The Harvestfest Supper

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 Venue:    

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.

Harvest Moon  Harvestfest

Harvest Moon courtesy of the Weather Network.

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.  

Harvestfest Decorations

The Presentation:

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. 

Harvestfest Table

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.   

Harvestfest Place Setting Candy Apple There were twelve settings per table,

Harvestfest 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.        Harvestfest squash in bowl

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.   

Scarecrows

The hungry mob…

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. 

wasps

Uninvited guests…

 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.

Harvestfest Buns on Table

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.

Harvestfest menu

 The Appetizer 

Harvestfest Salad

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

Harvestfest Dinner Plate

A few minutes of silence while we dig in before critiquing…

The Meat

Roast Pork Loin stuffed with Apples, Spinach, Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese.

Harvestfest Pork Loin

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.

Harvestfest Chicken

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).      

The Sides

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Pave with Parmesan Cheese 

Harvestfest Potatos

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.  

Potato Pave Harvestfest

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 Vegetables:

 

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). 

Harvestfest Plate

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.  

The Dessert

I had been craving a piece of cherry pie and had heard so much about The Famous Pie Lady.      

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

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. 

Harvestfest Pie

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,  

Harvestfest Moon  Harvest Moon

sorry for the tree in the way…

and then introduced the band. 

Harvestfest Band

The Music  

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.  

 

   

 

The Literary Salon – Eating Local

(This months Book Review may motivate you to eat healthier…..or you may just crave a piece of cherry pie.) 

A few weeks ago I attended a Harvestfest supper prepared entirely from  locally sourced food.   Although I had intended this post to be a restaurant review of that meal,  it grew too long so this will be the literary review for the month.      The books discussed here are older ones but they inspired me to try and eat better.   If you’re not into books, please feel to skip right over to the main menu.   (see Part Two for The Harvestfest Supper).

Harvestfest menu Many of us have the desire to eat healthier, but in today’s fast paced world it’s becoming more difficult to do so, hence the arrival of all those companies who will conveniently, albeit for an outrageous price, send you weekly pre-measured food preparation parcels – voila, supper in 30 minutes, as if a grown person wasn’t capable of going to a grocery store, buying food and preparing it just as quickly.    Perhaps there are fewer left-overs, but aren’t leftovers a good thing and would you really enjoy all those recipes they send?   As well, a large percentage of debt-ridden people eat out several times a week, a major hit to the family budget, and now you don’t even have to go out as those grub-hub apps will deliver the meal right to your front door.  And then there is the ever present lure of fast food restaurants so conveniently located along strip malls everywhere.   No wonder we have all forgotten how to cook, or in my case never bothered much.     

For many years eating local was the standard way of life.   When half the population lived in a rural environment you ate what you grew or raised.    My mother says that in her early married years, she only visited the grocery store for a few staples, which she bought with the $8 twice weekly cream check.   My father had dairy cattle so cream, milk and butter came from the cows, meat, chicken and eggs were all raised organically on the farm, and a large fruit and vegetable garden supplied canned goods and jams over the winter.    Self-sufficiency without delivery – although the breadman and milkman did make home deliveries.   

Things started to change in the mid-60’s with the arrival of processed food.  For an understanding of this shift in food production, I found a series of books by author, Michael Pollan to be excellent reads.    His 2008 book, In Defense of Food, is famous for it’s mantra, “Eat Food, Mostly Plants.  Not Too Much.” and “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize”. 

In Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple words that changed my eating habits ten years ago when I first read this book, or at least made me stop and think first. Don’t eat anything your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Also wise words. This book provides an interesting history and peek into the multi-million dollar processed food industry – what started out as an attempt in the fifties to make food better and healthier and last longer, has backfired so that we now have transfats, plasticizers and softeners in our bread and fast food burgers which never decompose. Certainly an eye-opener – you may never eat the same way again.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

In his 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he discusses how food scientists thought they were improving food stability and palatability by adding chemicals and preservatives and such.   And while no one would argue that organic vegetables don’t stay fresh as long and bakery bread does tend to grow mold after a few days, if you look at the long list of unpronounceable ingredients on a box or can in the grocery store, it does seem strange to want to manipulate food from it’s natural origins to a more chemical state.   

Perhaps their intentions were good, and Tang orange crystals did supply the astronauts with vitamin C (although I remember it as tasting rather artificial), but starting in the 60’s the processed food revolution had begun – with snack foods, frozen TV dinners, cakes from boxes and fast food burgers – and there was simply no stopping it.   It was convenient and it tasted good – who cared if it was good for you.  

Like many farm women, my mother was a wonderful cook, of the plain meat/potato/vegetable type and we had plenty of homemade cakes, pies and cookies.     So while I may think I grew up eating healthy nutritious meals, and most of the time I did, by the sixties we also had penny candy and weekly trips to McDonalds on grocery shopping days and Saturday night treats of potato chips and pop (usually Coke) while watching Hockey Night in Canada.  Of my poor student days I have absolutely no recollection of what I ate, (did I eat?) other than residence food the first few years which was so bad I lost ten pounds.    Once I had an apartment with a kitchen we still never cooked but ate cheap meals like beans on toast, (never KD though), grabbed yogurt and grilled cheese from the student cafe, and drank endless cups of mostly vile donut shop coffee.   Our idea of splurging was an occasional trip to Bloor Street – Swiss Chalet (chicken), Steak and Burger (tough steak but warm apple pie) and Mr. Submarine (still the best subs IMO).   When I started working I had to contend with decades of hospital food, some of which used to be quite good when it was prepared from scratch, (I remember our cafeteria serving Seafood Newburg in the early 80’s before the discovery of cholesterol), but which eventually turned into those cook, chill and reheat meals which are now standard hospital jokes – if you’re well enough to complain about the food, you can go home.    I usually brought my lunch, except for the soup – as they always had some kind of homemade soup, probably loaded with salt.    After I changed jobs I was often too busy to eat, and lunch would be chocolate milk or half a sandwich grabbed in the staff room, and I would arrive home at night ravenous and eat whatever was in sight.    BTW, the invention of microwaves in the 80’s was a godsend, as then you could quickly reheat leftovers. 

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared myself with a review of my poor dietary habits over the years, I resolve to do better.  The Michael Pollan books have made a big influence on my food choices.   I read food labels now.   Buy as little processed stuff as I can and generally try to eat better, except for deserts, in moderation.  And isn’t that the more sensible way – everything in moderation.    It’s why diets don’t usually work – if you crave something, eat it, a small portion.   I craved cherry pie the other day, so I had a piece and froze the rest. The French way of eating, including lots of walking, is based on this principle.  As eating is one of the pleasures of life, why deprive yourself.  

Recently they have changed Canada’s food guide to emphasize fewer meat and more plant sources of protein, but I wonder how practical that is – are you really going to get people to eat more tofu, legumes and nuts?   It is accessible or affordable?    Maybe – those vegetable burgers seem to be very popular, but aren’t they just another form of manipulated processed food, fried on the same greasy grill as the meat ones?  

I’m certainly more of a foodie now than I used to be, but in moderation, not like those food network shows which drive me crazy with their pretentiousness – it’s just food folks – no need to have a melt down over a slightly burnt creme brulee when half the world is starving.    But I have become more selective in my eating habits.   When I eat something now I want it to be nutritious as well as delicious.  As we get older we worry more about maintaining our health – and as the saying goes, you are what you eat.  If you are in need of motivation – check out the books.  

Enough of the discussion, on to Part Two – The Harvestfest Supper.    As Julia Child used to say, “Bon Appetit”! 

 

After the Harvest

After the Harvest – An Update on the Potager plus what to do with a twelve pack of snakes.     

I had high hopes for The Potager back in June, but there may have been a reason my dad planted his garden in the corn field where it could sprawl among the rows of corn.    Sprawl is the key word here.   My potager was a testament to good soil, it was so prolific, but then it was a hot humid summer with lots of rain, ideal conditions for a rain forest. 

potager before

Where are the monkeys?

 It rained every weekend, and during the week, every few days in fact.    This made the mosquitoes plentiful, and some new species of tiny black bug called no-see-ums appeared and left bites which itched for days.    I had never seen a no-see-um before, but they left a lasting legacy of scratch marks.   I gave up and refused to go out.   Luckily, I did not have to water as Mother Nature did it for me, even as she left us bereft of any beach days. 

The romaine lettuce was bountiful, and after the first crop, I replanted and it was bountiful too. 

romaine lettuce

Three cucumbers sprouted from the small-garden plant, just the right amount for a Greek salad, with some tomatoes if only I could  find them, and when I did find them, many had split from too much rain.  

cucumber

The tomatoes threatened to strangle everything so in early August I gave it a haircut.   By mid-Sept it had grown back, requiring a regular trim every 4 to 6 weeks.  

I untangled the sole squash, mistakenly uprooting it’s lifeline, and leaving the fruit to wither on the vine.   Not deterred, it re-blossomed, producing a final harvest of five smallish orbs.  

squash

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the multi-colored carrots, and so were the bunnies.    We were both disappointed.     

While the tops were luxurious, the carrots were sparse, spindly and white, (and maybe useful for the Simply White Dinner).   They say you reap what you sow, except I planted three seed potatoes, and got two.The Harvest

In mid-October (no frost yet, leaves barely changing), I dug up the rest of the russet gems.  Not bad for a first crop, but hardly enough to get me through the winter like my Irish ancestors. potatoes

Luckily the orange carrots were plentiful, if somewhat deformed from being crammed into too small a space.    The bunnies were delighted, as God is my witness, they would never go hungry again.  (Scarlet O’Hara – Gone with the Wind).   carrots         Due to the intricate web of netting I set up, the birds didn’t get as many of the strawberries, but then neither did I – it was too much of a hassle to open and re-close all those wires to pick one or two berries.   While reading about another bloggers garden adventures, she recommended rubber snakes be set among the strawberry plants and moved every few days in order to fool the birds.    Thank god she told me Walmart sells them online, because I don’t know where you would buy a twelve pack of snakes, and also thank god, those birds aren’t too bright.   I’ll keep that in mind for next year, or maybe I’ll just freeze some of the carrots.    I also wish I had put spacing and gravel around my boxes like Empty Nest Adventures did, for easier access.  

carrots

Next years orange snakes?

After the Harvest is a time to reflect on lessons learned….next year plant less, no matter how much you may anticipate the early specimens being carried off by nighttime woodland creatures. 

Plant one of everything, one squash, one cucumber, if it’s something you don’t want to breed like rabbits or possibly two like Noah and the Ark, two tomatoes, two potatoes, but no zucchini – ever.  

Or just buy more boxes……the New England Arbor charity sale is coming up…..

After the Harvest - AMc

After the Harvest

PS.  There is nothing so wonderful as a golden field of wheat being harvested, or so awful as After the Harvest when you would have to bale all that straw into small bales, with a baler which was forever breaking down, and then load them into the hayloft, a process which was hot and dusty and took hours.  Now every time I pass a field with those really big bales that are scooped up by a front end loader, I wonder, why didn’t someone think of that sooner?

Song of the Day:   Harvest Moon – Neil Young

The Farmer’s Market

           If you have ever dreamed of packing in city life and moving to the country then this book is for you.    Canadian author, Brent Preston turned fantasy into reality in this account of starting an organic vegetable farm and ten years of trial and error and back breaking labor before finally achieving a profitable outcome. 

The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food RevolutionThe New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution by Brent Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A must read manual for city dwellers and lovers of the organic food movement about a family who chose to leave the rat race and follow their dream of running a profitable organic vegetable farm. Dust off those fantaseeds and learn the gritty reality of where your food comes from.

           Although he might have started out with a simple plan in mind, by the end of the ten years he had mechanized his operations, hired agricultural co-op students for summer labor, perfected a delivery service and marketing campaign, and ended up specializing in just three crops, one of which was lettuce.   One of the things he did initially was to participate in the local farmer’s market every Saturday morning, but after a few years of this he packed it in.  If you think about it, never a weekend off for you or your kids, up at 4 am to load up the truck and then later in the day unloading the unsold produce.   Plus, while he said while he enjoyed the social aspect with the regular customers and the other vendors, there just wasn’t enough profit in it to continue.   Better to cater to the fancy restaurants who would pay premium for anything fresh and organic.   

           There is no doubt we are what we eat and organic food is in – food in it’s natural state.   Ask a person who has been lucky enough to live to be over ninety and chances are they grew up on a farm.   So farmers markets are booming because organic food is so popular, but are the farmers doing well?  I grew up on a farm, 100 acres, so I know how hard it is to make a living on one and how much work is involved.   We had a dairy farm with Holsteins  when I was a child and my dad had a small herd, three milking machines and a cream contract.   He got up at 4:30 am every day to milk the cows, then he would come in, shave and have breakfast (bacon and eggs and perked coffee), as we were getting up for school, by 7:30 he would have left for his other job, home at 4:30, early supper, then milk the cows again, and he would be in bed by ten or falling asleep while reading the paper.   On the weekends there were all the other chores to do.   Even back then you couldn’t quite make a living on a farm without a second job, and with a growing family, he finally switched to beef cattle instead and cash cropped corn, soybeans and wheat, and while that was a lot of work too, we were finally able to take a family vacation without being tied to the milking schedule.   Now farming is big business, a thousand acres or bust.  There was an article in the local paper recently about the International Plowing Match which listed a combine as worth $500,000, and a tractor with GPS the same.   My dad’s first tractor in 1948 cost $1000 and had a side seat upon which we kids would ride – heaven forbid, no one would let kids do that now.   My elderly grandfather who died in 1951, was against the new-fangled modern machinery, as they had to sell his beloved Clydesdale horses in order to buy it.  HorseThe last tractor my dad bought came equipped with air conditioning and a few years after he died, they had CD players, now they are steering themselves.   While farming may be mostly mechanized now, organic vegetable farming is still labor intensive, especially during the harvest.   It’s not a job many people want to do, and often the farmers must hire seasonal workers from Mexico or Jamaica to help out.

        September is the best time of year to visit a farmer’s market as it is bursting with the last of the summer produce and the early fall harvest.   While the peaches and berries may be almost done, the  plums, pears, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, new potatoes and onions are coming in.   

tomatoes

potatoes

Our local market is open Wednesdays in the summer and Saturdays year round.   Even in the winter, the inside of the old building is full of root vegetables and cheese and butcher shops, but in the nice weather the outside stalls see the most action.    They really need more space, but it’s been in the same place for eighty plus years and you don’t mess with tradition.   Located in an older residential part of town, there is one small parking lot and you have to drive round and round waiting for someone else to leave.  With about 50 spaces for 200 people it’s kind of like musical chairs for grownups.  Luckily, no one lingers long.   While you can get a pour over coffee with freshly roasted beans, there is no cafe to sit in or cooked food available.   We don’t see a lot of homeless people here but one day a woman with her cart piled high with all her worldly possessions asked me for some money, and with my hands full I shook my head no, but then after putting my produce in the car, I went to find her, and gave her ten dollars, which I suspected might go to drugs but who knows?   A friend of mine keeps Tim Horton’s coffee shop gift cards to hand out for this reason, but there is something so very sad about begging in front of a place with so much plenty.     

              Even in the winter I will visit about once a month, because there is still cheese, and apples and oranges to buy, but I’ve often wondered why they open at 6 am.   All the vendors are yawning by noon, or closing up early as they have been up since four loading their trucks.   Wouldn’t 8-2 be more civilized hours?   If they are supplying restaurants do they need to buy that early?    If I don’t get there by 11:30 (or  I’m still playing musical chairs), I may miss my favorite cheese stall or they might be out of Gouda.  

The cheese wars can be fierce.  There are two cheese vendors, right across from each other, and the Battle of The Gouda got so bad last year, they both decided not to post their prices.    They will glare across the aisle if they think you have abandoned camp, but if they have run out, what is the alternative?  My grandmother was Dutch, so I grew up on Gouda, the mild form, not the spicy seeded variety she bought from The European Shop.   

Dutch Inheritance - AMc

Dutch Inheritance

The market cheese is better than at the grocery store and they will give you a sample if you are undecided.   Even if you know you will like it, a sample will often tied you over if you got up early and missed breakfast.    Buying cheese at the market is also much cheaper than in the grocery store so I usually stock up on aged cheddar as well as the Gouda.    The one cheese vendor has recently retired and been bought out by the egg lady beside them, who I don’t think has gotten the hang of the weigh scale yet as she is very generous with her pounds, or kgs.   I don’t buy eggs from her though as I can’t stomach those brown eggs with the bright yellow yolks.   It reminds me of the eggs growing up on the farm, but I know free range chickens are all the rage and I am sure they are full of omega-3’s.    

I like to look at the flowers, the glads are out now, but I seldom buy as I have lots of flowers at home. 

glads

I have my own semi-successful potager, so I don’t feel the need to buy tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce, but one whiff of the dill brings back memories of my mother canning dill pickles.    You can get a free bunch of dill with every large purchase. 

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dill

The early apples are starting to come in, which will soon mean spies and pies.  I can smell the cinnamon now.

apples

 My favorite time of year is when the summer fruits are available, the strawberries and peaches.   You can get a bushel of overripe fruit for ten dollars and make a whole batch of jam for what you might pay for two jars.    There is a jam vendor also, for when you run out, who also sells homemade fruit pies.  So definitely there is a cost savings, and the food is so much fresher and better tasting, not to mention not loaded with tons of preservatives and artificial ingredients. 

Not everything is better at the market though.   Sadly, it is home to the world’s worst bakery which sells the most tasteless bread ever baked, not to mention tarts with uncooked dough and a scant quarter inch of fruit filling.  The next time I walk pass, the owner asks if I want something so I venture a tactful complaint – I figure if no one tells him he can’t fix it.   He tells me he hired a new baker so I bought butter tarts this time.  Same thing.  I gave up.  There must be an art to making play-doh like that?    Butter tarts are a national institution in Canada but I have a fine recipe inherited from my mother.   We have much better bakeries in town but I suppose once a vendor has tenure in the building, it’s for life, and so many people don’t know what good pastry tastes like.   But the bread – there’s simply no excuse.    Bread is the staff of life, but so is good nutritious food.   If you ate today, thank a farmer!    

PS.   Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving today! 

Wild Turkeys - AMc

Wild Turkeys