Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?
No, not really. In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century. French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.
But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.
Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon. One thing we do got is trees. A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place. Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.
The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.
Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done. That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day. This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.
The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs. It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar. Our version is only slightly more refined. Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River. It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.
Anyway, French toast. Here we go. This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.
Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.
One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture. Here we used raisin bread because we love it.
Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits. Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.
Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.
Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).
Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.
You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.
Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.
Makes a great start (or end) to any day.