The American bison (or buffalo, as it's commonly called) is often associated with the province of Manitoba. This large, shaggy animal is featured on the provincial flag and is used as a symbol of the provincial legislature, as well as the sports team names at the University of Manitoba.
While it has been a long time since great herds of bison roamed freely across the Manitoba prairies, bison farming is on the rise.
According to recent counts, there are more than 13,000 bison in Manitoba, distributed across approximately 180 farms.
Not only does Manitoba's climate and expanse of grasslands contribute to the growth of this commodity, but increasing consumer demand also plays a role. Bison meat offers an alternative to beef that is low in fat, a natural source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and has a rich, meaty flavour that's similar to beef but with more "oomph."
Bison meat is available cut into roasts, steaks, chops, ribs, and ground and stewing meat, and used in processed products such as sausages, patties and jerky, bison is highly versatile.
Because of bison's natural leanness, it cooks faster than beef, and is most tender when steaks or roasts are cooked to medium at most. For a listing of where to purchase or enjoy bison in a restaurant in Manitoba, visit manitobabison.ca; for the rest of the country, check out canadianbison.ca.
Tastes of the markets
Manitoba is no different from other Canadian provinces when it comes to farmer's markets. Scattered across the province, these markets, whether open daily, weekly or monthly, are a place for farmers and consumers to gather and share their passion for fresh-from-the-farm food.
Two of Manitoba's markets are particularly well-known in foodie circles: The Forks Market, in Winnipeg, and St. Norbert Farmer's Market, on the outskirts of the city.
The Forks Market
The forks of the Assiniboine and Red rivers, in downtown Winnipeg, have been a meeting and trading place for thousands of years. Today, this lively market is bustling with people in search of great food, fun music, and vibrant arts and crafts. Here are some vendors not to miss.
Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company -- Using organic whole grains and seeds from Manitoba whenever possible, this bakery pumps out wholesome and delicious goods daily. The long lineup for the cinnamon buns is worth every minute.
Mini Donuts Factory -- The scent of cinnamon and sugar will draw you in; the sight of tons of tiny doughnuts being made right before your eyes will hold you there; and the great taste of these treats will keep you coming back for more.
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Bindy's Caribbean Delights -- Authentic tastes of the Caribbean abound at this lively takeout counter. Be sure to try the Doubles, two golden-hued fried flatbreads sandwiching chickpea curry. A wide selection of hot sauces and chutneys help you personalize your choice.
Taste of Sri Lanka -- You'll find lots of vegetarian options at this popular counter. Choose from a range of curries - from mild to fiery - or try other traditional and adapted favourites.
St. Norbert Farmer's Market
Farmers have gathered at the site of St. Norbert Farmer's Market, on the outskirts of Winnipeg, for more than 20 years, proudly sharing homegrown, home-baked or home-raised goods. Open from June to October, this is the largest market in Manitoba and the best place to explore the bounty of the province. Here are some highlights.
Pacific Spring Roll -- A regular at the market for many years now, this tent has long lineups that make hard to miss. The original Filipino Style Spring Roll is the menu item that keeps the crowds coming back for more.
The Country Perogy Shop -- Choose from a selection of handmade gourmet perogies to eat at the market or take home. You'll have a hard time deciding between the classic perogy fillings, such as potato and cheese, and the more daring, such as pizza or Mexican flavour.
Miinan -- Hand-picked wild berries are key here. Blueberries, chokecherries, plums, Saskatoon berries and cranberries (among others) are the bases for delicious jams, spreads, syrups, dressings and more.
Fruits and vegetables -- It's hard to pick just one vendor from the many dedicated growers who sell their produce at this market. Wander among the stalls, speak with the farmers, ask questions, then go home and cook an inspired meal with your market finds.
For a list of other farmer's markets across the province, check out the Farmers' Markets Association of Manitoba.
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The unusual suspects
Along with the usual Prairie agriculture suspects of wheat, grains and barley, Manitoba's farming scene is also home to a growing seed and bean market. Here are some of the more unusual crops grown in Manitoba.
Having the longest growing season in the Prairies (as well as fertile soil and adequate moisture levels) makes Manitoba one of the best spots in Canada for dry or field bean production. More than 50 per cent of the country's beans are grown in Manitoba. The varieties that grow best in the province include navy beans, black beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans and cranberry beans.
Manitoba's cool northern climate protects fragile pea plants from some insects and diseases, helping to rank it among Canada's top pea-producing regions. The majority of peas produced in Manitoba are yellow peas, which are often dried and split, and used for food production or livestock feed.
Hemp's versatility has captured the attention of farmers in Manitoba and beyond: It can be used in everything from paper, clothing and cosmetics to automotive production and construction materials. Currently, most of Manitoba's hemp crop is used for its seeds and oil, which are used by the food and nutrition industry.
The southern region of Manitoba, where summer days are hot and long, is known as Manitoba's sunflower belt. And no wonder: The area produces more than 90 per cent of Canada's total sunflower crop. Almost all the seeds grown are used in the snack food or baking industry; the rest are used in birdseed or crushed to make sunflower oil.
Perogy Paradise -- Following routes compiled by the Manitoba tourism board, this fun travel guide covers many destinations across the province. Feast heartily on this well-loved peasant food while you discover the culture, architecture and history of eastern European immigration across Manitoba.
Page 3 of 4 -- Taking a trip to Manitoba? Be sure to check out the food festivals on page 4
Flavour Trail -- Manitoba's Parkland Region already attracts people with its many parks and heritage sites, and now culinary destinations are among the reasons to visit. With quaint inns, bakeries and roadside diners to stop at, you're bound to discover something delicious.
Canadians love to celebrate food and wine all through the year, and the people of Manitoba are no exception. Here's a short list of festivals across the province honouring local cuisine and food culture.
Winnipeg Wine Festival -- April 29 to May 5, 2012
Manitoba Sunflower Festival -- July 27 to 29, 2012
Canada's National Ukrainian Festival -- Aug. 3 to 5, 2012
Winnipeg Folk Festival -- July 4 to 8, 2012
Islendingadagurinn (Icelandic Festival of Manitoba) -- Aug. 3 to 6, 2012
Morden Corn and Apple Festival -- Aug. 24 to 26, 2012
Supper-in-the-Field -- Aug. 18, 2012
Farmer's Feast -- September 2012
Butchers at farmer's markets and specialty stores are great sources for homegrown bison. Try these burgers with grainy mustard and whole wheat buns.
This Three Bean Salad combines both colour and a high fiber content, resulting in a dish that everybody will love.
Everybody loves reinventing a classic -- oatmeal raisin cookies are no exception. With the simple addition of seeds these Seedy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies have a new lease on life.
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