Most of us take flour for granted. To many, it’s simply milled wheat. But our journey to find the very best loaf of bread has taken us back in time.
Early in the settlement of the Canadian West, a problem was evident. Canada’s traditional wheat at that time was largely grown in Ontario, and was not going to be successful with the shorter growing season on the prairies. The search was on for a wheat variety which, when milled into flour, would generate superior baking quality, but could be successful with the colder weather of the new provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Dominion Agricultural Research station in Agassiz, BC was the place where that special wheat would be developed and grown for the first time. Marquis Wheat was a cross between an early-ripening Indian wheat, Hard Red Calcutta, and Red Fife. It was leading edge technology at the time as it opened the way for Canada to settle the prairies. Marquis Wheat produced, according to the historical notes, a flour that had even better baking qualities than Red Fife, making it the preferred grain for baking. Quickly this specific varietal of wheat became the preferred seed for farmers across the prairies and in the northern US plains states.
However, following the Second World War, plant breeders perfected hybridization, and Marquis lost ground to other varietals due to a slightly higher yield with the newer strains. Decades of intense hybridization to continually improve harvest yields and crop productivity changed many of the qualities of some wheat.
In 2009, we came upon a rare handful of seeds from the original 1904 strain of Marquis wheat directly from the archives of the Canadian Central Experimental Farm, through the Alberta Garden Conservancy. We became obsessed with the idea of baking artisan bread with flour milled from this long lost wheat relative when we started to read about the exceptional baking qualities.