, but for now I will just cover the Vachon version.  The butter tart is a quintessentially Canadian dessert.  A flaky pastry filled with Sugar, butter, syrup, egg, and often some nuts in the middle (although I prefer without.)

My experience with butter tarts has more often been of the home made variety.  I am not sure if I ever actually had a Vachon one, since it always seemed that someone’s mother had just baked an enormous batch of them and you could get a fresh, non-plastic wrapped version.  I am sure that the Vachon variety is a good one though, made with the same care and massive amounts of sugary goodness that go into all of their cakes.


I know I did not cover every Vachon cake and pie, but this is a pretty good sampling of what they have to offer.  Do yourself a favor and go try a Jos Louis.

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