The Country Garden

I’m a city girl, but I’ve been in and out of farmland since childhood. Ottawa’s a pretty small city, and it is surrounded by (and encompasses) a great deal of agricultural property. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in town that is more than a 45-minute drive from planted fields (traffic aside, of course).


Sign at the farm at 1900 Kerr Line, Foresters Falls, Ontario

Once you get out of the city proper, you start seeing lots of signs like the one above for home-based businesses selling produce and goods that were grown, raised, or made on the property. However, there has been a sharp decline in the number of little sheds that I saw as a child at the end of just about every farm lane. I don’t know what has changed that caused them to become unused; did they become unprofitable to staff? If the booths were unmanned and ran on the honour system, was there just too much theft to make them profitable? Too much spoilage? Was it caused by the change over years in how farms are being run (increasingly, one large farm produces only a few select things and brings everything else in based on the profits, versus the older model of many smaller farms that fed their residents first and then sold the excess, if there was one)? Is it just because there are fewer people living on farms overall, as machines replace manual labour? Or is it because as the larger farms buy up their neighbours’ land, they leave the homes on the property to sit empty? A combination of all of the above, possibly in addition to factors I know nothing about?


Roadside sign for The Country Garden.


The Country Garden’s main area.

However, there are still a few roadside booths going strong. The Country Garden on Queen’s Line is the best example of a successful booth that I know of. The farm itself appears to be tended with a great deal of care. The grass is mowed up to the road, the fruit trees are neatly trimmed, there are flowers planted at the base of all the signs and hanging baskets wherever they’ll fit, the dirt road is without major potholes. And the food, oh the food… I make a point of stopping there every time we’re in that neck of the woods, and I’ve been going for almost ten years now.

The Country Garden is unmanned unless it is being stocked, and hence it runs on the honour system. There is some security in the shape of a lock box and a security camera. This seems to work out well for them overall, although there have been hiccups. Inside the shed there is a board with photos of people who have stolen from the Garden before, along with pictures and a written request for people to help in identifying the thieves. I don’t have a lot of patience with thieves in general, but I think it’s pretty despicable to steal from a small business like that.

The shelves on the outside of the main booth (shed?) are stocked up every day with fresh-picked produce from the farm (which I believe is run by the Martin family). This time of year there is a plenitude of tomatoes, peas, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, and green onions. Of course, this varies by season; I’ve been by in the fall when there are literal trailer-loads of squash for sale.


Inside the shed/booth.


Of course I had to buy a blueberry pie.

Inside the shed (booth?) are shelves lined with preserves, some of which come directly from the farm and others from Horst Homebaking (another local business, which is run by Noreen Horst at 74 Government Road (Foresters Falls, Ontario)). All of the preserves I’ve bough from The Country Garden have been bursting with flavour and not over-sweet, which is exactly how I like them. There is also a fridge that is re-stocked daily with eggs, fresh-baked pies and tarts that would make Dean Winchester weep, pepperettes, and sausages. The freezer is regularly refilled with cuts of beef and homemade ice cream bars.

There are photos on display of the family working on the farm; by their garb I would guess they are Mennonites, but I am not 100% sure. Most of what I know about Mennonites is based on the food I have bought from their booths at farmers’ markets — which has invariably been delicious.

Occasionally there are crafts for sale, like the above ride-on toy digger.

And there are often ornamental plants and hanging plants on offer as well.

If The Country Garden is still running for another ten years, as I hope it will be, I plan on buying fresh local produce and goods from them for all of that time. They don’t exactly have a web presence, but I can tell you that they’re open seasonally Monday through Saturday. They only take cash and, as you’ll have to deposit your payment in the lock box, you’ll need exact change. The Country Garden is located at 3024 Queens Line (Foresters Falls, Ontario), just down from the intersection of Queen’s Line and Acres Road, and close to Queen’s Line United Church (currently not in use). I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area. You won’t regret it. Come early if you can, as their stock can run low later in the day.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter Recipe

One of my favourite things in the world to can is fruit butters, which are basically fruit that has been cooked, blended, and then boiled down to reduce the moisture content until the end result is smooth and spreadable. Simmering off the water increases both the flavour and the acidity, so fruit butters need less sweetening for taste or for preservation purposes. Fruit butters are a simple, wholesome kind of preserve that historically, in Canada, was a common way to make fruits last the winter. These days, they are made and eaten all year long, although most home canning happens in the summer and early fall when fruits are freshest and at their most plentiful.

Contrary to what the name may indicate, fruit butters actually don’t usually contain any dairy products, although some recipes call for a dollop of butter to prevent frothing (which I usually forgo and instead skim the froth). They are generally vegetarian and can be made vegan through proper sourcing of ingredients — as I’ve previously mentioned, some varieties of sugar use bone char as part of the filter process, so if that’s important to you, you’ll have to do your homework when choosing a brand to buy.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter will last up to a year when properly canned.

Fruit butters have easily as many uses as jams or jellies, including (but not limited to):

– a spread on bread, toast, or biscuits;
– a filling in donuts, cookies, muffins, croissants, turnovers, and tarts;
– a topping for ice cream;
– a mix-in for yogurt;
– a topping for pancakes or crepes;
– mixed with cream cheese to make a quick dip for fresh fruit or crackers; or
– an ingredient in fruit butter bread (apple being the most common)

Strawberry-rhubarb butter is the latest fruit butter I’ve made, and I’ve found that it perfectly encapsulates the tastes of late spring/early summer. Since the ingredients cook down, it’s a great way to use up rhubarb — especially if you’re searching for ways to use the stalks from an over-producing plant! I prefer to cook it in a combination of the microwave and the crock pot, because both are less prone to burning than cooking on the stove. The quickest way to ruin a batch of fruit butter is to scald it; you’ll never get rid of that burnt taste. If you choose to cook on the stove, you will have to watch your ingredients like a hawk, stir constantly, and adjust your cooking times. For these reasons, if you have a microwave and a crock pot, I highly recommend using them.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter on Dad’s biscuits.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter
Yields seven 250mL jars

Wash and chop until you have:
1Kg (about 8 cups) rhubarb, any variety
Place the rhubarb into a microwave-safe casserole dish with:
1/2 cup water
Cover and microwave in 3-minute increments, stirring every time you check for doneness, until the rhubarb are falling apart (approximately 15 minutes). Set rhubarb aside.
Repeat this process, cooking each fruit separately, with:
1.2Kg (about 8 cups) strawberries + 1/2 cup water
1Kg (about 8 cups) apples (any variety) + 1/2 cup water
While apples are cooking, put the rhubarb and its cooking liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour rhubarb puree into crock pot. Repeat puree step with strawberries and their cooking liquid, and when they are cooked, the apples and their liquid.
To the crock pot add:
400g sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
Stir until all elements are well combined.
Set crock pot on high and cook until resulting butter is a little bit thinner than the desired final product (fruit butter will thicken slightly as it cools). This usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Cooking more than 48 hours is not recommended as the butter will develop a burned taste. If fruit has not thickened enough after 48 hours, finish the thickening process on the stove top, stirring regularly to prevent scalding.
Fill 250mL jars leaving 6mm head space. Process in a hot water canning bath for 30 minutes after the water returns to a boil. This fruit butter will last up to a year when processed. Alternately, the butter may simply be refrigerated for up to three weeks, or frozen (leaving additional head space for expansion) for up to six months.

Blossoms

Now that I live in a house with a proper yard, I’ve decided to try to grow some of my own food. I don’t think it saves me any money (especially the first few years, with all the set-up and trial and error), but I am proud of the food that I grow, and I know it’s as fresh as can be. I’ve never been one for taking care of purely ornamental plants, but I wish I’d started at least with basic herb pots years earlier — those things are very difficult to kill, and the fresh flavour is unparalleled.

One of the things I’m cultivating, since I do have the room and I do like shade, is fruit trees. Until a few days ago they were all in bloom, hopefully meaning that I’ll have a decent fruit yield this year. I know that flowers don’t mean that I’ll necessarily get any edible fruit, but without blossoms I definitely won’t get anything.


Pear tree.

The first tree to bloom was my pear tree, which I planted only three years ago — and this was the first time there were any flowers! It’s what I like to call my “mutant tree”, because it’s actually four kinds of pear grafted onto a single tree (it used to be five, but one branch died). Only two of the four main branches bloomed this year, but who knows if the maturity rate of all of the kinds of pears is the same? The rest of the branches are still alive, at any rate. I didn’t do the right kind of research before I planted this tree, because the blossoms do not smell very nice — which is apparently pretty common. Ah well, they don’t flower for very long, and it will be a number of years before there are enough blossoms to perfume the air; the tree is still shorter than me. The odor also isn’t very intense, since right now I have to stick my nose almost touching to smell anything at all.


Plum tree.

I was thrilled that my plum tree flowered as well; I only planted it early last year, and it didn’t flower then — and then Japanese beetles ate all of the leaves. I honestly didn’t think the poor tree would survive the winter. We shall see if the beetles return this year! They’re not quite in season yet. I would be happy if I never saw another one, to be honest. They are persistent pests that can decimate a garden, although the only plant they were interested in that I planted last year was my plum tree.


Apple tree.

The tree that I was least surprised to see flower this year was my apple tree. It came with the house, and it was probably planted about thirty years ago, when the neighborhood was new. I’m not entirely sure what kind of apple tree it is; the fruit is yellow-green when ripe, and ripens late into September, much later than a lot of the farmed apples around here. This indicates to me that it’s some kind of wild apple crossbreed (there are lots of those), or possibly a (or partly a) Russian Antonovka tree. It also seems to flower only every second year, and this is a boom year.


Apple tree.

This tree was very unhealthy when we first moved in. There were lots of dead branches, the apples all had apple scab… But I’ve trimmed back the dead wood, and (hopefully) taken care of the root of the apple scab. Last time this tree bloomed, it produced hundreds of pounds of fruit. It’s even healthier now, so I expect the yield will be even greater — especially if the sheer number of flowers is any indication.