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.

Ugly Bread

Ever have one of those days where it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, what you’re working on refuses to turn out quite right? Well, I had one of those days the other day. I made German beer Bread from page 19 of World Breads: From Pain de Campagne to Paratha (Paul Gayler, 2006), which I have made (and adored) many times before and, well…

It turned out ugly. I know I didn’t have a loaf pan to bake it in at the in-laws’ cottage, but I didn’t expect it to turn out so unappealing-looking. I mean, the marbled pesto bread turned out just fine. Maybe this kind of bread really needs a mould to keep it from going so weird. Maybe I used too much flour, or the day was too damp. I don’t know. But I have to say that this is the most unattractive bread that I’ve ever baked.

It still smelled heavenly, and it tasted great slathered in butter and served alongside smoked salmon and sautéed veggies for dinner. Looks aren’t everything, after all. If I had to choose between food that looks good or tastes good, I’d take taste any day of the week. But if I’m going to put that much effort into something, I’d also like it to look at least a little appetizing!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Well, my garden definitely doesn’t grow with silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row. I mean, outside of the historical explanations, the plants in the “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” nursery rhyme were all flowers, and I’m just not that big into flowers. I love to look at a beautiful flower garden, no question, but when it comes to growing my own plants, I prefer something that I can eat. Although last year I did grow a bunch of nasturtiums, which serve both purposes; both the flowers and the leaves are edible, and the leaves make a lovely, slightly-peppery pesto.

This year I skipped the nasturtiums, as well as my usual crop of pumpkins. I usually plant my pumpkins along the fence line, but this year we were supposed to get a new fence installed, and I knew that the installation would kill the delicate vines. Now the installation has been delayed until September (much to my great frustration), but I’m still kind of glad that I didn’t plant any gourds this year. It has been an incredibly wet summer so far (I’ve only had to water the garden once), and with all that water comes earwigs, which will eat all the fruit from a squash vine before it has the chance to grow more than a few centimeters in diameter.

Banana peppers were a late addition to my garden, but they are growing well despite the cooler summer we’re experiencing. Any hot peppers that I grow this summer will be incorporated into hot sauce come fall, which I can and then save to give out at Christmas.

My parsley, even more so than my other herbs, is trying to take over the world — which is why I plant herbs in pots instead of directly in my garden. After my successful attempt at tabbouleh the other day, I have a feeling that this plant will become our main source for this dish this season. I think I’d prefer a higher ratio of parsley to bulgur next time, so the plant will be used up even faster, unless its growth rate increases. Herbs generally fare better with pruning, so it could happen.

My Swiss chard is coming up nicely. I’ve never actually grown this plant before, but I was inspired by my friend’s garden last year. The rainbow colours of the stems are gorgeous. I made pickles of the stems last year, and much to my dismay the colour leached out of the stems into the pickling liquid over time, leaving the stems a pale, flaccid cream colour. What a shame. Maybe this year I will freeze the excess stems instead to saute or steam at a later date.

My tomatoes are coming up nicely, although I think that they, along with the rest of my garden, could use a few more sunny days. Some of the plants are almost as tall as me, although their yield so far seems lower than last year.

Oh, and we’ve already had our first harvest! It was just a small handful of peas, but they were quite delicious according to my children, who were very happy with their haul. The girls really like being able to wander into the yard and pick food directly from the plant. My response when they ask me to do so is invariably yes (so long as the food is ready for harvesting). I really have no complaints if they want to eat more fruits and veggies.

The Scone Witch

One of my favourite places ever to eat lunch is The Scone Witch. I started eating there years ago, back when they only had one location on Albert Street. The restaurant/cafe was in easy walking distance on a lunch break when I worked downtown, and I must have popped in at least once a week. Since then, they have moved their flagship restaurant, and they have three locations in total: one on Elgin (near City Hall), one on Beechwood (across from the Metro and adjacent to Books On Beechwood, which is just as tempting to me as The Scone Witch but for totally different reasons), and an express counter on Cyrville (across from Home Depot). Yes, I actually did like this restaurant before it was cool. How hipster of me.


The Scone Witch entrance at 33 Beechwood.

I am happy to say that the quality of their food has not suffered as the company has expanded. Their scones are flaky, their sandwich fillings generous and tasty, and their side dishes remain scrumptious. Service-wise, I think that increased experience only makes things better. At their pilot location, service was sometimes slow and the restaurant was often over-crowded — which, to be sure, was a problem with running a successful restaurant at downtown, where all office-workers seem to take lunch at the same time. I did make a point of trying to come by in non-prime hours when I could, and that did help a lot. But now that there are different (and more spacious) locations, and the staff is more seasoned, I find that things run more smoothly. Mind you, I haven’t braved the Elgin location at noon recently, either. I think that’s for the best.


The main counter at the Beechwood location.

I think that, over time, I have come to try everything on The Scone Witch’s main menu, although I may have missed some of the seasonal dishes. My favourite is the poached salmon with cucumber SconeWitch, closely followed by the bacon cheese melt. But honestly, I wouldn’t turn down anything on their menu, it’s all mouth-watering.


Poached salmon with cucumber SconeWitch with mushroom soup.

So if you can, head out to The Scone Witch for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. You will not be disappointed. And hey, if they are super-busy and you can’t find a seat, you can always get their food to go — or, in the case of the Cyrville location, that’s the only way it’s offered. If it’s not pouring rain (and this summer, there’s a good likelihood that it may be), bring your take-out to a nearby park and enjoy a picnic. I believe that there are city parks within easy walking distance of all three locations.

Maple Rhubarb Crisp & Maple Leaf Cookies

I was trying to be as Canadian as possible this week and made maple rhubarb crisp from the recipe on page 116 of Sweet Ontario Pure Maple Syrup: Our favourite Maple Recipes, which is published by the Ontario Mable Syrup Producers’ Association. I picked up a copy of this cookbook this past weekend at the Cumberland Farmers’ Market, which is where I also picked up the rhubarb for the recipe. I didn’t purchase any good Ontario maple syrup at the time, but only because I already had two big jugs in my fridge. Can’t get much more local than that!


Maple rhubarb crisp topped with non-dairy whipped topping

I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. The crisp was the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I’m really looking forward to trying other recipes in this cookbook, such as the french toast casserole and maple BBQ chicken.

Of course, I had to check out some of the Canada-150-themed foods that are being sold in preparation for the big day. The above cookie was from a two-cookie decorating kit that retails at Walmart for $1.50. They aren’t half bad, given the price! My kids are going to decorate their own tomorrow. For an American company, Walmart carries an awful lot of Canadiana. But as the Arrogant Worms quipped in The Mountie Song:

“Where would you get a tank?”
“Walmart.”
“Oh.”

Speaking of the Arrogant Worms, here’s their song Proud to be Canadian, from the album Live Bait.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Canada Day!

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are in season! It has been especially wet this year, causing a delay in planting crops, and some planted fields being flooded out. So I was a little bit worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get one of my favourite local spring crops — one that generally only shows up at farmers’ markets in the first place, and rarely in stores. However, even fiddleheads are starting to be available in the fresh fruit & vegetable aisles, so maybe garlic scapes are not far behind. I spotted the scapes first this year at the booth in front of Orleans Fruit Farm, which means they’ll probably be available at the farmers’ markets this coming weekend.

Although they may look like the tentacles of Cthulhu, garlic scapes aren’t a plant in their own right, unlike, say, garlic chives, which are a variety of chives that have a garlicky flavour. Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011) has a pretty comprehensive write-up about them starting on page 243. Their description is as follows:

Not long ago, scapes were fairly rare in North America. Now, with more market gardeners growing garlic, we are seeing more of the fresh green flower stalks showing up around the end of June or beginning of July. Scapes are tender and very tasty stems that are cut from the garlic in order to allow the plant to put all of its energy in to growing the bulbs that will be harvested in the fall. These lightly garlic-scented vegetables can be grilled, steamed or poached. Treat them as you would asparagus or green beans, and use them in casseroles, soups and stews.

Preserving goes on to explain the best ways to preserve scapes (freezing being preferred), and has recipes for garlic scape relish, garlic scape pesto, and garlic scape pesto potatoes. Now, I bought this cookbook years after I developed an appreciation for scapes, so when I make garlic scape pesto I use the recipe that Roadapple Ranch would tuck into each bag of scapes that they sold at market; they have also made their simple and delicious garlic scape pesto recipe available online.

Pesto is a quick, simple green sauce served over fresh-cooked pasta, but it’s also great:

– drizzled on top of fried eggs or mixed into scrambled eggs
– spread on bread as a sandwich spread or burger topping
– baked on top of bruscetta, garlic bread, or crostini
– diluted with oil and vinegar to become a salad dressing
– mixed with cream cheese, yogurt, mayo, or sour cream as part of a dip (or mix pesto with your non-dairy version of these products — those averse to dairy will want to make a cheese-free version of the pesto)
– on top of baked or mashed potatoes
– as a marinade or sauce for chicken, lamb, pork chops, shrimp, and some kinds of fish (salmon is the first one that comes to mind)
– used as a replacement for traditional tomato pizza sauce (especially useful for people like a friend of mine who is allergic to nightshade plants, i.e. potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant)

Me, I am dying to try garlic scape pesto in the Marbled Pesto Bread on page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2001) or the Pesto Sourdough Loaf on page 91 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). But given how much I like garlic scapes, there’s a good chance mine will be grilled or steamed for dinner before I have a chance to incorporate them into bread. Not that I’m too worried; I still have a number of jars of homemade pesto in the freezer from last year, simply because I made so much. I guess I’d better get cracking on eating those up!

Ottawa Farmers’ Market

I had my first chance to check out this year’s Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne Park this past Sunday. This being Canada (first outdoor plantings generally happen during the Victoria Day weekend at the end of May) and especially with the flooding we’ve had this spring, there wasn’t a lot of fresh produce out yet. We probably have at least a couple of weeks before garlic scapes (one of my all-time favourite ingredients) start coming into season. However, there were lots of baked goods, preserves, freshly-cooked food, and locally-grown plants. It was a rainy, chilly day, but we still had a lovely time. First came the exploring:


The Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne Park, with the Aberdeen Pavilion (also known as the “Cattle Castle”) on the left.


Potted herbs for sale.


Maple Country Sugar Bush


Acorn Creek Garden Farm


DiversiTea


Asparagus


The Right Bite

Then of course we had to stop for lunch:


The Hot Potato Company


My baked potato wedge poutine from The Hot Potato Company


Raon Kitchen


Thing 1’s chicken bimbap from Raon Kitchen

Then of course we had to get dessert; this week it was tarts from Savoury Pursuits Fine Foods:


Savoury Pursuits Fine Foods

And then back to exploring!


Linda’s Garden

The weather is promising to be much nicer this coming weekend — actually summery weather in June, who’d’ve thunk it? Here are some of the local markets that are running this (and every) weekend until fall:

Ottawa Farmers’ Market: Orleans
Thursdays, 12:00pm – 7:00pm
Ray Friel Center, 1585 Tenth Line

Cumberland Farmers’ Market
Saturdays, 8:00am – 1:00pm
R.J. Kennedy Community Centre / Cumberland Arena, 1115 Dunning Road

Ottawa Farmers’ Market: Byron Park – Westboro
Saturdays, 9:30am – 3:00pm
Byron Park, 432-454 Richmond Road

Ottawa Farmers’ Market – Lansdowne Park
Sundays, 9:00am – 3:00pm
Aberdeen Square, Lansdowne Park, 450 Queen Elizabeth Drive