A few weeks ago I attended a harvest-fest supper prepared entirely from locally sourced food. Such meals have become commonplace the last few years due to the popularity of the 100 miles, fields to forks, organic food movement. At $40 a ticket, it wasn’t cheap, but this annual event helps promote the local farmer’s market and also gives the community college culinary students some practical experience in food preparation and presentation. (for the book review which inspired this post – see Part One: The Literary Salon – Eating Local).
I’ve now become someone I said I never would be – one of those people who takes photos of their meal while eating and posts them online. May I be excused for the less than stellar quality of the photos, as I was so hungry that I sometimes forgot and took a few bites, plus I was trying my best to be discreet with the cell phone, although I suspect from the odd looks I received that some of my table mates thought I was a reporter for the local paper.
The event was held outdoors at a local farmers market, which is basically just a large slab of cement with a roof overhead but open to the elements on all sides. The first year it was held in late September and they had to bring in space heaters and put up screens to keep the wind out. After a whole week of rain, we were hoping for a warm sunny day and thankfully the weather gods smiled on us. It was actually a bit too hot, we didn’t need any of those layers I threw in the car. This was the third year for the event and the date is picked to coincide with the harvest moon, which was mid-Sept this year, and what a stunning moon it was on Friday the 13th.
The doors opened at 5 pm with a cash bar and some music playing on the sound system, as there was a band later for dancing.
They had decorated with cornstalks and large pots of mums and bales of hay around the base of the roof pillars, a festive fall touch.
The presentation was well done for an outdoor event. The tables were laid with white linens and china with a red accent color in the napkins and chairs.
They even had matching party favors, as each place setting held a red candy apple with a tag promoting the October play at the local theatre, a cute idea.
There were twelve settings per table,
which was a bit too cramped in my opinion, as the meal was served family style and there was no place to set the bowls down while trying to take a portion, and those bowls were big and heavy. It was awkward.
Ten at a table might have been better, or buffet style. They really didn’t have enough servers for our table either, maybe someone had called in sick? 300 tickets were sold, and there was a big lineup of people waiting to get in when the doors opened.
I was lucky and got my tickets on a cancellation the month before, otherwise I might have been one of those scarecrows in the park across the street.
The food tents were off on the side, facing away from us, so we were not able to see any of the fast-paced cooking action like on Master Chef. The ticket price was initially only $30, but they upped it to $35 last year and $40 this year. (I imagine next year it will be $45 – as just like in an auction the price increases to what the market will bear). All of the food prepared came from the weekly farmers market, or was sourced locally within a 100 mile radius, including the beverages.
The Happy Hour
Two local craft breweries and two Ontario wineries were represented, with Pelee Island Winery just squeaking in at a 95 mile radius. It was hot, so the beer was flowing as you can see from the tabletop pictures. Unfortunately, we had a few extra guests at the table, attracted by the brew.
The wasps descended for happy hour, stayed for the the appetizer and then suddenly departed, just as the sun was setting behind the buildings. It must have been their bedtime, or perhaps they were off to another venue (see more on the Merry Band of Wasps in last week’s blog). We sat at a table with a group of people who all knew each other, and the row across from me had to eat with the sun in their eyes. Next time we’ll know which tables get the best shade. It was so annoying that I went to the car and brought back a sunhat. I came prepared for all weather.
Now you might be wondering – why is she dragging this out, lets get to the food. I’m cleverly but somewhat cruelly procrastinating so you can imagine the whole experience of sitting and smelling the irresistible aroma of food cooking for over an hour, while constantly swatting at wasps and shielding your eyes from the setting sun, with absolutely no hope of any dinner conversation due to the din of the crowd.
Finally, the opening speeches – two political figures were there, our provincial member of parliament and our federal parliament member, (we’re having an election this fall, they need to see and be seen) and as well as introducing all the VIP’s the MC thanked the exhaustive list of sponsors. They announced they had Epi-Pens on hand if anyone got stung – medical preparedness is always appreciated. Eventually grace was said, and a proper grace it was too, fit for a Harvestfest meal, not that Bless us Our Lord standard we used to mumble when we were kids.
900 words in and not even a sign of a bread crumb…Ah, here it comes.
The butter was properly chilled, although not in those little foil packets that you sometimes get in fancy restaurants, although it didn’t stay cool long. The buns from a local bakery were good – soft and doughy. It’s a new bakery in town so I’ll have to check it out. The bread rated an A but I was starving by then so stale crackers would have rated an A.
Finally, the menu.
The Garden Fresh Mixed Greens Salad with Berries and house-made Balsamic Dressing – was delightfully fresh, however the dressing was a bit too plain and vinegary. I always think this type of berry salad goes nice with a raspberry vinaigrette such as the bottled house blend I buy from a local restaurant, but then it has spoiled me for all others. There wasn’t any soup offered this year, although other years they had a choice of homemade potato or tomato. I love soup, even in summer, so I was disappointed, but still A for the appetizer.
The Main Course
A few minutes of silence while we dig in before critiquing…
Roast Pork Loin stuffed with Apples, Spinach, Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese.
It’s difficult for me to judge this as I’m not a big fan of pork loin. I can eat it but I’d certainly never order it in a restaurant. The traditional apple pairing was okay and I know caramelized onions are trendy, but I didn’t think they added anything special to the dish. I couldn’t see much spinach, or taste the goat cheese so they must have been subtle touches. It was served on an enormous heavy platter and although it was pre-sliced there was nowhere to set the platter down while you wrestled a piece onto your plate, so I ended up with more than I wanted. My consensus, just okay, although everyone else liked it, and the guy beside me took seconds. That’s the thing with family style, they did replenish if you wanted more. There was a short delay before they brought the rest of the meal so they were definitely struggling with the serving.
Tender Chicken Breast with a Bacon Portabello Cream Sauce.
Good old chicken, no matter how you dress it up, it’s the staple of catered meals everywhere. It was tender as promised and the Portabello cream sauce was excellent, although I couldn’t taste the bacon. (A plus).
Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Pave with Parmesan Cheese
I had to google to see what a Pavé was – “A flat piece of food, usually meat, cheese or bread. Pavé is French for a “cobblestone.” When used in a food context, it refers to a square or rectangular flat piece of food or dish. I guess this qualifies as it was a layered dish of potatoes cut into triangle wedges for easy serving.
It’s always a dilemma how to serve potatoes in a manner which keeps them warm but not gluey, and it was certainly a cut above a few potato puffs. It was tasty, although I didn’t notice the Parmesan cheese, but then I can’t taste the difference between Yukon Gold potatoes and regular old spuds either. As I’m Irish and never met a potato I didn’t like, I’ll give it an A, but you really can’t get too excited about potatoes.
The roasted squash was one of my favorite dishes, so flavorful. You never know with squash, it can be good or it can be bland and watery. The cauliflower and carrots were tasty too. Both were plain, not doctored up with anything, so the flavor came through – they stood on their own, a testament to good soil. (A plus).
The meat portions were generous – it was certainly a lot of food, and checking around, a fair bit of wastage, as people who had stuffed two rolls in (you know who you are), could not finish their meal. I was full but not overly so, because wisely I had saved room for my favorite part.
I had been craving a piece of cherry pie and had heard so much about The Famous Pie Lady.
Although the crust was good and the filling plentiful, I‘m not sure how you can make a cherry pie without sugar? There should be a law against it. It was so sour I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. As there was lots of pie leftover, I decided to try another kind when I went to refill our coffee cups, hoping no one would notice – plus it would be a shame to waste the leftover pie when things were wrapping up. There were lots of choices.
This time I grabbed a slice of apple pie. Um….interesting – apple pie with no sugar, plenty of fruit and cinnamon though. The apples mid-Sept are hardly ripe enough for pies yet, but apparently sugar is now the new evil. Maybe I’m spoiled, having grown up on a farm where homemade apple pie was a fall staple, and many people today just don’t know what good pie is. But the guy beside me was disappointed in his pie too – pecan. I didn’t ask why. Should I try the lemon meringue – no, that would be piggy, so I gave up, secure in the knowledge I had a backup plan stashed in the car. The pie was the disappointment of the evening. (C plus)
Plan B – B for Backup Dessert
Luckily I had stopped at the town’s grocery store before the event and bought a cherry pie from their in-store bakery. I’ve had it before and it’s a perfect balance of sweet and tart, and I consoled myself with the thought that if I was still craving a piece later I would cut into it, instead of freezing it like I had intended. Certainly the pie was a let-down especially for a dessert diva like me.
After Dinner Speeches
The M.C. introduced and thanked all the chefs and cooks (who came out of hiding in the side tents), raffled off an auction prize (a catered dinner for six which went for a bid of $410), thanked absolutely everyone again from the bowl makers to the man in the moon,
and then introduced the band.
The band was the house band from the local summer theatre which was currently showcasing a country music production, so they kicked off with Sold – The Grundy Valley Auction song, which is good in a cheesy way, as a cheese course is always nice after a meal. Then Bad Moon Rising (CCR) because it was by then, (see above). Then Old Time Rock and Roll – Bob Seger (okay), then they started to deteriorate into Billy Joel and two other songs I did not recognize, but then I am not up on the current stuff. The band gets an A, as they were trying for a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. The crowd was mostly an older one, the baby boomer set, and there were people up dancing as lots of beer had been imbibed by then. I always admire couples who are first on the dance floor, especially when it’s at the front with everyone watching. Let’s give the dancers, an A too, just like Dancing With the Stars.
Overall, it was a good meal, except for the pork and the pie, but those were influenced by my personal preferences and expectations. I had been expecting a turkey and beef dish, (as per the first year), not two white meats, plus a lot of people can’t or don’t eat pork, even though pulled pork is all the rage. Was it worth the price? Maybe. The fifty dollar per ticket meal at the swing dance last year was better, with a portion going to charity, but even it went up to $75 this year. I guess food prices are increasing overall. Did they make a profit or just cover their costs? I don’t know enough about the catering business to say. Thirty dollars, as per the first year, might have been a more reasonable price, especially in small town Ontario, considering this was not a charity event, and I expect most of the cost of the decorations, party rentals and band would have been covered or subsidized by the sponsors.
The Backup Meal
I had been craving a roast beef dinner, which I got the following week when I took my mother to the monthly seniors lunch at the same retirement home I mentioned in my Woodstock Revisited post. We had a garden fresh salad with ranch dressing, a nice tender slice of roast beer, mashed potatoes with a tasty gravy, diced turnips and a decent piece of apple pie – all for $10. The portions weren’t huge as it was for seniors, but it was enough, and they do a nice turkey dinner too, although the rest of the meals can be hit and miss. That’s the thing with restaurant reviews – a good meal may surprise you anywhere! (Hey, I wonder if I could get paid for this?)
Thus ends my short career as a restaurant reviewer. I did have a piece of that bakery cherry pie the next night, warm with vanilla ice cream, but I froze the rest. The apple in the candy apple was so sour I couldn’t eat it, but I took a few bites for nostalgia’s sake, as I’m sure it’s been fifty years since I had one the last time I went trick or treating.
It might be fun to host your own Harvest Moon Supper sometime, there’s another one coming up October 13, and the apples will be riper by then too. I think I would prefer caramel apples for the party favors, and maybe some butternut squash soup for a starter. I also saw an advertisement for a Full Moon Boat Party cruise with a band on board, which I’ll file away for next year. I’m sure they’ll be playing Neil Young’s classic – Harvest Moon.