Friday, December 3, 2010

December: It was a very good year

It seems to be a common theme in the media at this time of year to look back at the past year as though to sum it all up and package it away for the history books. We at Slow Food Pelham have compiled our own list of highlights for 2010. Looking back over the year helps to bring into perspective how busy we have been as a group; it has been a very active year under the guidance of our indefatigable leader, Renée Girard.

Pelham Slow Food has meetings like any other organized group, but at our meetings, “business” is conducted informally and in about fifteen minutes; then we get down to the real purpose of our gatherings: eating, drinking, and conversing with friends. To give each meeting a focus, we decide on a theme for the food and drink, and everyone prepares a dish to share. It’s potluck with an international flavour. This year’s meeting themes were Scandinavian, Spanish, and Tex-Mex, and members outdid themselves with creative, delicious, and imaginative dishes that reflected the cuisine of each location.

In April, we gathered at Alvento Winery in Vineland where Bruno and Elyane Moos hosted an evening of matching Alvento wines to cassoulet. This is the second cassoulet evening held by Slow Food Pelham, and it reflects my enthusiasm for a dish that seems to me to embody all the principles of Slow Food. It uses exclusively ingredients that were local to the area where it originated (the southwest of France, specifically the town of Castelnaudary)… and it’s possible to make it from ingredients local to Pelham. It requires lots of time and care in its preparation (the very antithesis of Fast Food), and is best when prepared in large quantity, so should be consumed with a gathering of friends. In this instance, Bruno and Elyane turned over their tasting room for the event, and beautifully matched their big, flavourful red wines to the weight of the beans, duck confit, and pork that are the essential ingredients of cassoulet. It was a perfect meal for the end of winter.

In June, Renée organized an exclusive visit to one of Niagara’s most celebrated wineries, le Clos Jordanne. There, winemaker Sebastien Jacquey led an informative and delicious tour and tasting of the winery’s small batch production, emphasizing the importance of “terroir”… the unique flavours and characteristics imparted to the wine by the specific location of the vineyard. Our tour was not long after the winery’s chardonnay had shocked the world of wine criticism by being the consensus winner of a blind tasting in Montreal that put it up against the very best of France, California, and Australia.

July brought another winery tour and tasting, as Slow Food Pelham attempts to work its way through tastings at every Niagara wine producer! This time, we ventured out to Niagara on the Lake to Southbrook Vineyards, and their unique and impressive winery on Niagara Stone Road… a structure that has recently been awarded the SAB Award for its sustainable design, architectural excellence, and technical innovation. Just as impressive were the wines that we tasted, produced from organic and biodynamic vines.

In September, we once again produced our flagship event, the Featherstone Lamb Roast. Dave Johnson and Louise Engel turned over to us their gorgeous wraparound verandah at Featherstone Winery on Victoria Avenue, and provided one of their vine leaf-fed lambs to be spit-roasted over coals of vine cuttings and charcoal. Salads, vegetables, and desserts were created by members of Slow Food Pelham, and Featherstone 2007 Merlot was a perfect accompaniment to a superb meal. This event, too, is a perfect example of what the Slow Food Movement is all about: local produce, creatively and painstakingly prepared, and enjoyed in convivial company. As several people remarked, the thirty or so diners gathered around the long table on Featherstone’s verandah overlooking the vineyards could easily have been in Tuscany or Provence.

In October, the members of Slow Food Pelham gathered at About Thyme Bistro in Vineland for a meal of local delicacies prepared by chef Ryan Shapiro. Ryan introduced each of the four courses, and detailed his innovative method of “sous vide” cooking that produces the tender and flavourful duck confit which was featured in the main course.

Finally, in December we celebrated Terre Madre Day on the 10th by gathering for one of our “meetings” and sampling a spectacular array of finger foods created by our members. Terre Madre is a day specified by Slow Food to put into practice the principles of the movement and for the more than 100,000 members across the world to join together in a single day of celebrating food, those who produce it, and those who try to preserve food traditions and traditional foods.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November: Bad News for Carnivores

For those of us who are devoted meat eaters, the news is increasingly bad. A recent New York Times article entitled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” has made this abundantly clear by comparing the impact of old gas-guzzling vehicles to that of meat eaters. Most of us understand that eating too much meat is bad for us, but we are hearing more and more that it’s bad for the planet, too. However, amid the nasty reports of greenhouse gas, water pollution, and deforestation, there is hope that improved methods and sensible practices may make our meat habit less negatively impactful on the planet… and, if we eat meat in moderate amounts, less negatively impactful on ourselves.

First the bad news. It is estimated by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization that 30 per cent of the world’s ice fee land is directly or indirectly used to produce meat. Furthermore, nearly 20 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses are generated by livestock production… that is more than transportation!

Meat production is extremely inefficient: to produce the same number of calories as a kilo of grain, a kilo of meat requires two to five times the amount of grain. In the United States, agriculture (much of it devoted to the production of meat) causes almost 75 per cent of all the water quality issues in that nation’s rivers. (Consider that, according to the New York Times, in the state of Iowa alone, hog factories create 50 million tons of excrement every year!)

And, of course, the connection between heart disease and some cancers and meat consumption has been well established. Furthermore, cattle, pigs, and chickens are fed a diet of hormones to increase their meat production and antibiotics to keep them healthy in factory farm conditions… drugs that find their way into our diet with potentially nasty effect.

The good news is that “it need not be so.” We can make a positive impact on the environment and our own health by choosing what (and how much) meat we choose to eat. First, most of the environmental degradation caused by meat production comes from enormous factory farms. We can insist on buying grass fed beef from grazing animals… but we’d have to eat less of it because gazing cannot produce anywhere near the amount of beef that a factory farm can. And we’d have to pay much more for it. Small scale production from humanely treated animals not only produces higher quality meat, but significantly reduces the environmental damage that raising it causes… but it comes at a cost. Locally, we can source grass fed beef without hormones, antibiotics, grains, or pesticides from CW Acres on Silver St. in Caistor Centre (

Can we reconcile our demand for meat with our concerns for the planet? The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization produced a study called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” in which it says “There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people ... the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. ... This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases.”

I wonder if Canadians are ready to break our almost half-pound daily habit of meat consumption for a saner portion… from more humane and sustainable sources… at a higher cost.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October: Slow Food and Slow Cycling

While there is absolutely no official or obvious connection between Slow Food and bicycles, as an avid fan of both, I always look forward to this time of year. There is nothing like a bike ride on a fine, warm day in October to remind you of the beauty of the area we are fortunate enough to live in. The bike gives you ample time to savour the smells of autumn as well as to observe the incredible diversity and abundance of the food that the Niagara Region produces.
Recently, Alan Wheeler (another of Slow Food Pelham’s members, and an avid cyclist) and I mapped out a leisurely ride through some of Pelham’s most beautiful areas, taking us past many of the food producers, retailers, and farmers that Slow Foodies treasure.

We began with a tour of the Short Hills area, along Effingham, Roland, and Hollow Roads. This stretch took us past White Meadow Farm, a landmark for its maple sugar products; Bow Ridge Herbs, one of the area’s leading suppliers of herbs and herb seedlings; and a short detour out to Howell’s Pumpkin Farm. Doubling back to Hollow Road, we wound along that lovely street for a rest at St. John’s Conservation Park before continuing to Williams Orchards where Hollow turns into North Pelham.

Entering Fonthill, we saluted Klager’s butcher shop and Zest Restaurant, scene of one of our memorable Slow Food dinners, turned onto Pancake Lane and rode past the pick-your-own blueberry farm and vegetable stand before turning left on Effingham to pass Gwennol Farm (more pick your own berries) and eventually all the way out to the Welland River. There we turned left for a short detour to see Zeta Farms on River Road, producers of organic lambs and eggs, then doubled back, admiring the new O’Reilley’s bridge on our way past. Along the way we were amazed at the amount of soy bean we produce in Niagara; field after field along River Road and many of the other roads on our route… all devoted to production of soy… that’s a lot of tofu!

Our tour then took us out along River Road west to Wellandport, where we passed Tree and Twigg where more than 1000 varieties of heirloom vegetables are grown. Turning back east along Canborough Road, we whizzed past Tom Ball, out in the field of Rural Roots, in Boyle, where he produces the organic veggies he sells at Pelham Market. Just past Rural Roots, we crossed Victoria Avenue and entered Greater Metropolitan Fenwick.

Chez Fromage Etc. in downtown Fenwick is a Pelham treasure where Nathalie Kita offers an amazing variety of gourmet cheeses, curds, and breads from Québec, across Canada, and around the world. Fenwick Subs and Bakery across the street features local fruit in their pies and tarts, and between Fenwick and Ridgeville, the verandah at Berry Patch Tea Room is a hugely popular spot for lunch and afternoon tea. Further along Canborough, on the edge of Ridgeville, Town and Country Farms vegetable stand is one-stop shopping for whatever is in season in southwestern Niagara.

And that brought us full circle to Ridgeville, where the village shops feature chocolate creations at Sweet Thoughts, baked goods and lunch treats at Nature’s Corner Bakery, and all the kitchen supplies you could want at Whisk and Ladle… along with delicious lunch specials at their Knife and Fork Garden Café.

While Alan and I didn’t have time to stop and enjoy any of the goodies along the route, or the space to carry any of the produce that we might have bought, we enjoyed the 60km route for the scenery and the connection it provides to our food and those who grow, produce, and prepare it. Cycling enables us to make that connection vividly.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September: The Best Summer Meal

When it comes to eating in the summertime, no one does it better than the folks in the South of France. From Languedoc across Provence, the Mediterranean French are blessed with an abundance of spectacular vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and wine that makes their markets a food-lover’s orgy. Every small village has a farmers’ market with mountains of colourful produce on display, from enormous tubs of olives to mountains of tomatoes, from bins of garlic bulbs to ice-lined counters of fresh fish. Mediterranean cookbooks are full of delicious ways to prepare this bounty, and most feature seductive pictures of a rustic old table beneath a spreading tree, covered with a brightly patterned cloth, and loaded with fresh vegetables, chilled wine, and crusty baguettes. It looks too good to be true.

But it isn’t. On our first visit to the South of France, Valerie and I were invited to a family gathering at a villa overlooking the Mediterranean in the tiny Provencal village of Les Lecques. The scene could have been clipped from any of the gorgeous photographs featured in the pages of glossy cookbooks. All the vegetables you can think of were piled on plates and bowls along with hard-boiled eggs, grilled fish, shrimp, and bowls of a creamy mayonnaise for dipping. But this wasn’t your mother’s mayonnaise or anything from a jar; this was pungent, garlicky “aioli,” the famous sauce that gives its name to the entire meal. The feast consisted of grazing on the bountiful vegetables, fish, and eggs … every mouthful laden with gobs of aioli… and all washed down with pitchers of chilled local rosé. Unforgettable.

In Southern Ontario, we can duplicate this feast in August and September with our own bounty, which, while not as long-lasting as the produce of the Mediterranean, is every bit as good in the relatively short harvest period.
Among the vegetables to put on the table, include green onions, sliced carrots, cucumbers, peppers, and celery, radishes, fennel, cauliflower, broccoli rosettes, cherry tomatoes, cooked beets, fingerling potatoes and green beans. A grilled white fish (Lake Erie perch would be especially good), grilled shrimp, and hard-boiled eggs round out the food… which serves mostly as a vehicle for the aioli, which should be served lavishly.

8 to 10 garlic cloves
2 egg yolks
1 ½ Cups good olive oil
About 2 Tbsp of lemon juice
Drop the garlic into a food processor at high speed and when it’s chopped, add the egg yolks and lemon juice. You can add a few green garlic stalks to make the aioli a nice pale green. Then drizzle the oil through the feed tube in a very thin stream until the mayonnaise emulsifies. Season with salt and lemon juice. (Mayonnaise will not emulsify in stormy weather, especially if there is lightning. If yours isn’t thickening, you can add commercial mayonnaise. Refrigerating the aioli will also help thicken it.)
Serves four… and make sure everyone likes garlic, because anyone in the vicinity who hasn’t had some aioli will be… um, uncomfortable.

This meal cries out for a chilled bottle of the superb Niagara rosé that is on offer at many our local wineries. I haven’t tried them all, but can recommend Featherstone, Calamus, Henry of Pelham, John Howard Cellars, and 13th Street. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

August: Success!

The Slow Food Movement is now almost 25 years old. It was founded in Italy back in 1986 when MacDonald’s was planning to open an outlet near the historic and beautiful Spanish Steps in Rome. From the beginning it was a reaction against everything that “fast food” represents: unhealthy food from unknown sources, unhealthily prepared, and eaten in plastic, uncomfortable environments. With this as its guiding principle, the movement has developed many goals and objectives over the years, including
• Encouraging local and traditional food products, along with the culinary traditions and recipes that accompany them
• Encouraging family farms and small-scale production and processing while educating consumers about the dangers of monoculture, agribusiness, and factory farms
• Preserving traditional and heirloom varieties through seed banks
• Promoting organic, sustainable, and holistic farming
• Encouraging consumers to shop at local markets and to buy ethically
• Encouraging people to eat in convivial, comfortable surroundings with friends and family… while warning of the dangers of a “fast food” lifestyle.

In this column for the past couple of years, I have tried to bring some of these principles and goals to Pelham readers at the local level, reflecting the philosophy of the local chapter or “convivium” of the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food Pelham is a very active and enthusiastic group of folks (not all of them from Pelham) who love food, value wholesome food products, honour local growers and producers, and enjoy sharing the bounty of Niagara with like-minded enthusiasts. Our activities range from the annual Featherstone Lamb Roast (coming up soon) to buying food-related books for the Pelham Library, from convivial meals featuring local produce at Pelham restaurants, to educational tours of growers, producers, wineries, and facilities.
Now comes proof that our efforts to promote the ideals of Slow Food have succeeded!

Brandspark, a Canadian market and brand strategy outfit, went out and surveyed some 400 chefs from across the country to find out what they see as the current trends in Canadian eating habits. The results, as posted in The Toronto Star, reveal that the top ten current Canadian menu trends are
1. Locally sourced food
2. Sustainability
3. Organic products
4. Artisanal cheeses
5. Simplicity/back to basics
6. Nutritional/healthy cuisine
7. Free range poultry and pork
8. Small plates/tapas/dim sum
9. Bite size mini desserts
10. Exotic super-fruits (such as acai, goji berry, mangosteen)

Of course, I can’t say that this column (and accompanying blog: ) has been entirely responsible for the amazing shift that has taken place in the eating preferences and attitudes of Canadians over the past couple of years… but the first seven out of ten menu trends are recurring and constant themes of SnailSpace!

To learn more about the Slow Food Movement, go to and for information about the many Canadian chapters, see , and while you’re there, check out Slow Food Pelham’s space, which includes upcoming events, news, recipes, and reports on past events. If you’d like to join Slow Food Pelham or get more information about our activities, write to Renée Girard at

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July: Newfoundland fare: berry, berry good

If any population can be said to have embraced the principles of Slow Food unconsciously, naturally, without paying dues, having meetings, or publishing columns or blogs, it’s the Newfoundlanders. People from The Rock are natural locovores, not just making do with what the unfriendly climate and poor soil can provide, but relishing it and making the rest of us envious for their enthusiasm and joy in consuming it. They are among the most convivial people on earth, and family meals are an ingrained tradition rather than a weekend special event; add a few guests, and the meal becomes a celebration.

A quick look through a Newfoundland cookbook reveals example after example of local food that people from a more privileged climate might never consider, but that Newfoundlanders have turned into an island gourmet delight. Cod, for example, is a delicious fish, and dipped in flour and fried in pork fat, it becomes a delicacy. But the Newfoundlanders, out of necessity, not only use every bit of meat on the fish, but turn those less gentile bits into celebrated treats: cod tongues, cod cheeks, and “britches” (cod roe) are sought-after gourmet items in Newfoundland restaurants.

Make flour, water, and salt into a hard slab and you have a dish that most of the world would find unpalatable; but give it to a Newfoundlander, and he’ll cook it in the same pork fat as his cod, add “scrunchions” (crisp bits of cooked pork back) and serve you a delicious meal of “cod and brewis”. Moose meat is a staple, thanks to the overabundance of moose on the island, and it turns up in roasts and stews, sausages, and even burgers. Bake apples or cloud berries are the local fruit, and there are so many savoury recipes for the preparation of these sweet berries (see below) that Newfoundlanders would never notice the lack of strawberries from Argentina or raspberries from California. Add “lassy mogs” (molasses cookies) and “jam jams” (cookies filled with jam) to the dessert tray, and why would you long for imported fare?

An aside: There’s a story that when the Queen Mother visited Newfoundland in 1967, she was taken to see the Purity Food plant where jam jams are produced. As she walked the production line, she paused and asked one of the workers, “And what are we making here?” To which the Newfoundlander replied, “Five-fifty an hour, Ma’am, five-fifty and hour.”

My most recent visit to Newfoundland and Labrador was last summer when Valerie and I had the fly-fishing trip of a lifetime to a remote fly-in camp in the interior of Labrador (“remote” doesn’t do it justice!) The camp cook provided amazing meals, including all breads and desserts from scratch, with a natural flair and expertise usually found in only the very best urban restaurants. Shawn is in the process of assembling his amazing repertoire into a cookbook, so I don’t think he’ll mind if I provide here his version of berry pie… the best I’ve ever eaten (including, I am sad to admit, my own). Bake apples are Shawn’s favorite, but in their absence, any berries will do.

½ C butter
1 C all purpose flour
1 tsp icing sugar
Roll out and place in pie dish. Bake at 350 degrees until light brown, using a fork to prick holes in the bottom during the first ten minutes.
(I find this crust difficult to work with. Use lots of flour and patience… the result is worth it.)
Mash ½ C berries and add ¼ C sugar. Bring to a boil. Add enough corn starch mixed in water to make the berry mixture very thick and heavy. Cool 5 minutes. Fold enough fresh whole berries into the mixture to fill the shell. Let set until firm in the fridge and top with whipped cream if desired.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Charles de Gaulle, in a moment of frustration, once said “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” We in Canada don’t have this particular problem, and maybe we are the more governable because of it. However, while we may not have 246 different kinds of cheese being produced here, we certainly enjoy cheese from around the world, and do produce a fair amount of our own… mostly in Québec, but with significant and increasing production in Ontario, Alberta, and elsewhere.

Here in Niagara, we are fortunate to have Upper Canada Cheese in Jordan Station, where cheese is produced from one specific herd of Guernsey cattle, rendering cheese that is distinctive in flavour, colour, and fat content. Their Niagara Gold is a delicious semi-soft cheese with buttery, nutty flavours that develop more pungency as the cheese ages. Comfort Cream (named for the Guernsey herd at Comfort Farm) is a soft, camembert style cheese with a creamy interior. Recently added Guernsey Girl is a Scandinavian bread-style cheese that doesn’t melt when heated, so it can be fried or grilled with delicious results. Upper Canada Cheese is also now making fresh cheese curd every Friday, so those who love the mild flavours of this product can enjoy it as a squeaky snack or melt it onto their poutine.

Another local treasure for cheese-lovers is Chez Fromage Etc. in downtown Fenwick, right beside the hardware store and across from Da Vinci’s Italian eatery (worth a visit in itself). Natalie Kita brings in a mind-boggling assortment of cheeses, mostly from Québec artisanal producers, but with a fair sampling of cheese from other Canadian producers as well as a fine international selection. The word is out, and some days you may have to wait awhile to make your selection as customers are driving in to Fenwick from as far away as Hamilton to buy cheese from Natalie, but one of the charms of the place is that she never hurries anyone, and takes great delight in suggesting (and providing a taste of) her current favorite or something she thinks the customer will enjoy.

Smaller selections of special cheeses can be found in other stores around Pelham and further afield in Niagara. For example, I was delighted to see that Lorenzo’s Fine Foods on Haist Street is carrying a few carefully chosen varieties, including Sir Laurier and the absolutely decadent Sauvagine from Québec… a creamy cheese that Natalie introduced me to awhile ago, and I find irresistible.

Making cheese is an art in the same order as making beer or wine, and requires the same dedication to ingredients, preparation, cleanliness, and process. If you would like to learn to make your own cheese, or just see what is involved in cheese making, Niagara Falls is home to a small enterprise that is dedicated to revealing the secrets of home cheese production. Doreen and Peter Sullivan lead day-long classes limited to eight participants through the steps in making two cheeses, a camembert-style and a Roquefort-style blue, which the students get to take home with them to finish, age, and enjoy. Peter is a former teacher in the hospitality field at Niagara College, and has been featured in these pages before as the master-cook on some of my fly-fishing trips (he’s a pretty good fly fisherman, too). Doreen is also a former teacher and dental hygienist, and their classes come very highly recommended. For more information, have a look at or call Peter or Doreen at 905 354 8873.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Bread Recipe

For about 30 years I've tried to bake bread that approximates the chewy, crusty, full-flavoured breads I gobble up in Europe. I have tried different recipes and techniques, and often have limited success with an acceptable baguette or loaf... but too often the bread I produce is in the shape of a boule or baguette, but still tastes like ordinary white bread.

Then, recently I have discovered a recipe that is not only dead simple and seemingly unfailable, but consistently produces a loaf that is everything I want... and others seem to agree. At a recent meeing of the Pelham Slow Food Convivium, Reinholt raved that it tasted like the breads of his childhood in Germany... high praise indeed! Others have said it reminds them of an Italian loaf, and others that it has the texture and taste of a French country bread (not to be confused with the delicate and fine-textured French baguette... this is coarser, though there is a taste similarity).

Anyway, it's so easy and foolproof you can try it for yourself and see if it meets your requirements. Note: this recipe does take time... about 24 hours, so you do have to plan ahead!

The recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery as reprinted in the New York Times in November, 2006.

No-Knead Bread

3 Cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (I have found that regular yeast also works)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 Cups water

1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add the water, stirring until blended. The dough is sticky and messy... but it's supposed to be. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 to 20 hours.
2. The dough is ready when it is bubbly on the surface. Flour a work surface and pour out the dough onto it. Flour the top and fold it over on itself a few times, then cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Flour the dough again so it doesn't stick to your fingers as you shape it into a ball. Put the dough seam-side down on a floured surface, cover with floured tea towel and let it rise for about two hours. By then it should have doubled in size.
4. Put a heavy, lidded pot or casserole dish in the oven and set the temperature to 450. (I use a cast iron le Creusset pot and find it perfect, but any heavy enamel, cast iron or ceramic pot should work.) When the dough is ready and the oven is up to temperature, plop the dough into the hot pot. It is still soft and... well, doughy... so you can shake the pot to even it out before covering it with the lid and putting it in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes or so, until the surface is dark brown. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May: Niagara’s Farmers’ Markets

As any vacationer who has traveled in Europe will tell you, one of the highlights of any trip is a visit to the colourful, bustling markets that once or twice a week transform every town and village into a food festival. The idea of getting fresh food directly from the producer and creating meals around what is available or particularly appealing at the market is the very essence of Slow Food. Here in Niagara, we are lucky to have a variety of markets to visit, and lots of local producers who are eager to supply us with fresh, nutritious, delicious ingredients for family meals. While our markets don’t take over the centres of towns, and our market days are not quite the festive social occasions that European markets are and have been for hundreds of years, the Niagara markets do provide us with excellent local produce, a chance to meet and chat with the producers, and a social occasion for the community to get together in an informal celebration of good food.

Pelham Market: Our local Thursday afternoon market right beside the Town Hall in Fonthill features produce from greens to bread, from delicious snacks and full meals to fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and root crops… much of it organic. Add the evening concert in the adjacent pavilion, and you have An Event.

Welland Market: The biggest market in the region, Welland’s Saturday morning market features more than 65 vendors in and around two permanent buildings. Look for excellent meat and bakery selections along with the mounds of produce, flowers, cheese, herbs, and even local handicrafts. Don’t miss the elephant ears!

St. Catharines Market: A part of downtown St. Catharines since the mid 1800’s the St. Catharines Market puts about 40 vendors under an attractive glass and steel structure in the heart of the city. While it’s open Tuesday and Thursday, Saturday is when the place hums.

Smithville Market: Right in the heart of Niagara’s cash crop farming country, Smithville attracts a wide variety of producers to its market in the Convenience St. parking lot on Saturday mornings.

Grimsby Market: A very lively market that features 25 fulltime vendors and a community tent for local clubs and not-for-profit organizations, the Grimsby Market provides another Thursday evening option for shoppers. Look for cooking demonstrations by local chefs using ingredients right from the market on the Thursdays before a long weekend.

Brock University: Friday noontime, Brock is the place to be for an expanding market, intended to provide fresh, local food options for the students… but everyone is welcome. It’s in the Jubilee Courtyard behind Inniskillin Hall.

Port Colborne Market: Right at City Hall on Friday mornings, the Port Colborne Market is a lively outdoor collection of vendors who bring a wide variety of products to market, including baked goods, meats, and cheese, along with fresh local vegetables and fruit.

Niagara on the Lake Market: Held on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning, this small but growing market is actually between the Old Town and Virgil across from Jackson Triggs winery on Niagara Stone Road.

By shopping for our food at these markets, we can not only put fresh, nutritious food on our tables, but support local farmers and producers who add so much to the rural environment and character of our region; Regional Councilor, Brian Baty, pointed out in a recent column that if each resident of Niagara spent $10 on local groceries, we’d collectively pump $226 million into the local economy. And, the more people who shop for local goods at farmers’ markets, the louder the cry to supermarkets and those restaurants who haven’t yet got the message: “Give us locally produced, fresh, tasty, nutritious, good food!”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

April: Home Gardening

Slow Foodies are locovores. This does not mean that they are “loco” (though it doesn’t mean they aren’t either!); it refers to the emphasis that the Slow Food Movement puts on eating locally grown food. While we in Pelham are fortunate in having an abundance of local food producers, from farm gate and fruit stand sellers to the Pelham Market, there is nothing more local than a backyard garden.

This is the time of year to consider turning some of that useless grass in the backyard into a beautiful, useful, nutritious, and delicious vegetable garden. Have you ever stopped to consider how much time (not to mention gasoline and oil) we waste cutting grass in the name of a green carpet that has no use other than to look like everyone else’s green carpet? It’s estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of urban freshwater use goes into watering lawns, and the cost of keeping North American lawns beautiful is well over $25 billion annually. Converting even a little of your lawn to garden is not only satisfying and productive, it’s downright environmentally responsible!

Late April is a good time to plan your garden, decide what plants you’d like to grow, and choose a plot of land. In early May, you can turn the soil over, breaking up the turf as you go, and then turn it over again and rake it out before planting around the Victoria Day weekend. This is the traditional planting time in southern Canada, as it usually ensures that the last frost of the winter is behind us and the tender young plants have a good shot at growing up.

Avid gardeners will have already begun raising their tomatoes and peppers and herbs from seed in a cold frame or home greenhouse, so on the 24th of May they can transplant their seedlings into the prepared soil. For most of us, this is advanced gardening, and we are much more likely to bypass the seed stage in favour of buying seedlings from a grower just before putting them in the ground. Several growers have seedlings for sale at the Pelham Market, and they are always happy to give suggestions for planting and nurturing the young plants. Other vegetables like lettuce and carrots and beans and peas are grown right from seed, and the seeds, in infinite varieties can be purchased from garden centres or specialists like Tree and Twig (see below).

If you’re like me, an impediment to home gardening is a combination of laziness and travel. I’m not home for stretches of time during the summer months, and when I am around, I’m more likely to want to go fishing or cycling or hiking or… just about anything than plucking weeds out of the garden. As a result, I have become a big believer in biodegradable mulch. This stuff comes in long rolls of post-consumer recycled paper, and can be laid out between the rows of plants or used to cover the whole garden before holes are punched in it where the seedlings are planted. The mulch prevents weed growth, holds water in the soil, and attracts solar heat… all of which make your plants thrive. OK, it isn’t as pretty as well maintained, weed-free soil, raked and hoed to perfection, but it makes home gardening a do-able proposition for folks like me.

Here are few resources for home gardening information: This is the website of Tree and Twig in Wellandport… an absolutely fabulous resource for organically grown seedlings, including many heirloom varieties. Make note: Tree and Twig has its annual seedling sale on May 22and 23. This is the website of Canadian Gardening Magazine and has dozens of articles for everyone from the rank beginner to the semi-pro, geared to conditions in Canada. This is the site for beginning gardeners. It contains all the information and advice you need for getting started.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

March: Breakfast

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day, as folk lore (and probably your mother) would have it? For those of us who find eating breakfast a chore and would just as soon skip the meal entirely except for a couple of cups of coffee, the answer is depressing. Yup. Studies clearly show that eating breakfast has a multitude of benefits… more than either of the other two main meals of the day.
Several studies of school children have made it clear that for children and adolescents especially, a healthy breakfast is a huge factor in the ability to concentrate, problem solve, and perform tasks requiring hand-eye co-ordination. Additionally, breakfast provides increased strength and endurance for physical tasks.

There is also clear evidence that a healthy breakfast is an important factor in weight loss. Those who skip breakfast calories more than make up the caloric intake later in the day, either by eating high sugar snacks (like doughnuts or candy bars) to keep them going during the morning, or by having a larger lunch. The National Weight Control Registry reveals that of people who lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for a year, more than 80 per cent regularly eat breakfast.

There’s an important factor here: not just any breakfast will produce the beneficial results. We’re talking about a nutritional breakfast, one high in lean protein and fibre. No doughnuts, no high-sugar processed cereal, no white bread with jam. Many nutritionists say that the best way to get a good shot of lean protein in the morning is to eat an egg with pea meal (Canadian) bacon, while fibre can be added with whole grain cereal or bread. How you cook your egg and bacon also has an effect: a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg, for example, gives you 51 per cent of all the saturated fat you should have in an entire day, 86 per cent of the cholesterol, and 39 per cent of the salt! Boiled or poached eggs are best, but any preparation that uses a minimum of fat and salt will provide the protein you want without the nasty stuff.

So, according to nutritionists, an ideal breakfast might be two boiled eggs, a slice of Canadian bacon, whole wheat toast, and an orange. But what about those of us who find breakfast a) a chore to undertake first thing in the morning, and b) more than we care to put in our stomachs before heading off to work or school? While it isn’t perfect, a thoughtfully concocted Smoothie will supply many of the benefits of the ideal breakfast without the hassle or bulk.

My recipe for a breakfast Smoothie is infinitely variable, and there are lots of good recipes out there (try for example). But I’ve been enjoying this morning drink for years, and find it (along with two cups of strong coffee) both gives me a good start to the day and keeps me from snacking until lunch. Far from being a chore to drink, it tastes like a fruit milkshake.

Breakfast Smoothie
Put 1 to 1 ½ cups of orange, pineapple, or other juice in a blender. With the blender running, add ½ cup of yogurt, ½ frozen banana, ¾ cup frozen fruit (strawberries, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are favorites), ¼ cup of whey protein (available at health food and other stores), and ½ cup of granola or other whole grain cereal. When all the ingredients are dissolved and the shake has a smooth consistency, it’s ready to drink. Hint: While the blender is running, make sure you have the lid on and add the frozen stuff through the feed tube, or you’ll redecorate your kitchen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February: Jerusalem Artichokes

The Jerusalem Artichoke is the ugly step sister in the world of root vegetables. Even the lowly parsnip is more appealing-looking, and maybe this accounts for its almost complete anonymity. No one seems to know what it is or what to do with it. And yet, here is an indigenous vegetable, native to our area, that is easily grown in any garden, and quite tasty if prepared with imagination.

First, let’s dispense with the myths. The Jerusalem Artichoke is neither an artichoke nor from the Holy Land. It is a member of the sunflower family, and its stems and flowers are very much like small sunflowers. There are several theories about the “Jerusalem” part; the one I like is that it’s a corruption of the Italian for sunflower: “girasole.” Samuel de Champlain, the early explorer of much of eastern Canada, sent samples back to France and said they tasted like artichokes, so maybe we have him to thank for the mistaken “artichoke” part of the name. Current practice is to call the plant “Sunchoke” in order to get away from the Jerusalem/sunflower misnomer, and one promoter tried to popularize the name “Canadian potato” without any success.

It is the root or tuber that is cultivated, and it grows vigorously. If left alone, it will quickly spread and take over your whole garden. The root is gnarly and irregular in shape, usually around 10 cm long, and light brown. Sunchokes (let’s call them that from now on) are not too common in grocery stores, unfortunately, but from time to time they will appear in the produce section. The tuber is rich in fructose because, like other members of its family, it produces inulin rather than starch and is used in the production of sugar, thanks to its high crop yields and ease of cultivation.

Unfortunately, the Sunchoke has a strike against it as a table vegetable: many people don’t digest inulin very well, and this leads to a… um… indelicate after-effect. In the words of Gerard’s Herbal (1661) quoting planter John Goodyer, “which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men." OK, this is over the top, but there is no question that in some people, the Sunchoke has the same effect that beans are famous for. Enough said on that subject.

Sunchokes can be eaten raw or cooked, but require a delicate hand in cooking; they cook much faster than potatoes and can become mushy quite quickly. Steaming is a better option than boiling. Raw, they may be chopped or shredded and used in salads as a tasty and unusual addition. Young, freshly harvested ones are best for this purpose, as they are more tender and have a finer texture. Like potatoes and apples, Sunchokes will darken with exposure to air, so once they are cut, mixing them with a little lemon juice will keep them from discolouring.

Most often, Sunchokes are used as an interesting alternative to potatoes or parsnips in virtually any recipe. There are many recipes for Sunchoke and leek soup, Sunchoke and potato gratin, and Sunchoke chowder. I have put them in the roasting pan to bake alongside roast beef, and they absorb some of the beef dripping flavour… a very nice side dish served whole on the plate with sweet potatoes. Just don’t overcook them: about half the time that potatoes would take is enough to make the Sunchokes firm but tender.

The Pelham Slow Food Convivium has its own page on the Slow Food Canada website, where events and activities are announced and reviewed .

To contact Renée Girard, the leader of the Pelham Convivium regarding membership, activities, or other information, write to .

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Slow Food Pelham's January Meeting

Slow Food Pelham's meetings are gastronomic events in themselves. This month, Renee specified that our pot-luck theme would be Scandanavian food... a decision that was not met with universal enthusiasm, but which turned out to be inspired. The Slow Foodies seated communally around Renee and Daniel's long table in front of the fireplace were treated to pickled herring with red cabbage, home made gravlox with capers, potato and vegetable casserole, fried Scanadavian-style bread cheese, boiled potatoes with various sauces... and for dessert, licorice pudding, whipped cream-stuffed buns, and fruit soup. Not a Swedish meatball in sight.

We'll soon be posting all the recipes from our pot-luck dinners on the Pelham Convivium section of the Slow Foods Canada website.

This was a planning meeting, so various projects were put forward and these will form the framework of our upcoming year.
  • a Slow Food cycling tour around Pelham and neighbouring regions. This will be in the form of a map-brochure which will outline routes that will take cyclists past local food producers, from cheese shops to market gardens to organic growers to bakeries. Once this has been completed, we will discuss having a one-day cycling event.
  • a Slow Food oriented dinner at the Keefer Mansion in Thorold
  • a repeat of last year's Cassoulet evening... this time to be held at Alvento Winery in Vineland
  • an arranged tour of Upper Canada Cheese
  • a repeat of the tour of Clos Jordanne
  • visits to local farms and gardens such as Vivek's greens, and Mr. Knight's exemplary garden in Ridgeville
  • a "foraging" evening featuring wild plants, vegetables, and mushrooms, along with game... in conjunction with a talk by Adam Shoalts who writes the natural world column for The Voice of Pelham
  • a presence at the Pelham Market, perhaps in the form of comparison tastings of local and imported produce
  • and the annual Featherstone Winery lamb roast in early September

Saturday, January 2, 2010

January: Cooking Under Pressure: Slow Food… Fast

The term “Slow Food” is often misunderstood. As I’ve noted in this column in the past, when I first heard of the organization I assumed it was devoted to taking a long time to cook savoury meals. Instead, the term was coined in reaction to everything that “fast food” represents, from poor quality ingredients of unknown origin to hastily gobbled meals served in plastic environments. “Slow food” can actually be cooked quite quickly, so long as the ingredients are of high quality and locally produced, and the meal is consumed in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere. A stir-fry, for example, can and should be very quickly cooked from the highest quality ingredients.

However, it is often the case that “slow food” is, indeed, the product of cooking techniques that take time. I think of slow-cooked stews and pot roasts, pasta sauces and soups, chili, pulled pork, and tagine. The slow cooker is an ideal technique for these dishes and provides an excellent method for busy cooks to produce slow-simmered meals easily and conveniently. Another, and in many ways superior, method of cooking these hearty “winter” meals is the pressure cooker.

Apparently, interest in the pressure cooker is reviving in Canada. Very popular in the post-war years, the device suffered from poor manufacturing standards and difficult to use technology and fell into disfavour in the 1960’s after widely publicized kitchen disasters involving exploding pot roasts and kitchens redecorated with pressure-applied soup. In Europe and Asia, pressure cookers never disappeared, and it is manufacturers from those parts of the world that are now supplying the high-tech, safe, foolproof pressure cookers now on the market here.

Why use a pressure cooker? There are four reasons to consider cooking under pressure: speed, nutrition, flavour, and economy.

Pressure cooked meals take about one third as long as the same meal cooked conventionally. In other words, you can produce a delicious pot roast that has all the attributes of a long-simmered, carefully tended meal in less than an hour. And it will have retained more of the nutrients, taste better, and cost less to make than the stove-top or oven version.

Because the meal is cooked in a sealed environment, nothing is boiled off or allowed to escape. Vegetables retain virtually all of their nutrients (and their vivid colour) in contrast with boiling or even steaming which leach the nutrients out of the food. Furthermore, pressure cooking requires no fat or oil. And the taste of the original food is retained the same way that nutrients are. The only way to get food that tastes better or has more nutritional value is to eat it raw.

As for economy, pressure cooking uses less energy because it takes less time and is cooked at lower heat than any other method. It also allows the use of cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, since the pressure process tenderizes as it cooks. A demonstration of the first pressure cooker in the 17th century for King Charles II of England and The Royal Society reduced “ the bones of beef, the best for clearness and good relish, and the most delicious that I had ever seen, or tasted” according to one of the guests.

So what’s the down side? Darned if I know. I’ve used a pressure cooker for about 40 years, moving from one of the old “rocker top” models to a high-tech, double-valved, gleaming, Italian job that is as functional as it is impressive-looking. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, adapted from The New Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Pat Dailey.

Capitol Bean Soup
(reputed to be the soup served in the Senate dining room on Capitol Hill in Washington)

½ lb Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained
4 Cups water
1 large smoked ham hock or smoked turkey thigh
1 small onion minced
1 stalk of celery minced
2 Bay leaves
Combine all the ingredients in the pressure cooker and bring up to full pressure. Reduce heat to maintain 15 lb. pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Release the pressure and remove the Bay leaves and hock. With the back of a spoon, mash some of the beans to thicken the soup and add the shredded meat from the hock along with salt and pepper to taste.