No-bake, no rules: Canada Post says everyone makes Nanaimo bars ‘a little differently’

Despite heavy criticism that the so-called “Nanaimo bar” depicted in their latest stamp issue has a troubling and inaccurate filling-to-base ratio, Canada Post is standing by their controversial version of the famed West Coast treat.

On Wednesday, the Crown corporation attempted to stamp out commentary over their custard-heavy Nanaimo bar, effectively arguing that they didn’t get it wrong, because there’s no right way to make one.

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“We understand there are some strong views on the layer proportions,” said Canada Post spokesperson Hayley Magermans. “But we also understand there are many views of these beloved treats across the country. That factored in to our image decisions.”

That sound you heard was veteran dessert-makers and pastry chefs fainting all over this great, dessert-loving nation. While there may be several ways to make a Nanaimo bar one’s own, virtually every authority on the matter seems to agree that a more equal ratio of custard filling to crumbly base is still required.

“As the Nanaimo bar is built out of a no-bake cake recipe, the cake part really does need to be thicker,” said Dr. Lenore Newman, a Canada Research Chair at the University of the Fraser Valley who has written a book about Canadian food culture and cuisine. “The one on the stamp doesn’t even look structurally sound.”

Nanaimo bar stamp
Canada Post's Nanaimo bar stamp.

Joyce Hardcastle, considered the ultimate authority on Nanaimo bars after winning a 1986 competition to find the superior recipe, couldn’t help but agree. Canada Post’s stamp elicited a gasp from the veteran dessert-maker, who had a fresh batch of the famous treats chilling in her freezer.

“They should have more bottom,” Hardcastle said of the stamp, which was created by Vancouver-based Subplot Design, although the image itself is the product of Mary Ellen Johnson, a photorealistic food painter based in South Carolina.

Had the American artist consulted the West Coast confectioner, she likely would have learned that, in a perfect Nanaimo bar, “the two bottom layers are pretty equal,” according to Hardcastle.

Even B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety weighed in, which was fitting, as several online commenters said the stamp felt like a personal attack. “That is definitely NOT a Nanaimo bar,” said Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth.

But the postal service will not be shamed. Never mind that Hardcastle’s recipe is considered the gold standard, or that social media has savaged the stamp since its unveiling — apart from ensuring all three layers are present, Canada Post appears to feel that the rest is sweet anarchy.

“When developing the ‘Sweet Canada’ stamp issue, we looked to not only showcase some of Canada’s best-known traditional desserts, but do our best to represent the many adaptations and variations of each recipe that occur as professional bakers, chefs and those who love baking at home prepare them for customers, friends and family,” said Magermans.

“The fact that each stamp is depicted on the image of an old-fashioned recipe card speaks to the wide variety of Canadians who regularly make these delicious treats – all a little differently.”

One wonders, of course, at what point a Nanaimo bar is so “different” as to be something else entirely. The Nanaimo bar on the stamp does look suspiciously like the Nanaimo bar-inspired cheesecake depicted on the Kraft Canada website, for instance. But in a world where nothing matters, Vancouver Island traditions least of all, maybe that’s a Nanaimo bar too. Maybe the butter tart is just a Nanaimo bar in a muffin tin. Maybe this cake is a Nanaimo bar.

Either way, Canada Post just wants you to make desserts. And send mail.

“It is our hope that these stamps inspire those who love to make them to make more – whether it’s Nanaimo Bars, Butter Tarts, or the others – and those who don’t, to search for a recipe they like, make a batch and share,” said Magermans.

— With files from Nick Eagland

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