We are big fans of the happenings in Prince Edward County (about 2.5 hours east of Toronto) and our membership in the Slow Food convivium there (www.slowfoodthecounty.ca) brings us to ‘The County’ about once a month. The last few weeks have seen us heading there every weekend, attending a series of events we can only hope are on the schedule for years to come.
The Great Canadian Cheese Festival www.cheesefestival.ca
June 3-5, 2011
Cheeses from all over Canada were represented but I was most impressed with the Québec showings, with nearly every region in ‘la belle province’ very well represented. Not only did the delegation have incredible product to showcase, but their representatives and cheesemakers in attendance were incredible at making each and every taster right at home, regardless of the taster’s level of knowledge about the regions or the cheeses themselves. Next year’s event runs June 1-3, again at the Crystal Palace in Picton.
We only had the Sunday free—the artisan cheese market day—but tasting seminars and a chef’s dinner, The Chefs & Curds Cheese Gala, were highlights of the other two days of the Festival. We will not be missing the gala dinner next year, having heard from our Slow Food friends (and Chef Michael Howell of Tempest in Wolfville, NS, who cooked one of the dishes) how incredible the event was.
One of the remarkable treats of the weekend was a taste (or several) of the famed Dragon’s Breath Blue, from That Dutchman’s Farm in Nova Scotia. Not legal for sale in Ontario, it was brought as a gifts to our hosts by Chef Michael. I can’t wait until I’m lucky enough to try it again. www.thatdutchmansfarm.com/pages/DragonsBreathBlue
Ontario was also well represented, with The County’s own Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and Black River Cheese impressing so many of the out-of-towners. Finally, the Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from Cows Creamery in PEI rounded out another flavourful day spent in Prince Edward County.
Harvest time in Prince Edward County is arguably the best time of year and the weather this year made for some of the most beautiful produce I’ve seen in a while. The tomatoes in particular benefited from the ample sunshine and the rain that came in just the right amount. At Vickie’s Veggies in Milford, one of our ritual stops on our County tours, over 100 varieties of heirlooms were on display and lined up in tidy rows for our tasting pleasure.
From sticky sweet to high in acid, the tomatoes also ran the colour gamut from nearly pure white to purples so dark they were almost black. I could only get through about 1/3 of the varieties before my tastebuds threatened to strike. It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased tomatoes from the grocery store and it will be a long while still – there really is nothing like a fresh tomato from Ontario. You can’t make that in Mexico and you can’t ship it from a hothouse off-season.
You can buy from Vickie at the Brickworks Farmers’ Market or you can visit her farmstand in the County. Tomato season is over now, but there is a lot of local produce ready now and the flavours will have you dreaming of what’s to come next summer.
It’s been nearly 4 months since I posted anything at all, let alone anything interesting. I plan to make the time between entries shorter by at least 3.75 months if I can help it.
The summer has been very busy both with the job that keeps the roof over my head and with the garden that keeps us in fresh local vegetables. My gifts from the garden have been popular at the office, this year consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, chives, thyme, basil and radishes. I can’t wait until the pumpkins are ready so I can get rid of them all!
The farmers’ markets in our area have been a great source of delicious produce and baked good this year, not to mention the great people we meet who are joining the local food movement. Two new markets have opened this year within a half hour’s drive from our home. It’s really exciting to see more and more of the area’s farmers getting in on the action. The local beekeeper at these markets lives just down the street from us – talk about local!
There isn’t much that connects you to the land more than growing your own food. When you take responsibility for the production of what you eat, you begin to notice things in nature that never mattered before, like the quality of your soil or the specific insects roaming in and around your garden. Most of all, you appreciate in the smallest of ways how important farmers are.
Like most other Canadian children, I too grew seedlings in Styrofoam cups, watching them sprout and grow on the windowsill of my elementary school classroom. I guess the lesson was one in both amateur botany and environmental science, but at that time most children probably still knew what vegetables looked like in their natural form. It turns out that connection is being lost in many parts of North America. The cost of growing a few plants is so little that it would seem that connecting kids back to the land can be bought for the cost of some soil, a few seeds and some used paper coffee cups.
In my own backyard I have two small greenhouses, neither of which are larger than 2×5’. I bought each of the kits for less than $50 at local DIY stores. They were easy to put together and are entering their third year of service. Word to those in more northern climes – don’t leave the greenhouses outside during the winter. The cheap plastic will rip once confronted with extremes of temperature. It can be fixed like most other things, however, with duct tape.
In previous years I’ve grown exclusively heirloom veg (mostly tomatoes), to both support biodiversity and to avoid paying the high prices they command at farmers’ markets. An heirloom vegetable, for those unfamiliar with them is generally defined as a variety of open-pollinated cultivar that was grown prior to the advent of large-scale agriculture.
With varying degrees of success in the first few seasons, I managed to put food on the table that was both delicious and inexpensive to produce. I am descended from a long line of Scottish farmers so I dug deep (both figuratively and literally) for the knowledge I knew was somewhere in my DNA. Last summer, unfortunately, it was very wet where I live east of Toronto and my tomato plants grew very tall but bore very little fruit. They ended up resembling another popular Canadian crop, one that has a slightly higher perceived value… marijuana.
This year I am focusing on fewer crops so I can have a steady stream of vegetables rather than 100 pounds of food all being harvested in a few short weeks. The safe planting date is still a few weeks away here (although that date is shifting each year) and already I’ve got peas, peppers, broccoli and the very beginnings of sugar pumpkins poking their heads out of the soil in the greenhouses.
Many of the seeds were easily procured from either grocery or DIY stores; all are certified organic. It’s just a better start in life, be you animal, vegetable or mineral. Some of the seeds come from a vendor near me who sells only heirloom, rare and endangered seeds and plants, The Cottage Gardener in Newtonville, Ontario. I have purchased from them a variety of vegetable seeds, including the delicious Boothby Blonde cucumber, as well as a variety of flower seeds suitable for my area. I can’t wait until the Scottish bluebells and Sweet William of the types common in the gardens of my grandparents and great-grandparents will be growing right in my own back garden.
But let’s go back to the school windowsill for a moment.
It hasn’t taken long for us to lose our connection with the land and that knowledge that allows us to feed ourselves. Before WWII, nearly everyone had a kitchen garden and knew how to coax food from the soil. Whether you had to keep the rabbits and deer out or the aphids at bay, you knew the tricks – minus the input of chemical pesticides. You knew about companion planting and about the last frost, and about saving seeds for next year. You probably canned too, debated stem up or stem down, how much dill and garlic and just how amazing green tomatoes taste when you pickle them. Now, before a few years ago I didn’t know any of that without asking my mum or dad. But they grew up knowing. They didn’t need to teach those particular survival lessons so they never got passed on.
That windowsill is a bridge back to that knowledge. If you know a kid teach them to cross that bridge, to produce their own food and to depend on themselves for the most basic of human needs. The world needs more farmers, urban or otherwise.
If you’ve wondered where your food comes from (and you absolutely should) there are some people you should meet who want to make sure you can count on the food supply – to be safe, nutritionally sound and free from the influence of the large corporations seeking to control it.
British chef and food revolutionary Jamie Oliver is a new hero of mine. After successfully taking on British school food and children in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’, he’s turning his attention to the US school food system in ‘the fattest town in America’. The ABC incarnation of the show is aptly called ‘Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution’. I watched a sneak peek last night and was both impressed and in awe of Oliver for his tenacity and sheer bravery. From the cranky radio host who pronounced Oliver’s experiment a failure before it started, to the lunch room workers who clearly don’t want him there, he has his work cut out for him on this side of the pond as well.
Best bit: Oliver’s face when he sees that the kids are being served pizza for breakfast and nobody seems to think there is anything wrong with it.
On another front: An old friend of mine and Slow Food guru Allison Radecki is part of the team working on the theatrical release of a film I think everyone should see. It’s called FRESH The Movie.
Here is a synopsis of the film, lifted from their website:
“FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.
Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.”
Slowing down for me (and my patient, kind and mostly adventurous husband Paul) should be pretty easy. We have home delivery of organic fruits and vegetables and we love to cook. We are one vegetarian and one committed omnivore, no dilemma.
Today’s brunch: mushroom and Applewood cheddar frittata. We usually blend breakfast and lunch on both weekend days.
We love our low-key weekends and going slow for good has come out of our usual Saturday and Sunday pace, combined with a swift kick in the butt from Carl Honoré. To start, we are taking the time to think about some of the decisions we make that are decidedly un-slow and working to slow them down. We’re going to focus on meals as our first hurdle. Because I commute to and from work about 2 hours total per day and have no firm finish time at the office, a home-cooked meal can be hard at the end of a long day and, for Paul, eating with me often means waiting for dinner until after 7:30pm.
The trick for anyone to cooking great meals is to have great ingredients on hand and plan your menus in advance. A creamy risotto, for example, is no trick at all if you have broth, reggiano, white wine, onion, garlic and arborio on hand. Just vary the vegetables and proteins based on what’s in the fridge. Sweet peas and cremini mushrooms is a favourite combo of ours. Paired with a crisp salad, this is one of our favourite weeknight meals.
Our team effort usually involves sous chef Paul prepping all the ingredients and then I step in when I arrive home and do the cooking. Risotto is easy to make. It’s done when it’s done and so seems the perfect ‘in its own time’ symbol of slowing down.
My first book recommendation is ‘In Praise of Slow’ by Carl Honore. Please visit his website at: www.carlhonore.com
This book really got me thinking about officially going slow, although I was headed there in many ways already.
I have always valued quality over quantity. We all know doing things faster is no guarantee they will be done better, whether you’re talking about food, work, play, sex, or what have you.
I’m looking to reframe the word ‘slow’ as something positive. I’ll talk about random acts of slowness that are worth highlighting and I’ll happily promote books, films, ideas and events that make sense.