Sunday, April 22, 2007

Newspaper Column - FLAX CRACKERS

Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 23 April 2007.

This month, the University of Saskatchewan is celebrating its 100th birthday and that should make your mouth water. Since its inception, the U of S has been working to improve agriculture in this province. The very first building housed the College of Agriculture and today, a large part of the campus is devoted in some way to the production of food.

Take, for instance, the sour cherry. This marvelous fruit tree would not exist here if not for the university, where plant scientists crossed various breeds of cherry from around the world to create one that would survive our winters. Saskatchewan is now one of the world’s biggest exporters of chickpeas and lentils, a success due largely to experimentation at the university. Research is underway to determine the benefits of eating lentils and chickpeas before physical activity which, I’m told, involves a number of Husky athletes running on a treadmill in the name of science.

I don’t suppose there are too many places in North America with a herd of cattle smack in the middle of a major city. But in Saskatoon, commuters on College Drive and Preston Avenue get a little glimpse of agriculture every day.

A few years ago, I visited the U of S test bakery where endless loaves of bread were baked to determine which new varieties of wheat are best for different types of bread. I also toured the Food Centre, a state-of-the-art facility that helps small processers turn their favourite recipes into products for the store shelves. A few months ago, I visited the test kitchen at the College of Agriculture and Bioresources where chef Gerald Henriksen turned local ingredients into delicious foods. And that brings me to Rice Krispie Cake.

Henriksen thought, why not put ground Saskatchewan flax into a batch of Rice Krispie Cake? What a great way to get more fibre into the diet and believe me, you can’t even taste it.
“We know that if we could get North Americans to consume two tablespoons of ground flax a day, we would greatly reduce their chances of getting breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease,” said Henriksen. “All from a crop we grow here in abundance.”

Among his food creations I sampled were: chocolate pudding made with yellow split peas, a cheesecake made with lentils, a paté of beans, an Eatmore candy bar made with ground flaxseed, white bread full of pea fibre and a creamy Bailey’s and lentil cocktail. Imagine how we might revolutionize the health of our nation if every fast food hamburger bun was made with Saskatchewan pea flour and every candy bar was full of Saskatchewan flax.

Henriksen’s research program has been cancelled and he has gone on to other pursuits, but his words still echo in my ear: “Saskatchewan has got to start patting itself on the back. We have not done a good job of telling a positive story about what we produce here.”
This recipe is adapted from the booklet “World Class Recipes” produced by SaskFlax. If you’d like to make your own Saskatchewan steak spice, there’s a recipe on my food blog at

Flax Crackers
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cups ground golden flaxseed
1/3 cup brown flaxseeds
2 tbsp steak spice
1 ½ cups warm water
Course salt for sprinkling

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, ground flaxseed, whole flaxseed and steak spice. Pour in the warm water and stir with a fork to mix. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball. Turn it onto the counter and knead for a minute or so. If it’s sticky, work in a bit more flour. Wrap in plastic and let rest 30 minutes or more.
Cut the ball of dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a 9-inch circle and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spritz with water and sprinkle on the course salt. Bake at 400 F for 10-15 minutes, until blistered and lightly browned. Cool and break the crackers into pieces. Store in an air-tight container.

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