Calgary: A unique flavour
By Meagan Patroni
I’m in Calgary with family. An Aussie girl with a craving for travel, I’m here to bite into my Canadian heritage, to get a real taste for who I am and where I come from. Interesting foods have always found a place on our family table, especially side servings like pumpkin pie with cheese and maple syrup. Deer, dill pickles and mashed potato. So, it seems sensible to get to know Canada, and myself, with a food tour.
Calgary is known as a ‘cow town’ – home of the Calgary Stampede (happening now, by the way!). And cows are everywhere; on the grassy prairies and the plates of the locals. Here is where I make waves with my family, as they consider sending me back to Australia, post-haste, because I’m not big on eating beef. Fortunately for me there’s plenty to excite my palate that doesn’t have four legs.
Karen Anderson is the director of Calgary Food Tours. She has arranged for a hip young chef to guide me and a bunch of locals around the Calgary Farmers Market. We meet early at an information counter inside what is effectively a giant shed. Aside from the curious locals, the first thing I notice is how well signposted the markets are – stalls set up permanently – it is rustic yet well organised.
Pierre Lamielle greets the group of 12. He is wearing a bright red shirt featuring a pig cut into portions. We quickly discover that as well as having loads of cheffing experience, Pierre’s talents run to design and illustration. As he explains how he writes for Avenue Magazine, I feel a crush coming on (speaking of crushes, read this).
While we wait for fresh, hot coffee, Pierre introduces himself. I feel my face turn the colour of his shirt as I wonder how someone so talented, passionate and popular can take time out to show us around a farmers’ market – definitely a display of the kindness of Canadians – a trait exemplified recently as Calgary recovers from serious flooding.
We start with a co-op stall that includes Edgar’s Asparagus and move along to stands like Spraggs. I realise that passion is a common feature amongst the stall holders. Animal or vegetable, everything is raised with pride and care and it shows with the taste. The beauty of doing a guided tour of these markets is meeting the growers and learning why they do what they do, sharing tales such as how Spraggs went from raising three pet piggies to meeting a market for organically grown pork. Carrie Fischer, a Calgary gal, tells me; “I come to the markets every weekend but wanted to learn how I can best use the produce.”
We get to Wapita Ways where they supply elk. It’s a beast high in protein, low in fat and completely environmentally certified. As Alberta elk is classified as wild, they must have their spinal cords removed and sent for testing in a laboratory. Assured of the purity of the meat, I nibble and discover it’s quite delightful and incredibly tender. Comparable to kangaroo.
Great excitement comes from meeting Kevin McKenzie from The Saskatoon Farm. My grandmother has mentioned saskatoon berries to me many times since we have been here in Canada. No one can quite explain to me what they are – except – at last – Kevin. These delightful purple berries burst in my mouth with a tingle of tartness. It’s a new sensation to swallow them coated in the buttery goodness of a pastry casing with a spattering of cream. It is guilt free eating as I learn of the high concentration of vitamins and minerals that these contain – so wonderful that they sustained the first nations people and came to have a Canadian town named after them. I quickly decided that saskatoon berries are the perfect comparison to a Canadian – just as Canadians are confused with Americans, saskatoons are often mixed up with blueberries – the two incredibly different. Unassuming, they are packed with goodness and show their true colour under pressure. Unique and powerful!