We’ve become hooked on short-haul trips to small towns we’ve never explored in our own province. W asked if we could go on another adventure as soon as he finished school, and so we obliged by packing up the car and driving to Medicine Hat on Friday afternoon – as good a place to go as any when the forecast tipped beyond 30 degrees. The temperature in southern Alberta this weekend ranged from about 34-38 – no better time to hunker down in a hotel that has air conditioning and a water slide. (Also: no obligation to cook, do dishes or laundry.) We beat the heat with a visit to Tino’s drive-in (hilariously thin burgers, but people apparently go for the chili fries, and the ice cream was cold) and Swirls Ice Cream (my fave).
Because I’m a full-on coffee snob, Mike walked across the street to Tim Horton’s while I went in search of a proper cappuccino. The Station Coffee Co in downtown Medicine Hat brews Fratello beans, has some sufficiently dense and sticky cinnamon buns and squares, and is right across the street from one of the prettiest garden centres I’ve been to, with one of the many weathered brick walls you’ll see around town acting as a backdrop. Warning: it’s closed on Sundays. I KNOW. I would have bought two on Saturday and drank the other one cold. See? Coffee snob.
Hop across the river (I do love a town that has bridges) and you’ll find Zucchini Blossom Café, a cute little coffee shop in an equally adorable old-school block of awesome little spots – it’s a haven of baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza – I took a cold slice of veggie pizza with me, and wound up polishing the whole thing off in the car, along with perfectly tart apple-rhubarb crumble.
A couple doors down, Skinny’s Smokehouse serves up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, chicken and some of the best brisket I’ve had – with cold Cokes in glass bottles and rolls of paper towel (always a good sign) and Mad magazine on the tabletops.
You can take home meat by the pound, their own barbecue sauces, or try a porkzilla – pulled pork, bacon and sausage on a soft bun. Everything comes with a side, and we tried all of them – dill-heavy potato salad, chili-spiced baked beans and truly great slaw – a rarity, it seems. And I was hooked on the thinly sliced quick pickles – I finished everyone’s off.
Apparently, people go for Thai food when in Medicine Hat. I did not know this. Fortunately, I know people who did, and they tipped us off. The Thai Orchid Room, set in the back of a sleepy new strip mall by the highway with not much around it – is not something we could have stumbled upon, but the curry and pad Thai were some of the best I’ve had. And I learned a new cocktail: gin + pomegranate juice + champagne (or prosecco), which I want to name the Alberta Summer, but I think in order to have that name it should be made with rhubarb.
(These photos do not give this pad Thai and peanut curry justice. Truly.)
On Sunday morning, after discovering that most of wee downtown Medicine Hat is closed on Sundays, we hopped over to the 1912 Medalta Pottery Factory – a national historic site (!!) in the clay district, joking in the 37 degree heat that some kids get to go to Disneyland, others’ parents drag them to small town pottery museums.
It was fascinating, to all of us – in a century-old factory with a row of enormous beehive kilns out front you could actually go into, it was part working ceramic studio with artists in residence, and part original factory, where in the early 1900s workers made ceramic urns, pots, jugs and dishes that were shipped around the world.
For centuries, the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks, creating rich deposits of clay that was found to have great ceramic and brick making potential. That combined with a formation that kept the area in cheap natural gas meant Medicine Hat was a hub of industrial activity at the time.
Also: they made bean pots. This, as you know, is right up my alley.
In Canada’s early days, when home cooking was done in a large central fireplace, whomever was charged with feeding everyone would simmer beans in heavy Medalta pots nestled in the coals at the back of the fireplace – behind the breads and pies, where it could stay and simmer for hours. The pots were hardy enough to be passed from generation to generation – and so when we exited the exhibit into the gift shop and they actually had some, I bought one – and it came with their real baked bean recipe tucked inside. I made a pot today, regardless of the fact that it was close to 30 outside. (If you don’t have a bean pot, you could bake these in any heavy baking dish – or do them in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours; that way they won’t heat up your house.)
Real Medalta Baked Beans
2 cups dry navy (little white) beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. grainy mustard
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl or medium pot, cover the beans with enough water to cover by a couple inches and let soak for 6-8 hours; alternatively, bring the two to a boil, cook for a minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 2 hours. Pour off the excess water. Preheat the oven to 325F.
Put the beans into a medium pot (if they aren’t already), add enough water to cover by a couple inches and bring to a simmer; cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Transfer the beans to your bean pot (or a heavy baking dish) and add the onion, garlic, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, balsamic, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of the leftover cooking water (add regular water to top it up if you need to) and stir to combine.
Bake, uncovered (this is the way I did it – the recipe didn’t specify) for 4-5 hours, or until the beans are tender and the sauce is thick and sticky around the edges. If they seem too dry, add more water.
Serves 8 or so.
This post was sponsored by Travel Alberta – a great partnership, since I love showing off this province so much. As always, all thoughts and words are my own.