All puffed up about judging wheat squares

Red Deer residents got a taste of history at the Hub in Red Deer on Friday, with the Great Puffed Wheat Square Bake-off.

Red Deer residents got a taste of history at the Hub in Red Deer on Friday, with the Great Puffed Wheat Square Bake-off.

Five variations of the puffed wheat square underwent the scrutiny of three local judges, made up of Maren Cassidy, her mother Wanda Cassidy and Marlin Styner.

The three judges and others got to try the chocolate concoctions, as part of a day of activities held at the Hub.

The puffed wheat square actually originates in Red Deer.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe said local candy maker A.J. Russell moved west from the Maritimes seeking a new life in the early 1900s. Russell arrived in Saskatoon, before moving to Red Deer in 1913, where he opened a candy shop not far from where the Hub now sits along Ross Street. Immediately after the First World War, grain processors were looking for new markets for wheat and Russell came up with the idea for the puffed wheat square. His version initially used molasses, but now chocolate and marshmallows have made their way into the mix of some squares.

Russell’s candy shop existed for 25 years in Red Deer and he became known not only for the puffed wheat square, but also the all-day sucker and coconut brittle.

Puffed wheat judge Maren Cassidy’s favourite treats are brownies, puffed wheat and rice crispy squares, so she was an ideal candidate for the judging panel on Friday. Her mother Wanda said the ideal square needed the right amount of chocolate and shouldn’t crumble in a person’s hand.

Styner said the taste and how the square holds together would be two of his big criteria in the judging. “Food is to be enjoyed with all the senses so I will also be using the sense of aroma, how it looks, and we’ll see all that and take it into consideration,” Styner said. He admitted that puffed wheat squares are one of his guilty pleasures and are best enjoyed with a large glass of milk, which he brought along for the event.

In the end, the puffed wheat square made by Mona Gardiner, the full-time baker with West Park Foods and Bakery, won the competition.

Kevin Bazylinski, owner of West Park Foods and Bakery, whose store hosted the event, said Gardiner has been with the store for more than 20 years and supplies the squares around town. He said a good puffed wheat square really has to do with the baker as much as the ingredients.

“I think it has to do with the person who makes it. It depends how much love you put into it,” Bazylinski said.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com

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