In recent years, there’s been a renewed interest in heritage grains, particularly for Red Fife. Many chefs and artisan bakers have started to embrace the grain for its exceptional flavour and baking properties.
Red Fife was originally the first large-scale commercialized wheat available in Canada. It was brought here in the mid-1800s and was first cultivated in the Otonabee Township of Peterborough County. The story goes that a Scottish immigrant named David Fife was given the seed from a friend who found it on a ship originating from Ukraine. It turned out this was the ideal strain of wheat for Canada’s harsh climate during the winter.
Red Fife wheat, which was named after its founder as well as for its distinctive red kernel, quickly spread across Ontario and eventually into the Prairies making Canada the “breadbasket of the world” for several decades. However, the wheat gradually declined in the early 1900’s as it was hybridized for a shorter growing season and to produce larger yields. It was eventually turned into a “high input” crop and was taken over by another cross variety called Marquis, which became a staple of the West.
Red Fife was almost near extinction status but luckily some seeds were saved which were later cultivated. In 2004, Red Fife became affiliated with the Slow Food Movement and together with the support of organic farmers it was successfully re-commercialized on a small scale.
The revival of Red Fife has a tremendous impact on the production of Canadian artisan breads as well as keeping heritage varieties of wheat alive and to supporting agricultural biodiversity in our farmlands.
In Toronto, there some bakeries like Blackbird Baking Co and St. John’s Bakery that haven begun to feature Red Fife bread products which is introducing a new generation of consumers to its benefits. It’s an exciting time for this wheat and we can’t wait to see more of Red Fife being showcased in restaurants and food shops across Canada.
Welcome back Red Fife to our tables!