Let your photo(s) tell your story.
Butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian dessert. Like other iconic Canadian foods such as maple syrup and poutine, they originated in 17th Century Quebec, where the wives of early French settlers made use of the available ingredients of maple syrup and dried fruit to whip up a treat to make life in the wilderness a little more bearable. Their experimentation led to the evolution of the modern butter tart, although most recipes today do not call for maple syrup.
This decadently sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup and egg, baked until the filling is semi-solid, ie nice and gooey. Raisins or nuts are added, with the raisin debate being a whole other topic, along with the degree of consistency, runny or firm. Butter tarts tend differ from other sugar-based pies such as pecan pie in that they have a runnier filling – no cornstarch or flour required.
Other than those basic ingredients, there are as many variations as there are family recipes, many dating back to the pioneer days. Butter tarts were all the rage in the early 1900’s, appearing in many cookbooks and have since become an ingrained part of Canadian cuisine. There are several butter tart festivals held every year, including one in Midland which sells over 50,000 tarts, with the contest portion attracting bakers from all over to vie for the Best Butter Tart title. Like a rib-fest for dessert lovers you can walk around and sample to your heart’s content.
My inspiration for this post came from a trip to the bakery which used to sell my favorite version (past tense intended). Their pastry is good, but I had noticed the filling kept getting skimpier and skimpier, and the last batch, which was pre-ordered and boxed before being paid for, were basically just pastry shells with a thin scraping of filling , and at $10 for 6 tarts they were certainly no bargain. My second favorite source, a local coffee shop, sells tarts with plenty of filling but their pastry is thick and hard as a rock. Maybe those two could marry and produce the ideal butter tart progeny, or….maybe I could make my own, for a lot less money too!
My mother made butter tarts when I was growing up but they were usually reserved for the fall of the year when she was deep into pie-baking and made use of the left-over pastry. A batch or two often graced our Thanksgiving table along with the apple and pumpkin pies. So I got out her old recipe, which was vague in the way that my mothers recipes often are, (she was never one of those cooks who measured) and we proceeded to experiment.
They turned out as we remembered them, not overly sweet, with the multiple eggs making for a firmer consistency, but I thought they needed more sugar. I didn’t have my glasses on, but if I had read my own notation, it very clearly stated that! As for the bake 10-15-20 minutes, her oven is temperamental so I left them in longer in an attempt to get the crust brown and the filling got too firm….but the end result was a perfectly good butter tart.
The recipe made twenty tarts, and try pawning off tarts during a pandemic when we’re now back in our smaller social bubbles and they are encouraging people not to congregate for Thanksgiving (which is next weekend here in Canada).
Moving on in my search for the Great Canadian Butter Tart, I wasted much time googling and then referenced back to my old farmhouse cooking bible, the Purity Cookbook, first published 1911, and there was the recipe for the best butter tarts ever!
Unlike the previous recipe this one called for corn syrup. I used the dark corn syrup for color. It had been so long since I bought corn syrup I didn’t even know it also came in a colorless format. I omitted the salt and lemon juice as I like a sweeter tart.
I added a bit more sugar to taste, and a bit more butter as there was some left in the bottom of the dish. (I am my mother’s daughter after all.) I pre-baked the store pastry shells for 5-10min, as I was using her oven and then added the raisins. (no need to presoak the raisins).
Those of you who might die if you ate a raisin (which is but a wrinkled grape) can use nuts or nothing if you prefer. The pioneer women used currants.
I baked them for exactly twenty minutes and they came out with the perfect degree of runniness. The pastry was a bit browner than I would have liked, but flaky and good for a no-name store brand. If using my oven, I may not have pre-baked the shells and would just have left them in for 20-25 minutes. Live and learn is the lesson for an inexperienced cook like me, with a perfectionist streak.
All in all, both my mother and I gave them a ten – and thought they were the best butter tarts we’d ever eaten – simply perfect in taste and texture. They were even good after a few days, although I stored them in the fridge and heated them for ten seconds in the microwave. The recipe made twelve, enough for a sweet treat with a mug of hot tea every night while watching the evening news. Most days you need that to carry on.
Keep calm and Butter Tart On – maybe a slogan for next years festival?
The expression “life is a bowl of cherries” translates to life is wonderful or things are going very well. For the sake of simplicity, let’s change this slightly to “life is a bowl of peaches” so I have something to write about this week and can experience first hand how truly wonderful this new block editor is supposed to be.
This months recipe is a peach galette. Galette (from the Norman word gale, meaning “flat cake”) is a term used in French cuisine to designate various types of flat round or free-form crusty cakes, with a combination of sweet or savory fillings. A fruit galette is a French tart made with one flat piece of pastry that is wrapped around a fruit filling. Being free-form it’s easier than pie and for those of us not adept at making rich flaky pastry, a store bought pie shell is perfectly acceptable. The aim is to make it look rustic, like something you would serve under the shade of a tree in Provence.
As my favorite vendor is no longer at the Farmer’s Market, I made the trip to their farm to pick up a box of peaches for making jam. I’d ordered ahead and specified over-ripe seconds as I had already sanitized the jars in the dishwasher that morning. As in years past, the seconds were a bargain at $10 for a big box of peaches.
Except….I’d already paid for them and the clerk had put them in the trunk of the car before I realized they were small, cold and nowhere near being ripe. Where were their usual big juicy peaches? I might have gone back in to inquire but the storefront was crowded and there was absolutely no attempt at social distancing. (How much effort would it take to mark the floor with tape and only let so many people inside, especially with the higher COVID numbers in some of these agri-food areas?) So I grumbled and left and five days later they were starting to spoil and get soft and spotty on the outside while the insides were still not quite ripe, but cut up they were, and two batches of freezer jam produced, with extra sugar to make up for the lack of juicy peachy flavor. It hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for most fruit here, with everything behind due to the cold late spring and snow in May.
After making the jam I still had 24 peaches left so a small peach crisp was created and then some peach trifle, both with good results and more sugar (but no pictures as I forgot before they were consumed), and then the “piece de resistance”, the famous French galette, and there were still a few left over for eating. It was the box that kept on giving…..even if it wasn’t a vintage year.
Now the head chef (moi) was not above borrowing a recipe from another source, said source being the Lifestyle section of the local paper, so here’s the recipe.
The filling called for 5 peaches cut in half, pit removed and sliced, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon and ground ginger. I doubled the sugar but it still could have used more. I left out the ginger as it had expired in the last decade. I made this at my mother’s and her spice rack is suspect and her oven temperamental, but she enjoyed peeling the peaches as it reminded her of life on the farm and canning every summer.
The Tenderflake deep dish pie crust I bought, did not look any too deep to me, as by the time the fruit was piled in the middle,
there was not much pastry left for crimping the border.
The pastry is folded over the fruit, aiming as I mentioned, for the rustic, not too perfect look.
The finished product was not pretty, the filling having bled a bit around the edges, and gotten rather burnt in spots while trying to brown the pastry, having to be scraped off by a kitchen knife before any photo-ops ensued. Plus the lighting in her kitchen is not good at all, not flattering to anyone, least of all a French galette. It did however taste better with some French vanilla ice cream.
It was by no means a Michelin five star job, but the best I can say is I tried and the end result was certainly rustic. Maybe next time with apples? The same can be said for the block editor. It’s certainly doable – but do I want to do it? I think I’d rather stay with the classic.
(This is the first post I’ve drafted in block and I seem to be using a hybrid of block and classic, with things popping out at me and the draft itself shifting from right to left to center for no discernible reason. If it was closer to Halloween I’d swear it was haunted.)
During a particularly trying time in my life, a summer filled with stress and drama, I bought myself a lemon tree.
They were half price by late July, so I also bought one for my mother. I had read in Oprah magazine that was the thing to do to cheer yourself up, a reminder of the old saying – when life hands you lemons make lemonade. (Oprah was always keen on the visual stuff). Of course, the photo in the magazine showed a smiling model beside a waist-high plant covered with big lovely lemons. Being optimistic, I expected that’s what I would be getting eventually, with some TLC.
I might also have been inspired by one of those posts which circulate from time to time on Facebook, a real estate ad depicting an abandoned Italian castle you could buy for cheap (it might even have been free) if you were willing to spent millions restoring it – an enormous stone monastery-like building which came with it’s own lemon grove. It was the lemon grove which appealed to me – I already owned a building which required extensive renovations.
I’ve never seen a lemon grove, but it must be lovely. I’ve passed orange groves on my way to Disneyland as a child, but never paid much attention. We don’t grow lemons here in Canada, our winters are way too cold to grow any kind of tropical fruit outside of a greenhouse. While my southern readers might be amused at my nativity, I had high expectations of being able to pick my own fruit. I envisioned making lemon cake from scratch using my own homegrown lemons.
My plant did smell heavenly – I placed it outside in a sunny spot, and made sure it got watered and fed regularly, and it rewarded me with fragrant flowers right on schedule. By fall when the nights started to get cooler, I brought it into the garage, and went they got downright chilly, it was brought into the house and placed in a sunny spot by the big front window. With such a prime view it should have been happy. By then it was covered with small green dots, which grew to the size of big green olives which then shriveled and dropped off one by one. My mothers did the same, so I know, it wasn’t anything personal, it just wasn’t able to adapt to the change in conditions. (It’s not like I expected a bumper crop or anything, but could not one or two of them have reached lemon-hood?)
Ah well, the best laid plans sometimes go awry, but I could just as easily buy shriveled-up lemons from the grocery store in the dead of winter if I needed to. If you’re looking for a moral/life lesson instead of food, this has definitely been the year for way laid plans and being adaptable to change, but if you are looking for recipes, I don’t have any to share this week because although I’ve tried multiple lemon recipes, with mixed results, nothing was worth bragging about.
I could never seem to get the right proportion of lemony flavor no matter how much zest I used, so I don’t bother experimenting anymore as I found an excellent Lemon-Curd Cake at the grocery store which can’t be beat. (sometimes the easy way out is the best….)
It has lemon curd in the middle so it’s in the frozen dessert section, which is a bonus as it keeps well and you can just slice off as much as you want, for company or not. Sometimes I add more lemon curd on top for an extra dollop of lemony goodness.
However, while lazing on the swing recently, reading the June issue of Victoria magazine,
I noticed a culinary feature on lemon and lavender,
And the lemon and lavender scones looked very tempting. Plus I just bought some creamed honey at the Farmer’s Market. They also sold a lemon-flavored creamed honey which I may get on my next trip.
And then there was this lemon tart – although decorating it with dried roses and sprigs of lavender does seem a bit over the top, my August garden yields plenty of both.
So many lemony-good recipes, so much time to experiment this summer, so yes, my own lemon grove would definitely come in handy. Best to pick up a couple of lottery tickets when I go to the store to get some lemons….
PS. My apologies for the somewhat deceiving title, see the Victoria magazine website for a recipe for lavender-lemonade. (link)
What to write about when you’re home alone, especially when your secret stash of chocolate has run out? Like many bloggers I get most of my blogging ideas from my daily activities, but since my calendar is now as clear as the newly recovered Venice canals, such planned activities as the apple blossom orchard tour, the Jane Austen tea party or the visit to the Van goth exhibit are all off the table for the unforeseeable future. But we all have to eat…..and chocolate has an excellent reputation for cheering people up.
I was moaning about the Easter Bunny not visiting my house this weekend, so a chocoholic friend send me a recipe for a microwave chocolate pudding just like mom used to make. This makes one large portion, or two small ones. You can repeat for how ever many family members you are stranded with on your COVID life raft. The best thing is you probably already have all the ingredients in your kitchen, so no need to risk your life by going to the grocery store, although I did add cornstarch to my list – does cornstarch have an expiry date?
Mix together 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 3 tbsp sugar, either granulated or icing sugar, and add 3/4 cup of milk. I used regular sugar. Whisk until well blended.
Microwave, COVERED, 90 seconds on high. Remove, whisk again, microwave another 90 seconds. Add 1/4 tsp vanilla after cooking. Best served warm, but refrigerate if not eating right away.
This makes one large portion but was very rich so I split it into two ramekins.
If you want to double the recipe, then microwave the whole thing for an additional 90 seconds, or just make a separate batch. Adjust the cooking time for the size of your microwave – 90 seconds for an 800W microwave, for 1000W microwave try 75 seconds at a time.
Adjust the amounts of sugar and cocoa to your liking, depending on your brand. My initial recipe called for 3 tablespoons of cocoa, but it was way too chocolatey, so I decreased it to 2 tablespoons, and even that was more than sufficient with my fancy French cocoa. I might try a bit less next time. I also used a LEVEL or calibrated tablespoon measuring device to measure the dry ingredients (something I seldom do), so I would know for the future what proportions worked best. Whisk well or you will have lumps of cocoa in the final product.
As my friend, who has surely forgotten my lack of cooking expertise, did not specify re covered and as I’m always one to admit to my cooking disasters, my first attempt, using a large cereal bowl covered by a paper towel resulted in the pudding spilling all over the sides onto the microwave plate, requiring much swearing and many paper towels to clean up, so make sure you use a large enough ie a quart size bowl. (I made this same mistake the first time I made microwave strawberry jam so I should have known better). The next time I used a Corning-ware casserole dish with a glass lid and put the cover on slightly ajar – no mess.
Yummy, quick and so easy, especially on the days you’re craving chocolate, plus unlike a box of chocolates, there are no left-overs to tempt you later.
PS. I much prefer butterscotch pudding but the brand I bought for years, which required heating on the stove and was the staple of many a Sunday night supper, was discontinued long ago, so I tried to make this same recipe with butterscotch ice cream topping and light brown sugar but didn’t get the measurements quite right – it looked and tasted like a very sweet very pale caramel glue. Oh well, lots of time to experiment these days. Must remember to add Easter Bunnies to my next “mission impossible” list – they’ll be on sale too! Happy Easter, or Passover, or just have a good weekend!
PS. I’m only doing a grocery store run every three weeks now. If we run out of something, we just improvise or do without, mostly the fresh produce, milk etc. I really stock up but I’m also buying for my mother who still lives in her own house at 94, and I am grateful she decided she wasn’t ready to move yet as many of our COVID deaths have been in nursing/retirement homes. My mother grew up during the (1930’s) Great Depression and WW2 remembers people being out of work and getting ration coupons for sugar, meat etc. Her family always had enough food to eat, but she had classmates who did not. So although we may be frustrated with the current situation, we’re all safe in our own homes with food on the table. A small dose of perspective…..
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” – a Depression era saying.
Chocolate and strawberries are traditional Valentine’s Day desserts, so here’s an easy strawberry trifle to make if you are craving something light, fruity and not too sweet – and it’s much better than my low-fat chocolate brownie disaster. As an added plus, it’s not so much made as assembled, requiring only three ingredients, cake, instant custard and strawberries.
Grocery store strawberries are not so good this time of year in Canada, so I mixed them with some strawberry freezer jam from last summer. (Click here for blog link). As I use No Sugar Pectin in my freezer jam, it’s more of a strawberry puree than a sweet jam, but you can also mush up the strawberries and add sugar to taste.
For the cake you can use those mini golden cakes from the grocery store or angel food cake, but I had some leftover cake which had been in the freezer for awhile but when thawed it was just as fresh as the day I made it.
The last time I made this dessert I used French vanilla pudding cups, but this time I decided to use the more traditional custard. I bought a package of instant custard from The British Shop, a brand recommended by the owner as I figured the British must know their custards (she also told me last year the shop spent $20,000 on import fees).
Just add 360ml of BOILING Water and stir for a minute and Voila – a nice and creamy custard. (Next time I might add a teaspoon of Vanilla extract as it was fairly bland).
As I’ve just spent a fairly productive week cleaning out the basement storage areas and reorganizing things, including some old family heirlooms and crystal, I decided to use my grandmother’s parfait glasses.
I never met my grandmother as my dad’s parents both died before I was born, but I’ve often wondered what her life was like. She married in 1919 and as an older mom had her kids at 37, 40 and 41 and died fairly young at age 65, after breaking a hip. So it’s possible these glasses are a hundred years old – maybe they were part of her wedding trousseau? My mother said they were in the old farmhouse when she got married in 1952. Or they may even have been from my great grandmother Ellen farther back in 1900, part of a collection of crystal from the Edwardian age, of which I have several pieces. I remember my mother using the matching glasses at family dinners along with her good china, but they are so thin and delicate they require hand-washing. There are only seven parfait glasses left, plus two with small handles which look like they might be hot toddy glasses. Anyway, I felt they deserved an outing sometime this century!
I crumbled the cake in the bottom, then layered the strawberries and custard, then cake again (I could have used more cake), custard and more strawberries on top. You can also garnish with whipped cream and a strawberry, but I ran out of room.
The parfait glasses seem tiny, so I suspect portion sizes were smaller back in the days of Downton Abbey. The same with plates – compare this new red Rachel Ray plate to the older pink plate from the thrift shop.
The same with supersized restaurant plates. While it’s customary to want to fill your plate, maybe that isn’t such a good idea anymore?
This makes a nice light dessert after a big meal. There’s something to be said for moderation and family tradition, and strawberries in the middle of winter!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
PS. For those of you who are mad for plaid like I am, the plaid charger plates are from Michael’s craft store, after Christmas sale – $1.50 each vs regular $8. (600 words)
Last week’s Books and Brownies blog left me craving something chocolatey and as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching I decided to make brownies. I’m not one to say no to convenience food if it tastes good, being perfectly content to bow to the expertise of Betty Crocker, but my favorite mix had turned out dry the last few times I made it. I used to take brownies to work for birthdays and my brownies had always been a hit, the secret ingredient being butter not oil – I was raised on a dairy farm where butter ruled. It was always a treat getting off the school bus if my mother had made a big pan of brownies, chewy, no icing but walnuts in them, usually still warm from the oven, but even back in the sixties she used a mix. After a family member was diagnosed with gallbladder problems, I switched to a low fat mix which eliminated the added oil/butter, but then it too was discontinued.
After wasting more time than I care to admit pouring over low-fat recipes in cookbooks, online and on that food vortex otherwise known as Pinterest, I discovered that both applesauce and strained prunes can be substituted for some of the fat in a recipe. I settled on one that called for strained prunes, the baby food kind was okay it said. So I set out for the grocery store which apparently doesn’t even sell baby food anymore as everyone makes their own. Luckily, the drugstore had an organic line in plastic pouches – they might want to revisit those old glass jars which can be recycled in all kinds of ways. A pouch held 125ml, exactly the amount I needed, but when I opened it, it tasted so awful, that I decided to use a different recipe with applesauce instead. The reviews were all good, except for one dissenter, who said don’t bother, waste of ingredients. Here’s the recipe for Rich and Chewy Low Fat Brownies.
½ cup cocoa
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cup white sugar
2 egg whites
¾ cup applesauce unsweetened
- Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl using a hand mixer. Add egg whites, applesauce and vanilla.
- Mix all other ingredients in a separate smaller bowl and add to the wet ingredients in the large bowl. Do NOT overmix!
- Spray 8×8 dish with PAM and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Yields 16 brownies.
The lumpy texture was a bit strange, not sure if that was from the applesauce or my failure to read the recipe as I dumped the sugar in with the dry ingredients by mistake. They baked up alright, a bit denser than my regular brownie mix but the appearance was good, soft in the centre, slightly crusty at the edges and on top.
The Verdict: Well they were certainly rich and chewy, but were they good?
Never having made brownies from scratch before I had nothing to compare them to but they seemed tasteless, kind of like eating cardboard. Guilty as charged IMO. The rest of the jury was polite but noncommittal, preferring the slightly safer remark, “They’re okay, but they don’t taste like your regular brownies.” Several people thought they were cake.
I did cut back on the sugar by half a cup to 1 1/4 cups as some of the reviewers had suggested as it seemed like a lot of sugar for a small 8X8 pan. My chocolate powder was the very expensive French imported stuff which possibly made it too rich. They didn’t seem sweet at all, even smothered in my regular 2 inches of Canada’s favorite icing (see label).
They did look pretty on my pink plates though.
But food is to eat! I hate it when you’re in a fancy restaurant and you order something outrageously expensive off the dessert trolley because it looks good, and it turns out to be disappointing. Of course not everyone is a fussy foodie like I am (except that lone dissenter), but I would not have served these to company. They were mediocre at best – if I’m going to indulge in a brownie I want it to be great.
Were they even as healthy as promised? Here’s the nutrition label:
Serving Size: 1 (812) g
Servings Per Recipe: 1
AMT. PER SERVING% DAILY VALUE
Calories from Fat 16 g 11 %
Total Fat 1.8 g 2 %
Saturated Fat 0.9 g 4 %
Cholesterol 3.8 mg 1 %
Sodium 118.6 mg 4 %
Total Carbohydrate 31.9 g 10 %
Dietary Fiber 0.8 g 3 %
Sugars 21.9 g 87 %
Protein 1.8 g
Add in the nutrition label from the icing:
Add up the 1.8g of fat from the brownie, but you would be lucky to get 16 brownies out of a small pan like that so let’s round that up to 4g, with the 5g of fat from the 2 tablespoons of icing (again a stretch), and you have about 9g.
Now compare that to Betty Crocker’s new product, Fudge Brownie in a Mug with fudge topping:
You add some water and nuke it in the microwave for one minute. One pouch with fudge topping also gives you 9 g of fat, and about the same number of calories as the low fat recipe, but better taste, in fact it was so rich tasting I could only eat half of it. Is there such a thing as too chocolatey? I know death by double chocolate is all the rage but I much prefer regular milk chocolate over the often bitter darker stuff. Plus unless you’re baking for a family who ever eats just one brownie? The mug box has built-in portion control – not sure how they came up with 3 portions, why not 2 or 4, but maybe the extra one is to stash away for an emergency on days you need chocolate. So why not let Betty do all the work? Now it’s back to the pastry board for a better Valentine’s Day dessert…stay tuned. (950 words)
PS. Do you have a favorite brownie recipe or mix?
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.
Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.
The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday. Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!” Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015. She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era. She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers. After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend. Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era. This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819.
The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage. Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds. It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893, which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum. She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by.
It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and kitchen and two very small bedrooms.
The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.
The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer. It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice. Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend. The last time I was there, it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove. It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.
Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour. On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog. (It’s never too late to edit!)
There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey. Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates.
The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons. The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside.
The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.
Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered. Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.
Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!
They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove. (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?) The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.
Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party. Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.
Postscript: Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart. Mix this, with this,
bake as directed, and you get this.
Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!
“Mission Control to Earthlings: Volunteers needed to test Lunar Cake recipe. Only rhubarb lovers need apply.”
Rhubarb is one of those foods you either love or hate. I never liked rhubarb until a few years ago, but then my entire culinary experience consisted of a very tart rhubarb pie my mother would make for my dad once a year. We had a big rhubarb patch on the farm, and no matter how much sugar she used in the pie, it was so sour no one else would eat it. The rhubarb patch was rectangular in size and was beside a row of red currant bushes, with one black currant and one gooseberry bush at each end. Behind it, the odd spike of asparagus would appear in the early spring, these all being old-fashioned farm staples from a century ago. Today they would be considered heirloom varieties. Once established, those old rhubarb patches would live forever. I would sometimes volunteer to pick the red currants, as my dad would get his very own red current pie too. In retrospect those pies must have been something his mother had made, nostalgic reminders of childhood. We just thought they were sour.
Because the patch was so large and prolific and had been there for many years, people from town would stop by and ask if they could buy some. If you are a rhubarb-lover you always know where a good patch is. We would see the same people year after year, so one day we kids had the ingenious idea that we would have a roadside stand and sell bundles of rhubarb for 25 cents – a country version of a lemonade stand.
The rhubarb stand lasted all of one Sunday afternoon. There was little traffic on our dusty country road and we soon grew bored laying on a blanket under the big tree out front. On the rare occasion someone did stop, we would run to the house to get our parents, because we had been drilled in school not to talk to strangers, even those innocent souls out for a Sunday drive. (Makes sense right, well in the mind of a child). I think we grossed 75 cents.
Now as an adult, count me in as a rhubarb fan too. I especially love strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb scones, and most recently a rhubarb coffee cake, which I’ve made the past few years from a recipe a dietitian friend gave me. This Canadian recipe is called Lunar Rhubarb Cake and was developed by an editor of Canadian Living magazine back in the 1980’s. It was so good, it went viral before viral even existed, with everyone saying they got it from their mother, aunt, neighbor. (A recipe which promotes sharing like that, is one small step for food-kindness). According to the food column in the Ottawa Citizen, the name lunar comes from the appearance of the top of the cake, similar to the crater-like surface of the moon.
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 Tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream (you can use 2% if you wish)
2 cups chopped rhubarb (you can increase by 1/2 cup more if you wish)
1 tbsp. floor
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon (I omitted this, as in my opinion cinnamon goes with apple pie, not rhubarb)
Chop the rhubarb and toss with 1 tbsp flour. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Mix 2 cups flour, soda and salt together. (I buy the premixed flour with the baking soda and salt already in it which is more expensive but saves measuring). Alternatively add the flour mixture and sour cream to the creamed mixture. Add the rhubarb to the batter. Pour into a buttered 9 X 13 inch cake pan. Mix the topping ingredients and spread evenly over the top of the cake. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top is pitted and crusty and a skewer comes out clean. (It was 15 minutes longer for me, as my oven always cooks slow). Recipe serves twelve hungry astronauts.
Some versions of this recipe call for buttermilk or sour milk instead of sour cream. The batter will be quite thick with the sour cream.
The cake keeps well in the fridge and was incredibly moist even after a week. It transports well too, should you wish to take it to a party in another galaxy. I think it would work well with blueberries when the season arrives, because as we all know rhubarb season is way too short!
Maybe if my mother’s old-fashioned rhubarb pie had a crumble topping we might have eaten it too, as the sweetness balances out the tartness of the rhubarb, similar to the popular combination of strawberries and rhubarb. Although I’m not a huge fan of strawberry-rhubarb pie, mostly because of the pastry, I have made a compote by stewing equal parts of rhubarb and strawberries on the stove and adding sugar to taste. It’s nice mixed with vanilla yogurt or ice cream or just eaten plain.
I’ve been envisioning my own rhubarb patch in the backyard, so I bought home this last week, although it’s been too cold to plant it.
Although eaten as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. While the stalks may be edible, the leaves are toxic to humans and animals due to a high concentration of the poison, oxalic acid. It is a perennial which likes cooler climates. Plant in full sun, spacing 3 or 4 feet apart in a row. Patience is required as you can’t harvest the first few years until established. Newer varieties last about 15 years. You can also divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) in early spring, so I might be on the hunt for an old patch down a country lane….
Flash forward to 2025 – mission accomplished….hopefully?