Thursday, November 26, 2015

The First Snow

First, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of our American friends a very happy Thanksgiving.

For us in Niagara, this was the week of our first real snowfall of the season. It did not last long on the ground as we've been enjoying an amazingly warm November. It did however usher in the Christmas spirit.

Our first snowfall of the season....
The warm November was a bit of a godsend for us. Being busy with the Tea Room, our farm duties have been neglected. The nice weather allowed us to clean up our raised beds, while collecting seeds for next Spring (beans, okra, some annual herbs, pumpkins, etc. are so much fun to gather).

This was also the time to "hunt" for the Asparagus that grows wild on the property. This time of year they stand out like delicate yellow-green ferns. We look for these to simply transplant in our Asparagus bed. Slowly, this bed is getting full and should produce a sufficient amount of Asparagus next Spring (perhaps not enough for the restaurant, but certainly for the family),

A beautiful, delicate fern; Asparagus growing wild on the property.
The Growing Dome project has not progressed this year, however the dome is still producing some great Zucchinis from a very large plant that is still to this day flowering. One way or another, this set up is really showing signs of possibilities....if we could only get our Aquaponics system set up!

Another surprise has been the Water Spinach, a new plant we have been working with this year. Being semi-aquatic, we transferred some cuttings from our raised beds directly into the Growing Dome water tank. Not only are the plants surviving, but they have generated a significant root system and have started to grow. This plant may be ideal for the Aquaponics set-up and may prove hardy enough to withstand Winter in the Dome.

Zucchini flowers in November...thanks to our Growing Dome.
The Water Spinach cuttings are also doing rather well

At the Tea Room we're now preparing for our next event: the Slow Food Terra Madre celebration on December 16th. If you are not familiar with Slow Food please check out the website. The local group based in Pelham and now known as Slow Food Niagara is a small but thriving community of like minded people (ie. foodies that are concerned about the impact of "industrial food" and wishing to promote local, sustainable products).

For the Terra Madre celebration, we will be doing a main course of Quails. So for the team, it was time to practice our de-boning skills (real Chefs make it look so easy!). We certainly had a fun time getting a lot more acquainted with the anatomy of a bird.

Time to work on our de-boning skills

We'll close this week with a quick photo of the Carolinian forest in the Fall (our favourite part of the property).

Not a conifer in sight....the Carolinian forest in the Fall.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


It is Sunchoke season!

It's amazing, but very few locals would know what we're talking about. Also commonly known as Jerusalem Artichokes, they are sold as very expensive "exotic" food in the "big city".

Our first harvest of the year.

The reason we are amazed is that this wonderful food is actually indigenous to Niagara. You can often see these beautiful tall yellow flowers growing in the ditches between here and Simcoe county. They were at one time a great source of food for the native Canadians (Samuel de Champlain discovered native crops in 1605)....and yet now, few locals even know they exist.

Sunchokes in bloom
A distant cousin to the Sunflower, the Sunchoke grows tall and generates a daisy-like yellow bloom. The edible portion of the plant is the tuber.

In this area, once planted, these flowers can quickly overtake a patch of land (this is why we've tried to contain them in raised beds). They literally grow like weeds....and this is why we like them so much. They require little care and year after year will produce much more than you can consume. One tuber can generate from 70 to 200 tubers by harvesting time (mid to late Fall).

Growing your own Sunchokes is a "breeze", but there are quite a few other reasons anyone local may want these in their backyard. First they are rich in potassium, iron, niacin, thiamine, phosphorous and copper; they are also a good source of dietary fibre. And yet, they are low in starch or carbohydrates (1 cup amounts to just over 110 calories!) and can replace potatoes in just about every recipe. You simply need to avoid overcooking them as then tend to go "mushy".

The taste is similar to potato although the texture is not starchy. It does have a resemblance to Artichoke although perhaps less sweet or nutty.

Here at the farm, we will definitely be making some Sunchoke soup for the Tea Room, but we also enjoy them pickled and these we will also be serving with some of our menu items. There are many recipes for this vegetable and we thought we would embed a video giving everyone a feel for how these might be used: Tapas by the Perennial Plate.

So what are the drawbacks?

First the roots are ginger-like, meaning they are difficult to wash or peel. Luckily most recipes work well without the need for peeling.

Second and perhaps most importantly is their high content of "Inulin". Inulin is not digestible and everyone will be familiar with its effect when we'll just say the other vegetables high in Inulin  are beans :).....As a warning, Sunchokes can have as much as 5 times more Inulin than beans!

There are ways to overcome the issues of Inulin in Sunchokes; this involves marinating or storing the roots for a period of time. The best way is to simply gather the tubers after a few frosts. The more frosts these tubers are subjected to, the more Inulin is transformed into sugars.

Finally, the roots do not keep well for a long time (unlike potatoes). The ideal storage method is to simply keep them in the ground until you are ready to use them.

Having said this, we do hope more locals will plant Sunchokes. They will generate good, healthy food, year after year....and if you grow them yourself, it's free!

Elsewhere on the farm, it was time for a photo shoot. The old manor is going to be featured in the next Niagara edition of Our Homes magazine. For those wishing to get a glimpse of our home, now that it has been fully restored, this article should give everyone a good feel for what was accomplished.

The old manor under the spotlight

Meanwhile in the Tea Room, Christmas decorations are already going up! We're preparing for our Open House on the 6th and 7th of November. Everyone is invited and there will be some free tastings!

"Decking the halls" for the Tea Room Open House (Nov 6 &7)

We'll finally close this blog entry with a view of the amazing Fall colours which now form the backdrop for our Growing Dome.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's already that time of year in Canada when we celebrate the harvest and our Thanksgiving weekend.

It also means it's Pumpkin season. Beautiful Pumpkins of all sizes and shapes can be bought at markets everywhere in the area and it's a real shame that most simply use them for decoration. They are so inexpensive (and will be even cheaper after Halloween) that they should definitely be used as food instead of their canned counterpart (which for the most part are made with Squash....NOT Pumpkin).

Local Pumpkins ...wonderful food!
Preparing pumpkins for pie or soup or even as a side is relatively easy. All you need to do is quarter them and clean them of their seeds (save them for roasting or even to plant your own Pumpkins next Spring....they're so easy to grow). We bake them until tender; at this point, the skin is then very easy to peel. Two medium sized pumpkins will yield almost the equivalent of a dozen cans of prepared Pumpkin/Squash and that's only for the price of $3 at most.

So for us, this means it's Pumpkin pie season in the Tea Room. We have however decided to put a twist on our pie by using some of the remaining Maple Syrup we processed earlier this Spring. So for a while, we'll be serving Maple Pumpkin pie.

Maple Pumpkin pie
When using real Pumpkins, you'll find your pies will be less sweet and lighter in texture....but of course no less decadent (particularly with a dollop of fresh cream).

Elsewhere on the farm we're actually still harvesting tomatoes. This should be the last of this year's crop. As such, it's also time to save our seeds.

Ready for picking....for the last time this year.
We recover our seeds by scooping them out of some of the best specimens. For each variety, we place the seeds in mason jars with a bit of water. We cover our mason jar with a cloth or paper towel. We leave these in a warm spot to allow the gelatinous part of the seed to decay (it takes a couple of days). We then wash the seeds and dry them in paper towel.

Collecting Tomato seeds for next Spring.
We were really pleased with our tomatoes this year. We certainly had a great return and all of our varieties performed rather well.

Meanwhile, with all the time spent on the Tea Room, our Growing Dome work has not progressed much. However, with the anticipation of the first frost this year, we decided to quickly salvage some of our Water Spinach. This Asian semi-aquatic plant has done extremely well in our raised beds; it was now time to get some cuttings and attempt to propagate them in the dome. The idea is to use this plant in our Aquaponic set-up in the long run. We're just not sure how it will winter in this passively heated greenhouse.

Water Spinach cuttings in the dome.
Aside from these cuttings, we only have one plant left in the dome. A Zucchini seed must have gotten away from us and fallen into an unused pot! In any case, the plant is doing extremely well. In fact, it is now flowering and showing signs of fruiting. It will be interesting to see how long this will last into the Fall.
A "run away" Zucchini plant is thriving in the dome.
We'll close this week with a quick pic of the latest find for the farm. We got our hands on a beautiful old barn door. Our idea is not to use it as a "door", but rather as a canvas for a large painting we want to display in the back of the barn once the renovations are complete.

A perfect "canvas"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prepping for Oktoberfest

With the Downton Abbey High Tea event under our belts, it's now time to prepare for Oktoberfest. We expect to hold a quaint celebration on October 3rd, featuring a traditional German feast ....and beer of course!

Preparing for this is almost like preparing for the Fall. With the kids back at school, it may still be Summer technically, but already the land is telling us otherwise. As such, we're now decorating accordingly both inside and out of the barn.

We had to take a picture of our old trolley fast....before the Chipmunks get to the corn stalks (as they did last year).

Our old train station trolley....before the expected Chipmunk assault.
With the onset of Fall, both Tomatoes and Apples are rapidly coming in from our raised beds and the field. We've had to be imaginative to put all this good food to use.

As indicated last week, we are making very good use of our tomatoes in soups and relish, but we've also decided to make some Tomato chips (something we discovered a few years back using our Italian canning tomatoes). To accomplish this, we simply use a dehydrator (what has become an essential tool for us when preserving various foodstuff).

When it comes to the Apples, we were thrilled to have enough to finally make our own "stuff". Of course this meant the first obligatory Apple pie for the Tea Room. But it also has involved making our own (hard) cider. This is so simple it's a shame not more people do this.

From tree to table.....our first Apple pie of the Season

The process we use can be found on last year's blog entries when we used another farm's Apple juice. Since that time, we have been able to consistently make a rather good sparkling cider. Of course the taste is defined by the juice you start with.

Since our current Apples are primarily McIntosh (with some Empire variety), our home made (and home grown Cider) does not have the complex structure we hope to achieve with our new Apple trees. We have to admit though, it is as good if not better (and much cheaper) than anything we get at the Liquor store.

Naturally sparkling, home made cider...refreshingly good!

Speaking of fermentation, we have not reported on some of our wine experiments. However, as we were getting a bumper crop of Black Currants this Summer, we decided to focus on Black Currant wine (technically a Melomel or fruit flavoured mead). It is now in secondary fermentation and we hope to report on the results later this Fall.

Fermentation is not limited to preservation using alcohol but also concerns preservation via lactic acid or lacto-fermentation. this time of year, for us, it means the production of Sauerkraut. Beautiful cabbages are coming from the fields and a home made Sauerkraut beats anything store bought.

To produce our Sauerkraut we shred the cabbage and toss it with Kosher salt. We use 3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage.

The real trick is to press the cabbage as it will ferment. We've jerry-rigged a food safe plastic container and use a pie pan to press on the cabbage. The pie pan supports a large stock pot filled with water. We use plastic wrap to keep the whole thing protected from the elements.

Sauerkraut in process...simple set up leads to amazing Sauerkraut.
Finally, we'll close this week with a another picture taken of our new friends/pest, the wild Turkeys. Like clockwork, they are the first thing we see every morning as we head to the Tea Room.

Every time we see this flock we can't help but think "Thanksgiving"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Downton Abbey at the Farm

This week was all about our Downton Abbey High Tea event. We had very good attendance and certainly had a great time hosting this. In fact, we're seriously thinking of turning it into an annual event.

We simply all had a great time.
For the event, we transformed our High Tea. Beginning with a glass of Cuvee Catharine and a tossed salad, all participants tried a variation of our High Tea tiers. This included finger sandwiches made with Norwegian smoked Salmon and dill cream cheese; Asparagus rolls with a bacon spread, and our new Niagara Coronation Chicken on a croissant.

The latter was a trial for us. Although we have regularly served Tuna salad, Tuna itself is not a sustainable catch so Chicken is likely to become part of our menu rather fast. Coronation Chicken is very common in the UK. Originally developed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Coronation Chicken is a chicken salad usually based on curry spicing. Today, many recipes use Mango chutney.

Niagara being a great source of Peaches (and obviously not Mangoes), we decided to put our own spin on this classic using our very own Peach Chutney. We feel good enough about the results that this will surely be on the menu by next year.

The Downton Abbey High Tea Tiers
The sweets portion of the High Tea was also changed somewhat. Although it still included our cream scones with clotted cream and home made jam, we changed everything else. It included a Strawberry Pavlova, a puff pastry swan, a Mexican Chocolate cream pot and a Black Currant and Elderberry tart. For those that could still manage more, we finished everything with a Raspberry Rumpot trifle,

Some participants walked away with prizes and everyone was provided with a small gift to end the afternoon. The event for us was simply delightful and we just hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.

Next up? We're bringing back our Oktoberfest event which is now planned for the afternoon of October 3. So it's now time to dig up the dirndls and lederhosen.

Elsewhere on the farm, the tomato crop is doing rather well. In fact, we are having a hard time keeping up. Our "gargantuan" Marizol Gold and Cuostralee Tomatoes are generating so much that we are forced to quickly transform them into Tomato relish and now even soup. We tend to like roasted tomato soup and the Marizol Gold make for a light non-acidic yellow tomato soup which we enjoy as much as our patrons.

Beautiful Marizol Gold Tomatoes
Finally, we have discovered a new pest on the property.

First hint of this happened a few months back when we were harvesting our Black Raspberries. After one day of harvest, they all disappeared! The culprits: Wild Turkeys.

Every morning now, for the past few months, a group of wild turkeys have been vociferously rummaging in our berry rows. Although we've come across inoffensive ways of preventing deer from munching on our crops or saplings, these birds are going to be somewhat more difficult....short of a shotgun :)

Joking aside, we admire these beautiful birds so much we're not likely to kill any. Besides, it turns out oddly enough that Wild Turkey season is in the Spring (not the Fall as you would expect it).

Wild Turkeys rummaging on the Farm.....we now need a decoy of some sort.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Thank You

Once again, we have been rather belligerent in updating our blog. The month of August set new records in Tea Room attendance and for us this means a record summer season is now over. With kids running back to school we expect things to calm down this Fall until our closing for the season on December 21st.

As such, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our patrons. We want to express our gratitude to all of our patrons that keep returning and those that continue to bring their special guests to the Tea Room. We would also like to thank all of those that have chosen the Tea Room to celebrate their special family events. This past month, we have hosted everything from baby to wedding showers and anniversaries.

The Tea Room all "decked out" for an August wedding shower
We even closed the month of August  with a very special private function: a 25th wedding anniversary hosting close to 100 guests. Since this was well beyond our capacity, the event actually needed  a special tent.

Ready to host close to 100 guests.
In fact, for their kind consideration, we also need to thank all those patrons who could not access the Tea Room last month. Sadly, we have had to turn away quite a few folks as our Tea Room seating and kitchen capacity often reached their limitations.

Sadly, this is something we cannot easily overcome. We have a few plans in mind, but our limitation is primarily dictated by the fact that the farm sits on the "green belt" and Niagara Region has strict limitations on grey water effluent from septic tanks. We are far from reaching this amount in reality, but public administrations use simplified math to calculate these things and assume that the square footage of our Victorian home must be used as a means to establish these limitations.

So for the time being, we now strongly recommend reservations.

Meanwhile on the farm, our tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The real surprise turns out to be the "black" Chinese tomatoes. They are now very ripe... but certainly not black. They are a mixture of red and dark green. They are relatively small but by far the sweetest tomatoes we've ever eaten. These are perfect for the Tea Room tossed salad.

The sweetest tomatoes we've ever tried.
Our Apples are also progressing rather well. Not only have we been able to start our own "hard" cider production for the Fall, but it will soon be time to transition from making Peach pies to the traditional Autumn Apple pie.

Since arriving here, the Apple trees have never looked so productive.
This also means that canning season is upon us. Our first project was to pickle beets this year. Bushels can be had for very reasonable prices at local markets. Although it takes a bit of work, pickling beets in a sweet brine is a worthwhile endeavour (you wont regret it during the Winter months). For that special taste, we tend to spice our brine with cinnamon.

PS. Use Kosher salt when pickling (it will prevent the pickling solution from turning "cloudy").

It's canning season. Check your local farmers' market for small beets and pickling cucumbers.
Finally, we are now preparing for our Downton Abbey High Tea event this coming weekend. The Tea Room is slowly being transformed into a "time capsule". On display are now a replica period dress as well as an amazing local map from 1907. Mounted in a "shadow box", this map depicts Welland and Lincoln counties. It is an original which apparently sold for the grand old price of $5 at the time!

Getting ready for "Downton Abbey"
A small historical treasure: a 1907 local map printed on cloth.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's Elderberry Season

Technically it's Peach season in Niagara. With the annual Peach Festival now over, the Tea Room did serve the obligatory Peach pies and tarts. However, it is also the season for Elderberries. Although not as popular as in Europe, these wonderful berries grow well and grow wild in this region.

Our own patches of Elderberry plants have been very productive this year. The branches have been drooping under the weight of the berries. So it's now time to make Elderberry preserves, pies and whatever else comes to mind.

The Elderberry branches are drooping under the weight of their berries.

The best thing about these plants is that they pretty much grow "wild" or in a permaculture state. The only thing we need to do to care for them is to take down the invasive bushes, brushes and saplings like our "nemesis" the dreaded Manitoba Maple or Boxelder.

Elsewhere on the farm, we are finally making some headway in generating organic Apples. This has proven to be a tough thing to achieve. Although we're not quite there yet, this year's Apples are starting to look a lot better. The key so far is a combination of an organic soap spray and protectve "socks" (as we've reported on last year).

A couple of the better Apples produced to date.
In fact this year, we've decided we can actually use our Apples to pursue our cider experiments. Something we'll be reporting on as we progress.

Crushing and juicing our Apples to produce our first Ridge Berry hard cider.
Well close this week with another attempt at doing something different. This time in the Tea Room.

We have been hosting quite a few special occasions in our small restaurant. Mostly "showers" of one kind or another. Typicaly we work on a "spread" based on our High Tea menu.

A recent Tea Room High Tea "spread" for a shower. 
These occasions always seem to call for something different and  special. Since we have now mastered the "Petit Chou" or profiterole. We've decded to "kick it up" a notch by working on a "Piece Montee". This is typical of the wedding, anniversary, baptism or celebratory cakes served on special occasions in France.

We've been working on some "prototypes" and we expect that by the end of the month, we'll be able to post a picture of our first piece montee for a very special please "stay tuned". Certainly this is something that very few offer in Niagara.

Prototyping or first "piece montee".....we have the blistered fingers to prove it!