Sunday, December 14, 2014

Terra Madre Day

This week, December 10th, was the time to celebrate Terra Madre (literally Mother Earth). Before we explain this, perhaps we need to explain the Slow Food movement. Slow Food was created in the late 80's by an enterprising and visionary Italian: Carlo Petrini. The Slow Food movement was a response to Fast Food and everything it represented.

Our society has become extremely efficient in producing edible calories. In its industrial form, food has become caloric intake with very little thought to nutrients or its impact on human health, the environment and culture. This has happened to the point that in 2013, for the first time, more people have died as a result of malnutrition and obesity related diseases than malnutrition from starvation!

What may surprise many is that our small community of Pelham has a very vibrant and active Slow Food convivium. And this week, Ridge Berry Farm hosted the Pelham convivium as we celebrated Terra Madre day.

Before, we report on the celebration, we thought we would educate our readers a bit on the Slow Food movement by providing a video describing the global network.

Slow Food Canada has recently also published a beautiful video describing the importance of Slow Food across this country: Slow Food in Canada

Every year, on December 10th, the Slow Food movement celebrates Terra Madre day. Our own Pelham convivium gathered at the farm's Tea Room to enjoy a dinner among like-minded friends. This dinner was entirely prepared by our members to celebrate what we consider real food and also to get a report from our own Pelham delegate to Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy (more on this later).

23 members of the Pelham Slow Food convivium gathered at the Tea Room for Terra Madre day
We gathered to enjoy each others company and to celebrate local food.

Enjoying good food and good company
We took this opportunity to share with other members our own passion for the farm, its history and our art glass collection by providing everyone with a short tour. We all gathered in the gallery to share a great selection of appetizers while everyone had a chance to sample our home made Raspberry Mead.

Great selection of appetizers served with our home made brew
The highlight of the evening was a report by Dennis Malone. Dennis participated as our delegate to the Canadian contingent of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre this past October. This event is a major international trade fair of sorts showcasing and celebrating food producers from around the world. Half of the fair is allocated to Terra Madre and the Slow Food movement.

Denis debriefing the convivium about his Terra Madre 2014 experience
To get a sense of this event, we've embedded two videos in this blog. The first is an introduction to Terra Madre 2014. It captures the energy of the movement and the multicultural aspect of the Slow Food movement; the second is a report of the show and the many activities of what is now a very vibrant community.

Today millions of people across the World, in over 150 countries, are active in the Slow Food movement. For us it represents every principle we are trying to promote at the Farm and in our own Tea Room. If you are concerned about the nature of our food, sustainability, biodiversity, fair trade, the environment and our health, we would strongly urge you to join and be active. More information on our local convivium can be found on the following page: Slow Food Pelham.

Trained as an Aerospace engineer and having participated in a few Space programs, I thought it fitting to close this blog with a Terra Madre day greeting from Space!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

T'is the Season for...the Yule Log

Among other things, this week's major project turned out to be the making of the traditional "Buche de Noel" or Yule Log. This is something the matriarch of the family (Grandma Scholaert) was determined to introduce to the Tea Room menu.

Having operated a Tea Room and Pastry Shop in northern France for many years (a shop which was in the family for many generations), Grandma had fond memories of making hundreds of Buches de Noel around Christmas time. So this week, she was determined to teach us how to do this.

You would not think it, but the making of this traditional cake turned out to be a heated debate. Grandma was determined to replicate what we had in France and everything from the butter cream to the sponge had to be just right. In fact, it took a few logs to actually get close....and we're still not there according to the expert.

In the end, everyone chipped in. Grandma, Gloria (our Tea Room cook) and this writer himself.

With a determined look, Grandma had to get that butter cream just right.

Gloria worked on the  eggs for the special sponge cake

In the end, we assembled something that looked about right....down to the Meringue mushrooms.

Grandma working on the final assembly
The Ridge Berry Buche de Noel
 However, the completion of this first log required a serious taste test.

The moment of truth...the taste test
The final results: looks good, but we're not quite on the path to replicating my father's original French version.

I actually fear that this may be almost impossible. The reason: our ingredients. Operating a restaurant in Ontario means that we are somewhat restricted. Legally, we can only use what we would term "industrial" eggs and butter....and these are far from being of the farm fresh quality you can still get in parts of Europe.

In any case, we expect that these types of pastries will become standard fare in the Tea Room as we proceed on the development of its menu.

As we near closing for the Season (scheduled for December 21st), we are already planning for next Spring. These plans are extensive as we now expect to be open later for light dinners (after all that is what High Tea is all about) and for special weekend brunches. Furthermore, now that the Tea Room is licensed to serve alcohol, our menu will expand to include such things as a Champagne High Tea (using the best local sparkling white wines of course). So we are now diligently trying to create our menu using our key principle: as local as can be (in line with our commitment to the FeastON program).

Elsewhere on the farm, the weather permitted us to continue on trellising our "feral" Kiwis, turning a mess into something recognizable.

Going back to transforming this Kiwi mess....

...into vines ready for horizontal trellises

In the process, we found this week perhaps the largest of all of our Kiwis so far. This vine has a "trunk" of almost 8 inches in diameter!

One massive and well established Kiwi
In previous blog entries, we highlighted that the vines had self-propagated in the same manner as a Grape vine. We found evidence of this everywhere. This week, we also discovered that the fruits have done so well, they have also self seeded. Small plants not at all attached to existing vines have been discovered between rows.

Entirely new vines growing between rows.
It is clear that both our weather and the soil are ideal for these plants, to the point where they could become invasive.

We'll end this week with another of our many food related "experiments". Earlier, we reported our planting of a small Apple orchard. This orchard will produce a variety of Apples for eating and cooking, but it was primarily designed for Cider making. So it was time to experiment with Cider production.

In North America, the word Cider is often used to refer to unfiltered Apple juice. The original Cider however is a mildly alcoholic beverage made from that juice. This was very popular over the ages as a drink to replace water (often questionable in terms of its cleanliness) ...much like beer was.

Although we have now been producing our own fruit wines with a certain degree of reliability, making hard Cider has its own peculiar process particularly if it is to be a sparkling brew.

Since we do not yet have Apples to crush, we decided to get unpasteurized, unfiltered Apple juice from one of the many orchards that surround us.

So our first batch has now been started ...and should we succeed we'll be reporting on how to make an easy Cider at home in the coming weeks. Hopefully, we'll not blow up any bottles!

Our first batch of Cider be reported on as it progresses.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hickory Nut Pie

This week, we only had a short respite from the snow. With another snowfall under our belt, it has been rather frustrating to complete our Fall farming chores. However, there is still much to do inside. So this time, we decided to tackle our Hickory nuts foraged earlier this past September.

We discovered the Hickory Nut when we first arrived on the farm over two years ago now. It is a delicacy somewhat unique to the region as the trees (the Shagbark Hickory) thrive in the small patch of Carolinian forest of the region.

Foraged Hickory Nuts

Having been left to cure for the past couple of months, the husk of the nuts had turned black and it was now time to process them.

The nuts are ready to process.
Husking Hickory nuts is a rather simple process. These things are designed to open up when the nut falls from the trees. They separate along the ridged lines of the husk. If for any reason they prove difficult, a light hammering of the top of the nut splits the husk in four sections.

If necessary, a light hit to the top of the nut releases it from the husk.
With the nuts released from their husk, the next step is to wash them. At this point, we also separate the good nuts from what we suspect are the "bad" ones. Nuts that float typically have very little flesh or have been compromised by insects. With foraged wild nuts, you should not be surprised if that amounts to a large percentage of your harvest.

The nuts are washed and sorted for "floaters".
Cracking of the Hickory nut is perhaps the most difficult part of the process. The nut is very hard and the flesh is actually separated inside the nut with rigid sturdy shell walls. Conventional nutcrackers will not do, so we use a slab of concrete and a heavy hammer.

Cracking the nut is a arduous and difficult process.
Laying the nut on its flat side makes it easier to break, but the result is a mess of broken shell and mashed flesh. The trick is to actually crack it on its narrow side. It makes the nut difficult to hold, but you are much more likely to be able to extract large pieces of nut from the shell.

Shelled Hickory Nuts ready to be enjoyed.
Once shelled, we found it is absolutely critical and necessary to sort through the flesh for any additional little pieces of shell. No matter how small, they are so hard that they could seriously hurt your teeth.

We found that one of the better ways to enjoy Hickory Nuts is in the form of a pie. Since their taste is akin to the Pecan, our pie recipe is based on a traditional Pecan pie.

For two cups of nuts, we use:

  • 3/4 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup of corn syrup
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. of salt
  • 3 large eggs

In a pan, we melt our butter and combine the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. Over medium heat we dilute the sugar in the butter and bring it to a creamy, syrupy consistency. To this, we then add the corn syrup.

In a separate bowl, we whisk our eggs and then add the corn syrup mixture.

In a prepared pie shell, we place our nuts and then cover with the egg/corn syrup mixture.

The whole thing is baked at 350 deg. F for about 50 minutes or until the filling firms up. As the pie bakes, the filling with rise giving an indication of its readiness. Once cooled, the filling will flatten again and be nice and firm.

The result is a delicious seasonal tart which is wonderful with a dollop of Chantilly cream and a cup of coffee.

Hickory Nut pie...a great seasonal treat.
Elsewhere on the farm, our "tenant" bees were lucky to have been cared for before all this snow arrived. The bee hives have been insulated and we now have our first batch of Ridge Berry honey.

Luckily the bee hives for insulated before our first snow.
Meanwhile, the family and our customers can finally enjoy our first batch of local honey.
Next Spring, we plan to tackle our own hives and learn the art of beekeeping.

We'll close this week with the return of the Wild Turkeys. Just in time for the American Thanksgiving and the Holiday season, these birds continue to roam our farm. They are beautiful and rather large birds. However they are also quite shy and make it rather diffifult to capture them on film. 

This week, we did manage to get quite close.

Wild Turkeys continue to visit in this Holiday season.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Snowed In

With most of the snow now melted over the past 24 hours, you would not think it ....however the week was a complete "write off" from a farming point of view.

Although we were not as hard hit as up state New York (we did not get the "lake effects"), the amount of snow we did get transformed our Growing Dome into an igloo.

Not exactly easy to work on the farm in these conditions.
The net effect is that this week felt more like mid-Winter than Mid-Autumn. In fact, visiting Wild Turkeys made it really feel like Christmas.

Christmas Turkey anyone?
Surprisingly, for a passively heated greenhouse, the Dome itself is still producing. We are still growing Tomatoes; the Kale is doing rather well; and, we've even started to get new Eggplants.

Tomatoes are still ripening in the unheated Growing Dome

The Kale is still doing well (we need to pick it before it wilts)
Even Eggplants are fruiting.
Not being able to work outside, meant it was time to start our 2014 vintage of Kiwi Wine.

With our new fermenter, we are scaling up our production volumes and refining our recipes. Because this wine is technically a fruit Mead or Melomel, this means we are now processing local honey in rather large volumes.

Our wine batches now demand a lot of local honey.
Since we just finished the Kiwi harvest, we certainly had enough fruit on hand. After washing and processing (we cut both the stem and flower ends), we tend to freeze them for future use. This week, we decided to use a few kilos to prepare our wine.

Frozen Kiwis ready to be turned to wine.
Our process is rather simple. After boiling honey and water, we combine the solution with our Kiwis. To this, we just add a wine yeast and wait, 4 weeks for the first fermentation and at least another 4 weeks racked.

As we scale up this year, we did encounter an issue. We did not leave enough "head space" between our sealed lid and our mash. The result is another lesson learned!

After a night of fermentation, we found the kitchen smelled a lot like yeast and we began to hear a hissing noise from the fermenter. After a quick look, we realized that the wine in process was spewing through our airlock valve. Of course this lead to a massive clean-up...although we did not lose much.

Finally this week, we leave you with 3 videos created by the FeastON program of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. We're really proud to have participated in this program since it really reflects what we are trying to achieve here at the farm.

The first video is really a mini commercial for the farm.

The second video is a good description of what some of us aspire to do in Niagara.

The last video really expresses well what FeastON is all about.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A New Orchard

This week, we were excited like children waiting to unwrap Christmas presents. The reason is that we were finally able to take delivery of our very own Apple trees. These were specifically grafted for us over a year and a half ago and they were now ready for planting.

As far as orchards go, our plans were to create a rather small one consisting of some 100 trees. However, the varieties we chose are rather uncommon.

The first step, once we had the trees on hand, was to keep the roots properly watered. We did this every day by soaking them in one of our rain barrels.

Keeping the saplings watered as we prepare our plot of land 
The next step, proved rather difficult. The concept was to create a grid of staggered rows. Simple enough, until you realize that we were aiming to establish our small orchard on a hill with three rather steep gradients of up to 20 feet.

After a tedious amount of measuring, we were able to plot out our planting holes using our backhoe. Since these Apples were grafted to dwarf trees, we decided to use staggered rows with a spacing of 10 feet.

In the distance, our new orchard is laid out and ready for planting.
We planted the trees with a mix of our soil and some horse manure. Luckily, we managed to accomplish the whole thing before the start of this year's first snow fall.

This new orchard consists of 10 varieties. Perhaps one of these is well known to some. The others are primarily old heirloom Apples with a couple of exceptions.

So here's what we got:

Cole's Quince: Known as Pear Apple or Quince Apple, this variety dates from as early as 1806 in Cornish, Maine. Raised by Captain Henry Cole and described by his son in "American Fruit Trees" in 1849.

Cole's Quince

Golden Russet: Perhaps the best known of our varieties, this is of American origin from Burlington County, New Jersey in the 1700's.

Golden Russet
Kandil Sinap: This is a uniquely shaped Apple from the Crimea or Turkey, known in the 1800's but perhaps much older.

Kandil Sinap
Baldwin (Pecker): A monument was erected in Wilmington (near Lowell) Massachusetts in 1895 to the Baldwin Apple. It marks the estate where in 1793, Samuel Thompson discovered the first Pecker Apple tree (later called Baldwin) while locating the line for the Middlesex Canal.

Karmijn de Sonnaville: This is a variety bred by Piet de Sonnaville working in Wageningen in the Netherlands in 1949. It is a cross of Cox's Orange Pippin and the Jonathan.

Karmijn de Sonnaville
Browns Apple: This variety is originally from south Devon in England, from the early 1900's.

Browns Apple
Bulmers Norman: Originally from Normandy, France and developed by H.P. Bulmers (of Srongbow fame) in Hereford, England at the beginning of the 20th century.

Bulmers Norman
Michelin: Originated in Normandy in about 1872 with M. Legrand of Yvetot, Normandy. It was brought to Herefordshire in 1884.

Kerry Irish Pippin: Originated in Ireland in 1802.

Kerry Irish Pippin
And finally, the Frostbite which originated in Minnesota in the 1940's.

This collection of Apples will be added to our 2 Empire and one McIntosh, along with our Crab Apple tree (which we have yet to identify) and our five old Pippin trees which we now believe to be Cox's Orange Pippin, based on the fruits we found this year.

Our very own Cox's Orange Pippin
You may wonder why these varieties. They will be for eating and cooking of course, but our key objective is to create a unique cider, perhaps resembling something which may have been in vogue in Victorian times.

We'll end this week with a picture of the farm as we now struggle with our first (and rather early) snowfall.

If this keeps up, it will become difficult to finish our Fall chores.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Our First Open House

This week was a very busy one for us. For the first time in a while, it had nothing to do with farm chores, but rather our first open house. With hundreds of visitors, this turned out to be a rather successful event we are likely to repeat next year.

Tristan traded in his tractor for the BBQ, serving fresh sausages with some of our very own sauerkraut.

A farmer tuned cook.

Vendors were displaying their wares for Christmas, including our own gift baskets.

The transformed Tea Room was operating at capacity.
Native artist and spirit reader, Leona Skye was kept rather busy.
The most popular aspect of the three day event however turned out to be our house tour which was carried out to raise funds for the Welland Historical Museum. The tour focused on the history of the property and the two rooms allocated to our art glass gallery, where we focused on our Art Nouveau and Art Deco collections.

Explaining the architecture of our new home
We were overwhelmed during some of the touring sessions
Sharing our passion for art glass and the history of the old Victorian manor
Although we are still recovering from what became a very busy three days, we're already planning our next event: a Christmas Champagne High Tea to be held on December 6. Anyone interested should certainly call and book ahead of time!