I certainly can’t remember every meal I’ve had over my lifetime, (I would have a serious problem if I did); however, as I was about to make beef liver and onions one late January Saturday night here in Calgary, it did cause me to think back about excellent food and hospitality that I’ve experienced over the past 35 years as a farm reporter.
And bear with me — I apologize if I have some of the details wrong — I may forget people and places, but great meals, never. And just for the record, I always tried not to land in at places for a farm interview at mealtimes, but sometimes things just happened.
The liver and onions meal in late January at my house (let’s face it no one else in my family circle would dare to eat liver) reminded me of one of my first trips to the Peace River Region, probably about 30 years ago. I believe the farmer was Fern Merton. I went to talk to him about raising bison and he invited me to stay for lunch.
His mobile home had a pretty humble kitchen as I recall, but not wanting to be unsociable I said “great” to the lunch offer. He opened a can of pork and beans and fried up some bison liver and as I remember today it was one of the best liver dinners I can remember. I don’t eat liver without remembering that meal.
Have you ever had a steak from a South Devon steer? That might have been the opening question from Ralph and Betty McGregor, when I visited their Sampson McGregor Stock farm near Iron River in northeast Alberta, not far from Cold Lake. We probably connected at a farm show some place. Whoever heard of South Devon cattle? The McGregors invited me to visit the farm and learn what the breed is about.
One summer day I got there and after talking about the South Devon breed, the next part of the visit was to stay for a South Devon steak dinner. Coolers were loaded into the truck and off we headed to part of the farm along a creek or river, as I recall. A picnic site was set up under some cottonwood trees and the steaks might even have been cooked over an open wood campfire, I forget the details. The steaks got cooked and there, on a glorious summer day, I had one of the best steak dinners I can remember, and probably the last time I ever knew I was eating South Devon beef.
But there was to be another great steak dinner in my life some years later, at the Neil Jahnke ranch near Gouldtown in southwest Saskatchewan, not too far from Diefenbaker Lake. Neil was involved with the Canadian Cattleman’s Association at the time, but he also raised Texas Longhorn cattle.
I’m not sure if I went that mid-winter day to talk about beef or politics, but I remember taking a tour to look at the cattle as they grazed on winter pasture, and then after we talked at the house for a while, he insisted I stay for supper. I still had to make my way to Outlook, Sask., that night and the Jahnke’s assured me I could get there in no time if I took the ice road across Lake Diefenbaker at Riverhurst.
I’m not sure if it is the meat or the moment, but again as I remember that Longhorn steak was both tender and flavourful. I’m not sure if I took time to really savour it, as part of my mind was thinking about driving a mile over ice across Lake Diefenbaker, but the prospect of driving all the way around the lake by gravel road at that time of night didn’t thrill me either. Anyway, I found Riverhurst, kept a solid grip on the steering wheel and beelined it across the lake on the ice road, no other vehicles in sight, and I was eternally grateful as I pulled up the ramp on the far side of the lake — Outlook, here I come.
Another great lunch at the Ted and Sandy Menzies farm at Claresholm, Alta. Again, I’m not sure why I was there, but Sandy made a great lunch of fresh baked scones and homemade soup. They finally had to tell me around 2 p.m. that lunch was over, I needed to leave. It was really good.
And one year one of the beef marketing agencies, it might have been the Beef Information Centre, was promoting a slow-cooked roast beef recipe and I was invited to the Hansen Ranch just west of Airdrie, Alta., for dinner. It seems to me it was a holiday, perhaps Thanksgiving, and it truly was a “cut with your fork” roast beef dinner.
The ostrich growers put on a great ostrich steak dinner in Cochrane one year. I think that was just before everyone made a million dollars from the ostrich business and decided to retire — at least I had a great dinner.
Then there was a great BBQ pork chop dinner at Ron and Edith Svanes farm at Carmangay, north of Lethbridge, one year. I think that was a visit to talk about conservation farming practices.
And I can’t even count the number of plates of excellent cookies, cakes and pies that were put on the table with a cup of coffee. It was at one of the Hutterite colonies south of Lethbridge I believe, I was invited into a home for some dandelion wine before lunch in dining hall … what can you do, a person has to be polite. There’s one thing about being around rural Western Canada, it is unlikely you’ll ever go hungry.
But there is one more dinner offer out there I still have to collect on. Tamara Carter, co-owner at Carter Cattle Company Ltd. at Lacadena, Sask., has invited me to the ranch for the most excellent beef dinner.
I believe I complained in a column that the beef cuts I buy can be a crapshoot in terms of flavour and tenderness. And Tamara suggested I just wasn’t doing it right. One of their go-to, perhaps special occasion meals, is a slow-barbecued rib eye roast, I believe. The photos certainly look good.
So once things slow down or open up with the pandemic, and roads and weather are good, I may just need to find a good excuse to travel to south-central Saskatchewan to see how the Carters cook beef. This is purely a work research project, to find the best beef dinner ever, and I promise to file a full report. And if for some reason that meal doesn’t turn out, I’ve already decided they can have a do-over at another time.