Red Fife wheat is an heirloom in many senses of the word.
Bakers and farmers often describe heirloom wheats as older varietals that have more flavor and growing variations than many wheats streamlined for broad audiences and modern commercial farming operations. They also typically are lower in gluten content, not having undergone breeding changes that have greatly increased the amount of gluten in our flour in the last hundred years.
But Red Fife also has a long and unusual history. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, legend holds that a ship from Ukraine was in the Glasgow harbor when a man dropped his hat in the wheat.
A few grains stuck in his hatband, and he shipped them off to a friend, Scottish farmer David Fife in Canada. The cow ate all of the wheat they planted except for one stalk that Fife’s wife managed to save, and that one head of wheat went on to prosper and become the most popular wheat in Canada.
Depending on the source, people say that Red Fife fell out of favor either due to replacement with new pest-resistant strains of wheat, or from folks eating their seed grain during the Great Depression, but it went nearly extinct until, in 1988, the chief interpreter of The Grist Mill historic site in British Colombia decided to plant a “Living Museum of Wheat” with seven historic varieties, including Red Fife.
This new planting became of hit with chefs, some of whom cooked it for the British royal family during a visit, and Prince Charles purportedly enjoyed it so much, he asked for some bags to bring home, and the family continues to order it whenever they visit.
Apart from its history, Red Fife’s taste is so prized that it has been placed on the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity’s “Ark of Taste.”
Ingredients: Freshly-milled Red Fife hard spring wheat from Gianforte Farms, water, natural levain, Amagansett Sea Salt.