CONTRARY to popular opinion held in many parts of the U.S.A. and regrettably elsewhere in the world, the height of Canadian cuisine does not consist of a lumberjack sitting on a tree stump devouring beaver tails. Nor is it mandatory to soak anything and everything in maple syrup or beer to make it acceptable to the Canadian palate."

So wrote the wives of Canadian military personnel stationed in Washington in the introduction to their cookbook, "Canada Cooks."

Canadians find that kind of ignorance annoying and amusing. Just as they have found our recent "discovery" of the country itself. Until what has come to be known as the Canadian Caper took place (the aid given to American Embassy personnel in Iran to help them escape), we have tended to take Candians for granted.

But whether or not Canada has a culinary heritage beyond pea soup and maple sugar, and distinct from what has made its way north from the United States, appears to depend on the part of Canada with which you are familiar. Ask someone from Vancouver about typical Canadian food and they will tell you why they have been influenced by "California and the West Coast. The mountains are a barrier between East and West," says Barbara McQuade, food editor of the Vancouver Sun.

Ask Jehane Benoit, the doyenne of French Canadian cooking teachers whose knowledge about Canadian food extends far beyond Quebec Province, and it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. "It's crazy to say that Americans and Canadians have the same kind of cooking," says Benoit, who has written several books about Canadian cooking. When she tells you of her conversation with an American publisher interested in Canadian cooking, her voice rises: "Time-Life Cookbooks didn't think Canada was worth more than six pages."

What emerges from talking to food writers across the Canadian provinces is the picture of a culinary tradition that is not much easier to describe than our own. Both here and in Canada there are pockets of regional cooking that are unique. But after roast turkey, hot dogs and pumpkin pie, what are our national dishes?

"The idea of good Canadian cuisine is hazy," writes Sondra Gotlieb in "The Gourmet's Canada, "not only in the minds of non-Canadians but in our own." One might say the same about cooking in this country.

In Canada, recipes using maple syrup and variations on bean dishes could be considered national. But the Canadian regional cooking, especially of the Eastern provinces, is distinctive. Once you get out to the prairie, American influences are obvious. "Don't forget," said Jim White, food editor of the Toronto Star, "75 percent of the population of this country lives within 100 miles of your border."

But White also agrees with Gotlieb: Americans haven't got the foggiest notion about Canadian food. It's divided into French-Canadian and. . . everything else. "Americans are as unaware of our food as they are of our life style," White said. "White Americans come to Toronto, where there are more than 100 fine Chinese restaurants, what do they do? They line up at Wendy's or McDonald's."

Norma Bidwell, food editor of the Spectator in Hamilton, Ontario, said she had "talked to people from the southern United States who simply don't believe that we grow watermelons and cantaloupes in Ontario and people from Boston who scoff at the idea of Ontario-grown peaches, apricots and nectarines." and Toronto is not the only Canadian city with large ethnic populations. There are thousands of Chinese in Vancouver, thousands of Ukrainians in Winnipeg and all over Manitoba as well as Saskatchewan where they have made perogy famous. There is a large population of Mennonites in southern Ontario who cook much like the Pennsylvania Dutch in this country. But these pockets of ethnicity remain just that.

"Canada has never encouraged forming a Canadian identity," said White. "Canadians never went through the melting pot. Ethnicity hasn't come into our culture yet. We're too young."

White may be a little hard on his country, especially the big cities where ethnic restaurants are springing up as they have in the United States.

Janice Murray Gill, a cooking teacher in Montreal and authority on the cooking of her native Nova Scotia, has a theory about why the cooking from Ontario westward is so closely related to American. "It's simply a matter of age. The west of Canada is so much younger. The communities in the Eastern area were able to develop their own cuisine before mass communications, before there were so many newspapers and magazines."

But once again many Americans think the food of Quebec is just trans-Atlantic French food. And what we know about Nova Scotian food can be summed up in one word -- salmon.

But Nova Scotia has three distinct cultures that have never blended. The German fishermen, who came over at the time of George III and are called Bluenoses, cook a lot of fish dishes. They are famous for their pickled salt herrings, called salmagundi. The Scots contributed oatmeal, barley and lamb and have given considerable emphasis to home baking. The Acadians of "Evangeline" fame Cajuns. Those who stayed use lard in baking and make a lot of pork and potato dishes.

Nonetheless, Gill says, much of the food in Nova Scotia is like that in Maine and Massachusetts. "They are our cousins. There are more Nova Scotians in Boston," she said, "than in Nova Scotia."

Jehane Benoit emphasizes that French Canadian cooking is not the same as French cooking. "The beginning of the food world in Canada," she says "is in Quebec, where there were two influences: overpowing British and the French. But the French kept very much to themselves. They imported everything from France. It was so expensive that only the elegant people could afford it. But the British were traders and they started selling the French molasses, brown sugar, rum and spices. None of those things were in Canada during the French occupation. The English developed pork and that stayed with the French-Canadians, who decided it was very interesting because you could get six or eight or 10 pigs a year but you could only get one lamb.

"The English made beans with molasses and salt pork but it was sort of watery. The French Candians used the same beans, molasses and salt pork but they cooked them much longer and made them thicker . Then they added brown sugar and apples and rum, and it is superb. It has a beautiful crust that you will never see in the western part of Canada where they cook beans with tomatoes.The Americans put ham in their beans; French Candians never do."

Benoit went on to discuss another mouth-watering Canadian version of a French dish. "You make a bed of sliced apples (that's English) and pour on brandy (that's French) and season with savory, grated lemon rind and sprinkle on a little brown sugar. Then you sit a duck on a bed of this and the apples act as a rack. When the duck is roasted you just beat up the apples and that's the gravy."

Benoit says much of the rest of Canada has American-type food until you get to Victoria, British Columbia: "It's totally British."

Well, not totally, says Ida Clarkson, who lives there. "We do have many fish and chips places and you can buy Melton Mowbray pies at the deli and scones and crumpets at the bakery.But we have Kentucky fried chicken." Victoria also has the Empress Hotel, with a worldwide reputation for its high teas.

Then, of course, there are the foods that Canada has in abundance and we either don't have or have very little of: wild rice, Artic char (a member of the salmon family), goldeye (a fish from Winnipeg Lakes that is often served smoked), black sturgeon caviar, dozens of varieties of berries, excellent Chedar cheese, especially a brand called Oka once made only by Trappist monks..

A few recipes gathered from Canadians have been chosen to emphasize the difference between Canadian cuisine and ours.

The recipe is from the wife of the Canadian Ambassador, Peter Towe. CAROL TOWE'S MAPLE SYRUP SOUFFLE (4 to 6 servings) 1 1/2 cups maple syrup 4 egg whites 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 2 tablespoons butter

Boil 1 cup of the maple syrup until it reduces to 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes.

Beat the whites until they are stiff. Beat in the sugar and baking powder gradually. Pour the reduced maple syrup slowly into the egg white mixture, beating constantly. Spoon remaining 1/2 cup maply syrup into the bottom of a souffle dish with the butter. Spoon the egg white mixture into the dish and place dish in pan of hot water. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Serve immediately with a good quality vanilla ice cream.

Norma Bidwell says a recipe for butter tartes first appeared in a Canadian cookbook only 70 years ago. NORMA BIDWELL'S BUTTER TARTES (Makes 15) Pastry for two crust pie 1/2 cup raisins or currants 1/4 cup soft butter 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar 1 cup dark corn syrup 2 slightly beaten eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Line 15 medium-size muffin cups with the pastry. Do not prick dough. Pour boiling water over raisins and let stand 5 minutes; drain. Stir together butter and brown sugar. Blend in remaining ingredients, along with raisins. Fill pastrylined muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Do not allow filling to bubble.

Note: Bidwell says if there is any pastry left, sprinkle it with brown sugar and cinnamon. Fold over the dough and bake it. Children love to eat hot out of the oven.

This recipe is from Gill's new book, "Baking Beautiful Bread," which will be published in April. JANICE MURRAY GILL'S ROLLED OATS BREAD 2 packages yeast 1/2 cup lukewarm water Pinch sugar 1 cup regular rolled oats 2 cups boiling water 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses 1 tablespoon salt 1/3 cup melted lard or shortening 1 egg, beaten 5 to 6 cups bread flour*

proof yeast in lukewarm water with sugar. Place rolled oats in large bowl and pour on boiling water. Let stand 3 or 4 minutes. Add molasses, salt shortening. Let stand until lukewarm. Add beaten egg and proofed yeast. Stir in 2 cups flour and beat very well. Add enough extra flour to make soft dough. (The dough will be sticky because of the molasses.) Knead for 10 minutes, flouring board lightly whenever it becomes sticky.Be careful not to add too much flour.

Place ingredients in greased bowl and cover. Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk. Shape into two loaves and place in two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans which have been greased. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Brush gently with melted butter or lard and bake at 325 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from pans and cool in draft-free place. Brush with extra butter, if desired.

Gill says this bread is particularly good with baked beans.

*Up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour may be substituted for the white flour without altering any of the other proportions.

Barbara McQuade from Vancouver, British Columbia, says Klahowaya is a Chinook Indian greeting. KLAHOWAYA CLAM CHOWDER (4 to 6 servings) 2 or 3 dozens chowder clams* 1/2 cup diced salt pork 2 cups diced raw potatoes 1/2 cup diced raw carrots 1 green onion or shallot, finely chopped 1 onion, finely chopped 1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon each coarsely ground pepper and thyme

Wash clams to remove sand. Place in pot, scarcely covering them with water. Steam for 20 minutes. Drain and set liquor aside. Remove clams from shells and chop coarsely. Braise vegetables lightly with salt pork in large pot. Add clam liquid and bring to boil. In another pot bring tomatoes and clams to boil. Then add to vegetable mixture. Add seasoning and simmer 10 minutes.

*Two 10 ounce cans of clams can be substituted. In that case, omit steaming and use liquid from cans to cook vegetables as described.

Julian Armstrong is a food writer at The Gazette in Montreal, now the only English language newspaper in that city. This is her mother's recipe for an English hunt breakfast dish. It should be served with chutney. Melton Mowbray is the center of fox hunting in England. JULIAN ARMSTRONG'S MELTON MOWBRAY PIE (8 to 10 servings) 2 pounds pork, cubed 3/4 pound cooked ham, fat removed and cubed Cold water 4 hard cooked eggs, quartered 1 pimento, sliced Pastry: 1 cup lard (not shortening) 4 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup milk 1/4 cup water 1 egg, well beaten Salt, pepper to taste 1 egg yolk, beaten

Put pork and ham in large saucepan. Cover with cold water; bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.

Mix 3/4 cups lard with flour; add salt. Combine 1/4 cup lard with milk and water in saucepan and heat to boiling point. Add this mixture to the flour, a little at a time alternating with the beaten egg. Mix and then knead well, about 2 minutes, and let stand at room temperature another few minutes. Line a baking pan, about 9-by-9-by-2 inches or 10-by-10-by-2, with pastry, reserving enough for the top.

Arrange the meat, the hard cooked eggs and the pimento in layers in the pastry, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Cover with top crust. Cut several slits in the top crust and brush with beaten yolk. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Meanwhile reduce the reserved meat liquid to 2 cups by boiling (if it is a very humid day, add 1 package unflavored gelatin.) Season. When pie is baked, pour liquid through slits, little by little, until pie has absorbed about 2 cups. Chill. May be frozen. From "Canada Cooks," available for $3.75 from M.W.O.R. Champion, 2450 Mass. Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. FRENCH COLONIAL BAKED BEANS 4 cups navy beans 3 quarts cold water 1/2 to 1 pound fat and lean salt pork 1 large onion 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 to 1 cup molasses 1 tablespoon coarse salt 4 apples, cored but unpeeled 1 cup maple sugar, grated 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup rum

Soak beans for 12 hours in cold water. Cook in their liquid by bringing to a boil and simmering for 30 minutes. Line the bottom of a bean pot with thin slices of salt pork. Pour in the beans and water. Roll the onion in the dry mustard and bury in the middle of the beans. Pour the molasses on top and top it all with slices of salt pork. Add enough hot water to cover the pork. Add the salt. Place the apples, as close together as possible, on top. Cream the maple sugar with the butter. Divide equally on top of each apple. Bake at 375 degrees for 4 to 6 hours. When baked, pour the rum slowly over the apples. From "Enjoying the Art of Canadian Cooking," by Mme. Jehane Benoit, (Arco Publishing, $8.95) CREAM OF SPLIT PEA (6 servings) 1 1/2 cups split green peas 6 cups hot water 1 ham bone 1 onion, finely chopped 1/2 cup celery, diced 2 cups milk 1 tablespoon butter 1 teaspoon fresh mint, minced* Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the peas and soak them overnight in enough cold water to cover. The next day, drain and place the peas in a large saucepan and add the hot water, ham bone, onion and celery. Cover and simmer over low heat for two hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the ham bone and pass through a sieve or food mill. Put puree back into the saucepan and add the milk, butter, mint, salt and pepper. Simmer a few minutes and serve with buttered croutons.

*Dried mint may be substituted.