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It has been awhile since butter molds graced our kitchens and many of us are jumping at the chance to buy freshly churned butter at local farmers markets.
Butter is an important staple in many cultures and is a huge industry around the world. In the past 10 years India is the leader in production followed by the US, Germany and New Zealand where France is the leader in consumption
Cow milk is most commonly used, but other animals, such as goats and yaks are known to be great providers in other countries. In Tibet, a mixture of barley flour and yak butter is staple food. Fermented, or “rancid” yak butter is consumed as a hot tea in the Himalayas. Moroccans bury clarified butter in the ground and age it for several months. Salting butter is a great preservative.
There are several varieties of butter:salted/unsalted, clarified (butter that has had almost all of it’s water and butter solids removed by heating/separating), cultured butter (butter that is made from sour or fermented milk giving the butter a stronger flavor), and whey butter (whey–a liquid by-product of cheese that is added).
Whey butter, our new favorite, has a slightly salted flavor, but not as “cheesy” as cultured butter. It is great for sweet and savory applications. We use butter from Stirling Creamery and is one of our secret ingredients in our shortbreads. It adds depth and flavor to our baking both sweet and savory. Due to the fermentation in the whey there may be some health benefits, too.
I recently made butter using a wooden butter mold acquired at an antique market. A simple design, four sides and a rectangular plunger with a small wooden handle. Now, if you have ever walked away from a mixer and over whipped heaving cream by mistake, you know the butter sticks to the whip and the liquid splashes about making a mess. (I was carefully applying the same technique.) With some success, and the butter still soft, I placed it in the mold, pressed down on the handle and waited for a few minutes. I had a perfectly rectangular shape about an inch thick. It didn’t have much flavor and wasn’t very rich or buttery. There obviously is a bit more to making a tasty butter. The fat content of the cream needs to be higher and maybe a slower churning vs whipping is the key.
I am leaving the butter-making to the professionals for now, but it was fun being curious and playing with my food. I have great butter mold as a book-end to prove it.
We are always happy to hear how other people are using Ontario grains in every day meals cooked at home.
One of the members of Evelyn’s Crackers’ community submitted this recipe for making pancakes using Red Fife Whole Wheat flour farmed from John and Patricia Hastings of CIPM Farms in Medoc, Ontario:
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups of milk
1 cup red fife whole wheat flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (more if you like)
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/4 cup melted butter
Blend the oats and milk, let stand for five minutes. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients, eggs and butter to at mixture and stir until just combined.
Heat pan (cast-iron preferably) on medium low heat; lightly coat with a neutral oil and pour batter and proceed as expected.
Most weeks the Red Fife whole wheat can be pre-ordered via email (email@example.com) and picked up at Evelyn’s Crackers table at all of our farmers marketlocations.
I find this time of year exciting. The change of leaves gives us a vibrant new landscape. The hustle and bustle of filling approaching end of the year orders. (Yes, the holidays are just around the corner.) And a little sadness too with the several farmers markets we sell at whose seasons have ended. Fall also gives us a time to reflect on the year we had.
Some of the highlights: keynote speaker for the Grain Gathering in Washington State University (Advocating for bakers to use whole grains!); introducing einkorn wheat in our whole grain baked goods for the market; (Einkorn was the first cultivated wheat. And it’s tasty, too.); the Oatcakes have come on strong selling very well this year and are now available for retail at select locations (and, of course, at the markets.)
We are going to go into the new year with more ideas to incorporate other whole grains into our baked goods and examining new ways to offer some of these goodies to our retail partners. The Maple Oat Granola Bar has been doing great at a couple of stores sold by the piece in large glass jars. A few of the cookie staples like the Killer Chocolate and Ginger Molasses could be the next wholesale offerings.
Baking workshops are in the works as well, and stay tuned for the Cracker Jamboree to celebrate the cracker community of farmers, bakers and eaters.
May is a wonderful month. It is the start to the Farmers Market Season. It’s my birthday month. It is the month we turn the heat off and start opening the windows. And we do a little shuffle in the back yard to make space for house plants that have been indoors. The 24th of May is a consistent date to mark the end of night frosts. This year we were graced with warmer weather a few weeks earlier and a couple of rain showers, everything turns green and starts to bloom.
The racoon that lived under our deck came back this year. I had forgotten about our co-habitator and was meaning to seal the one area that it had been squeezed into between the deck and the house near the small basement window. A few clay flower pots were tipped over and I knew we had company again. There is only 10 inches, or so, of clearance under the deck. The entrance is near the clothes dryer duck and must produce enough heat to make it quite cosy.
This year we are participating in six markets a week, crammed into four days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. June is when the markets really begin to pick up and establish themselves. The shopping attendance increases. Folks are aware the markets have started and the popular produce starts to be available: asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, fiddle heads and wild leeks. Getting used to the nice weather and taking and advantage of open outdoor spaces seems to happen overnight.
In July the type of visitors that come to the market changes. School is out and many in-town residents are on vacation. At the same time, other vacationers are visiting the city from other parts of Canada, the States and Europe. The buying patterns can be a little different, but so pleasant to meet people from other places at our little markets.
Come August, we have slightly slower attendance and the irony begins because it is the most bountiful month for produce.We try to get away to visit family for a week, or so, some time in August. Either the first, or last week.
September is a homecoming month. School is back in session and the farms are at their peak of production and at full harvest. There is some crisp in the air. The sun is setting a littler earlier. Scarves and hats start to come out. My favorite to wear my wool gloves with the finger tips cut off. But let’s not talk about this too much.
Not according to my friend’s sister, an opinionated artist who says automated machines make goods cheaper, faster and more consistently. She says, “Why would anyone want to pay more for handmade? You can’t even tell the difference.”
She has a point.
But, as a result we live in a disposable society. There are incentives to buy new cell phones only after a year. We are forced to retire capable computers that can’t run the latest software. A very successful Swedish company sells great furniture that is destined to be seen on the curb awaiting trash day. All are just a small sample of items produced on a huge scale.
It wasn’t always this way. I have a couple of 100 year old pocket watches that are still keeping time and cameras from the ’40’s that are clicking away to prove it. These garage-sale-gems were built in a era where things were made to last, often for a lifetime.
When did we suddenly move away from owning objects for decades? Are we better now for it? Or does it make these things inferior?
These are some questions I asked myself after speaking to Sarra in her studio at the Distillary. (I found a recent video (click here) on Toronto Standard showing the behind the scenes of her unique textile business). I was blown away by her dedication and passion to her craft.
Let’s throw out the debate for now as we won’t solve it here. But rather focus on the gratification of supporting driven artists and the items they choose to make. Whether it be a handbag, a piece of cheese, or in our case, crackers. It just may inspire others to do the same.
I recently met Sophie the lead miller, grain tester and bread baker for La Milanaise at a restaurant in Montreal. This impassioned young woman approaches milling organic grains like none other. In her test kitchen, she studies the properties of grains from the field to the oven. In a buzzing hot-spot in downtown Montreal, over small pates of house-cured meats and good French wine, she explained to me how she brings her bread to restaurants rather than eat theirs. It becomes a show-and-tell to the waiters and chefs how heritage grains react to moisture and the benefits to longer fermentation, making huge improvements to texture and flavor.
We spoke a little about her experience with gluten-free. Even though chickpea flour makes beautiful dough, Sophie believes the gluten-free trend is coming to an end and focus is now on ancient grains.
Some of these first cultivated crops have natural gluten levels and the uncanny ability to adapt to all types of growing conditions. She explains the plant naturally wants to survive, even thrive. She explains few of the heritage wheats can be planted both in spring and winter. It just adapts. Where the crossbred grains tend to show instabilities after seven years, which is not good for farmers who are trying to establish their crop. (Huge benefits here!)
As vital as gluten is for many bakers it still can be a source of extreme discomfort for individuals with celiac disease and should not be taken lightly. For them it certainly is not a trend but an un-welcomed medical condition and can be a difficult way of life. A life limited by their food choices and a blind trust that something labeled gluten-free, is exactly what it says.
Growing and eating more ancient grains is the final cog in the wheel to raising awareness of the good sustainable food movements. By now most of us understand the impact of poor animal husbandry, unappetizing caged chickens and feedlot cattle. It’s also clear to imagine the negative effect of fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides and herbicides effecting the natural habitat of bees, insects and contamination of ground water. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat is bred to fit into the form of large scale farming. Ancient and heritage grains can offer everything this wheat cannot.
With heritage grains and a dedicated miller, the artisan baker is most happy. When we get our weekly flour delivery a wonderful mixture of smells of toasted grass and warm earth floats through the kitchen. At the market, my eyes light up when someone asks me about our cloth bags filled with Red Fife wheat. I’ll hold up the bag and say, “Here, smell!”
Heritage grains may be the final cog in the wheel of the good food and sustainable farming movements. These special grains were bountiful leading up to the 1900’s and vital to westward settlements in North America. They were grown for their adaptability, nutritional value, animal feed and fermented for spirits.
By the 1950’s the population transitioned from rural to urban communities, therefore changing the direction of food and farming. At the same time, micro-food communities were pushed aside by large agri-businesses and huge food chains monopolized hybridized wheat and limited the choices for the increasing number of the suburban consumers.
Striving for the quick and convenient, food became overly processed and shelf-life won out over nutrition. Slowly these older varieties of grains, and much of the food our grandparents and great grandparents ate, became harder and harder to find.
In the past 10-15 years, however, a new generation of farmers and advocates are finding ways to revitalize our food choices. Similar to the environmental movement of the 1970s, smart, dedicated individuals such as Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin offering insights for consumers and leading them away from foods grown on industrial farms. Huge online campaigns are forming (Top 20 local food advocates on Twitter link) where conscience eaters are demanding nutrient dense food grown by sustainable farms.
As a result, it is becoming easier to understand the cost of industrial farming. Fruits and vegetables growers who use pesticides, fungicides and herbicides disturb the natural habitat of bees and contaminate of ground water. Documentaries are exposing poor animal husbandry that result in unappetizing caged chickens and sick feedlot cattle. What’s harder to see is is how modern wheat was bred to fit the needs of large scale farming.
Heritage grains can offer everything that industrialized wheat cannot.
1. Whole Grain Nutrition. The outer layer of the grain contain most of the nutrients and when freshly milled it has a wonderful taste and texture. (Enriched white flours are an indication that the good stuff has been removed.)
2. Sustainability. These older varieties adapt to their growing conditions. Seeds don’t have to be purchased from outside the farm they can be planted each year collected after harvest. Hybridized grains tend to lose vitality with a shorter life-cycle. Heritage grains are an asset that stays on the farm, year after year.
3. Diversity. Food mono-cultures dominated by a single seed species can inhibit long-term agricultural diversity. Growing buckwheat, rye, barley, durum and spelt can offer so much more than a single crop of dwarfed wheat. The soil benefits greatly with crop rotation and seed variety. Nutrients remain in the soil, which lends itself to organic farming and offer more variety in our diets.
Heritage grains connect us to a time were micro food communities were the only option, where you knew the person who grew your food, or you grew it yourself. We have the unique benefit of living in modern cities with modern conveniences that can offer connections to these special grains through a new breed of committed farmers. CIPM and K2Mill are our main grain suppliers. Look for heritage grains at farmers markets, through subscriptions to Community Supported Agriculture, food artisans and at farm-gate sales. Currently, we are using buckwheat, rye, durum, red fife wheat and spelt all grown and milled in Ontario.
(We will be creating a page to post your favorite whole grain recipes soon.)
By participating in several farmers markets, over the years, we have learned a few ways that help us to increase our sales and maximize our presence.
Here are some tips that you can use if you are selling:
1. There is an old saying in the retail business, “Pile it high and watch it fly!” Have plenty of product on display.
2. Add some risers to the table legs. It gets items closer to the people who may buy them. Remember three-foot marketing and try to have items within reach. Folks like to pick and hold, examine and fall in love with things before they buy.
3. Have labels and prices that are easy to read. Make it apparent what you are selling even from a distance. You have a split second to capture someone’s attention amongst many vendors and things to see.
4. Sample. Sample. Sample.
5. Acknowledge someone as soon as they come to the table. Especially, when you are helping someone else. A quick hello, or smile is all it takes.
6. Offer a special price for buying more than one item. Buying in bulk should offer some benefit.
7. Create different heights with your display. Baskets and risers work well.
8. Have items neatly arranged and as things sell. Re-merchandise so the table looks full and not picked over.
These are just a few things that we have tried that work for us and may help you whether you are planning a yard sale, lemonade stand, or run a retail store.
Feel free to comment below of you have any tips to share.
Red Fife Wheat
A land race wheat that acclimates well to many growing conditions. This sweet nutty tasting heritage grain can be planted in spring, or winter. The “Queen” of wheats, she is grace under pressure-whatever you ask of her. From sweet to savory, bread to pastry, she delivers.
Flaky, nutty, sweet-natured, not too dependable, changes her mood all the time.
Like a bass player in a band. Over looked but necessary. Plays in the background but adds structure and backbone.
Hardcore. Black and white. No soft edges. Has a love, or hate personality, no in between.
Grumpy grandpa, off putting and difficult at first, but you grow to love it. Likes to be treated a certain way. Then it will be nice.
A rural unpaved road. Rough and bumpy. Always there. Part of the landscape. Will eventually take you where you need to go.