Tuesday, April 26, 2011
By Jennifer on March 28th, 2011 (from Slow Food Toronto Newsletter)
Interview with Edmund Rek and Dawn Woodward
Edmund Rek and Dawn Woodward are passionate about showcasing Ontario heritage grains and the farmers who produce them. As Chefs and local food advocates, Ed and Dawn have created Evelyn’s Crackers – delicious, artisan crackers made from local, organic, heritage grains. Their line has now expanded to include cookies and muesli.
In 2003 Slow Food Canada adopted Red Fife wheat as Canada’s first presidium in the Ark of Taste. As a key ingredient in many of their crackers, Dawn and Ed have been instrumental in bringing Red Fife wheat from field to table.
Lea Phillips met with Ed and Dawn to discuss Evelyn’s Crackers and their work in the local, organic food community.
Tell me about the philosophy behind Evelyn’s Crackers?
Ed: It’s really all about the grain. We started out with Red Fife wheat and the crackers were born from there. It is such a fabulous grain – earthy, nutty, fantastic flavour. About five years ago there were only two kilos of it left and we have been able to bring it back. It originated in Scotland and was brought to the Peterborough area by David Fife in the 1840s – it flourished here and in the Prairies for many years. Over time, other hybrid grains took over and Red Fife was almost obliterated.
Initially a handful of farmers started growing it, now that number has increased significantly. Small and large bakeries are using it – so it is actually moving from into mainstream use from being nearly extinct five years ago.
As a heritage wheat, Red Fife will adapt to a variety of growing conditions and the elements – unlike factory-farmed grains. It is a very important to preserve these heritage grains to ensure agricultural diversity for the future.
Where do you source the ingredients for Evelyn’s Crackers?
Dawn: We work directly with local Ontario farmers and small producers. Currently, we are using six organic heritage grains: rye, spelt, buckwheat, Red Fife, whole wheat and barley. Much of our flour comes from John and Patricia Hastings of Madoc, descendents of the founders of Hastings County where Madoc is located. They grow Red Fife on their organic farm and stone-mill it right there. Once a week they drive into Toronto to deliver the flour to artisan bakers. Our other supplier is Hope Eco Farms in Aylmer. These farmers are incredibly dedicated to growing heritage grains, sustainable agriculture and long-term agricultural diversity.
For other ingredients we work with local farmers and producers as well – Monteforte Dairy and Dancing Bee Apiaries, Sylvia Stoddart to name a few.
How did you get started?
Dawn: We emigrated here from the U.S. with the idea of having our own business and being involved with farmers’ markets. We were working in catering and consulting when I found out about Red Fife wheat from Naomi Duguid. I loved the taste and immediately starting experimenting and making bread. I began thinking about how I could bring Red Fife products to market. I noticed that the farmers’ markets already had bakers selling breads made from Red Fife. Also, bread making is very time-consuming and requires expensive equipment. So I started thinking about crackers made with Red Fife and began making them with a friend.
We brought our crackers to the Brickworks Farmers’ Market in December of 2008 – the last market day for that year. Among the many people that sampled our crackers was Elizabeth Harris – Founder/Manager of the Brickworks and Riverdale farmers’ markets. Elizabeth loved the crackers and gave samples to Chefs Jamie Kennedy and Anthony Rose – they were impressed!
The next spring we were given a spot at the market and have been growing ever since.
Ed: From there the ripple effect took hold. In a matter of a few months, we had a Globe and Mail article written on Evelyn’s Crackers. In addition to the Brickworks, we got involved in the The Stop, Trinity Bellwoods and Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Markets.
There is such a strong local food community here in Toronto – they have been incredibly supportive from the beginning. Word of mouth really helped us get going.
Soon we were in food shops – the first being The Healthy Butcher and About Cheese. Now we are in over 36 stores throughout Toronto – to find us visithttp://evelynscrackers.com.
How did you come up with the name Evelyn’s Crackers?
Ed: We named it after our daughter, Evelyn. It was such a wonderful and important experience to name a child, that it just made sense that anything else we named would be after her. She was two when we started – a two-year-old is so intense in everything they do – walking, jumping, talking. We started the crackers with the intensity and wonder of a two-year-old. As Evelyn is getting older, I realize that what we are trying to do is create a change in the food system with her in mind. This is for her.
You have some really fun names for your crackers – Currant in the Rye, Slightly Seedy Crackers – to name a few. How do you come up with the names?
Dawn: We usually brainstorm them together during our product development phase. Our goal is to find a name that is memorable, tells the story of the cracker and is funny – but not too cheesy.
Tell me a little about your backgrounds and roles within the business.
Dawn: I started cooking in New Orleans about 20 years ago and quickly realized I didn’t want to be a chef, so I moved into pastry. I then did an apprenticeship in Germany and got involved with artisanal breads. From there I got a position with Bread Alone, an artisanal bakery in upstate New York. I initially came to Toronto as a Consultant for Ace Bakery when they started their artisanal bread line. Throughout my career I have travelled extensively and have developed an appreciation for food wherever I go.
We do the product development stage together. I come up with the recipes and Ed is my sounding board. As a Chef, Ed has a very fine-tuned palate and we are able to make adjustments to the recipes based on his input.
On Mondays we spend the day making dough together. For the rest of the week, I do the baking and Ed does deliveries and demos throughout the city.
Together we have taken the artisanal bread concept and applied it to crackers.
If anyone is interested in learning about making artisan crackers, we would be happy to have you spend a day or two in our kitchen. If interested, contact us via our website www.evelynscrackers.com.
Ed: I started in the restaurant business when I was 15, and stayed in it in one way or another. I went to culinary school and worked in many fine restaurants and hotels. I was one of the first chefs to bring in organic meat. I did it because you could taste the difference – naturally-raised, locally-grown, organic. As a Chef, I was always interested in getting the most flavour. Initially I did it mostly for taste. Dawn is more focused on the political side of things. So when we met, we were clearly a match.
When I started participating in farmers’ markets, I learned more about food and how it is produced than I had working in a restaurant. It comes down to being close to the source of your food. We all benefit by supporting farmers.
We want to help educate and promote the local community. The crackers are a great way for many people to start connecting with local food – an easy way to understand the field to table concept and getting closer to the source of your food.
You have been active in Toronto farmers’ markets for the last three years – tell me what changes you have observed?
Ed: Farmers’ markets are a great way to connect with like-minded people and give consumers better options. I’ve noticed over time that more and more people are participating in farmers’ markets – both vendors and attendees – the growth has been tremendous. Consumers are asking more questions – such as, “what are you feeding your animals”, “ are your vegetables organically grown”. These are very important questions.
We’re trying to promote the idea of being closer to the producers of your food – meeting farmers, talking with them, buying as close to the source as possible.
How do you introduce people to Evelyn’s Crackers?
Dawn: I usually start with talking about the taste and the crunch – very different from a conventional cracker. A taste test usually says it all.
Our crackers are nutritionally rich, whole grain and filled with good calories – you really only need a few to feel satisfied. The gluten and protein in these heritage grains are easier to digest and absorb, therefore many people with gluten sensitivities can enjoy Evelyn’s Crackers. Also, our grains are organic, so no fungicide or pesticide residue.
Outside of farmers’ markets, what are some other ways we can source local, sustainably produced foods?
Ed: There are many ways to build relationships with farmers outside of farmers’ markets. We worked with a farmer to raise chickens – we bought 40 heritage breed chickens and partnered with a farmer to raise them for us. We’ll eat these over the next six months or so. By developing these types of partnerships, you don’t have to rely on conventional stores.
Also, getting involved in a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) is a great way to stay connected with farmers all year round.
What does the future hold for Evelyn’s Crackers?
Dawn: We have recently moved into cookies and granola. Our focus going forward will be to continue to utilize local grains in as many formats as possible, other than bread. So more cookies, granola, moving into butter-based cookies and cereals
Being part of the local food movement is key for us – educating, spreading the word and creating products from local ingredients.