With pea-based liqueur, Edmonton entrepreneur bridges heritage and home

Edmonton entrepreneur Faaiza Ramji has created a herbaceous liqueur with a sweet and fresh taste, one she says goes well on its own or mixed with prosecco or club soda. 

But at the heart of this spirit is a pulse — literally — otherwise absent from most Edmonton liquor store shelves: peas. 

For Ramji, pulses are also a connection between her home in Edmonton and her heritage in Pakistan. They are a staple food in South Asia and widely farmed in Alberta.

While working with Explore Edmonton, the 38-year-old realized that innovators and entrepreneurs often ignored the potential of pulses.

“It always kind of bothered me that we didn’t do more with our products,” Ramji told CBC’s Edmonton AM on Monday. 

Edmonton AM6:52A new herbaceous liqueur sourced from Alberta peas

An Edmonton entrepreneur has developed a liqueur with a very unique ingredient. We find out more about “Don’t call me sweet pea”. 6:52

Ramji founded her company Field Notes in partnership with Lindsey Good, owner of Stirlingville Farms in southern Alberta. Together, they created an amaro called Don’t Call Me Sweet Pea. 

“The flavour is sweet and floral and very fresh,” she said. “It doesn’t taste like pea soup or anything like that.”

The sweetness of the amaro comes from honey and the fresh notes from elderflowers, chamomile, wormwood and dandelion, she said.

Neil Blue, provincial crop market analyst for Alberta Agriculture, said peas — by area — are the largest pulse crop grown in Alberta. On average, farmers in the province harvest about 1.7 million acres of peas each year, he said. 

Alberta is responsible for almost 40 per cent of Canadian pea production, Blue said. About 85 per cent of all Canadian peas are exported, especially to China and Bangladesh. 

“Most Canadian domestic use is for animal feed, although more Canadian processing industries are being developed that are using these and they’re producing flour, other components to use in foods as well as cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry,” Blue said.

Don’t Call Me Sweet Pea, an amaro made from peas. (Submitted by Field Notes)

In 2017, when Ramji first decided to do something with peas, she also thought of food.

“I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I make a high-protein, gluten-free vegan snack food that’s inspired by the flavours of my heritage with the ingredients of my present day?'”

While researching for products, she met up with Good and decided on dairy alternatives instead. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to hit pause.

During the break, Ramji read an article about making craft spirits with things other than grains. “And I thought, ‘OK, I wonder if we could do this with peas?'”

In June 2020, she collaborated with The Fort Distillery in Fort Saskatchewan. 

They first tried to make gin and vodka, but after a few taste tests, Ramji suggested an amaro. The drink is traditionally an Italian liqueur flavoured with herbs.

“I wanted it to taste like the Prairies,” she said.

“Like, you know when you go outside and you go for a walk and you smell all the trees and it smells kind of fresh and a little bit sweet … so we actually managed to put that in a bottle.”

She said she chose the company name Field Notes because it invites several meanings. 

“A field note is an observation when you’re in an environment or in doing some sort of activity or research … And then I love the idea of a note, like a flavour note or a scent, and how you describe what you eat and drink,” she said.

Don’t Call Me Sweet Pea is set to hit the market before Canada Day. In the meantime, Ramji said Edmontonians can sign up to know exactly when it will hit shelves on sipfieldnotes.com.

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