The Snail Trail Continues to Edmonton

Mara Jernigan’s Canadian travel journal, “On the Snail Trail” continues….Our train through the Rockies arrived at 11:30 pm at the Edmonton train station, outside of town. Frederique’s friend Murray gave us a real Alberta welcome by picking us up in his big shiny red truck, and insisted on driving us to Calgary 3 days later, in case we hit snow! We booked into a downtown hotel for 3 nights and crashed, knowing we’d have a busy 3 days ahead. The next day, we met Edmonton Slow Food convivium leader Thea Moss and local committee members at Transcend Coffee on Jasper Avenue. It was the best coffee we had on our trip, and set the tone for our visit in Edmonton. We were 5 women all together, and the conversation excitedly danced between all our various food, education and art projects. At one point, a young woman arrived with two tiny turquoise boxes which contained six exquisitely decorated hand made chocolates for Frederique and I. Jacqueline Janek’s business card read “Cocoanista” and her lovely gift was a delicious surprise that I would share with others along the way. Indeed, as we crossed the country we kept gathering more delicious local foods from our generous Slow Food hosts!

Convivium leader Thea, a plucky young Aussie with nutritionist / culinary training gave us a large choice of options for our two day visit and a schedule was quickly made. Later we joined Murray for lunch in his favourite Dim Sum restaurant, the Golden Rice Bowl, one of many in Edmonton. A cavernous place with bright red seat covers on all the chairs, the dim sum did not disappoint but I couldn’t get over how strange it was to be eating Dim Sum in Edmonton while watching a huge tank of expensive King Crabs from Alaska crawling around waiting for a rich oilman with a hankering for extravagant seafood to arrive.

That evening, we headed out to the country to visit Greens, Eggs and Ham, artisan food producers and farmers Mary Ellen and Andreas Gruenberg. Like so many Canadian farmers I know, this couple had faced many hardships, the latest of which was non- payment by a distributor of their wares, a situation which had left them driving their own products the 3 hour distance to Calgary every week. Home- schoolers, mixed farmers and keepers of a refuge for parrots, their property was an eclectic mix of make shift greenhouses brimming with winter greens, barns with breeding stock of guinea fowl and ducks, and a house where dogs, people and exotic birds lived together in a cooperative cacophony. Their daughter, an excellent cook, fed us homemade chicken and vegetable soup and delicious sour cream fritters as we discussed politics and the trials and tribulations of small farming in Canada. It was a small property with a special story under a big Alberta sky.

The next day started with an incredible breakfast of Alberta products in the home of convivium member Valerie Lugonja. Next, we fit in a quick visit to Kevin Kossowan in his home on a small Edmonton city lot. Kevin is what I would call a young urban homesteader, growing, hunting, baking his own food, making his own excellent fruit wines, curing sausage and cheese in a basement cellar, and raising a young family. His blog is a fascinating testament to his unique urban lifestyle. He poured us a glass of his amazing apple wine and pulled fresh boar meat balls and roasted mushrooms from a brick oven which we enjoyed standing up in his backyard.

We found ourselves running late after our impromptu stop to visit Kevin. I was excited about the prospect of visiting a perogy factory and was confused when we pulled up in front of the St. Michaels Health Group, a long term care facility. We were met at the door by the director and hurried into a board room where others were waiting for us. A Ukrainian woman in a hairnet rolled in a cart containing several delicious trays of warm homemade perogies, cabbage rolls and salad and the board table was quickly transformed into a dining table. We enjoyed our third meal before 1 PM and learned all about how the residents of St Michaels started their own non profit business, Baba’s Own Ukrainian Food,, using prairie ingredients and raising money to support the long term care facility. After lunch we toured the facility which included an apple orchard, chapel with hand-carved woodwork and a commercial kitchen where a staff of Ukrainian ladies filled perogy orders from across Canada.

Later that evening, we arrived at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute if Technology) where I was to do a cooking demonstration of mystery ingredients from a black box. It was a little nerve wracking to arrive in an unfamiliar kitchen without an idea of what I would be cooking with. I had brought a few ingredients from home, verjus and Balsamic vinegar from Venturi Schulze, Red Fife flour milled at True Grain. I prepare 4 courses from the various ingredients including hand made cavatelli with local hothouse green beans, tomatoes and organic cold pressed canola oil and a bread pudding from croissants and Saskatoon berries, but the most inspiring ingredient in the box was the roe of a fresh water fish called burbot, which I prepare Scandinavian style with fingerling potatoes pickled onions and radish sprouts.

Part 3 next week……


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