2017: My Banner Year With Local Triticale

Triticale bounty!

by Miche Genest

On the last day of 2017, I’m looking back on a year of cooking with local foods and reflecting on the highlights. I was lucky enough to spend much of 2017 cooking and baking with a locally grown grain: triticale from Krista and Jason Roske’s Sunnyside Farm, located in the Ibex Valley close to Whitehorse. The Roskes acquired some seed from Yukon Grain Farm in the fall of 2015 and planted it on a portion of their land, intending to plow the plants back under to enrich the soil. But 2016 was such a good growing year that the plant actually matured, a rarity for grain in the Whitehorse area.

From that planting the Roskes harvested about 40 kilos of grain, by hand, and sold small quantities of whole grains, bread flour and  pastry flour to customers in and around Whitehorse. I learned about their grain and flour from Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Yukon Agricultural Association, and a great champion of local farmers and their products.

The Roskes delivered one kilo each of grain, bread flour and cake and pastry flour to my house in early 2017. I was in the midst of developing recipes for a cookbook celebrating ancient grains, written in partnership with Dan Jason, a passionate organic farmer and owner of Salt Spring Seeds, and experimenting with all kinds of grains. (Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds will be released by Douglas and McIntyre in early 2018. Stay tuned for Whitehorse and Dawson launch details!)

The Roskes’s bread flour made a beautiful sourdough pumpernickel-style bread, and the pastry flour produced gorgeous muffins, excellent quick bread, delicious beet gnocchi and most recently, lovely birch syrup shortbread cookies for Christmas.

That triticale got around in 2017. Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage and Timber Restaurants in Vancouver made tiny mushroom tartlets with the pastry flour at a Travel Yukon dinner last February, and in June, chef Carson Schiffkorn and I served whole triticale grain with a morel mushroom-miso butter to guests at Air North and Edible Canada’s Across the Top of Canada dinner at Marsh Lake. I served the very last of the whole grain, with more miso butter, for a media dinner hosted by Travel Yukon on November 26. Everybody loved the story of the accidental success of this beautiful, locally grown grain.

Triticale is not an ancient grain, but a hybrid of wheat and rye first developed in the late 1800s in Scotland and Germany, combining the grain quality of wheat with the hardiness of rye. In 1954 the University of Manitoba experimented with the viability of spring triticale as a commercial crop, and in 1974 the University of Guelph did the same with winter triticale. Winter triticale varieties are particularly good for short-season areas like the Yukon.

For the Roskes, hand-harvesting triticale grain “quickly lost its charm,” reported Krista. However, the success of growing triticale has whetted their appetites for more grain experiments, and Krista said they’re planting spring wheat in 2018. “Fingers crossed we will have wheat for flour by next September. I’ll definitely let you know if it works out!” Last time we spoke, the Roskes were contemplating buying more machinery — perhaps a small combine and a small grain cleaner. “It’s farm evolution,” said Krista.

I’m sad to say goodbye to the last of the whole triticale grains, but very happy that I will be returning from Christmas holidays in Ontario to a few cups more of triticale flour in my pantry at home. Birch syrup shortbreads anyone?

> Click here for a recipe for birch syrup shortbreads.

Follow the story of the Roskes’s grain growing adventures on their Facebook page, @sunnysidefarmyukon

 

 

In Far Northern Norway a Chef Strives for Polar Permaculture

Chef Benjamin Vidmar in front of his domed greenhouse. Photo courtesy of PolarPermaculture.com.

Local eco-chef and self-proclaimed foodie Benjamin l. Vidmar, has a dream. He wants to make the remote northern Norwegian community of Longyearbyen, Svalbard more sustainable, and to produce locally-grown food. Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The latitude of the islands range from 74° to 81° North, making them some of the most northerly inhabited places on Earth.

Like many communities north of the arctic circle, there is no viable soil in Svalbard.  How does one grow local food if there is no local soil?

In 2015 Chef Vidmar started a company called Polar Permaculture Solutions, whose goal is to apply permaculture principles and ecological design to create a circular economy in Longyearbyen, and “to connect people back to their food.”

Working at the time as head chef at the Svalbar Pub, he noticed how all the food was being flown or shipped to the island. However, in the past food had been grown on Svalbard, and Vidmar wanted to return to that tradition — but with some modern enhancements and without having to ship in soil.

Vidmar started with hydroponic systems using commercial fertilizer, but felt he could do better. Why ship fertilizer up to the island, he reasoned, when there is so much food waste available to compost and produce biogas? Food waste in his town is dumped into the sea, and he took up the challenge to grow locally-grown food making use of available resources on the island.

Polar Permaculture researched what others were doing around the Arctic, and opted to go with composting worms, specifically red worms, which excel at producing a natural fertlizer from food waste. He got permission from the government to bring worms up to the island, which took a year and a half, but “was worth the wait.”

Vidmar’s company is now growing microgreens for the hotels and restaurants on the island.  Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. During the growing process, worm castings are produced, and this natural fertilizer that can be used to grown more food.

In addition to composting with worms, Polar Permaculture has started hatching quails from eggs and is now delivering fresh locally produced quail eggs to local restaurants and hotels. Their next step will be to get a bio-digestor setup and to produce biogas with it. The worms are mostly vegetarian, but with a digestor, the operation will be able to utilize manure from the birds, as well as food waste that would normally be dumped into the sea. This will also allow them to produce heat for their greenhouse, as well as produce electricity that can run generators to power the lights. A natural fertilizer also comes out of the digestor, which will then be used to grow more food for the town.

What started as one chef’s personal journey has become a local permaculture operation that is reshaping the nature of the local food economy, and providing an inspiration for other Northern communities interested in food sustainability.

Suzanne’s Blog: Sugar Beets Sweeten the Deal

Sugar beets can be turned into sugar (in jar, at left) or syrup (right). Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I love birch syrup and am grateful to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson who are raising their two daughters in the bush and producing birch syrup commercially.  During the past 4 ½ months of eating only local foods, we have consumed 24 litres of birch syrup.  I have discovered that the flavour of birch syrup alone can substitute for the ‘far east’ spices of cinnamon and all-spice.  I have even been known to down a shot of birch syrup, straight up, during those moments when, in a previous life, I would have grabbed a piece of chocolate – to get me through a moment of emotional or physical despair.

I also love David McBurney’s local honey – it is pure, delicate, and divine.  And it is treated like a delicacy in the family.  It also makes the perfect sweetener to enhance other delicate flavours that would be overpowered by the robust flavour of birch syrup.

But there are times, especially in baking, when chemistry is required and a liquid sugar option just doesn’t do the trick.  Now that I have local flour, and Christmas is coming, baking is on my mind.  So what to do when crystalized sugar is required?

Birch syrup, unlike maple syrup, does not crystalize.  I learned this last April while visiting Birch Camp.  So, with birch sugar no longer an option, I ordered GMO-free sugar beet seeds.  I have never had any luck growing regular beets, so I recruited others to grow the sugar beets for me –  the great gardeners Paulette Michaud and Becky Sadlier.  Unbeknownst to me, long-time Dawson farmer, Grant Dowdell, also had my year of eating local on his mind and ordered non-GMO sugar beet seeds to see if they would grow in the north.  The sugar beets grew marvelously for all, confirming that they are indeed a reasonable crop for the North.   They like warm days and cool nights – perfect for a Dawson City summer.  I ended up with 350 pounds worth to experiment with!

Sugar beets contain approximately 20% sucrose, the same sugar found in sugar cane.  One quarter of the world’s refined sugar comes from sugar beets. In Canada, Taber, Alberta is the industrial hot spot for growing and processing sugar beets into sugar.  On a commercial scale, lime (calcium oxide) and carbon dioxide are added to form calcium carbonate which solidifies and pulls out any impurities – thus resulting in familiar white sugar.  No such additions for a local home-made sugar, so the resulting sugar is brown with a richer taste.

There is a paucity of information out there on just how to make sugar from sugar beets at home, so I gave up on research and moved to trial and error.   After all, with 350 pounds of sugar beets, there was room for experimentation and failure.  And failure there has been!  Although no failure has yet to see itself in the compost.  The family seems more than willing to devour the failures – be they sugar beet toffee, sugar beet gum, sugar beet tea.  Even burnt beet sugar has found a use. (Thank goodness because there has  been a lot of burnt beet sugar!)

In the process, I have also discovered the wonder of the sugar beet – a root vegetable that was previously unknown to me.  Sugar beets are often touted as a food for livestock or a green manure crop so I was expecting the taste of the sugar beet itself to be unpalatable.  But it is just the opposite!   Cooked up, it is a delicious, sweet, white beet.  The sugar beet leaves are also edible.  And amazingly, even after the sugar is extracted, the sugar beet pulp remains sweet and delicious.  I’m afraid the local Dawson livestock will be getting less sugar beet pulp than previously anticipated this year.

One thing is for certain – processing sugar beets into sugar requires time and patience.  Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to make syrup (easy) and sugar (difficult) from sugar beets.

Sugar was first extracted from sugar beets in the mid 18th century.   In the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars when French ports were cut off from the rest of the world, Napoleon encouraged wide-scale sugar beet production and processing.  France remains one of the world leaders in sugar beet production and most of Europe’s sugar comes from sugar beets, rather than sugar cane.

Consider adding non-GMO sugar beet seeds to your next seed order.  In Canada, they can be found from Salt Spring Seeds and from T&T seeds.  Sugar beets grow well in the north and are a delicious root vegetable in their own right.  But don’t throw out the water you cook them in, as this water is sweet and can easily be used to make beet syrup and beet syrup candy.   And, if you are brave, sugar!  If you live in an area populated by deer, be warned that sugar beet tops are a great attractant for deer.  Word is now out to the Yukon moose so perhaps next year Dawson’s sugar beet rows will require fencing!

> View the recipe for Sugar Beet Sugar and Syrup

Rooting Around in The Root Cellar

by Miche Genest

Sheila Alexandrovitch at Mount Lorne Community Centre in September 2017

Sheila Alexandrovitch has homesteaded on the Annie Lake Road, 40 kilometres south of Whitehorse, since 1981. Over the years she’s raised goats, llamas and sled dogs; she’s brought up her two children on the farm, and pursued an artistic practice there, working with materials like willow, beads, precious stones and wool. These days she raises sheep (producing beautiful felted work with their wool) and as always, vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.

Alexandrovitch is locally famous for her vegetable ferments, selling jars and jars of them at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse and the weekly market at the Mount Lorne Community Centre on the Annie Lake Road all summer long. At Mount Lorne’s last, stock-up market of the year, on September 26, she and her helper stood behind two tables groaning under her ferments, and giant mounds of fresh carrots and potatoes. As I purchased a few pounds for our house, we struck up a conversation about root cellars — I knew she was pretty much self-sufficient, and curious about her storage methods.

Every winter, Alexandrovitch stores an impressive weight of vegetables in her root cellar — this year, she’s got 135 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of beets, 20 to 30 pounds of parsnips, 35 pounds of turnips and 7 or 8 cabbages. Asked when she runs out of supplies, she replied, “I don’t. By the end of June I’m out of carrots, but I always have rutabagas and beets, and I always have potatoes. And by the end of June, we’ve got greens.”

The cellar that stores this bounty is a hole dug into the ground under her house, accessed by a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cellar is framed in with 2 x 6 boards, insulated with Styrofoam, sheeted in on the inside and completely sealed. In the 2½-foot crawlspace between the earth and the floor of the house, the walls of the cellar are exposed, so the above-ground portion is wrapped with Styrofoam and foil and banked with dirt.

The space is 7 feet long by 6 feet wide and around 4 ½ feet deep — about chest height for Alexandrovitch. There’s no ladder — she just lifts the trap door and jumps in. She piles whatever supplies she’s retrieving onto the kitchen floor, and then jumps out of the cellar, the same way you’d push yourself out of a swimming pool. (She finds this athletic feat unremarkable.)

In winter the temperature in the root cellar is around 2° or 3°C above freezing. There’s no air circulation system, but she’s never noticed any ill effects from ethlylene — not surprising, because most of the foods she stores don’t produce ethylene. (Learn more about the fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene here.)

Alexandrovitch keeps endive, leeks and chicory in pots, in another cold space, this one on her porch. She runs out of those greens sometime in January, but then she’s got all her ferments, plus frozen leeks and kale, kept in her freezer at a neighbour’s place. She has canned goods and grains in the root cellar, and she might drive to town for coffee, butter and oil, but she prefers to use goose fat—she’ll render 6 to 8 litres this year–or pork fat, which she’ll also render.

Alexandrovitch estimated that she spends about 95% of her time growing, processing, preserving and preparing her food. “But what a good way to spend 95% of your time,” she said. “It’s not so hard. It’s just a bunch of work.”

Some of Sheila’s work.

 

Short Fall Ends With Snowfall

There is a local saying about the weather in Dawson City: “Nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.”

It’s only a slight exaggeration. One thing for sure is that the shoulder seasons — Spring and Fall — are extremely short in the far north. This is yet one more challenging aspect of  growing in the North.

We posted previously about the efforts by Otto at Kokopellie Farm to harvest his crop of locally-grown rye and barley so Suzanne could have some grain in her 100%-local diet. Otto did finally manage to harvest his rye and wheat on Oct 23rd. Turns out it was just in time. This is what Dawson looked like, one week later!

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: The Good News, Bad News Grain Story Conclusion

The combine at work harvesting fields of rye at Kokopellie Farms. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I didn’t realize that the Good News, Bad News story of grain would end so quickly.

Shortly after posting my tale on Oct 23, I received a call from Kokopellie Farm.  More snow was in the forecast so Otto decided it was now or never for harvesting the rye and the Red Fife wheat.   And so the story continues:

After some serious labour with ropes, the wet snow was removed from most of the grain heads in the field. Unfortunately some of the grain was laying flat under the snow.  Fortunately some could be resurrected via pitch fork and muscle power.  Unfortunately some patches were already frozen to the grown and not harvestable.  Fortunately there was still a good section standing.  Unfortunately the wet stalks of the rye kept getting jammed in the combine requiring manual removal.  Fortunately Otto was able to do this without injury.  Unfortunately the engine of the combine broke down.  Fortunately Otto was able to fix it.  Unfortunately the combine engine kept breaking down.  Fortunately Otto never gives up and was able to get it going again each time and finish harvesting the rye.  Unfortunately it was getting close to dark, more snow was in the forecast and the wheat had not yet been harvested.  Fortunately, Otto discovered the final issue with the engine, repaired it and was able to harvest the wheat before darkness fell!   Yeah!!!

Many, many thanks to the tenacity, mechanical genius, ingenuity and hard work of Otto and Conny who were able to harvest the rye and wheat against all odds!  Now it dries (under shelter) and can eventually be ground into flour.

The last of the crops has now been harvested.  There is sourdough bread in my future.  Let it snow!

Success! Harvested rye grain in the hopper. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Good News, Bad News – Grain Drain

Red Fife wheat plant topped with snow. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I am often asked which food I miss the most.   I had expected it would be chocolate or caffeine (very strong black tea was my comfort drink).   Surprisingly it is neither.  What I miss most is grains: cookies, pies, bread, bagels, rice, pasta – these items that were once staples in our household are no more.  The potato is trying its best to fill the gap, but after 85 days without, grains are definitely missed.

It is not easy to grow grains in the far north, as our growing season is so short.   But it has been done.

I feel like Northern grain is a character in one of those ‘Good News, Bad News’ stories:

The good news is that in 2016, Otto at Kokopellie Farm had a successful crop of rye and barley that he was able to grind into flour.  The bad news is that I used up all I had last winter experimenting with wheat-free and salt-free sourdough bread recipes.

Fortunately Otto planted rye and barley again this year and it grew well.  Unfortunately, in August, a moose ate the barley.  Fortunately the moose didn’t eat the rye (because it was protected by a fence).  And the GREAT NEWS is that, unbeknownst to me, Otto had also planted Red Fife wheat and it grew well (and was protected by the fence)!

Unfortunately, the combine required to harvest the grain was stuck 550 km away in Whitehorse, waiting for a bridge on the North Klondike Highway to be repaired.  Fortunately the bridge repairs finished just in time for harvest season mid September.   Unfortunately, while hauling the combine to Dawson, the trailer had several flat tires which caused another week’s delay.  Fortunately, the combine did eventually make it to Dawson.

Unfortunately by the time the combine arrived in Dawson, it began raining and you can’t harvest grain when it is wet.  Fortunately there was a brief break in the weather in early October.  Unfortunately, there was no time to put the combine together because the root vegetables had to be harvested before the ground froze.  Fortunately grains can withstand frost.  Unfortunately, after all the vegetables were harvested it began to snow.  Fortunately dry snow can easily be knocked off the grain.  Unfortunately this snow was heavy and wet.  Fortunately the combine is now fully assembled and ready to go.  Unfortunately it is already October 23 and the wet, heavy snow remains on the grains.

There’s still a sheaf of hope that Kokopellie Farm’ field of snow-covered wheat can be hearvested. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Otto, a very pragmatic and optimistic farmer, still feels there is hope.   The wheat and rye are still standing. Some cold, clear weather might dry up the snow and make it possible to remove the snow from the grain so it can be combined, but time is running out.   I am not sure how this good-news, bad-news story is going to end. My moose anxiety resolved with a successful hunt.  Now I have grain anxiety.

Dawson Sees First Snow of the Season

Sunflower plant covered in first snowfall of the season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

This has been an usually warm fall in Dawson City, Yukon. Last week crocuses, our first wild flower of Spring, were seen sprouting on sun-exposed bluffs, and one gardener reported pea shoots sprouting in her garden.

This type of mild weather is certainly not what you’d expect in a town not far from the Arctic Circle. Traditionally, on Thanksgiving weekend Dawson receives a snowfall that stays on the ground. Well, as it turns out, despite the atypically warm fall, this year was no exception …

On October 10th, Dawson saw its first snowfall, and all indications are that the snow will be sticking around.

That means it’s time to get those hoses drained and put away for winter, and to pull the last of the veggies from the garden before the ground freezes hard next week.

As this snow-covered brussel sprout testifies, it’s time to pull the garden and prepare for winter. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Tom Thumb Grows Up … But Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby were attempting to grow popping corn for Suzanne on Grant’s Island, located about 10 km upstream from Dawson in the Yukon River.

Grant has tried many varieties of corn in the past and the only one consistently successful has been EarliVee sweet corn  (See Grant’s Seed Guide) which takes around 70 days to reach maturity.)

This year, however, he agreed to give the Tom Thumb variety of corn a try, since it has a short growing season (only 60 days to maturity). He used seeds from Heritage Harvest Seeds.

Tess at work in the popcorn field. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Things looked iffy when a hungry moose visited Grant’s Island and pulled up the crop early in the season but Karen popped them back in the ground and they grew!

Recently Suzanne and family harvested the plants, hoping for a favourite family treat to accompany their movie watching. Unfortunately, first attempts at popping have been unsuccessful. Suzanne’s not sure if the kernels are not dry enough — or perhaps they’re too dry.  She will keep experimenting, but any suggestions are very welcome. If anyone has grown and successfully popped their own popcorn, let us know.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

A Pile of Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

Pumpkin growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. For Suzanne and family. a favourite Thanksgiving treat is pumpkin pie.  Now, Suzanne does have 91 pie pumpkins in storage for the winter!  Thanks to Grant Dowdell who grows great pumpkins on his Island about 10 km upstream from Dawson on the Yukon River.  Grant has had great success with the Jack Sprat variety of pie pumpkin (check out Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby’s Seed Guide). Grant finds they have the best storage capacity of all the squash, storing well into May.

So, although Suzanne has no grains for a crust, she certainly has the pumpkins — as well as cream for whipping, eggs, and birch syrup for a sweetener.  But she has no pumpkin pie spices such as  cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or allspice.  So what to do?  Could she use dried and ground spruce tips or Labrador tea?

First We Eat collaborator Miche Genest has a great pumpkin custard recipe for Suzanne. Miche has suggested adapting it using cream instead of evaporated milk. plus birch syrup to taste instead of sugar, and adding an extra egg. For spices, Miche suggests dry-roasting low bush cranberry leaves in a frying pan, then grinding and adding those. Suzanne will give it a try and report back on the results.

If you have any suggestions for alternative pumpkin desert recipe, or a northern local alternative to pumpkin pie spices, let us know!

Pumpkins and corn in storage. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Buckwheat Provides A Grain of Hope for Suzanne

Buckwheat ready for harvest. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It’s been 65 days since Suzanne started eating locally, which means it’s also been that long since she’s had any grains! But there’s a glimmer of hope on that front, thanks to some buckwheat that was grown in Dawson this year by Stephanie Williams and Mike Penrose. They planted it as a cover crop for their yard and it grew quite well in our northern climate.

Suzanne has harvested the buckwheat groats. Now, if she can just figure out how to thresh them by hand she will try cooking it.  (If anyone has experience with hand threshing, suggestions are welcome. Just contact us.)

Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. (It’s actually related to sorrel and rhubarb). It is one of the so-called ancient grains, having been first cultivated around 6,000 BCE.

Porridge made from buckwheat groats, known as kasha,  is often considered the definitive Eastern European peasant dish. The dish was brought to North America by Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish immigrants who also mixed it with pasta or used it as a filling for cabbage rolls, knishes, and blintzes.

If you have any recipes made with buckwheat groats that Suzanne can use, we welcome your submissions.

Early-Buckwheat
Buckwheat-flowering

Buckwheat early after planting (left) and when flowering. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Hey, Who Doesn’t Love Fresh Vegetables?

Tracks of moose marauding through the vegetable gardens of Henderson Corner. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Moose were spotted having a garden vegetable buffet in Henderson Corner, near Dawson City, last week.

Bites were taken out of cabbage, the tops eaten off of kohlrabi, beets, romanesco, and broccoli, and some beets plucked out of the soil. The tracks told the tale of the culprits responsible.

Seems like a mama moose  and her offspring were craving some fresh greens — and backyard gardens in Henderson Corner were ripe for the picking.

kohlrabi-moose-eaten
romanesco-with-moose-bite-out-of-it

Munching moose leave their mark. Top eaten off of a kohlrabi plant (left) and a romanesco (right) with a big bite taken out of it. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.