|Thanksgiving 100-mile Dinner.....|
By Jeff Tribe Staff Writer – The Tillsonburg News
A single bite summed up one hundred miles worth of concept in a second.
“Would you like an apple?” Jeannine Richter had inquired following an impromptu photo shoot in the back corner of M&R Orchards’ ‘back 50’. Deferring to her experienced eye was a sound principle, and Jeannine proffered a particularly attractive deep red sample off the closest tree.
The next moment – breaking through the crisp skin of a perfectly ripe Macintosh apple to deliciously juicy flesh chilled to an ideal temperature by the previous fall evening summed up how ‘good things grow in Ontario’ more succinctly than any slogan, concept or catchy jingle ever could.
In the same manner as perch pulled from Long Point’s Inner Bay the previous Sunday afternoon and served for a 50th birthday party that evening, or the creamed compilation of the first peas of the season along with baby carrots and new potatoes Jessie Tribe has served up for a significant chunk of her 88 years, the true essence of ‘fresh flavour’ came bursting on through.
And in that moment, the point of The 100-Mile Diet became eminently clear.
In broad terms, the 100-mile diet – food grown within a 100-mile radius of home - was a one-year experiment in local eating undertaken by partners Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon.
The approach embraces locally raised and produced food, fresher, better tasting, and through a reconnection with local family farms, a stimulus to local economies which as a by-product reduces the carbon footprint of transporting food produced half a world away. Their experience was captured in the book ‘The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (available through Random House Canada) which inspired a television series ‘The 100 Mile Challenge’ (seen on The Food Network).
Suffice to say, there are significant challenges – and a good deal of humour - as the participants in both scenarios struggle through the transition to 100 per cent ‘100-mile’ eating.
The challenge isn’t for everyone, or even for anything like a majority. Biting off that kind of ‘hard core’ approach is more than most of us are prepared to ‘chew’.
To be honest, its purest form is a concept that would only fly so high in the Tribe family. It is generally agreed, there is one for whom morning coffee is pretty much a necessity – not to mention a general benefit for those around her. But there is no problem with the ‘eating fresh and local’ concept the base theory extols.
And there is a lower-impact option, the concept of a 100-mile Thanksgiving (or for that matter, Christmas, or birthday or whatever occasion presents itself), a kind of ‘one-off’ that recognizes and encourages similar principles on a longer-term basis.
Following is an effort at putting together a 100-mile ‘Tillsonburg News’ Thanksgiving (‘TNT’) smorgasbord. It is not 100 per cent pure – there might well, for example, be pepper, lemon juice or olive oil in some options. Nor is it anything close to 100 per cent complete: there has been an attempt to touch base with a number of more ‘formal’ farmgate retail outlets, but the sheer number of options, time constraints and the fact a multitude of modest stands exist at the end of a multitude of laneways (including Amish producers like the Miller family south of Newark, who prefer to not have their photos taken) make that impractical. It was a lack of time that prevented, for example, inclusion of Stonkus Apiaries, or beekeeper Dave Brandon of Tillsonburg, or Martin’s Fish Market in Pt. Burwell (519-874-4874), a great source for fresh Lake Erie perch and pickerel.
But it is a very sincere recognition of the quality of the agricultural community in the tri-county area and a suggestion on how the general public can support its local economy by purchasing top-notch food at competitive prices (providing a much better return for the producer than wholesale) – and most importantly, enhance its culinary experience with a healthy and diverse Cornucopia of local farm-fresh produce.
The market runs from 8 a.m. to 12 noon Saturdays next to the Station Arts Centre “from Mother’s Day until the snow flies,” says Joyce Ecker, featuring up to 20 vendors offering a wide range of local produce, preserves, honey, maple syrup and baking.
Joyce and Ed Ecker have been active at the market for around 20 years, specializing in a wide range of squash grown on around two acres of property.
“Butternut, butter cup, hubbards, sweet dumplings, sweet potato squash, spaghetti squash, vegetable marrow – the whole works,” said Joyce. They also seasonally offer tomatoes, ‘cukes’, beans and peas. “We have a little bit of everything,” said Joyce, adding with a laugh, “and too many weeds. ”The weeds are in part a by-product of a ‘natural’ approach. Although not certified organic, the Eckers’ produce is pesticide-free. “We don’t spray, a lot of people appreciate that,” she said.
Alternatively, the menu could start off with a salad, of either hydroponic Boston or green leaf lettuce from Lettuce Alive, southeast of Norwich off Baseline Road. Apply dressing of choice (perhaps a raspberry vinagrette using berries from Godelie’s Family Farm stand along Highway #59 just east of Otterville), and garnish with green onions, sourced from Sandy and Ed Dehooghe, and Jason Ryder, who grow around 110 acres of green onions in the Lynedoch area, an effort that employs some 70 people. The majority of their crop is shipped to markets or restaurants, but farmgate purchases are also available.
The third and final offering is a bit of a ‘detour’, recognizing the top-notch game which can be sourced – and typically gifted - well within 100 miles of Tillsonburg. Goose and venison can both be substituted for the original in a barbecued ‘bacon-wrapped duck’ offering from Dr. Dunc Sinclair of Aylmer featuring bacon from the ‘HOPE’ Healthy Old-fashioned Pastoral Eco-Farms community with sales based out of 50521 Glencolin Line, RR#4 Aylmer.
STAYING THE COURSE
Leading off is grilled maple garlic rainbow trout, a personal favourite of Sue Goossens from the Goossens Trout Farm (519-879-6352). The Goossens supply processors and restaurants, but also offer farmgate sales from an operation that started in 1963, and currently ranks as the longest-running fish farm in Ontario.
“It started as a hobby and got out of hand,” explains Brian Goossens, who has taken over its operation from his father, Rene.Quality is of primary importance, says Brian, considering people make an extra effort to travel to the farm (located just south of Otterville on New Road). “You’ve got to take figure their time in too. You’ve got to have the quality and the price.” The quality of their product is directly related to the quality of their spring water says Brian, which comes out of the ground at a consistent 10 degrees Celsius. “A fish is only going to taste as good as the water it comes out of,” says Brian.
By eliminating the middle man, the Goossens are able to sell their trout at $4.50 a pound, a chemical and drug-free fillet high in Omega 3 fatty acids that compares favourably in both price and freshness to alternative options. “It’s basically the same day,” says Brian.
Those with a Scottish heritage might like to base a Lancashire Hot Pot on lamb purchased from Mike Dennis of Holbrook (519-424-9724), who also has goats for sale.
Another option would be Texas Longhorn beef from YU Ranch (Bryan and Cathy Gilvesy), certified LFP (Local Food Plus) producers just south of Tillsonburg on Plowman’s Line.
Bryan says more effort is expended on marketing than farming, underlining its importance in the broader agricultural picture. He supports, and in turns believes YU Ranch is being indirectly supported by concepts such as The 100-Mile Diet, due to the fact people are more actively seeking out products (for example on the farm website www.yuranch.com) such as his certified grass-fed beef, which graze in a sustainable, natural and native-grass environment. “Some people will tell you this is a trend or a passing thing, but it’s a very real thing,” said Bryan. “There are some things right about it,” he added. “From reducing your carbon footprint, to knowing what is in your food.”
Beef is a ‘multi-layered’ sort of product Gilvesy continued, with a number of varieties, and ‘natural’ options such as grass feeding, offering consumers more choices, “and more healthy choices in particular.”
Those enjoying a traditional roast of beef (perhaps with potatoes, carrots and onions from local produce stands?) might also enjoy locally-produced horseradish on the side.
The Dehooghe/Ryder partnership purchased Dennis’ Horseradish earlier this year, growing around 40 acres of the crop locally. They offer eight different finished products, horseradish ‘straight up’ or creamed in various ‘heats’, and blends including beets, mustard and hot peppers, for those who like an extra ‘kick’. “That depends on whether you like hot stuff or not,” says Sandy Dehooghe.
A fourth option would be HOPE Eco-Farms pastured heritage Berkshire pork, either as a roast or cured product such as ham. Either choice means sourcing a group of small, family farms in the Aylmer area, who share common ‘traditional’ agrarian practices, where says Franz Seeberger, a producer within the group, “a pig can be a pig.” His hogs run outdoors with access to shelter, are raised without antibiotics or hormones and fed a natural (non-GMO) diet including grass mixtures, forages, herbs, turnips, kale and mixed grains and flaxmeal.
“It’s a totally different production system,” says Seeberger. Raising pigs this way takes longer, but also produces Omega 3 fatty acids. “Which has proven beneficial,” Seeberger added.
Sales for HOPE are co-ordinated by Ira Stoll, (519-765-1031).
FROM THE BAR
The winery offers three reds, one rose and two white wines, which are very much not ‘cellared in Canada’ – a term which refers to wine or grapes imported from abroad and blended in Canada.
“These are made from grapes grown right here on the farm,” says Margaret Marshall of Florence Estate, located along Regional Road #45 just off of Forestry Farm Road near Silver Hill.
The wines range in price from $11.95 to $13.95 for the pinot noir.
The ‘local’ approach extends to the onsite Marshall Fields Restaurant, where much of the menu is sourced locally. Apart from convenience, says Margaret, is the fact local produce is also great produce, including in her estimation, the best asparagus in the world.
“We grow great food in Norfolk County.”
Brus’ Orchards & Winery also offers a variety of drinkable options (along with a wide range of apples, squash, preserves, maple syrup and other local products) including fresh non-pasteurized cider and five sparkling (non-alcoholic) ciders: apple bases blended with other fruits including cranberries, strawberries and peaches. The Brus family has also been making apple and grape-based wines for the past eight years (of in total, a 14-year history on the property located up Highway #19 across from Coyle’s). Their ‘cellar’ (a majority of apple wines because of the orchard) includes coolers (wine blends with peaches, strawberries and cherries for example) and the equivalent of a ‘white’ apple wine, made from a blend of two green and two yellow apples. The Brus also offer a pair of ‘iced apple’ dessert options, including the aptly titled ‘Dessert’ wine and an iced apple option.
ON THE SIDE
“Kind of on a daily basis,” explains Blanche. “What we picked that day, just to offer a little more selection in the booth.”
They constructed a shed three years ago and expanded parking on the front of their property, a move which enhanced both access and visibility.
Those who didn’t open with the squash soup, may like to try Joyce Ecker’s maple orange squash as a side dish.
Sweet potatoes are another option, and have really taken off in popularity, particularly in the form of sweet potato fries.
Bob and Juli Proracki grow roughly 16 acres on his Round Plains Plantation, north of Simcoe on Highway #24 (www.ontariosweetpotato.com).
Sweet potatoes (distinct from yams, which require 300 days to mature and therefore cannot be grown in Canada, compared to sweet potatoes, which require around 110 days, and therefore can) are good, and good for you, says Bob, given they contain vitamins A and C, carotenoids, potassium, fibre, folic acid, magnesium, calcium and protein.
“You could live off sweet potatoes,” he said.
To ‘crisp up’, sweet potato fries must first be coated in either egg whites or potato starch or brown rice flour, says Proracki, who prefers to simply cut his into wedges and toss them in the oven (425 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes or so) with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme, or perhaps some balsamic vinegar and sea salt and cracked black pepper. “Keep it simple, right?” he explained. “Sweet potato is so good for you nutritionally, you don’t need to be messing around with it.”
There is certainly an argument for giving Ontario Foodland’s maple tarts a try, or, in a return to the start of this particular ‘100-inch’ story, for checking out Jeannine Richter’s own favourite Swedish apple cake, using some of the 19 varieties available at M&R Orchard (just west of Tillsonburg, right on Highway #3, 519-842-2081), along with its fresh cider (apple butter and cider vinegar are among the other products available). Jeannine substitutes honey she gathers herself from her own hives for a truly local flavour.
“It’s a very quick – and a very special apple cake,” she smiled in conclusion.
Newspaper: The Tillsonburg News