Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tis' the season...Butter Tarts!

I am a huge Butter Tart fan! Butter Tarts have always been a family favorite and my Nana was awesome at making them every Christmas. Christmas for me would not be the same without those syrupy, sweet treats. As I got older, that became my present from her. For as long as she could bake I received a tin of butter tarts each year. That is a very fond memory for me.

I don't think that I have her recipe anywhere...I have flipped through the family's All-Star recipe book that my Mom put together for us. But, this recipe comes close and is really easy to prepare.

I used our Soft White Wheat for the pastry. It is still an Entire-Grain flour, but you wouldn't know it. The pastry is light, tender and flaky....but, it is SO flavourful; beyond anything available at any store.

So, here is the recipe for you that I use from food.com.

http://www.food.com/recipe/award-winning-butter-tarts-14756

For the pastry I don't use a recipe. Here is my description of what I do.

1) A certain amount of Soft White Wheat flour...perhaps 4-5 cups.
2) A pinch of salt
3) A certain amount of lard. I'd say around a cup
4) Ice cold water

I use our Kitchen Aid with the whisk beater. I add the salt to the flour and stir. Then I add the cold lard that I've cut into small pieces.
I start the mixer on medium and let it blend in the lard until it is starting to break down into smaller pieces. The ideal goal with be to have "pea" size pieces of lard in the flour
I then turn the mixer to low and slowly start adding the cold water. I add very little at a time and I let it mix well. Add enough water so that the mix finally comes together into a dough consistency. It will take awhile. Ball up the dough and keep in the fridge until you need it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Memories of Fall '13

Fall is past. Winter is most definitely here. And I am not prepared. This was such a hectic fall once again and my winter preparations were left to the last minute. With our farming properties spread out so much we are able to mitigate any damage from any one particular storm that usually occurs somewhere around us. The downside to this situation is the amount of time it takes to move equipment and get parts for repairs. We seriously need to consolidate our land holdings. The other thing that really hampered our harvest was breakdowns. There were two periods when the main combine, our Allis Chalmers L2 was down for days at a time with major repairs necessary. The end result though was that we did indeed finish our harvest. It was tough though. Many difficult days.

My daughter showed me this picture though the other day. I didn't know that she and her friend had taken some photos out in the Spelt field. They were beautiful! It made me realize that even though I had had a difficult Fall, she had enjoyed it. It brought me back to my days as a farm kid in the Fall and it made me smile.

Friday, June 21, 2013

market mob!

I am so proud of Slow Food Edmonton and the initiative of some determined members. Amanda VanSpronsen came up with a great idea...a market mob! The very first ever Slow Food Edmonton Market Mob was held last Wednesday, June 19th at the SW Edmonton Farmers Market. What a great idea and a remarkably easy way to become more involved with Slow Food here in Edmonton.

The very first Slow Food Edmonton Market Mob gang!
I would like to encourage everyone to get involved with this remarkable organization and help promote slow food across the globe!

Monday, June 17, 2013

pie!

I love pie. I love to eat pie. I don't love to make pie crust. Here is the simplest, easiest and our family's favorite pie crust recipe. It is courtesy of Allrecipes.com and I've been using it for about a year now. You can change it up by adding a little vanilla or cinnamon, or both...or you can just leave it alone and enjoy the taste of Gold Forest Grains fresh milled flour to come through in your baking.

Rhubarb Pie with a spelt crust and crumble topping on a summer's eve
This pie crust recipe lends itself especially to open top type pies...pumpkin, lemon meringue, etc. However, with a crumble topping of flour, butter and sugar it does a remarkable job of pies that need a top like apple, blueberry and the like. 

At busy times of the year when I don't have even 5 minutes to bake a pie we'll buy them from the farmers market...they're never the same and the family complains how bland they are. White, processed flour will definitely be bland.

The best part of this pie crust recipe? You don't even need to dirty a bowl. All of the ingredients are mixed in the pie plate and you're ready to go! 

Friday, May 31, 2013

CBC Radio - Alberta At Noon

This week we were invited by Holly Preston, the host of Alberta @ Noon to come in to the studio to talk about Organic Farming. It was a terrific experience and we are grateful to have had the chance to be heard across the Province!

If you want to skip ahead and hear our portion of the interview and call-in segment it starts at about 27:38 and runs the duration of the show. Let it buffer a bit before you try to skip ahead...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Certified Naturally Grown?

I am terribly interested to hear what our customers would think about this type of certification vs. organic certification? I have found lately that the paperwork and fees for certified organic status has become quite overwhelming and exhaustive. Not to mention the cost. We spend more than $1000 in fees and that doesn't count my hours of paperwork completion which could easily triple that cost if counted. 

The other issue I have with organics is the increasing leniency of the standards to accommodate large corporate farms. And let's not even get into talking about the organic farms and corporations that helped to fund the Anti GMO Labeling campaign in California last year which defeated Bill 37 which would have required products containing GMO's to be labelled on grocery shelves.  

Enter Certified Naturally Grown...

I've been watching this Certification Body for the past 5 years or so. I have wanted to see how they would grow...or if they'd grow. Certified Naturally Grown has seen a steady march of organic devoted farmers join their ranks over the years. 

There's not much for me to write about this subject. The link above is the FAQ page and pretty much sums it up. My question to my customers and readers of this blog is "what do you think about this?"

While I remain completely devoted to organic principles and have an immensely anti-gmo attitude, I am quickly becoming disillusioned about the process that takes away significant resources to prove I am doing the right thing. I will never use synthetic inputs of any kind including pesticides, herbicides or petroleum based fertilizers and at the end of the day, whether certified organic or not, my customers have to choose to believe me or not. 

My father, John Fraser, was a farmer who used chemicals on his farm and who worked at the fertilizer plant in Ft. Saskatchewan. Considering he died of cancer at the age of 23 when I was 8 months old, I hope you'll believe how organic we really are. 

Decision pending customer feedback. 

An update - We have ultimately decided to stick with our organic certification. While it is frustrating at times to have to deal with the paperwork and bureaucracy, in the end, it is the best system we have for assuring customers of a certain standard. Certified Organic means that the food you are eating is free of GMO and has not been grown or treated with any man-made chemical inputs of any kind. Period.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A Family History of the Schneiders - More than a Century in Sturgeon County

I discovered this book while on a recent visit to my parents house. It is entitled "Leaves Of Yesteryear - A History of the Bon Accord District". It was written in 1967-69 by Jean Chubb and Hilda Milligan.

Here is a history of our (Schneider) family and how we ended up in Sturgeon County.

Carl Robert Schneider and Clementine Bertha Seidel sittin in a tree...

"Carl Robert Schneider (my Great Grandfather) was born on November 20, 1859, in Reichenbach, Saschen, Germany and when he reached his mid-twenties he married Clementine Bertha Seidel, who was born June 17th, 1859." - I just found out that they were married on my birthday March 7, 1886.

"It was also during the year 1890 that Mr. Schneider emigrated to the United States (alone). He settled in Wisconsin and went to work in a mill. The following year he sent for Mrs. Schneider and the three children, and they arrived in August, 1891."

"In 1892 Carl came to the Edmonton district, arriving in Edmonton by swimming the Saskatchewan River. He did not file on a homestead at this time, although the land office offered him the opportunity of filing on land which is now part of Jasper Avenue. He thought that Ft. Saskatchewan would be the main site of a city and that this land on the north side of the river was "a little far north". Instead of filing on a homestead, he returned to Wisconsin."

"Early in the spring of 1893, Mr. Schneider moved his family to the Plumas area of Manitoba where they farmed for the next 12 years." It was during this time that my Grandfather was born (November 10, 1898). "Around this time Carl became a naturalized Canadian."

"However, in 1905 Carl once more decided to return to the United States. Due to the ill health of Mrs. Schneider (Great Grandma Clementine) he thought the change of climate might help her recover (not sure what was wrong with her, it doesn't say). This time they settled on a farm in the State of Washington, near Spokane. They remained here until 1907 and then returned to Canada (again!). Once more back in Canada, they settled on a quarter section of land near Spruce Grove. After farming there for three years they moved to the Cardiff area, where they rented a half section. (So this means that we came to Sturgeon County in 1910!!) In 1915, Mr. Schneider moved to the Bon Accord area." (This is why I thought we had a few more years until 100 anniversary).

Eventually Great Grandfather Carl bought 9 quarter sections around the area where my family still owns the land, 4 miles north of Bon Accord . He passed away in November, 1924 following a stroke. So that means he was 65 when he died. Too much moving around Grandpa! That much moving in that era would've given me a stroke too.

And whatever happened to Great Grandma Clementine? Well, my dad, Ken still remembers her as "always cooking something" and that "she made the best fried potatoes"! She passed away less than a month shy of of her ninetieth birthday on May 19, 1949, also of a stroke.

So there you have it. Some documentation about our arrival in the County of Sturgeon north of Edmonton. It was fascinating to read the book and learn so many things that people had forgotten about our family.

One other interesting thing I learned was about my Grandfather Harvey McLean who settled in Sturgeon County...in 1911. Again, I thought it was later than that, but I was just guessing. Harvey MacLean (my Mom's dad) was actually a "fourth generation Canadian" farmer. That means that should my kids farm they would actually be 7th Generation Canadian Farmers! Wow. That's quite a long time to be farming in Canada on that side of the family. My mom is texting me now telling me that the MacLeans were one of the 4 founding families in PEI. Which makes sense if Grandpa MacLean was a 4th generation Canadian like it says in the book. She is going to spend some time digging up that story and our living relatives still back in PEI.

I still don't know much about the Fraser's yet. John Fraser is actually my biological father. He passed away when I was 8 months old of cancer. He was 23. I think they settled in the Gibbons area in the 30's, but again I need to do some digging to figure that story out.

A few days later...

Well, was I ever wrong about the Fraser side of my family. Reading the book "Our Treasured Roots-A History of Gibbons and Surrounding Areas" I quickly learned the facts surrounding that side of my family tree. It turns out that my Great Great Grandfather William Gibbons is whom the town of Gibbons is named after. He was a tremendous pioneer who was on the very first train to ever arrive in Edmonton from Calgary. The track wasn't even finished so they had to get off the train to help lay the last few lengths of track in order to arrive at the new station in Edmonton! He arrived in Gibbons and homesteaded on the banks of the Sturgeon River in 1892. So, as it turns out, my family has been in Sturgeon County since well,  before it was a county. 121 years to be exact. My Grandmother Betty married into another pioneer family, the Frasers, and that's where my original family name comes from. There are lots of great family stories in these two books, I am so happy that I was able to re-connect with some great family history.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

New sourdough starter for a new year

One of the new projects that I decided to start this year was a sourdough. I've done sourdough in years past, but my baking projects never really seemed to ever work out. The bread was always tough and dense...I lost interest. 

However, over the past year, I have really hit my stride when it comes to bread baking. I would like to say that I read this or that classic bread baking book, that a glowing light descended from the heavens, and I suddenly learned how to bake bread. The truth is that I just kept at it and something clicked. I now know what the dough feels like when it is ready to go in the loaf pan or on the hearth. It turns out that it really isn't that hard. If you can remember back to when you learned to ride a bike, it is sort of like that. Seemingly impossible at first and then rather quickly you just do it without thinking. That is the best analogy that I have for my bread baking experience. 

There are some basic bits of knowledge that I can pass along though. 

Don't necessarily pay attention to any recipe. The fact that you didn't use exactly the right amount of yeast has very little to do with the door stop sitting on your cooling rack. Trust me. 


What I have found to be the biggest single factor in my successes is the hydration and gluten development in the dough. This is especially true when it comes to using our Entire Grain flour. In simplistic terms, you need to knead. And you need to knead more than you think. Leaving the dough to rest between kneading is a good trick too. I use our Kitchen Aid with the dough hook for 95% of my kneading. It works well and saves me sore arms and time. I leave that dough kneading for a good 10 minutes and I keep adding flour until I have a really stiff, dry dough. This stiff dough gives me the nicest, lightest bread. Whenever my dough has been too wet and floppy the bread turns out like a brick. Trust me.

This newest incarnation of sourdough on our farm actually got its start when a friend came over for dinner before Christmas and brought us a bottle of homemade hard Apple Cider. At the bottom of the bottle is the layer of yeasty type tailings that don't taste very good. When I was building my starter I used a couple Tblsp of Apple Cider, but not the cloudy yeast tailings. You can follow any sourdough starter you like. Googling "sourdough starter" will give you more results than you know what to do with. 
Apple Cider Starter - 1 month old

I think that people like to make things fancier than they need to be so I simply use equal parts of water and flour and a little of the cider. Keep the starter out at room temperature and wait till it starts bubbling. Once this happens, every day for about a week take out about half the starter and replace it with an equal amount of the flour water mix. There should be some critical mass with your starter. I use a jar that holds about 2.5 cups of starter. Once your starter is really humming along you can put it in the fridge and repeat the feeding process once every week and a half or so.

When you want to bake some bread, simply take a cup of starter and mix it in with your dough ingredients. When baking sourdough without adding commercial yeast it is important to note that the dough will take significantly longer to rise. Patience is the key to a good sourdough. I usually have to leave my bread proof for the whole day. Adding yeast...it proofs within an hour, maybe 2.

All in all, baking bread is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Taking things a step further and playing around with sourdough is another bit of enjoyment too. Don't be afraid to give sourdough a try.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year on the farm

Another year is upon us. As I get older, the time just slips by faster and faster.

I lovingly remember, not all that long ago, Christmases as a kid on my Parent's and Grandparent's farms. A touch of sadness with fond remembrance of times past and people missed. Christmas Eve was almost always spent at Nana and Papa's with Aunt and Uncle and Cousins up from Calgary. Then we'd drive the two miles home before Santa was due. I remember watching the sky with anticipation, but perhaps more than that it was just simply beautiful. Winter skies in the country, away from the light-pollution of a million road lamps, are amazing. To this day, my favorite holiday activity is a quiet, lonely walk at night.

Mom and Dad made sure that Christmas Day was always the highlight of the year in our house. We were lucky, I realize now.

Mounds of gifts surrounded the tree in the morning and the pain of having to wait until everyone else in the house awoke was excruciating. Often, I would be up in the middle of the night and sneak down the stairs to the living room where I would turn on the tree lights and catch my breath at the sight of brightly coloured parcels and bulging stockings that weren't there when I went to bed. With my blanket on the couch I'd fall asleep again. Eventually, the house would creep to life with brother and sister first, then Mom and Dad. Punishable with death was the act of opening a present before adults were awake and coffee'd up...again an excruciating wait.

After the presents were unwrapped, Mom would almost always make waffles and bacon. For whatever reason, this was the only time she made waffles. Or at least that's what it seems in my memory. That must have been the world's oldest, most pristine waffle maker. Wondering now, if it is still in use? I'll have to check. 

Nowadays however, this time of year is a time of planning and hope.We are creating wonderful memories for our kids here on our farm. Our Son, like clockwork almost every winter night, puts on his coat and boots and heads outside. No doubt, one day in his forties, he will write an article very similar to this one.

The farm will undergo more changes in 2013. We are planning more landscaping and building improvements. More garden. More animals. More fencing and work for sure. Like a piece of artwork, our farm is slowly taking shape and is becoming what we want of it...a self-sustainable oasis of environmental stewardship, love and happiness. We're getting there.

Right now, my thoughts are with our customers and their families too. I hope that all of you know how much we appreciate your support. Without your help in spreading the word about our farm and products we would be elsewhere in our lives for sure. I smile when I think about our regulars at Strathcona Market and I am really looking forward to being there again in a couple days. Cindy and I were talking this morning of different ways that we can share our farm with more people in the near future. But in the meantime, here's hoping that all of you enjoy a wonderful 2013! 

John Schneider