Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rhubarb Pudding

In 1893, Hans and Kristiane Lien immigrated from Norway to North Dakota. In 1903, they moved again - north to Canada in what would, two years later, become the province of Saskatchewan. They brought everything with them, including a root of "pie plant" from their garden. Rhubarb!
Here is Kristiane's recipe for rhubarb pudding in the original Norwegian: 

Bland godt 1 kop mel og 1/4 kop brunt sucker.
Rub ind 1/2 kop smor.
Put rhubarb ind i en smurt dish.
Og dros med en kop huidt sukken some har 1/4 teaspoon kanel.
Nu press over rhubarb deigen og bak i en. Passe varme.

Rhubarb Pudding
1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix flour and brown sugar. Rub in butter until blended. Put rhubarb in a buttered baking dish. Mix white sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over rhubarb. Press flour mixture over top and bake at 325F for 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Thanks to Kristiane's granddaughter Irene Hagel for providing this recipe from the past.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ancient legacy of the lentil - Lentil Cookies

There’s an old adage in Greece about not adding “myrrh to the lentil soup” because myrrh is too fancy for a humble bowl of lentils. A culinary overkill. Ancient Greeks preferred more simple flavourings such as vinegar and sumac (which grew wild) or olive oil and salt.
They boiled the lentils until they were soft and thick for a soup called phakes (or fakes), a dish the Romans called puls, from which we get the botanical word pulse to describe legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and peas.

The Romans believed lentils were restorative and good for your health. Their famous physician, Hippocrates, prescribed a lentil diet as a tonic for liver fatigue and, amazingly, modern science has backed this up.

The oldest archaeological evidence of lentils for dinner was found on the coast of Greece at a place known as the Franchthi Cave, circa 13,000 years ago.

These were wild lentils. The cave was home to a group of hunter-gatherers but over time they moved out of the cave into a small village by the Mediterranean Sea and took up farming.

By 6500 BC they were growing wheat, barley and lentils – the same domesticated grains that have been farmed in the Middle East for 10,000 years.

Eventually, due to global warming, the sea level rose until it covered their village and fields, which were discovered by archaeologists exploring the cave in the 1960s.

It is interesting to note that with the spread of farming westward from the Middle East, those three grains – wheat, barley and lentils – spread together. Though lentils were late coming to Western Canada (more than a century after wheat and barley) it is barely a breath in terms of historic time.

What was once the breadbasket of the world is now the lentil basket of the world. No nation produces more lentils, of more varieties, than Canada.
However, as Canadian lentil production was rising, Greek farmers were growing fewer lentils, preferring instead to plant crops that qualify for agricultural subsidies from the European Union (which, apparently, lentils do not). According to an online source, farmers in Greece grew 12,700 tonnes of lentils in 1961 and just 2,000 tonnes in 2011. Now they buy lentils from us.

For all I know, I was eating Canadian lentils just the other day when I ordered a bowl of lentil soup in a restaurant in Athens. It was rich and fragrant, seasoned with tomato, carrots and parsley. Simple and delicious, the perfect restorative after a long day of travel and airport food. As much a part of Greek history as the Acropolis.

Despite its ancient pedigree, new varieties of lentils are still being developed. The small black lentil is a Canadian invention, according to Bert Vandenberg, a plant scientist at the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. He says it was bred at the research farm at Indian Head, Sask.

Some enterprising chefs noted that it resembled the black caviar of the Beluga sturgeon and, voila, black Beluga lentils began appearing on trendy menus.

While I’m a big fan of old-fashioned lentil soup, I also like a new food trend. This cookie recipe fits that bill – a delicious new way to enjoy the ancient legacy of the lentil.
Chocolate Lentil Cookies
Small black or brown lentils look deceptively like chocolate chips in these delicious cookies.

1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup cooked small black or brown lentils
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup quick oats

Cream the butter, sugar and lentils. Some of the lentils will puree and some will remain whole. Mix in the egg, vanilla and milk. 

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda, adding to the batter with the oats until well blended. 

Drop by the spoonful onto cookie sheets. Bake at 350F for about 15 min. Allow cookies to cool slightly then remove to a cooling rack. Makes about 30 cookies. 
(This article first appeared in Grainews.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Emmer, Einkorn, Farro, Spelt Salad

I've started a new food column in Grainews, a newspaper for prairie farmers. So naturally I thought "wheat" was a good place to start. Like many of us, wheat has an interesting family history.
You could say wheat is the reason I’m writing this today. Because of wheat, my ancestors came to farm in Western Canada, as did most of the settlers on the great plains.

By 1906, one year after it became a province, Saskatchewan was calling itself the Breadbasket of the World. In 1928, Canada produced more than 40 per cent of the world’s wheat supply.Before packing up and moving to Canada, my forefathers were wheat farmers in Russia, near the Black Sea in what is now Ukraine. Wheat was grown in Ukraine at least 2,500 years ago when it was a breadbasket of ancient Greece. The north shore of the Black Sea is dotted with the ruins of Greek colonies established for the procurement and shipping of wheat.

Like my ancestors, I grew up surrounded by wheat fields, albeit on a new continent, yet I knew nothing of the ancestry of this illustrious grain. So, here’s a quick genealogy of wheat:
Wild wheat called einkorn crossed with goatgrass to create a hybrid wheat called emmer. This happened in the fertile valleys of Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq and Syria.

Over time, as farmers grew emmer century after century, new varieties evolved such as durum, Polish and Khorasan (also known today as kamut). They are descendants on one side of the wheat family tree. At some point, emmer crossed with another goatgrass to create the other side of the family tree — bread wheat.

The origin of spelt is a bit foggy; some think it’s a hybrid of emmer and goatgrass (a precursor to bread wheat) and some think it’s a descendant of emmer and bread wheat. Either way, spelt and bread wheat are close cousins. While exact dates are sketchy, it is generally accepted that farmers began cultivating einkorn and emmer in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago.

By the time the Greeks settled on the Black Sea, bread wheat was the famous member of the family. It helped fund the monuments of the pharaohs and fed the powerhouse of ancient Rome.

And, almost 2,000 years later, it was the wheat that settled the plains of Western Canada. Today, bread wheat accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s wheat crop, while durum is about five per cent. Einkorn and emmer (also known in Italian as farro) are still grown in small quantities around the world.

I often see spelt, farro and kamut referred to as “ancient grains” as if they are special cases, but no matter how ancient, they are all wheat.

As you might guess, I am fascinated by the story of wheat, so much so that next month I’m heading to Greece, Turkey and Ukraine to dig into the cultural, political and edible history of wheat. Someday, I hope to write a book on the matter. It seems like a natural follow to my first two books: Prairie Feast, a culinary journey into the agricultural heartland of Canada, and Out of Old Saskatchewan Kitchens, a look at Saskatchewan’s early history through the lens of food and the recipes that fuelled the pioneer dream.
When Grainews editor Leeann Minogue asked me to write a regular food column for this paper, I jumped at the opportunity. Who better to appreciate the fruits of this land than the farmers who put their hearts and souls into the venture?

So, let’s start with a recipe for wheat. Whether you use spelt, farro, kamut or wheat from your own granary, it’s a healthy tribute to this ancient grain.

Wheat Salad
1 cup wheat seeds (also called wheat berries
1/3 cup dried prairie cherries or cranberries
3 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
2 cups kale, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 apple, diced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste

Spread wheat on baking sheet and toast in 375 F oven for 10 minutes, until brown and fragrant. Tip wheat into pot, cover with plenty of water, add a dash of salt and boil until soft, about 1 hour.

Near the end of cooking, add dried cherries or cranberries and cook a few minutes to plump them. Drain wheat and, while still warm, stir in vegetable or olive oil. Cool.

Before serving, add kale and mix vigorously until the kale is tender. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

(This article first appeared in Grainews.)