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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Focus On Local!

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday August 6, 05:26 pm
Like the Maritimes, SK has homegrown foods you’ll love

In an agricultural province more focused on exports than feeding its own population, the idea of eating local in Saskatchewan is farther from some people’s minds than a lot of people — including myself— would like it to be. Sure, we have our gardens, some of us frequent the farmers’ markets and people are becoming more aware of the value of local, but we have a long way to go.

 

I just came back from a holiday in the Maritimes, where seasonal eating seems far more mainstream. An example: It was strawberry season, and whether we were at people’s homes or in restaurants, the desserts were invariably made with delicious, freshly picked strawberries.

 

It was also lobster season, and we took several opportunities to eat our fill of lobster and other seafood. And they were served alongside fresh new potatoes. Lobster isn’t something I ever choose to eat when I’m landlocked in Saskatchewan, since we’re much better at producing animals that walk on two or four legs. But in the Maritimes? Damn straight — I’m going for it.

 

How mainstream is the focus on local food there? Well, the tourism board in PEI puts out a map of all the farms and what they produce, and includes a chart that shows what produce is available during which week over the summer. You can cross-reference the week you’re there, and know what to look for and where to find it. Sweet.

 

It seems that with the smaller land-base of places like Nova Scotia or PEI, food production is far more visible than it is in Saskatchewan. That’s kind of ironic, considering our reputation as the breadbasket of Canada (and arguably the world).

 

Just before I left on my holiday, I had the opportunity to judge a chefs’ competition at Taste of Saskatchewan. While the focus of the competition was to use Saskatchewan ingredients (which was cool), I couldn’t help notice the further irony of the event overall being called “Taste of Saskatchewan,” as it was all food that has virtually no focus on anything to do with Saskatchewan. Beyond the bison stew from Wanuskewin Heritage Park, there’s nothing Saskatchewan-focused in the event. It would better be called “Taste of Restaurants in Saskatoon,” but I guess that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

 

The true taste of Saskatchewan in July is fresh lettuce, garden peas, sour cherries and Saskatoon berries — to name just a few things. Anyone with gardening connections or a commitment to the U-Pick circuit can celebrate local and seasonal food, but it’s my personal goal to move awareness of local and seasonal produce into the mainstream.

 

The movement is happening everywhere. One of my favourite cookbook series of all time is Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetable-centric Plenty and Plenty More. In July and August, I can turn to almost any recipe in his books, and make gorgeous and colourful vegetable dishes, using veggies from my own garden or the Farmers’ Market. We grow amazing broad beans, and combined with the brilliant peppers and tomatoes from Grandora Gardens, I’ve pulled off some truly exotic-looking dishes, like multi-vegetable paella.

 

We have far more raw materials than we sometimes think, grown right here at home. We just have to shift our perception of quality food to include what’s fresh right now. There are still far too few restaurants in Saskatoon who are embracing this concept, but some have been around a long time. (Calories and Truffles, for example, change their menus seasonally.)

 

The Hollows has its own garden and gardener, and uses fresh produce and fresh butchered meats in their oft-changing menu. They also do lots of preserving, which means they have access to fresh local flavour even in the winter months. And I’m still thinking about the appetizer of stuffed zucchini flowers I enjoyed at Primal last month. That’s local cooking at its finest.

 

All of those menus have some delicious options for special occasions, but you won’t find lobster on them as often as you’ll find Saskatchewan-grown chicken, duck, pork or beef. Or locally sourced fish, like steelhead trout or northern pike.

 

I won’t ever order lobster in Saskatchewan. There’s far too much travel involved in getting a live, fresh lobster here. Not to mention that the most common type of lobster in Saskatchewan is flash-frozen lobster tails, and that just pales in comparison to the real thing pulled from the ocean within a mile of where you’re eating it.

 

We do many things well here in this productive province, and that’s what I’ll choose to put in my mouth. Fresh veggies are available for more and more months of the year, as our producers experiment with pushing the boundaries of our growing seasons, using greenhouses and other methods. Wild game, when we can get it, lake and river fish, and meat and fowl of a quality as good or better than any you’ll find anywhere.

 

This year I belong to both a local Community Supported Agriculture program (a new inner-city program called Chain Reaction Urban Farm) that provides weekly produce for a fixed fee; I also signed up for Community Supported Foraging (prairieinfusions.com), which delivers wild-crafted products (like mushrooms, wild greens and other more obscure food items like spruce tips, rose petals and cattail stems) by bus from northern Saskatchewan.

 

Add to that the bounty from our broader fields — such as camelina oil, which my husband has decided should replace olive oil for both cooking and salad dressings. Oh, and lentils, barley, an amazing array of wheat varieties (often used in locally produced artisan breads) and wild rice and morel and yellow chanterelle mushrooms from the north… we have so much locally available that is considered a delicacy elsewhere.

 

For the longest time, it seemed that everything of value came from somewhere else. Local stuff was taken for granted — just like lobster in the Maritimes used to be what the poor people ate. It’s time to own what we have to offer, and celebrate it. Look for local. ‘Tis the season for it!

 

If you’re wondering where to begin, start at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, or check out the Local Food Map (http://spatial.usask.ca/localfoodmap/) to find some local food near you.

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