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Red Fife Wheat
From 1860-1900 Red Fife wheat was spring wheat in Canada. After falling out of favour with commercial growers and all but disappearing in the late 1900s, this high quality milling and baking wheat is enjoying a renaissance with farmers, bakers and consumers. Renowned for its flavour, this hearty grain was developed in Otonabee Township, Peterborough County by David Alexander Fife (1805 - 1877) and his wife Jane.
Legend has it that after several years of farming in Peterborough County, David Fife was looking for a heartier, more disease resistant wheat. He asked a friend in Scotland to send him different varieties of seeds. Seeing a ship from Danzig in the Glasgow harbour, the friend collected a few seeds in his hat, and sent them to Farmer Fife. In the first year, the wheat was growing well until a cow got in to the wheat and started munching. Shoeing the cow out of the wheat, Jane Fife harvested the only three seed heads that remained. The Fifes grew out this seed and found it gave a consistent, disease resistant crop which matured earlier than the wheat that had been grown in the area. Soon David Fife was supplying his neighbours, and the Otonabee Agricultural Society began distributing seed to its members.
Spread of the ‘Glorious Fife’
The domain of the glorious Fife spread with immigrants settling across the Canadian Prairies. The strain reigned supreme until the early 1900s, when its progeny, Marquis – which ripened ten days earlier – ascended the throne. But Red Fife remains the ancestor of virtually all wheat grown in Canada. Though it had fallen out of favour with commercial growers and might have completely disappeared, in the 1990s seed-saver activists, farmers, millers and bakers across Canada began bringing back this delicious heritage wheat. In 2005 the Fife Line Sisterhood reintroduced Red Fife wheat to its original territory on the Fife line.
Today, Red Fife wheat is the newest taste sensation in the Canadian artisan bread world, described by bakers as unexpectedly rich and full of aroma with a slightly herby and spicy flavour. From the few pounds of Red Fife planted in 1990, more than 500 tons (100,000 pounds or 45,360 kilograms) were harvested in 2007. Those interested in experiencing parts of this period in Canadian history first-hand are invited to visit the first Fife homestead and historic plaque now located at Lang Pioneer Village, a stone’s throw from the site of the original Fife farm.