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Cooking Canadian

Eat Alberta First

A Year of Local Recipes from Where the Prairies Meet the Mountains

by (author) Karen Anderson

TouchWood Editions
Initial publish date
Apr 2023
Canadian, Comfort Food, Reference, Seasonal
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2023
    List Price

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Equal parts cookbook and manifesto, this beautifully photographed collection is the ultimate guide to local eating in Alberta all through the year.

Eat Alberta First presents 90 tried and true recipes in celebration of Alberta’s farmers, ranchers, and food artisans. Alberta Food Tours founder and enthusiastic locavore Karen Anderson’s love of her province is enriched with the experience gained during her extensive global travels. Organized around uniquely Alberta seasons (including “Cabin Fever” and “Harvest Hurry Up”), with mini workshops on sourdough, foraging, and canning, gorgeous food and landscape photography, and an Alberta food sourcing list, the book is designed to help the home cook build reliance on their skills and on the province’s food producers.

Beginning with detailed lists of pantry essentials and an introduction to the skill levels each recipe is organized by, Karen then takes readers through the seasons, from the depths of winter (when the tough get baking), through always dicey springs, full-on summer, harvest, and batch prepping for a busy fall. The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to hosting a diversity of feasts all year round.

Learn to make Morel Mushroom Cheese Spread, Never the Same Way Twice Coleslaw, Slow-Cooked Alberta Bison, Long Life Noodles with Greens, the ultimate charcuterie board, Festive Vegetable Biryani, Summer’s Every Fruit Cake, and many many more. We think you’ll find Karen’s gusto and belief in the power of local truly inspiring.

About the author

Karen AndersonKaren Anderson is the owner of Calgary Food Tours Inc. and a columnist for CBC Radio and Calgary’s City Palate magazine. She is co-author of the guidebook Food Artisans of Alberta. She has led seven tours to India and has cooked with chefs all over the country. Since 2006, she has worked with Noorbanu Nimji, testing recipes and teaching Indian cooking classes.

Karen Anderson's profile page

Excerpt: Eat Alberta First: A Year of Local Recipes from Where the Prairies Meet the Mountains (by (author) Karen Anderson)

Since 2006, I’ve joyfully promoted the health of soil, food, and people as a writer, cooking instructor, and founder of Alberta Food Tours, Inc. I am constantly impressed by the quality and abundance of food Alberta produces. A great example of our dedication to food is how seriously outnumbered we are by cattle in this province. We have 4 million people and 5 million cattle. However, cattle have only been in Alberta since the late 1800s. Compare this with bison, which have been here for over 120,000 years and have survived against the odds. In fact, the bison’s survival is a great conservation story. At one point there were more than 40 million bison on the Great Plains of North America. The colonizing governments of the United States and Canada both had policies of assimilation or annihilation toward the Native people. They killed almost all the bison to take away their key food source while they forced them onto reservations and made them purchase beef rations. In 1909, the government of Alberta bought the last herd in North America, about 400 animals, from a rancher in Montana. Through continuous conservation efforts since that time, the population has now recovered from the point of extinction to a half million across North America. It still thrills me when I see them roaming the ranchlands and plains of Alberta. Of course, that land has changed too. Where grasslands once sustained millions of bison, grains and pulses flourish now. Alberta’s rich black soil and long summer days also produce a great variety of vegetables and Prairie-hardy fruits, many of which are pollinated by the work of over 1,500 beekeepers tending 300,000 colonies. Alberta bees produce about 40 million pounds of honey a year. Some of it is used at meaderies, which, along with distilleries and breweries, are booming thanks to legislation that removed the minimum production amounts that were formerly barriers to entry for these craft industries. Access to glacier-fed water sources and the world’s best quality grains—which are often found literally just out the back door of many of these enterprises—are other factors helping these businesses win awards the world over.

I feel so privileged to live, cook, and eat in this amazing province—and I’ve had many adventures along the way. Riding shotgun in the cab of a million dollar combine near Airdrie, I’ve marvelled at the abundance, the technology, and the grain growers’ stamina. I’ve trudged into the swampy bush in Athabasca to photograph a wild rice harvest. Foraging nature’s bounty in the foothills of the Rockies, I’ve felt pure and genuine awe as I spotted and picked wild mushrooms. Chilling out in the back of a pickup, I’ve found great peace among a herd of massive but quietly grazing bison. I’ve photographed a barn full of turkeys on a minus 30 day and followed a long-legged farmer up a hill only to come face to face with his herd of water buffalo trotting straight toward us. I’ve bottle-fed calves, eaten strawberries still warm from the sun, kept backyard bees, and learned to make sausage and cheese. I’ve cooked roving community hall feasts for over a dozen Mad Hatter day-long farm tours long before there was a wonderful thing called Open Farm Days.

My work as a food journalist and food tour operator, researching and writing about all Alberta has to offer, led me to co-author a book called Food Artisans of Alberta. In writing that book, I searched for young farmers and innovators as well as elder farmers who’ve spent their whole lives on the land. I learned equally from both. Along the way I fell in love with farmers’ and ranchers’ stories and with the art and tradition of storytelling. My passion landed me columns on the radio and in print. I’ve taught cooking lessons, travelled the world, and written a Taste Canada award-winning Indian cookbook called A Spicy Touch. I found a second calling in life that feels as important and rewarding as my first.

Confession time: I’m not a professionally trained chef and I wasn’t always a food entrepreneur. I was a nurse for over two decades. I left that career because all too often I was looking after people whose illnesses were essentially caused by a lack of knowledge about food and the skills required to cook it. That created a deep longing in me to break the cycle by developing people’s knowledge and choices around food. Those dreams came true to a certain extent. But deep down, I wanted more. I wanted to share my love of Alberta’s food and connect it to good old-fashioned home-cooking techniques, to help people make the most of the bounty on their doorsteps. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic Possibilities
Since the pandemic hit in 2020, people who are dependent on food from far away have experienced supply chain disruptions. Many people have spent LOTS more time at home and have eaten out less. That means they’ve had to rely on their own cooking skills—or lack thereof.

My company, Alberta Food Tours, has helped to grow a strong grassroots community of people who love to support small local businesses. They are Alberta locals and international travellers; Gen Zers, Millenials, and Boomers; stay-at-home parents and professionals from a plethora of sectors; chefs and home cooks; and even influencers and bloggers. Though they have many differences, they share a passion for food, and we love staying in touch with them through our social media accounts and monthly newsletter. As the reality of pandemic life hit home in month three of lockdown in the spring of 2020, we noticed a lot of our community reaching out for help with sourcing local ingredients. They also wanted fun, healthy recipes that were tried, true, and easy. We learned that although our community loved to eat, they didn’t all know how to cook. Why? There are several plausible reasons for this.

After the Second World War, it became increasingly standard for both parents to work outside the home. Consumer marketing also played a role in the decline of home cooking. Major marketing campaigns promoted processed and ready-made food items as offering freedom from “the chains” of the kitchen. The marketers were feeding into the developing women’s liberation movement where traditionally unpaid “women’s work” like cooking became less valued than going out to work and bringing home an income. Little did people know they’d risk losing food sourcing and growing knowledge as well as cooking skills in exchange for that convenience. The result is that many families have now gone three generations without a competent cook in the home. I was one of the lucky ones in that respect. I grew up cooking at the side of my mother, two grandmothers, AND a great-grandmother. I was constantly absorbing their wisdom, tips, and tricks via some magical apron string osmosis and quiet encouragement. Now that I’m sixty, the yearning to share what I’ve learned from all the great people I’ve had the privilege to cook with is almost overwhelming.

So, through Alberta Food Tours, I channelled this yearning into action, and my team and I began publishing pantry lists, sourcing notes, and a collection of recipes celebrating Alberta’s signature foods in our monthly newsletter. Our community loved it. The whole thing warmed my local-loving heart.

The pandemic has been cruel on many levels. But in my case it brought me an opportunity to raise local consciousness about the fundamental importance of sourcing and cooking healthy food, and to continue work I’d previously started and loved. In 2018, I co-authored Food Artisans of Alberta: Your Trail Guide to the Best of Our Locally Crafted Fare with my friend Tilly Sanchez. In that book we wrote about 200 farmers, ranchers, and food artisans and the diverse food they produced. I always thought a recipe collection that showcased the bounty of Alberta-grown or Alberta-made foods would be a great follow-up. Thankfully, my publisher, TouchWood Editions, agreed.

And that brings me to Eat Alberta First. I’ve written it to guide you through a year of life in an Alberta kitchen and to connect you with food producers through recipes that use their produce, no matter what level of cook you are. From the pantry lists to the recipe collection and appendix, you’ll find ingredients that truly reflect Alberta’s geography, climate, and signature foods: bison, beef, canola, honey, Red Fife wheat, root vegetables, and saskatoon berries. Whether you’re a novice, a competent cook, or a highly proficient gourmand, you’ll find plenty of coaching and challenges throughout.

But first, let’s talk a bit about the peculiarities of Alberta’s seasons, the recipes, the ingredients, and the impact I hope this book will have.

Alberta’s Seasons
I haven’t always lived in Alberta. I arrived in Calgary in September 1984 as a twenty-three-year-old-nurse to find the city covered in a blanket of white. The leaves froze on the poplar trees. Then they turned brown and promptly fell to the ground. The next week, a second summer arrived. It was 30 degrees Celsius. Larches turned golden and catoni asters crimson, and my initial fears that I’d moved to a colourless, inhospitable place faded with every warm smile that greeted me.

I learned right off the bat that the weather and seasons in Alberta are different from the neat seasonal quarters I’d grown up with in the Maritimes. In my first week here, I experienced the two great Alberta weather axioms:

  • There are really only two seasons: winter and not-winter.
  • We never know when we get up each morning which of those seasons we’ll be enjoying.

Other maxims I’ve learned include:

  • Forget planting an annual garden until after June 1.
  • Feel free to wear shorts when it’s 10 degrees Celsius.
  • While you're at it, ask to be seated on the patio where people will be donning their Wayfarers and sipping brews like it’s the first of July.
  • Keep a stash of emergency blankets . . . for your garden.
  • Never let a few feet of snow and minus 40 stand between you and the chance to go to a gathering with great grub.

I especially love the last one. Turns out, our weather has a lot to do with what we do in our kitchens, the rhythm of our days and what foods we eat. And after nearly forty years in this place, I reckon that under our umbrella of two seasons, there are at least six subtle seasons we need to account for and flow with.

I’ve essentially structured Eat Alberta First around this idea of six seasons, each with its own set of food requirements and eating habits.

  • The Long, Dark, and Deep Winter: This chapter is based on the premise that to prepare for the depth and breadth of our winters, you need to concentrate on filling your larder so that you always have something to cook no matter what’s going on outside. I begin with “Provisioning 101: How to Stock a Pantry to Eat Alberta First.” If you’re going to stock your larder, you might as well support the local economy as you do it. The essential pantry items are separated out according to cooking ability. As you develop your skills in the kitchen, you can slowly add to your pantry and experiment with new ingredients.
  • Cabin Fever Season: As our days get longer but temperatures stay well below zero, I prescribe “Keep Calm and Bake On” as an antidote to cabin fever. In this chapter, I share an old family recipe called Easy Does It Sweet Sourdough that you can use for recipes like cinnamon rolls, strudel, and a quintessential chocolate cake. You’ll be reaching time and again for that magical sourdough container at the back of your refrigerator.
  • Neither Here Nor There: This season is also known as spring in some places. In this chapter I share basic guidelines on foraging and recipes that use foraged foods because eventually greens and fungi do shoot from the soil of our meadows and forests. It’s a great feeling to know that they’re there and great fun to know what to do with them. Presenting a Morel Mushroom Cheese Spread followed by Bison Meatloaf with Cranberry Barbecue Glaze to friends you’ve invited round or pouring Chokecherry over your pancakes on a weekend will go a long way to increasing your pride in and connection to this land.
  • Full-on Summer: This is when nature cranks up the heat. The recipes in this chapter are all about savouring every ounce of summer and cooking food for the great outdoors. Along with casual things you can throw together in an instant like Broek Pork Acres’ Pulled Pork, you can also present jaw-droppers like Cedar-Planked Prime Rib Roast of Alberta Beef. Get in the summer mood with Lip-Smacking, Finger-Licking, Messy, Good Ribs, Bing Cherry Butter Tarts, Prairie Berry Squares, and Summer’s Every Fruit Cake.
  • Harvest Hurry-Up: This chapter will prepare you for the brief time when the bounty of summer is overflowing in gardens and markets and we want to preserve as much of the season as possible. “Canning 101” will introduce you to the principles of canning, which you can put to good use by practising the eight preserve and pickle recipes I’ve provided. Once you’ve learned how easy it is to put up your own Classic Canned Tomatoes or Lady Ashburnham Mustard Pickles, you’ll have a tough time living without them.
  • Fall Back: Maybe it’s the potential for a freak September blizzard, the days getting shorter again, or children returning to school, but fall brings busyness. This chapter’s theme is batch-cooking, which not only teaches planning and life skills but can also foster community. When you learn to make extra for your freezer, you not only pay yourself forward but also have the bandwidth to help others. Big-batch recipes like Refrigerator Bran Muffins are a great gift for new parents up at night for feedings. Containers of Triple “S” Soup or Chunky Pasta Sauce with Hot Italian Sausage along with Sheet Pan Chocolate Chippity-Chunk Cookie Bars left in a basket for friends in crisis express your love in so many ways. These actions are the quickest way I know how to build community. And, if you’re in a farming community, Chipotle Bison Chili or Trail's End Classic Beef Stew make great meals for branding or combining crews.

The last chapter of this book is called Celebrating, Feasting, and Entertaining Throughout the Year. Its contents reflect the diverse cultures that are part of both the history and the future of this place. There are festivals throughout the year in Alberta where we can learn about and taste the food of all the cultures that make up this province. It’s a chance to be neighbourly and make new friends. Growing up in a small town in New Brunswick, I never dreamed I’d have such opportunities. Alberta is the place where this happened for me. Maybe you won’t go on to find a loving mentor and write an Indian cookbook like I did, but you might have the chance to learn how to pinch pirohy, roll sushi, or wrap samosas. So, whether it’s making lucky dishes for Lunar New Year, preparing a harvest feast for Thanksgiving, or celebrating the sweetness of friendship at Diwali, I hope the recipes in this chapter help you not only appreciate our diversity but actively celebrate it.

Of course, all the fabulous produce and other ingredients don't just appear by magic. In the appendix, I share a list of Alberta food artisans. They’re organized by six geographical regions and then subdivided by the food categories you’re most likely to be searching for. You’ll find artisan products; baked goods, coffee, and tea; charcuterie and sausages; cheese and dairy; chocolate and confectionery; cooking schools and specialty foods; craft beer, cider, fruit wine, mead, and distillations; foragers, foraging classes, and foraged foods; fruits, fungi, and vegetables; grains, seeds, and pulses; meat, poultry, and pork; and sustainable fish and seafood.

Isn’t that a fantastic assortment? Turns out our province is the ultimate cook’s pantry. If you ask me, there’s nothing better than living close to people who dedicate their lives to growing and making beautiful ingredients for us to enjoy. I hope you will support them with all your heart and hard-earned dollars too.

Editorial Reviews

"A hefty, almost 400-page volume celebrating the Alberta culinary spirit through stories . . . and 90 homespun recipes." —Calgary Herald

"Champion of Alberta food and artisans." —CTV Calgary

"A hefty and informative tome full of useful information for those attempting to keep as close to the local food cycle as possible." —Edmonton Journal

"It's a love letter to the foods and food producers of Alberta, as well as a call to cook and eat local whenever possible. . . [it's] also a great primer; a kitchen 101, perfect for novice cooks learning how to stock a pantry, what to keep in a well-equipped kitchen, and how to cook smartly and naturally, with the rhythms of the seasons." —Alberta Prime Times

"Eat Alberta First is more than a cookbook. Karen’s engaging voice links the reader with Alberta people, places and ingredients as well as recipes." —Grainews

"I can truthfully say, it's been a while since I’ve seen such a wonderful book that shows the passion for the subject on every page!" —Linda Garson, Editor-in-Chief of Culinaire Magazine

"[A] love letter to the province." —Eat North

"Everyone should have this book in their kitchen." —The Tomato

"Eat Alberta First not only shares stories and recipes to connect people, but also teaches readers how to forage responsibly, how to make sourdough, how to can and preserve, where to source food. . ." —Chestermere Anchor

“Karen Anderson knows food from all over the world, especially from her beloved home province of Alberta. I’m so excited for her latest book! You can just smell the farmland and crisp Alberta air.” —Shelley Adams, author of Whitewater Cooks

“No one covers the ever-changing Alberta food scene like Karen Anderson. She masterfully connects the dots between people, story, land, process, ingredients, recipes, and celebration that make up Alberta’s food culture kaleidoscope. Eat Alberta First has me planning my next culinary adventure, and my next dinner party!” —Jennifer Cockrall, co-author of tawâw


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