Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Time for Pies, Pies, and More Pies....

We have been very delinquent this month when it comes to our weekly blog. Our main reason is the fact that we are now at the height of tourist season ad the Tea Room is keeping us very busy. So far visitors have come from the US, Europe and even as far away as South Korea.

To make matters worse, this is also the prime time for harvesting. Our Saskatoon berries are now done, but the Raspberries and Black Currants are producing an incredible amount of fruit.

The Black Currants look great this year

The Purple (Red, Yellow and Black) Raspberries are also ready for picking.

As a result, we've progressed to make Black Currant Linzertorte and our first Raspberry pie of the season (with no less than 8 cups of fruit per pie!).

Ready for the oven...the first Raspberry pie of the season.
Elsewhere on the farm, we've also had the opportunity to be surprised by our first sight of Okra. We had been given some Okra seeds this year and thought it would be fun to try this lant in our raised beds. The plants are actually quite beautiful when mature and and even more so when blooming.

Blooming Okra plant
We've even had a chance to taste our first Okra pods. A quick note should be added here. We have never been fond of Okra, finding it a little too slimy and gelatinous in most dish we've tried in the past.

It turns out, there are ways to overcome this. One is by soaking them in an acid (vinegar, lemon or lime juice), the other is to simply roast them in the oven with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. This is what we tried and we were actually amazed. We'll be definitely making could use of these plants.

Now our favourite way to enjoy Okra.
This is also the season for Summer Squash. When these start to grow...there's just no stopping them.

We decided to take advantage of this seasonal vegetable by preparing the vegetarian answer to our Tourtiere for the Tea Room. We call it a "veggie pie" but it is a pie simply loaded with both green and yellow Summer Squash.

Simmered for at least 45 minutes with olive oil, lemon zest, fresh thyme and a tough of nutmeg, this mix makes a great pie filling. To add a bit of additional flavour, before baking we shred into the mix some good aged Ontario Cheddar and some fresh mint. The result is simply delicious.

You can't go wrong with this Summer Squash mix. Just add lemon zest, thyme, nutmeg and olive oil... and simmer.
We'll close this week with another lesson learned.

Our home and barn offer a lot of nooks and crannies for birds and critters to nest. The birds in particular tend to make a mess of our verandas.

To counter this, we decided to use plastic decoys (owls) to scare away nesting birds. The lesson learned: it does not work.

We nestled a large plastic owl in the front of the barn. The result is that Turtle Doves paid no heed to this natural predator and made their nest just some 4 feet away. We are now proud parents of 2 chicks which patiently await their parents for feeding time.

Our decoy.....
Two well behaved Turtle Dove chicks paying no heed to the owl next to them!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Saskatoon Berry

A couple of years back when we started to clear our farm land, we happily discovered a couple of rows of Juneberry shrubs (also called Saskatoons out west, or Service Berries in the US). They were hidden by overgrown wild roses and young mulberry bushes, back walnut and black locust trees. We freed our small Juneberry bushes, but last year found just a few berries.

This year, we will be getting a great harvest and they are now ready to pick.

The Juneberries/Saskatoons/Service Berries are ready to pick
The berries resemble a Blueberry, but they have small seeds similar to apple seeds. Experimenting with these in the past, we found that they contained a significant amount of pectin.

The taste is somewhat similar to a Blueberry and pretty much anything done with the Blueberry can be done with the Saskatoon. So with our first basket picked it will now be time to say goodbye to our Strawberry pies in the Tea Room, and hello to Saskatoon pie! We're even planning to make some Saskatoon jam and Saskatoon syrup.

In fact, a lot is tarting to come from the local fields including our own farm.

The Black Currants are just about ready for picking and the raspberries are now coming on line (including our favourite: the Black Raspberry).

The Black Currants are promising to be a bumper crop this year.
We'll even have a pretty good crop of Black Raspberries coming soon
With the Tea Room rather busy this year, we'll have to keep the blog entries rather short. So we'll just close this week by announcing our next major event: a Downton Abbey Tea Party. This will be in September.

We have a lot of folks asking about this, so anyone interested should call Carol (289-897-8943) for more information or to book a seating (numbers will be limited).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Annual Pelham Heritage Tea

The Tea Room will be closed this Saturday, June 27th. But do not despair, we are closing the Tea Room to take part in the annual Pelham Heritage Tea.

Last year was a great success for this event, however as we helped to host this with the city, it was quite clear that the Tea Room had met its limitations. So this year, it will be held at the Old Pelham Town Hall (just down the road from the Tea Room). As we are catering this event, we invite everyone to join us for this fun day where all are urged to come and dress up in their best period costumes.

Pelham Heritage Tea 2014....the costumes were magnificent.
Meanwhile, we've been so busy on our side that we actually completely missed last week's blog. Between showers and our hosting the Pelham Business Association (PBA), we had little time to get to our computer.

The "spread"...ready for the PBA.
In the Tea Room, the meals are finally getting more of that local flavour from the field as we now have wonderful Spring Peas available. They are so sweet!

The local Peas are in!...They make a great side for our Tourtiere.
On the farm, we are even gathering our own Strawberries....which means more traditional Strawberry pies as well as Strawberry jams. The berries taste so much sweeter when picked ripe, much better than those that must ripen during their logistics cycle. We urge everyone to go and  find those local fields where you can pick your own. You won't be dissappointed.

Our own strawbeeries have progressed much better than anticipated.
Another thing that has needed harvesting is our Lavender. We have been picking it in the closed bud stage for cooking (they're an essential ingredient to our Lemon Lavender Shortbreads). But we will now also be picking them as they bloom.

Bouquets of Lavender are drying and ready for sale in the store.
It's even time to consider harvesting the Garlic Scapes. They are amazing simply pan fried. Some even claim that harvesting the scapes generates larger bulbs as the plants energy is redirected to the roots once the flowers are cut. Based on our experiments last year, we would tend to agree.

The curling Garlic Scapes are just abut ready to pick.
Finally,one of the other things keeping us busy over the past couple of weeks was our garage sale. Something we need to do again over the coming months as we attempt to "declutter". In the process, we met an elderly woman who was actually born in our old Victorian Manor. She brought to us a small treasure trove of picutres which add another chapter to the history of the property. We were just thrilled to see these as they show some common landmarks of the property in a very different era.

Sorting Peaches next to our barn, c. 1937

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Local Strawberries Have Arrived!

The Season is progressing and a good sign of this is the availability of local strawberries. We were thrilled last week to get our hands on our first "flat". At the Tea Room, this means goodbye to the seasonal Rhubarb pie and hello to the traditional Strawberry pie.

A real treat: our first flat of local Strawberries
Of course, we now aim to have a few additional goodies in the Tea Room based on local Strawberries (from tarts to cakes).

This does not totally mean the demise of Rhubarb at the farm. We're letting our plants grow and keep processing whatever we gather into jams. They really capture the taste of Spring better than any of our other preserves.

Rhubarb jam....a taste of Spring
Meanwhile at the farm, we still manage to progress on our Growing Dome water tank project. We discovered that there are some serious limitations as to how deep we can bury the structure. As a result we lowered it a bit over two feet and we feel that this may just do us fine.

Does not look like much, but once the floor is resurfaced, this should really work out for us.
Finally, we'll close this week's blog entry with a couple of photos from the wedding that has kept us so busy these past few weeks. Official photos have not yet been published so you'll have to make due with this amateur for now.
The three amigos/siblings (two of three now married)

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Morelli

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Tea Room Will be Closed this Weekend...

...for very good reasons. We are going to celebrate the second family wedding in two years. As such June 6th and 7th, the Tea Room will be closed as we entertain family and enjoy the festivities. Hopefully we'll be able to post a few pics next week.

This week however was not all about the wedding. We managed to make some good progress on our Growing Dome project. Our main water tank has been drained and it is now a matter of digging....and digging.

Pondering the task at hand....it's now a matter of digging sand and gravel
in the hottest and most humid environment on the farm.
At the Tea Room, we've also made some changes. At first, we were considering opening 7 days a week for the Summer. We've decided to extend our opening days from Tuesday to Sunday. As we are getting a lot of good feedback on our baked goods and pastries, we've determined that we need at least one day to properly prepare.

We're also considering changing our menu a touch. So far we've had two pizzas (a classic and a vegetarian version) made with local cheeses, local cured meats and roasted veggies. We've come to the realization that we're really not set up to do these properly. Particularly when the restaurant is busy. As a result, we've decided to experiment with two new options. One of these is a Tourtiere, the classic French Canadian meat pie.

We've experimented with our recipes and came out with a Tourtiere that might just satisfy a lot of folks. We'll be running it as a special at first and hope to have it become part of our main menu by next week.

This first attempt at a Tourtiere worked out just right,
convincing us this might be the perfect addition to our Summer menu.

Meanwhile, the farm is covered with flowers of all kinds, some of which we have started to use in our plating.

The most surprising of all are the flowers of our perennial herbs. These are quite beautiful and the herbs not only provide a great addition to our recipes but act as a lovely ground cover in our raised beds. Previously we covered our Chives and Chervil. This week, it was time for the Sage to bloom. So we'll close this week with a picture of these beautiful and useful herbs.

Our Sage...a beautiful and useful ground cover.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Discovering Crosnes

We were quite excited this week because we managed to get our hands on the equivalent of one bushel of Crosne (Stachys Affinis) roots. Our older daughter first introduced us to these plants about a year ago, mentioning they were a delicacy which is highly prized by top chefs.

These plants resemble a small mint like ground cover and are treasured for their roots which really resemble a small grub. Also known as Chinese Artichoke, they are mainly consumed in France and China. They are used a bit like the Sunchoke which means that they are great pickled, pan pried or steamed. The taste is mild and nutty. They are as crunchy as radishes but not at all peppery. They are usually washed cleaned (with a toothbrush) so the harvesting and cleaning can be rather tedious. However, their little ridges are loved for their ability to hold whatever sauce is applied to a dish.

The "grub-like" Crosne root
Being great fans of odd plants and very much fans of perennials (those that keep giving on an annual basis), this was a great gift. It came to us from a husband and wife team in Fonthill that run a produce distribution company for local restaurants: Urban Graze. We have been using Urban Graze at the Tea Room not only because of the quality of their produce but their ability to source good local seasonal vegetables and their knowledge of local delicacies...and this week they made us twice as happy by providing us with a large amount of Crosne root stock for one of our raised beds. At $20-40/lb retail, this was quite a gift.

We're now looking forward to having a raised bed covered with this beautiful groundcover with dreams of pickling Crosnes this coming Fall. In fact, between our Sunchokes, our Rhubarb, Ramps and Asparagus, we are thrilled to add Crosnes to the list of perennial foods grown at the farm.

This week, we also noticed some wild Asparagus in the back of our lot. We took the opportunity to transplant them and begin the spreading of those plants into one single and large raised bed. We call these Asparagus "wild" but they are probably the remnants of Asparagus planted perhaps decades ago on the property. Not only have we been using their root stock but we have collected seeds and successfully grown them.

Slowly populating one large raised bed with "wild" Asparagus root stock
Last week, we were thrilled to transplant a few plants in the outdoors, proclaiming May 24th as the date beyond which frost is avoided in these parts. We were wrong! We (along with most gardening aficionados) were really caught off guard with a late frost which seriously damaged a few plants. In particular, the Scarlet Runners in our raised beds were decimated. Some survived closer to the barn but we will now have to replant this beautiful bean in the hopes of getting some flowers soon for the Tea Room dishes.

Scarlet Runner frost damage...back to square one!
Not only were some of our raised bed plants affected, but we fear some of our berries as well. Many bushes have past the flowering stage and are currently loaded with green berries. Haskaps and Currants seem OK, however the Red Gooseberries look completely damaged. Maybe they will recover, but we're not holding out much hope... they're goes our Gooseberry pies for the year :(.

What currenlty looks like a frost damaged Gooseberry.
Nevertheless, we have plenty of other berries on the farm and so far things look quite promising.

We'll end this week with an update on the Growing Dome. Those following the blog know we've had a very difficult time keeping fish alive in this environment...mostly because of temperature extremes. We were surprised to find more "floaters" a few weeks back. This means that although we've not taken care of the water, fish were still alive throughout the Winter. They died when we just did not aerate the water on a very hot day...we simply thought all the fish were gone.

This incident has given us new hope and we've now decided to tackle a major project in the dome, We intend to bury our water tank some 3-4 feet down. This will provide some insulation to the water tank and hopefully alleviate the temperature extremes for the fish. It will also allow us to move our aquaponic work tables to a more convenient height.

The next major project this Summer: bringing the water tank down into the ground some 3-4 feet. 
The Dome has also provided some surprises this year. So we'll conclude this post with a couple of pictures from the Dome. A small Avocado plant has managed to survive the Winter in the Dome, and one of our grape vine cuttings (Baco Noir) is already fruiting.

We had not given this small Avocado much chance...but it survived!

In the Dome, this Grape cutting is well ahead of our other vines.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Transition to Summer

For our international readers, the 24th of May (or May Two Four as it is known here) really marks the transition from Winter to Spring. Our Springs and Autumns are short and this date which marks a long weekend celebrating Queen Victoria is often the time when gardeners of all stripes begin to plant. By this time, we're usually assured that we will no longer suffer a frost.

So for us, this was a time to begin transplanting plants from our greenhouse nursery to our raised beds. We're far from done, but at least our Scarlet Runner beans and Peas are now well established.

Some of the Scarlet Runners transplanted in the back of our barn.
Last Fall we also decided to see if some plants could simply self seed in their own raised beds. In particular we did this with our Borage. The results are promising since we're already noticing quite a few plants at an early stage of growth.

The Borage has self-seeded remarkably well
We also attempted to self-seed our Ground Cherries but of course not everything we do goes well. In this case, we actually forgot which bed the plants were in.  Unbeknown to us at the time, we had tilled the soil to plant strawberries. We'll just have to try again next year.

Meanwhile in the Tea Room, we had to resolve a problem with egg whites. Simply put, we had way too much of these. They are the result of making our own mayo and pastry cream from scratch.

For us, the solution was to produce meringue cookies. We decided to make chocolate marble meringues. Easy to make, they've proven to be a hit with kids and parents alike.

A great way to use egg whites: chocolate marble meringue cookies

We'll close this week with a few pictures of some of the plants now flowering in our beds. Not only did our Chervil, Chives and young Asparagus survive this hard Winter, they are now thriving and in full bloom.

Asparagus in bloom

Beautiful Chive flowers

This Chervil will quickly take up half of its raised bed