So yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a while! Not only was I not preparing, or even thinking about taxes, but I spent the entire day enjoying myself at Eat Alberta with Sean and Sarah! For those of you not familiar with Eat Alberta, it is a one-day conference which brings together hundreds of food fanatics from all over Alberta – chefs, farmers, butchers, gardeners and anyone who just loves food.
The day started off with a keynote speaker. Jeff Senger talked about his transition from city living as an accountant to purchasing a piece of land in rural Alberta, raising an impressive amount of livestock and running a butcher shop. It was so refreshing to hear accounts from Jeff and others at Eat Alberta who all value local food, a healthy lifestyle and following their passion. It was also a nice reminder that there are so many local producers who can supply meat which comes from livestock that is healthy and humanely treated.
Next, each participant had four sessions to attend (with a delicious lunch in the middle). The sessions were determined by the track you selected when purchasing your ticket. There were so many options – everything from sausage making to foraging for mushrooms to making ricotta cheese. It was so hard to choose! Me and Sean decided to do different sessions to maximize the knowledge (and delicious food) we would take away.
My first sessions was pickling! I’ve been wanting to try pickling for a while now. Since I can easily eat a jar of pickled green beans in one sitting, I figured I should probably learn how to make my own. We learned some basics such as the vinegar-water ratio, spicing with different flavours and canning. We each walked away with two jars of beautifully preserved pickles – it has taken all my willpower to wait and not pop these jars open immediately.
Local Beer Tasting
Next up, and before lunch, was the local beer tasting. We were informed that the best time to perform a tasting is in the morning when your palette is more sensitive to identifying the various flavours. We receieved a brief introduction on the brewing history in Edmonton and proceeded to taste 7 local brews. My favourites from the collection are two summer fruit ales from Alley Kat.
The first is Aprikat wheat ale. This is a beer I’ve enjoyed many times before and will surely have many more times. It is flavoured with natural apricot extracts and the flavour is fruity, crisp and refreshing. It is not too sweet as you often find with fruit brews. This is a long-time favourite of mine.
The second beer is Alley Kat‘s seasonal Summer Squeeze. Another fruit ale, this one is flavoured with both real grapefruits and natural grapefruit extract. The taste is crisp and citrusy – perfect for summers on the patio. I will definitely be getting a few boxes of the Summer Squeeze while it’s still in season!
After lunch, we had a fantastic presentation by Travis Kennedy of Lactuca Farms on urban farming. Lactuca Farms is an operation run out of Travis’ backyard and allows him to supply enough greens and produce to both feed his own family and sell at local farmer’s markets. The session discussed how to maximize production in a small space and in the short Alberta growing season. The secret (along with dedicated weeding) is using cold frames with insulated covers. For anyone interested in more information on cold frames, Kevin Kossowan provides some great info here and here.
Saskatoon Pie Making
The last session of the day was saskatoon pie making. Pie crust, like everything else, depends on personal taste. For me, it has to be flakey and sweet. I’ve been looking for my perfect pie crust for a while now – getting recipes online, from baking classes and those passed on from grandmas. Nothing has made the cut for me yet. However, I think the pie crust we made yesterday was my favourite thus far! It was definitely the flakiest. The secret to flakey crust is not over-working the dough, using butter and keeping your ingredients cold!
The filling was made of saskatoon berries, rhubarb and orange… mmm. Just talking about it makes me wish we hadn’t eaten it already.
In Sean’s sessions, he managed to snag a sourdough starter (named “Julie”) which I’m sure will inspire some great recipes in the future. He also made a batch of ricotta cheese which we have already used to in tonight’s dinner (lasagna), learned about how to find and use edible plants in the Edmonton area and took part in a meat tasting.
After the sessions were complete, there was a series of lightening talks put on by some great local organizations. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) harvests fruit in residential areas that would otherwise go unpicked and wasted. The fruit that is picked is then distributed evenly between the residents who own the trees (if they want it), the volunteer pickers, OFRE and donated to those in need. OFRE gives everyone in the community an opportunity to enjoy local, fresh fruit.
The Alberta Mycological Society aims to teach the public about local mushroom species and holds numerous mushroom walks throughout the spring and summer. Anyone can join a walk and benefit from some expert guidance on how to locate mushrooms, which ones to eat and which ones to avoid.
After all the formal presentations were complete, there was a “Wine Down” where each participant received a delicious taster plate, made entirely of local ingredients, and tasty fruit wine from local wineries (Barr Estate Winery and Field Stone Wines). We had some time to socialize with other attendees and presenters.
Overall, I had a blast at Eat Alberta! I loved seeing so many like-minded people who are passionate about natural food, local ingredients and culinary education. It really made me proud to live in a place like Edmonton where there are so many inspiring chefs and food advocates. I can’t wait to see what great things our community will do next and will be keeping an eye out for future Eat Alberta events! A piece of advice for those looking to register in next year’s event – register early as the sessions fill up fast.