Highwood Crossing Farm has been in Tony Marshall’s family for almost 120 years now. The farm is in Aldersyde, Alberta and hugs a curve in the Highwood River. It’s as though the land of the farm and the flow of the river are two lovers spooning. Most of the time, life is that peaceful and serene there.
In June of this year that was definitely not the case. That’s when we Albertans dealt with The Great Alberta Flood of 2013 and Tony and Penny Marshall of Highwood Crossing saw their Highwood Crossing Foods Ltd. processing plant in High River swallowed up by the river. To add insult to injury the basement of their beloved and beautiful home on the family homestead was also devastated. As always, they looked around and thought – things could be worse. They regrouped and are slowly rebuilding as they can. Before long Tony was making a joke that with all that flour and water in High River it was a good thing they did not also make yeast. High River would have had another mess on their hands the likes of a Ghostbusters movie.
This blog will talk about the Highwood Crossing organic grain farm, the products they produce and what’s involved in that process and then finish with a few of Penny Marshall’s delectable recipes. I’ve had the delight of trying these good things and enjoyed them so much I’m confident you will too.
Mother Nature can be so ironic. The Marshall’s had only relocated their business from the farm to High River a few years ago. It was something they had thought long and hard about. In the end they designed a state-of-the-art facility and began enjoying their short commute “to town” each day. Mother Nature had other plans for them this year.
Back to the farm they went. The Marshall’s felt extremely fortunate that they still had their former facility to go to when so many other High River businesses may indeed be out of business period; and not just out of a business space. Production on farm is one-fifth of what they are capable of in High River but they are grateful to have a way to keep their business going and are working longer hours to make up for the decreased production capability.
Last weekend I took a bus load of city folk out to Highwood Crossing Farm to meet the Marshall’s as part of a pre-Thanksgiving shop-at-the-source farm tour. Those farm tours are called Foodie Tootles and I’ve done three of them this year as part of Calgary’s City Palate magazine’s 20 events to celebrate their 20th anniversary. When I asked the Marshall’s to participate back in January of this year, we had hoped to be in High River showing off the new facililty but since that was not possible, the Marshall’s opened their home and invited us all in. It’s a credit to their indomitable spirit that they did not just up and cancel.
Tony showed us how they cold press canola and flax seeds to create culinary oils from organic seeds. He was inspired to bring this process to Alberta after a trip to Italy where he learned about how extra virgin olive oil is made. He could see the possibilities for Alberta’s amazing grain crops. He uses organic canola in a time when most of that crop has gone GMO. His crop is grown in a remote area where it cannot be contaminated. When you look at the colour of a canola field in summer with its bright mustard yellow flowers and you look at the thick mustard yellow oil that Marshall produces you instantly know that this is the product as nature intended it to be. The taste has become widely sought after by chef’s across Canada including the very famous Vikram Vij of Vij’s in Vancouver and chef Chris Aernie of The Rossmount Inn in my hometown of St.Andrews, New Brunswick.
The group got a new appreciation for what it takes to grow grains in Alberta and we were able to shop for freshly milled organic flours, granola and those lovely flax and canola oils – cold off the press. A full list of Highwood Crossing products can be found here.
While Tony showed us around the processing facility, Penny took up her station at the baking island in her very modern but vintage-looking kitchen. She showed everyone her secret technique for forming the perfect dinner roll using her Highwood Crossing Oat Bun recipe. Penny is a home economist and has developed many recipes for the Highwood Crossing products.
The Marshalls are members of Slow Food Southern Alberta and they seemed to help us all slow down and enjoy their good, clean and fair food at the source where it was grown. You can’t get more local.
We got to walk around Penny’s kitchen garden, sit by the river and enjoy tea and coffee with her buttery Oat Shortbread. Everyone came away feeling relaxed and connected – with the Marshalls, with the land and the river and these organic products so lovingly grown and processed by these dedicated Alberta farmers.
I care for that a great deal. We savoured food at the source. We savoured the essence of life. We were thankful for the sustenance it brought us. Thank you Tony and Penny for all you do and for your loving friendship and caring ways. Hugs, K.
Highwood Crossing Buns
from Penny Marshall
This easy dinner bun recipe has additional fiber and the option of either making up dough the night before or the day of baking.
2 c warm water
1/2 c sugar
2 T granular yeast (I have used both traditional or fast rising)
¼ c Highwood Crossing Cold Pressed Canola Oil (this is what gives the buns their golden glow)
2 t salt
1 c Highwood Crossing Quick Cooking Oats
2 c Highwood Crossing Unbleached All Purpose Flour
Blend the above ingredients with the paddle attachment in a mixer for about 2 minutes. Or mix in large bowl by hand.
Switch to the dough hook attachment and mix in 2 to 3 cups of all purpose flour, ¼ cup at a time, until dough is not sticky and is easy to handle.
Place dough in greased, large bowl and turn to grease the top. Cover and either place in the fridge overnight or set in a warm place to double.
To use in the morning, gently deflate and cut off 24 golf ball size pieces of dough.
Shape into rounds and set in two greased 9 x 13 pans to rise in warm place until doubled. Setting the pans in a clear plastic bag with an air space for rising is a toasty way to provide a draft free proofing space.
To use the same day, deflate the dough once it has doubled and cut off dough pieces and shape and let rise as above.
To bake, preheat oven to 400 and bake 10 – 13 minutes or until golden. Recipe makes 24 buns.
Penny’s Idea of Play Dough
Feel free to experiment with replacing some of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour or adding flax, sesame or sunflower seeds. Or use some of the dough for cinnamon buns and some for dinner buns.
Highwood Crossing Steel Cut Oat Shortbread Cookies
2 c. Highwood Crossing Steel Cut Oats
1 1/2 c Highwood Crossing Unbleached Flour
1 1/4 c vanilla sugar*
1 1/3 c butter, cold and cubed
1 t salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grind the oats into flour using your food processor or a coffee grinder.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, oat flour and butter in a kitchen aid stand mixer with
the paddle attachment until a soft dough is formed.
Roll out, on a lightly floured surface, to half inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.
Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with vanilla sugar.
Bake 10-14 minutes until golden.
*Vanilla sugar is when a vanilla bean has been added to white granulated sugar or confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar. The bean is cut in half and buried in the sugar, covered, and left for a week or two to allow the vanilla to permeate through the sugar. This vanilla sugar can be used in place of regular sugar and adds a wonderful vanilla flavor to desserts.
Place a cut vanilla bean into 1-2 cups (200-400 grams) of granulated white sugar or confectioners sugar and store in a covered container for a few weeks before using. One tablespoon of vanilla sugar has the flavoring power of 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.