It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

I finally started to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit this weekend, probably because on Friday afternoon my yard looked like this:

And by Sunday it looked like this:

Many of my friends and family bemoaned the precipitation and freezing temperatures, but I always like a bit of snow before Christmas. A green Christmas just isn’t very Christmas-y to me. That being said, it’s supposed to go up to 9°C (48.2°F) on Tuesday, so it’s not like this is going to last.

It really put me in the mood for Christmas shopping, though. Unlike in the States, where the holiday buying season appears to officially start as soon as the clocks strike midnight the day after American Thanksgiving, we don’t really have a traditional time to begin. Some people shop all year ’round. Some companies put out their Christmas merchandise at the same time as they’re building their Halloween displays (which is a little early to me, but oh well). For me, all of the Halloween debris has to be cleared away and there has to be some snow on the ground for me to feel like shopping for gifts — although I have been known to pick things up six months in advance if the opportunity arises at a great price.

I went with my mother, Thing 1, and Thing 2 to a number of craft fairs on Saturday, but one of my perennial favourites was the one held at Cairine Wilson High School. It’s a huge fair; it packs full the big gym, the little gym, the hallways, and the cafeteria. Given the number of booths, I’m bound to find something that I know someone will like.

But even if I don’t find the perfect gift for someone, it’s a lot of fun to check out the wares of local craftspeople. This is one of the few times of year that a lot of these people make their work available to the public; many craftspeople work all year by themselves to make enough stock for one or two holiday shows.

After hitting a few craft fairs, we rushed home so that the kids could get changed into their uniforms and we could drive out to Epiphany Anglican Church where the Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea is held every year. Since I’d gone to all of the effort of baking brownies for the tea, I pretty much had to attend. It’s always a lovely time, with such cheerful little servers and so many delicious treats on which to nosh.

I may have kind of taken a picture of some of the sweets for our table after I’d already nabbed the chocolate ones. Just maybe. I think that the next to go was that shortbread on the bottom right, since I’m a sucker for those too.

Crab Apple Jelly

A while back a friend of mine offered to let me pick crab apples from trees just outside of her back yard, on land that is owned by her community association. She has been picking apples from those trees for years in order to make crab apple jelly, as have a number of other neighbours who are inclined to make preserves. These totally wild, untended trees produce an overabundance of fruit every year, and the canners in the neighbourhood only make a tiny dent in that. I’d never made jelly before, but I figured sure, why not? I love cooking with ingredients that I can harvest locally, especially when that harvest is free!

The first thing that I realized is that making jelly is a lot more difficult than making jam. After washing all the tiny little apples and making sure to remove all leaves and stems, you have to cut them all in half. Sometimes the fruit can be wormy or rotten inside even though the outside is pristine, and cutting it in half means that you can check every single one. Then you have to cook the fruit, strain it through a jelly bag (being careful not to squeeze the bag so that the jelly will remain clear), boil the resulting juice along with sugar and any additional ingredients until set, and then finally can it.

After all that work, I was really happy that I liked the end result. Crab apple jelly is packed with tart flavour, even with all of the added sugar. I’m definitely going to make more next year. I’ll be sure to pick twice or even three times as much fruit. It’s not like the neighbourhood wildlife will miss the relatively small quantities that I will use.

One of the things that I was surprised about regarding crab apple jelly is how many of my preserving cookbooks don’t have a recipe for it. Not only that, but some of them don’t even consider crab apples to be a fruit worth canning. I find that odd because a) they’re very tasty, b) they are winter hardy in northern climes, and can even grow wild, and c) they’re often planted in orchards among the larger apple trees because it helps with pollination. They’re also a very popular ornamental tree, so it’s not like crab apples are hard to come by, either. The books that I have that included a crab apple jelly recipe are, in no particular order:

Joy of Cooking page 932, or on the app (Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition)
Pickles & Preserves page 58 (Love Food, 2012)
The Complete Preserving Book page 92 (Canadian Living, 2012)
The Good Cook: Preserving page 94 (Time-Life Books, 1981)
Preserving page 166 (Oded Schwartz, 1996)

Although there are many variations when it comes to additional ingredients such as lemon juice, lime juice, or in one case hot peppers, all of the recipes seem to agree on a ratio of 1:1 of volume of strained juice to white sugar.

As an aside, if you’re interested in harvesting unused fruit from local sources and aren’t up to approaching homeowners/tenants on your own (although if you’re shy, a politely-worded letter is often well-received), you could volunteer for an organization here in Ottawa called Hidden Harvest. The group harvests fruits and nuts that would otherwise go to waste on public and private property. When the bounty is harvested, one quarter goes to the homeowner, one quarter goes to the volunteer harvesters, one quarter goes to the nearest food agency, and one quarter goes to Hidden Harvest. The portion kept by Hidden Harvest goes to their sponsors, who in turn help pay to run the organization. Last year alone the group harvested almost 4,500lbs of fruit and nuts, and donated almost 2,000lbs of that to charity.

In my case, I’m a homeowner whose apple tree drops hundreds of pounds of fruit every year, and I’d love to be able to have Hidden Harvest come and take most of the fruit away. I don’t need nearly so much. However, I’ll have to deal with that poor tree’s apple scab first. And my poor little pear tree‘s harvest of four pears this year isn’t worth volunteering. Perhaps when it grows a little bigger. Next year I’m seriously considering becoming a volunteer harvester, though. As for this year, I understand that apples with apple scab can actually make a better hard cider, so if any cider-makers want to clean the rest of the apples off of my tree, they’re welcome to them.

Maybe one of these days I should just buy/make a cider press.

Cumberland Farmers’ Market — Harvest Market

Not this past Sunday but the Sunday before (October 1st), I headed out to the Cumberland Village Heritage Museum for the Harvest Market. This farmers’ market is usually held on Saturdays from mid-June to mid-September in front of the R.J. Kennedy Community Centre. This was a special, end-of-season event, though, so it was held at a larger, more interesting venue. As a bonus, admission to the museum was free! My kids were thrilled, especially Thing 1, who had visited the museum with her class and was excited to show it all to her little sister. My husband headed with the children toward the heritage and reproduction buildings from the 1920’s and 30’s (with special attention paid by the girls to the farm animals). I, on the other hand, got a chance to enjoy the beautiful weather and peruse the market for a short time on my own, which was lovely.

The aisles were teeming with shoppers:

The stalls, as always, featured interesting locally-made seasonal items, arts, crafts, and food:

In the top right background of the photo above, there was a vendor with really fantastic bibbed kitchen aprons made from vintage patterns. Honestly, they looked more like dresses than most of my actual dresses! I really wish I’d picked one up, or at least taken their card so I could find out where they’re going to be for the Christmas season. I’ve actually started using aprons lately to save my clothes, and it would be nice to have a pretty one.

Of course, then there was the produce:


I like the use of an old wicker papasan chair frame as a giant display basket.

I came home with one of the pumpkins from the above display, as well as an ambidextrous bow bread knife for easier slicing of my homemade bread. The pumpkin was turned into pumpkin pie, pumpkin tarts, and pumpkin bread for Thanksgiving this past weekend. I can’t think of a better end for local produce.

The Cumberland Farmers’ Market season is now over, but still to come is the annual Christmas Market on Saturday, December 2nd from 9:00am to 4:00pm. This market will be held at four locations in Cumberland (I’m guessing so that all of the vendors can set up indoors): 1115 Dunning Road, 2620 Market Street, 2557 Old Montreal Road, and 2655 Old Montreal Road. If I’m lucky, maybe the vendor with the lovely vintage-style aprons will be there!

Ice Cream Parlours

It’s been unseasonably hot here this past week or so, and it is forecast to be so for the next few days. By “unseasonably hot” I mean temperatures reaching 32°C (89.6°F), with a humidex of 42°C (107.6°F) every day since Saturday, and not much cooler than that the week before. This is honestly the closest to Christmas that I ever remember running my air conditioner. Now, southerners will probably laugh at my objection to the temperature, but please remember that the week before this started we had frost warnings and had to dig out the lightweight toques and mittens.


Brooklyn Place, 359 Rue Main, Shawville, QC, (819) 647-6522

So I guess it should come as no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cool desserts. I have a particular fondness for ice cream parlours, especially the ones I visit in small towns when I go on trips with the family.


Brooklyn Place interior.

One such place that I have taken the kids to often is Brooklyn Place in Shawville, Québec. It’s a lovely little spot to beat the heat, and the staff is unfailingly cheerful and courteous.


Brooklyn Place ice cream; that’s their smallest sized cone.

They serve Nestlé ice cream, which is a big name brand and many flavours can be bought in your local grocery store. However, this place is nice enough to make it worth a stop in anyway. If the weather is fine and you have kids that need to run off some energy, Mill Dam Park on Clarendon (just north of Highway 148) is a great spot to wander over to, ice cream in hand.


The Scoop, 33 Main Street, Cobden, ON, (613) 647-1568.

Another great spot I have stumbled across is The Scoop, which attached to (and run by the same people as) The Little Coffee Shop in Cobden, Ontario. The ice cream parlour is only open during the summer to cater to the influx of people from the whitewater region cottages and summer homes. I believe that the coffee shop may be open all year ’round. There’s nowhere to eat ice cream inside, but they have built a lovely little patio in the alley beside the shop, and it’s almost always in the shade (which is great if you’re like me and melt in the heat). The gelato is made in store; the hard ice cream and soft serve come from local dairies. There’s also a bulk candy section. I have to admit that I grab myself a few orange cream Livewires candies whenever I go in.


Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe, 165 St. Lawrence Street, Merrickville, ON, (613) 269-2168. This is an old photo — the munchkin in the middle is Thing 1 when she was about three years old. My mom is on the left, my aunt is on the right.

Last but most definitely not least is the Downtowne Ice Cream Shoppe in Merrickville, Ontario. This is probably my favourite ice cream parlour ever. They make all of their own ice cream and gelato on site, and I haven’t yet tried one that wasn’t delicious. My first pick, if they have it, is always the one with the bits of crumbled sponge toffee throughout. Mouthwatering! Even if your tastes are much different than mine, The Shoppe has developed over 150 flavours so far, so you’re bound to find something you like.


Thing 1 desperately wanted the brilliantly pink gelato. It ended up being Grapefruit Zinger, and I was dubious that she would like it as most kids don’t like grapefruit, but she ate it all. Of course there had to be sprinkles, which I don’t think go with grapefruit at all, but what do I know?

Honestly, the food at the Downtown Ice Cream Shoppe is so good that it’s worth making a special trip from Ottawa for. If you want to make a day of it, there are all kinds of nice shops to browse in town as well, including a rather nice antique shop and a Christmas shop that’s open all year round. If you’re there for the sights, it’s also worth checking out the Merrickville Lockstation and the Merrickville Blockhouse. All of this is within easy walking distance of the ice cream parlour.

Roadside Stands

I’ll admit it, I have a hard time passing roadside fruit and veggie stands without stopping in to see what is on offer.


Signs advertising tomatoes & strawberries on Route 366 in Québec, just north of Gatineau Park.


Brisebois Fruits & Légumes (Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables), at the intersection of Route 366/Route Principale E & Chemin Brisebois (Sainte-Cécile-de-Masham, Québec).

Recently I visited Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables, which is located just north of Gatineau Park. It’s easy spotted from the main road due to its generous signage, orange roof, and, oh right, the two smaller-than-life moose statues out front. The stand carries local produce like strawberries, carrots, and garlic scapes, as well as imports like lemons and oranges.


Multicoloured carrots purchased at Brisebois Fruits & Légumes.

I purchased multicoloured carrots at this stand, as well as a pint of blueberries and a half-pint of cherry tomatoes. The carrots are the only things that made it home; my kids can eat their own body-weight in berries when so inclined, I’m sure.


Sign for Orleans Fruit Farm

I stop by the Orleans Fruit Farm on a regular basis, as well as occasionally visiting their U-pick fields for strawberries, raspberries, and apples when they are in season.


Orleans Fruit Farm fruit and veggie stand at 1399 St Joseph Blvd, Orléans, Ontario

This farm stand does a brisk business, located as they are off a main road leading from downtown to a decent-sized suburb. It’s a simple thing for residents to pop in and pick up something for dinner on their way home from work. The stand is always staffed with helpful, friendly employees and, as a bonus, they take debit as well as cash.


Under the Orleans Fruit Farm red-striped tent.


Summer squash.

These odd-shaped summer squash were grouped with the zucchini, and a sign proclaimed that they taste just like regular zucchini, but were shaped better for stuffing. I had to buy them since I’ve tried anything that looks like this.


Steamed multicoloured carrots and sauteed summer squash with curry powder.

And what do you know, the sign was totally right. They’re just differently-shaped zucchini. I want to try stuffing them at some point, though. The yellow one, especially, would plate fantastically.

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!