There was a time when much of the wheat grown in Ontario (and, for that matter, the rest of Canada) was a variety known as Red Fife. First grown in Peterborough, just a couple of hours away from Toronto, it was a hardy and adaptable variety that was perfectly suited to Canada’s climate.
All good things must come to an end, though, so after spending the better part of a century as the grain of choice for Canadian farmers, Red Fife’s popularity faded in the early 20th century when farmers began turning to other wheat varieties with shorter growing times and higher yields. Within a few decades, the grain that had built the Canadian prairies was all but forgotten, and might even have vanished completely if it weren’t for a single pound of seed that found its way into the hands of the Heritage Seed Project in 1988. That year, Red Fife was planted in the Heritage Seed Project’s fields, setting in motion a comeback of epic proportions.
And by epic, I mean a comeback so massively huge that it ought to be in a Hollywood screenplay. Consider this: according to Wikipedia, a whopping five hundred tons of Red Fife wheat was harvested in Canada in 2007, each and every grain of which can be traced to that first pound of seed. That’s a million-fold increase in just 20 short years, in Canada alone.
No wonder Red Fife is the poster child for Canada’s biodiversity movement.
While Red Fife flour has become fairly easy to find in Ontario over the past couple of years, I’m assuming it may still be difficult to find in the US and downright impossible anywhere else in the world. However, you can substitute a good quality stone-ground whole wheat flour if you’re not able to find any Red Fife where you are.
This recipe was adapted from Sour Grapes (a blog which is now defunct), who adapted it from the Canadian classic “Food That Really Shmecks” by Edna Staebler. I’ve halved everything for this version, since the original made a whopping four regular-sized loaves, and I’ve also gussied it up with a couple handfuls of chopped figs to play up the natural nuttiness of the rye and red fife flours. Next time, I think I’m going to add a half-cup of chopped walnuts to the mix, because it’s just begging for a little extra nutty crunch.
The end result is a dense, yet surpringly tender loaf with a soft crust, and a slightly sweet and nutty flavour. Lightly toasted with a pat of melting butter, it’s utter perfection.
As written, this recipe will produce one large freeform boule. However, depending on your mood, you can also shape it into two standard loaves, two smaller boules or even a small army of large-ish dinner rolls. Me, I’m partial to the big-ass boule. So there.
- 1½ cups lukewarm water
- ⅓ cup honey, divided
- 1 tbsp instant dried yeast
- 2½ cups all purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
- 1 cup rye flour
- 1 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour (preferably Red Fife)
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 tsp salt
- ¾ cup roughly chopped dried calimyrna figs
- In a small bowl, combine the water, 2 tbsp of the honey, and yeast. Stir until the yeast dissolves, then set aside to proof for five minutes.
- In the meantime, combine the all-purpose, rye and Red Fife flours in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Once the yeast mixture is foamy, add in the canola oil, salt and remaining honey. Add to the flour mixture and stir until the dough begins to come together.
- Turn out onto a clean surface dusted with all-purpose flour and knead for about 10-15 minutes, until you have a soft elastic dough, dusting with additional flour as needed to keep from sticking. Add chopped figs and knead until the figs are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
- Shape the dough into a ball, and place in a lightly oiled large mixing bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel, and place in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in size (this should take about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how warm said draft-free spot is).
- Turn the dough out onto your work surface. Punch it down, and knead it a couple of times. Let the dough rest for a minute or two, then shape into a ball (or any other shape you might prefer). Place on a baking sheet which has been lined with parchment paper, then cover and return it to a warm draft-free spot to rise until doubled again, about 45-50 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400F. Uncover the loaf and, using a sharp knife, cut two or three shallow slits through the top.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until loaf is browned, crusty and makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.