This is my newest, favourist thing. Bread made entirely with Red Fife wheat flour. This loaf has loads of flavour; it is nutty and rich, with a texture that is dense and chewy. The perfect kind of bread for cold, late season days.
Red Fife wheat was named after David Fife, my great, great, great grandfather (on my father’s mother’s side) who came to Canada from Scotland in 1820.
Early records indicate a friend sent him seed from Glasgow that he had found on a ship originating from Danzig. It turned out this was an ideal strain of wheat for the unpredictable and unforgiving Canadian climate. It was the first wheat that was grown successfully and reliably on the prairies and kick-started the industry in that tough, colonial century. It is, therefore, a heritage wheat, the parent of all varieties grown in Canada today.
This wheat was, for the most part, lost by the end of the 19th century when other, earlier to harvest and therefore more industry friendly, strains became favoured. But Red Fife remained a parent to many of these hybrids. Throughout most of the 20th century, this oldest strain of ‘heritage’ wheat was only being kept alive in seed banks and by small scale seed savers. It was all but unknown to Canadians until the beginning of this century when Sharon Rempel in Victoria, B.C. and a group of passionate slow food activists, chefs, seed savers and others sought out some of these old world grains to grow again.
When Sharon Rempel planted her seeds she had a vision: someday Red Fife would be grown again commercially. To a considerable degree, that image has materialized. Red Fife is produced by small-scale farmers—mostly, if not exclusively, organic—who grow it outside the Wheat Board’s tracking system. The movement originated in the West and from there gradually spread across the country. In 2007, approximately five hundred tons of Red Fife was harvested, from as far west as the Gulf Islands in British Columbia to eastern Nova Scotia. Interestingly, it didn’t return to County Road 4 until 2005 when four women, all of whom live and farm on David Fife Line, decided to resurrect this forgotten chapter in their local history.
“We realized we lived on David Fife Line and very few people had any sense of what that meant,” commented Helen Knibb, a member of the Fife Line Sisterhood, as they christened themselves. “We felt compelled to acknowledge our agricultural history; it’s part of our heritage.”
They contacted Saskatchewan farmer Marc Loiselle (http://loiselle.ma.googlepages.com), who became interested in Red Fife in 2001, and has made it his mission to provide seeds for growers across the country. Virtually all the Red Fife seed planted in Ontario comes from him, although local farmers are starting to produce their own. The Sisterhood planted one-and-a-quarter acres their first year, and, with the help of local farmer Peter Leahy, who was growing a small amount himself, produced a second crop, but they didn’t have the infrastructure to grow the grain on a much larger scale and bowed out of the business. Leahy’s interest was whetted and he has gradually increased the quantity he grows at Merrylynd, his certified organic family farm just outside Peterborough, Ontario. Last year he planted fifty acres, a relatively large quantity in the Red Fife world.
Like others I spoke with, Leahy says he doesn’t have enough to keep up with the demand. “People from Jamie Kennedy’s called me recently,” he told me in early April, “but I couldn’t give them any flour. I need to keep some for seed.” At least two other farmers are growing Red Fife in Ontario—Patricia Hastings at the Centre for Integrated Pest Management (CIPM) in Madoc and Sean McGivern of Saugeen Specialty Grains in the Owen Sound area.
Today, you can buy Red Fife flour in bulk at select locations like the Wheat Berry on Main Street in Ottawa, or go direct to Patricia Hastings’ farm in Madoc.