Category Archives: Heritage foods

Have your voice heard on raw milk debate in Canada

Durham dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was found guilty of selling and distributing raw milk on Wednesday, a decision that overturned his 2010 acquittal.

While it is not against the law to drink unpasteurized milk in Canada, it is illegal to sell it despite the niche demand in Ontario and other provinces.

Health officials maintain that milk must be pasteurized before it is sold, as it can contain pathogens like salmonella, listeria and E. coli – all harmful or deadly if consumed.

But Schmidt, a vocal advocate of food freedom, insists that Canadians shouldn’t be told what they can or cannot drink. He said he won’t give up the fight to endorse and sell raw milk despite the latest court decision.

Like-minded supporters say the pasteurization process kills beneficial micro organisms that aid in digestion and metabolization, among other arguments in favour of the milk.

Do you think people who want to drink raw milk should be able to buy it, if they understand the risks? Should farmers face jail time if they disobey the law? Have you or would you drink unpasteurized milk?


Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Heritage foods, Milk preservation techniques, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Uncategorized

Guess what’s coming to dinner

Who knew this would end up on my plate?

OK. So these are the kinds of things your mother doesn’t warn you about when you grow up in the city. I was warned about not talking to strangers, checking the back seat before opening the car when in underground parking, and not walking alone down deserted streets after dark. I was not warned about what I might be offered for dinner at a cattle branding party!

“Testicles anyone?” was not something I ever imagined I’d hear over the dinner table.  Now I will admit to being a pretty finicky eater. In fact, what I might have to eat is something that helped me choose where I would (and would not) do my fieldwork for my Anthropology Degree. Knowing I would never be able to choke down insects limited the scope of possibilities substantially. My mother will confirm this and bore anyone who will listen with stories of how for the first few years of my life she thought I would starve to death because there was very little I would eat!

Now, here I am in the middle of Alberta being offered a ‘delicacy’, the thought of which turns my stomach. “Prairie Oyster Kristeva?” asks Dennis, who has changed out of his chaps and into a clean pair of jeans, but is now shirtless and being affectionately referred to as ‘The Naked Chef’. When I politely try to decline Jeff’s ears ring from across the lawn. He leaps to his feet and charges over, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding! I tried your goat.”

Somehow, I think that is different.

Desperate to get out of this, I turn to ‘Grandma Ella’. Now in her mid-eighties, she is matriarch of this ranching family. She doesn’t eat prairie oysters, never has, never will. But I quickly realize it’s a battle I’m not going to win. Not even ‘Grandma Ella’  will come to my rescue!

By this stage in the proceedings several sets of expectant eyes are on me, and I cave. “OK, I’ll try one. Just one!” With a healthy dose of trepidation, I peer over the plate in front of me. I am shocked to see they look quite appetizing–that is, if you don’t consider from whence they came.  The tender little morsels are glistening with fat and spread out neatly on the plate amidst fried onions. A waft of warm air heavy with garlic and spices rises up before me. It’s almost enough to make me forget that I’m being offered testicles on a plate.

To help muster some courage I think about the politics of food, the ultimate sacrifice those poor little calves made only a few hours ago, and the starving millions around the world. “At least I know they are fresh!” I say as I reach for my first prairie oyster. There is an unconscious little whimper emitted as I bite down on the testicle (it’s what you don’t see in the photos).

My first bite of a prairie oyster.

I’m still whimpering as I chew and try not to think about what it is I am eating.

At this stage I can't believe I have a calf testicle in my mouth.

The look on my face betrays the fact that I’m losing the battle of keeping the flashes of the morning’s activities at bay as I ponder the texture with my tongue. Texture is big for me when it comes to food. The prairie oyster reminds me of small breakfast sausages, of which I’m not all that fond.

The texture is like a breakfast sausage.

“I see you’ve got the emergency water bottle handy just in case,” Dennis laughs while watching me eat. “Not to mention the ‘whiskey back’,” I reply, raising my red cup up to toast the occasion (I’ve had a few shots to bolster my courage).  As I chew, the delicate flavour mingles in my mouth and over-shadows my misgivings. Much to my chagrin, I have to admit that they actually taste pretty darn good and–although it may have been the whiskey talking–I actually reach for seconds. I don’t, however, let go of my whiskey!

Who knew they'd be so delicious that I'd want seconds!

Besides the prairie oysters, we do have roast beef. These folks have a grand facility replete with butchering shop that will hold about 25 cattle beasts at one time for aging. We head on in to do the de-boning. Actually, Jeff did all the work while the rest of us onlookers ensured a suitable level of general harassment was kept up.

De-boning and preparing roasts for the barbeque.

“It was a plan that was hatched at about 3:30 am one night in a state of utter debauchery,” Dennis tells me shaking his head.  Then looking up, he  swept his arm around the facility, “But we were all here the next day working on it!” The fellows are proud of this establishment, and who wouldn’t be. “You know, we can have an elk on the ground, then butchered, cut, and wrapped in a matter of hours,” Dennis continues, highlighting the various merits of the facility. “For example, this leg has been aged in the back cooler for 25 days,” he says, pointing to the leg Jeff is working on.

Suddenly Jeff looked up, “What, here? In this facility…. oh, we’re taking our chances,” he says, then winks at me. He’s already elbow deep in the work of de-boning yet manages to participate in the camaraderie around the room.

There are recipes and tall stories shared in order to work up an appetite:

“Hey Doug, can I get some of your special brine while I’m here?” someone asks.

“Sure, I’ll make you some right now.”

“Oh. Can I get the actual recipe off you, or is it a family secret?”

“Yep, but you can’t tell Jeff I gave it to you.”

“Why not?”

“Cuz it’s actually his family’s recipe and he doesn’t know I have it!”

A pretty happy pair.

Thanks to the people at the ranch and their generous, inclusive spirit, the weekend was not only enlightening but also a lot of fun. The weather was fantastic, the ranch was beautiful, the jobs were turned into entertainment. A good time was had by this little cowgirl. I got to experience some real Canadian ranch life–I even got to sleep in a horse trailer. Now how is that for an authentic cowhand experience!


Filed under Cattle, Heritage foods, Meat and game cookery

Pumpkin cheese-cake, with low carb version

Fresh pumpkin cheesecake


1/3 cup sugar (splenda if making low carb version)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 1/4 cup flour (replace regular flour with soy flour if making low carb version)

1 egg

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix together and press into spring-form pan. Bake at 450 for 5 mins. Remove and cool.

Cheese-cake filling

3 – 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

2/3 cup sugar (splenda if making low carb version)

2 eggs

2 cups fresh pumpkin, steamed and blended

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Beat cream cheese, sour cream and sugar together well. Add pumpkin and mix until smooth. Then add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour over crust Bake 350ºF for 1 hour or until firm.

Chill and garnish with whipping cream. Sprinkle a bit of nutmeg or cinnamon on the whipped cream if desired.

NOTE: for true low carb version, omit the crust all together. Spray the bottom of the pan with non-stick spray.


Filed under Desserts and sweets, Eggs, How to..., Low carb foods, Recipes, Uncategorized

Not Dabbling in Normal today

Zucchini squash blossoms make an interesting base for several unique recipes.

Zucchini squash blossoms make an interesting base for several unique recipes.

I’ll eventually post this up here on my blog, but today it is reserved for Not Dabbling in Normal! I am planning to do a series of recipes using this unique ingredient this summer. It is a great way to keep those pesky overly enthusiastic zucchini’s at bay.


Filed under Heirloom vegetables, How to..., Recipes

Ah, fiddlesticks

The perfect fiddlehead ready for harvest!

The perfect fiddlehead ready for harvest!

Spring is here and the running to keep up is set at a pace I’m not sure I can keep up with! The fiddleheads are up and gone and now we’re into stinging nettles. The spring has been really late in coming this year but suddenly it is all go. Last night as I came in the house I noticed that the cherry tree is suddenly in blossom–I’m sure it wasn’t this morning!

I managed to harvest a good couple of loads of fiddleheads. Usually I’ve been able to do it over a few days up to a week or so, but this year they seem to have come and gone in an instant. So, one good harvest was all I got. Still, they are a welcome addition to the menu and to the harvesting process. I love anything I don’t have to tend all year long or think about replanting, fertilizing, watering, etc! The fiddleheads are delicious. Cook them as you would asparagus: steam or lightly fry in olive oil or butter. They are much like asparagus in flavour but much more delicate in texture. There is no trace of the fibrousness of asparagus. If you have never tried them before, I encourage you to try them. Of all the wild harvested items I gather, these are by far the most anticipated each year.

Anthropologists have done studies that look at time, and discovered that hunter-gathering groups actually had much more time on their hands than agriculturalist groups. Instinctively, it is difficult to imagine. One would think that being in control of our food sources would free up some time. Now that I’m a serious food provisionist, I now know first hand why it doesn’t! It is so much easier to simply be observant, and harvest as and when nature provides, than to do all the planning, weeding, seed starting, transplanting, compost making, and so on that has to be done in order to grow things to an artificial schedule.

Fiddleheads unfurling so quickly I could practially perceive it while taking the photo!

A fiddlehead unfurls so quickly I could practically perceive it while taking the photo!


Filed under Agriforestry, Gathering from the wild, Heritage foods, Hunting, personal food sovereignty

First attempts with Cornish Crosses

With any luck, this is what I'll end up with when these babes are full grown. Photo credit: JB Farms

With any luck, this is what I'll end up with when these babes are full grown. Photo credit: JB Farms

Spring has sprung here on Howling Duck Ranch and it is marked with the arrival of the new baby chickens. I have ordered 50 day-old Cornish Cross birds for meat. They are said to be easier to raise than the straight run Cornish broilers with less chance of heart attacks and water-belly that the broilers (regular supermarket birds) are prone to.

The arrival was not without its complications. They were supposed to arrive on Friday afternoon on the mail truck. However, around 11 am I received a phone call from the Williams Lake Post Office letting me know the chicks would be arriving there at 5:oo pm, oh, and could I please pick them up before they close. The Williams Lake Post Office is a nearly 500 kilometer one way trip away!

Needless to say I spent the better part of the afternoon in a panic trying to find someone to care for the chicks over the weekend and arrange for a courier company to pick them up on Monday and bring them in to town. Thankfully, the feed store owner came through for me, they picked the chicks up on Friday night and the only courier that comes to Bella Coola said they would bring them in on the truck on Monday. Even so, the feed store owner was worried about them making another long trip without food and water being less than a week old by Monday.

As luck would have it, someone from Bella Coola dropped into the feed store yesterday and the feedstore pounced! Would you mind taking these chicks with that order of yours? Being a neighbourly sort (as many of us who live in the sticks are) he kindly obliged and my wee-uns arrived safely last night in the gentle care of a man I’ve only met once last year at a party! He did a fine job as everyone arrived alive and well.

So, this morning’s chores once again included the now routine ‘poopy-bum patrol’. So far, everyone still looks well. In fact, I’ll be surprised if I lose any more (one was lost in the mail before making it to the feed store). If there are no other losses, this will be the best rate I’ve had. Usually with 50 chicks I expect to lose 2-3 chicks in the first week. Fingers crossed for these babes.

I decided to try the Cornish Crosses for two reasons this year: my customers wanted a heavier meat bird and I want to breed them into my range birds. I’ve been breeding a heavy heritage mix of bird over the past few years in an attempt to get the best of all worlds: a good egg layer, good meat bird, efficient range bird, and cold heartiness. In the end, the heritage breeds are only so big and don’t have the real ‘meatiness’ of the breast that we’ve become used to thanks to the hybrid birds of the commercial flocks.

I’m by no means doing a professional job of this. I’m not worrying about line-breeding or incubating generation after generation. Mostly my chickens take care of themselves. They do the mating and the hatching on their own. My only hand in the process is to cull the ‘Jenny Craigs’ (the skinny light bodied chooks) and ensure good breeding stock. So far, we’re all quite happy with the program.

This year however, now that I have these Cornish Crosses, I plan to separate some of the bigger hens and mate them to the Cornish Roosters. We’ll see if those plans pan out!


Filed under Chickens, Educational, Ethical farming, Heritage foods, Sustainable Farming

Howling Duck Chili Con Carne

Ingredients for chili con carne prepared in slow cooker.

Ingredients for chili con carne prepared in slow cooker.

Many argue that traditional chili is made with nothing more than chili peppers, onions, garlic, cumin and chopped or ground beef but no beans. However, in the tradition of the roadside American diners of my youth I add beans. While the diners always used kidney beans, I tend to favour pinto, adzuki and black beans; chili is just not chili without the beans.


Ground beef (about 1/2 lb or so)

1/2 cup dried pinto beans (or adzuki beans)

1/2 cup dried black turtle beans

1 large onion, chopped

2 handfuls dried carrots (or the equivalent in fresh, I happen to have my dehydrated carrots in stock)

1-5 fresh jalapeno chili, chopped fine (number depends on people’s heat tolerance)

3-5 garlic cloves, chopped

2 large green bell peppers (or anahim, or poblano–my favourite which also adds some heat)

1 large can crushed organic tomatoes

2 tsp whole cumin, freshly ground

2-3 tsp chili powder

2 tbsp oregano

2 tbsp basil

3 tsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp cloves, ground

large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper al gusto

Garnish options:

Jalapeno Tabasco sauce al gusto

Fresh chopped onion, tomato and cilantro mixed and drizzled with lime juice

Sour cream (for those who need to cool it down)

Cornbread accompaniment


Soak beans at least four hours, or overnight. Cook in boiling water until done (usually between 45-75 mins). Drain and set aside.

In large–preferably cast iron–pan, fry the onion until tender. Add ground beef and saute until all pink is gone. While frying the beef, add the fresh garlic, cumin, cloves, and chili powder. Once the meat is cooked add the oregano, basil and cocoa powder. Add tinned tomatoes and simmer until well melded. At this stage you can throw everything into a slow cooker mixing with the beans and chopped green pepper, half the cilantro and let the flavours mingle for several hours.

Prepare the garnishes: Chop finely the onion, tomatoes, and cilantro, squeeze lime just over and set aside until ready to eat. Have sour cream ready in a bowl for those who need to cool the palate. This is not all that hot a recipe. If you want to make it hotter, add more chili powder or increase the fresh chilies.

I always serve chili with home made cornbread…Enjoy!

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Filed under Heritage foods, Recipes

A spoonful of sugar

birchsyrupimageAs part of my ‘Year in Provisions’ project–which isn’t really a year long gig at all but rather a complete change in life-style and way of being in the world–I have wanted to extract myself from the dependency of store-bought sugar. One way of doing this would be to get bees (which is on my wish list and my list of things to do!) The other way, and the more traditional in my part of the world, is to tap trees, extract their sweet sap and render it down into a sweet, tasty syrup.

The kind of spile that was lent to me by a local man.

The kind of spile that was lent to me by a local man.

This year I  managed (finally) to get organized enough before the trees were out in leaf, and it was all too late. What spurred me in to action this year was the two weeks of really warm weather we experienced at the end of February. I suddenly felt behind in everything during those ten or so days and realized that if I wanted to give tree tapping a try, I’d better get moving. Luckily it got much colder again (luckily?… did I actually say that out loud) and the trees have remained in their hibernation state.

Traditional tapping, first cut through bark with a knife.

Traditional tapping, first cut through bark with a knife.

Last week I found a local man who has experimented over the years with both maple and birch syrup making. Not only was he kind enough to tell me about his experiments and provide advice, but he also  lent me 10 spiles (the official thingys you tap the trees with) and ten ice cream buckets to catch the sap in. Not wanting to inadvertently poison myself,  when he dropped off the tools I showed him what I thought were my Douglas maple trees. I needed the verification because locally they are called ‘Vine Maples’ and not being a woodsman, I really wasn’t sure if I was on the right track or not.

He assured me they are indeed a Douglas Maple and that they are repudiated to be one of the best sugar maples in terms of flavour. Such good producers, he’s stopped tapping the birch trees altogether and is now focussing on just the Maples. He told me excitedly he’s found a few Norway Maples and he is going to experiment with that type this year.

Traditional tapping with live branch from parent tree.

Traditional tapping with live branch from parent tree.

Yesterday, I tapped the three maples on my property and seven of the birches. I have found  through internet research that you can mixed the two saps and form a uniquely flavoured syrup. The maple provides a better conversion of sap to syrup than the birch (40 to 1 versus 80-100 to 1). So the blending of the two saps should make the rendering process less time consuming than straight birch sap–or so my theory goes!

Birch tree tapped with its own branch and bucket ready to collect the sap.

Birch tree tapped with its own branch and bucket ready to collect the sap.

Sadly, I found my camera is on the blink so I don’t have pre-syrup pics for you of my own tapped trees. However, I found a very interesting set of photos and gleaned them, and this idea, from the web. It shows the traditional way (without metal spiles) of tapping trees. Just goes to show how simple this process can be! I just might try it as well and not bother to buy spiles.

If you are wanting to try the Birch Syrup without having to do it all yourself, here is a list of possibilities:

Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup

Birch Boy Alaska Birch Syrup


Filed under Educational, Food Security, Heritage foods, How to...

The delicate art of cooperation

Malcolm in front of his house.

Malcolm in front of one of the goat houses, his is actually smaller than this one.

Each morning I tend to the chickens first. In order of priority, they take the number one spot: because they are the only bread winners on the farm to date, and in order to keep them happy, they need the light on in the morning and the tarpaulin cleared from their nesting boxes so the early birds can tend to their business.

Several months ago one of the chickens (Leona) stopped coming home at night, and instead roosted behind the big red barn on the goat fence and waited for me to pick her up and escort her back home. After a couple of days I began seeing two of them around the yard during the day, Leona and a caramel colored hen (Carmel) hanging out together like the best of friends. Apparently Carmel had decided to join the mutiny and from then on was found perched beside Leona on the goat fence each night.

Leona and Carmel, the original mutaneers.
Leona, the original mutineer in the foreground. I named her for her lion like coloring around her head and neck.

And so the routine continued for several weeks. Finally, I decided to put these two gal-pals (Leona and Carmel) in with the ducks in hopes they would adjust and make like chickens and put themselves to bed. The personal escort service wanted to shut up shop! I moved a new set of nesting boxes in with them so they would have a place to do business, freshened the bedding and hoped they would sign the new contract.

However, despite my best efforts at attracting them to the nesting boxes, nary an egg has been laid in the duck house. In fact there are now four chickens in with the ducks (two more decided they too wanted to live in what I am now calling Amazonia–because of the plethora of female critters uniting for some unspoken cause).

The dog discovered one of the nests in the big red barn, and has been happily taking her lunch out there on a daily basis. But one egg per day for four hens doesn’t add up–there had to be another clutch somewhere. I’ve searched the paddock to see if they’ve got a hidden clutch anywhere but have found nothing. That was, until two days ago.

For the past couple of weeks, when I let the goats out in the morning, they burst on to the scene like race horses out of the starting gate, hell bent for their sweet-feed. Malcolm, however, has been taking his sweet time at getting up in the morning and, because of this, I was worried about him: Did he have sore feet? Was he not well? Was he not warm enough at night? None of the questions explored seemed to be the reason for the slow emergence from his house in the morning and so I watched him more vigilantly than normal, but came up empty-handed–until two days ago.

The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night where he slept.
The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night in his house.

I decided to change his bedding and found the answer to his less than quick morning roustings: he’d been sleeping around a vast clutch of hens eggs. There, inside his wee house was the hiding place of the rogue chickens. It seems they hatched a plan with Malcolm. He would keep their secret and take care not to break any eggs and maybe, they would one day come back and try to hatch them.

Apparently Malcolm agreed and took the job seriously. For many weeks now he has been carefully tending to the eggs each night and, despite his diminutive sized bachelor pad, he’s broken not a single egg. There were 16 eggs in the first clutch and it averages between 3-5 every other day now. Instead of the goose that lays the golden egg, I have goat! Now collecting eggs from Malcolm’s house has become part of my afternoon chores.

Yes, I have taken some eggs and put them in the nesting boxes in the duck house in hopes that the hens will take the hint–so far there are no takers!


Filed under Animal issues, Eggs, Funny stories, Goats, Uncategorized

The staff of life

Wheat and breadmaker Yesterday, I finally had time to do some baking. I decided I would break open the bag of Canadian Heritage Red Fife Wheat, grown in Saskatchewan on organic farms but sent to me by Bruce at True Grain Bakery in British Columbia.

Canadian heritage organic Red Fife wheat from Saskatchewan.

Canadian heritage organic Red Fife wheat from Saskatchewan.

Marc Loiselle, an organic Red Fife wheat grower from Saskatchewan who owns and operates the Loiselle Organic Family Farm, was able to tell me exactly where this wheat came from:

That wheat [you have just bought] is part of the Red Fife we grew. It is actually a blend of 5 different lots of Red Fife from Saskatchewan…from members of our Prairie Red Fife Organic Growers Cooperative. 50% is 2006 and 2007 harvests from our farm, 24% is from the Wyatt farm at Canwood, 14% from the Schriml farm at Bruno, and 12% from St. Peter’s Abbey (Benedictine monastery) at Muenster.

Since I do not yet own a wheat grinder, I had to improvise so I talked my coffee grinder into doing double duty. It would only take about 1/3 of a cup of wheat berries at a time, and needed frequent breaks in order to make up the two or three cups of flour I needed for the recipe.

Wheat ground in the coffee grinder ready for use in baking.

Wheat ground in the coffee grinder ready for use in baking.

I ground the wheat roughly and then put it in a loosely woven sieve, repeating grinding of the leftovers from sifting (the tailings, I like to call them) each time until something akin to a flour was left in the bowl. The consistency was much coarser than the stone-ground whole wheat you buy at the store, but I used it anyway.

Bread-maker set on the dough cycle, gently kneading the fresh ground wheat to life.

Bread-maker set on the dough cycle, gently kneading the fresh ground wheat to life.

I always use a bread maker and set it on the dough cycle. I like that it keeps the majority of the bread-making mess inside the machine and makes for an easy clean-up job. Plus, it has the added benefit of making dough while I continue to write, or address other items on my ever burgeoning ‘to do’ list.

I made three loaves yesterday, each with a different amount of the freshly milled flour. For the first I used only 1 cup of the fresh grind and 3 cups of white, for the second I beefed up the amount of the whole wheat to 2 cups and 2 cups of white, and for the third I used 3 cups of whole wheat and only 1 cup of the white.

ready for proofingMy husband and I did a taste test when he got home. We agreed that the best of the three loaves was the ‘half and half ‘ loaf  as we called it, made with 2 cups of each white and the fresh ground wheat flours. It had risen nearly as high as the first loaf, but had a much more interesting texture and robust  –yet rustic — flavour. The third loaf was decidedly heavy. It had a nice flavour to be sure ,and was really good for dredging the final depths of the soup bowls, but didn’t pass the ‘butter only’ test as well as the second ‘half and half’ loaf.

The first loaf just before taking it out of the oven.

The first loaf just before taking it out of the oven.

Overall, I can’t get over how different the fresh wheat tastes. I had been told by others that there is nothing like milling your own wheat and baking bread with it, but I had no idea! If you haven’t tried it, and are a bread fan, then you owe it to yourself to give it a go–like me, you may never go back!

The second and best loaf of the day; rustic and ready.

The second and best loaf of the day; rustic and ready.

This second loaf had a gorgeous crusty outside and generous chewy inside. It may be the best loaf of bread I’ve ever made and possibly the best one I’ve ever tasted. If only I could be guaranteed to replicate it every time!


Filed under Bread making, Heirloom vegetables, Heritage foods