Thursday, November 27, 2008

Saskatchewan InDemand

I can't resist an event featuring Saskatchewan food (especially when they invite me to give a talk). Here are some of the local food products featured at the show Nov 15 & 16 in Saskatoon:

Prairie Sun Orchard - Homemade ice cream from Saskatchewan berries. I can highly recommend their chocolate-cherry-almond bark. No website; call 306-242-7573. You'll also find them at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market.

Petrofka Bridge Orchard - I tried their apple cidre and bought a bag of apples, which were fabulous. So, I asked the owner why we can't buy Saskatchewan apples in the grocery store -- the answer had to do with lacking a storage facility to keep apples fresh in large quantities. So let's get on that...

Bluestone Homegrown Beef - Owner Karla Hicks was giving out samples of her delicious homemade beef jerky. Their Angus cattle are raised on grass, drug free and aged 21 days.

Cedar Creek Organics - Also raised on green pastures and certified organic. Ground, steaks, franks, smokies, roasts and jerky. They have an informative and professional presentation, for which they deserve kudos. I'm told their beef is available at Dad's Nurition Centre in Saskatoon.

Bedard Creek Acres - A unique family business that captures the flavours of wild flowers and herbs in products such as such as Black Pansy Syrup and Creamy Chickweed Salad Dressing. Yummm.

Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission - They were giving away little bags of mustard seeds - yellow, brown and Oriental - and offering food samples like this Freezer Cabbage Relish. I didn't know you could freeze cabbage!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Newspaper Column - Salatin and Heinberg

Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 24 Nov. 2008.

Joel Salatin is a small farmer with a big problem. Everything he wants to do is against the law or runs afoul of the “food police.” No, he isn’t growing anything illegal. His farm is not much different than farms in olden days, when food was produced organically and sold locally, before the advent of industrial food processes and layers of government bureaucracy.

“People are longing for this type of food,” he says. “Who would you trust—an industry bureaucrat or a local farmer?”

Salatin is a celebrity livestock farmer from Virginia who brought his message to a conference of organic farmers in Saskatoon last week. He’s been on TV, graced the pages of National Geographic, testified at a Congressional hearing and authored six books—all to promote a way of farming he says is under threat.

Case in point: He’s been called a “bio-terrorist” because he lets his chickens run free. The fear is that a sick duck might land and give his birds the avian flu. Industrial wisdom says that poultry should be raised indoors, something he is not willing to do.

Another case in point: Safety rules for the big meat processors are also applied to small butchers—even though the small butchers are not responsible for mass recalls and hundreds of deaths due to contaminated food. Yet these industrial solutions are so onerous and expensive they are putting the small guys out of business. According to industrial wisdom, livestock should be vaccinated and their meat irradiated so people don’t get sick. Salatin’s solution is to raise healthy animals, process them at a family-run facility and sell the meat locally.

Obviously, his customers like his food. His 550-acre farm supplies 1,500 families, 30 restaurants and 10 retail stores in Virginia. This highlights the disconnect between the industrial food system and a growing number of consumers who want old-fashioned food. His advice to organic prairie farmers: buck the trend, hold your ground and fight the industrialization of local food. Your customers will back you all the way.

Salatin’s speech at Organic Connections was followed by Richard Heinberg, a journalist from California who writes about the end of oil, who spoke by video-conference. Heinberg says the food industry—from farming to processing to transportation—produces up to 30% of carbon emissions. Without fossil fuels, modern industrial farming would not exist. Organic farming can help change that, says Heinberg, because it relies less on fossil fuels (no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which are made from fossil fuels) and it actually removes carbon from the atmosphere.

“A one-percent increase in organic matter in the soil is equivalent to capturing and storing 100 tonnes of CO2 per square kilometre of farmland,” he told the conference. “Agriculture could become our primary way of removing carbon from the atmosphere.”

He predicts a future in which more people produce and buy food locally, in which significant machine power is replaced with human and animal labour, and farms create energy by wind, solar and organic means.

I’m not the rebel that Salatin is and I’m not entirely convinced by Heinberg that oil will run out soon, but their perspectives give us food for thought. There are other good reasons to eat locally-produced “old fashioned” food—it’s healthier, tastier, better for the environment and supports rural families right here in Saskatchewan.

Blue Potato Pakoras
For the recipe see here.

Friday, November 07, 2008


I confess, I didn't carve pumpkins for Halloween -- I drew faces on them with a black marker. Partly because I'm lazy, but mostly because I wanted to save them for eating. My husband isn't a great fan of pumpkin pie so I've had to find a few other good uses for used pumpkin.

First, I quarted the pumpkins, scraped out the seeds and roasted them in the oven at 350F for about one hour and 15 minutes.

I tried a few recipes, such as a Pumpkin Chocolate Cake (recipe) and Maple Pumpkin Mousse (recipe). But my favourite isn't dessert at all - it's Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce
3 cups puréed pumpkin
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
Several fresh sage leaves (about 10)
Parmesan cheese for serving

In a bowl, mix the pumpkin and egg. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Knead briefly on the counter to incorporate all the flour. Wrap in plastic and place in the freezer for 30 min. (If you want to rest the dough longer than 30 min, place it in the refrigerator.)

Bring a pot of water to boil.

Using a teaspoon, scoop up a ball of dough, roll it off the teaspoon with your fingers and drop it into the boiling water. You must dip the teaspoon in a glass of cold water between each scoop to prevent sticking. When the gnocchi float to the surface, scoop them out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Reserve in a serving bowl. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi until the dough is used up.

Meanwhile, melt the butter, oil, garlic and sage. Before serving, remove the garlic. Pour the butter mixture over the gnocchi and toss lightly to coat. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Flavours of India - BLUE POTATO PAKORAS

I get rather excited when I find an "exotic" recipe that can be made almost entirely with ingredients from Saskatchewan. Pakoras fit the bill. I used chickpea flour from Diefenbaker Seed Processors of Elbow, the cumin was given to me by a local farmer and the potatoes were grown by my nephew Even on the family farm at Craik. This recipe was adapted from TimeLife Foods of the World: The Cooking of India.

1/2 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
1/4 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp cold water
1/4 cup grated onion
1 cup grated raw blue potato
3 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 hot chili (fresh or dried) finely chopped
1 tsp salt
canola oil for frying

Whisk the chickpea flour, baking soda and water to make a batter. Stir in the remaining ingredients except the canola oil.

Pour the canola oil into a saucepan to a depth of two inches. Heat on medium heat until a baking thermometer reaches 350F. The surface of the oil will shimmer and a drop of batter will sizzle and brown.

Scoop a level spoonful (a heaping tbsp) of batter and drop it into the hot oil. When the pakora is nicely brown, flip and cook the other side. This should take 5-6 minutes. (If the pakoras brown too quickly, there is a danger the batter at the centre will be uncooked. Adjust the heat if necessary.) Fry several pakoras at once but don’t crowd them in the pot. Remove cooked pakoras to a paper towel.

Serve warm, perhaps with Mango Mustard Chutney from Chatty’s Indian Spice of Saskatoon.