Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Our Own Blend

This year, we've decided to re-organize the Tea Room market. The focus is now primarily on our own farm products (jams, jellies, syrups and chutneys) and Tea Room pastries. Based on popular requests, we've also added a complete line of loose leaf teas and this now includes our very own Ridge Berry Blend.

The Ridge Berry Tea Blend...a taste of the farm!

The Ridge Berry Blend is actually based on the key berry crops of the farm: Kiwis, Raspberries and Currants. The result is a soothing, delightfully fruity tea, as good for morning breakfast as it is for an evening respite.

Meanwhile on the farm, we finished the week with what seemed to be abnormally warm weather. So with Spring finally here, it was time to think about planting once again. While our Birch syrup is slowly being processed, we set to work on cleaning our raised beds and started work on the dome in anticipation of getting some of our plants to germinate early.

What happens to Kale when left to over-winter in a passively heated greenhouse?
They grow 4 feet and are now flowering. 

This year the Birch trees are producing well, so we should have a good batch of syrup to bottle in a couple of weeks. We've noticed that the flow of sap on a specific tree may be alternating from year to year. Those producing well last year are producing poorly and vice versa, those producing well were not so great last year. Perhaps, Birch sap production is like nut production; it peaks on a 2 or 3 year cycle.

Collecting Birch sap; trees that performed poorly last year are doing well this year ( and vice versa)

We've also decided to progress on an experiment we carried out last year: Black Walnut syrup. This syrup is actually difficult to make; it takes 80 litres of sap to get 1 litre of syrup (like Birch) and the trees do not "bleed" as much as Birch or Maple. As such it is difficult to get a large quantity of this syrup, even though we have more than enough Black Walnuts. The process however is very much worthwhile; the taste of this syrup is so distinctive when compared to Maple or Birch. We actually hope to make enough syrup to bottle for the market.

Since Black Walnut is likely the last batch of sap syrup we will be making this year, we'll be reporting on this later. We're probably the only ones in Niagara crazy enough to attempt this, so it's probably worth sharing our experiences on this one.

Finally, we'll leave you this week with more signs of Spring.

Our raised beds are already occupied by new hatchlings. A young Garter Snake.  

...and the Crocuses are blooming!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chutney Flight

All Winter we've been toying with new recipes. This year we decided to spend some time to develop and offer a line of chutneys. The result is a Kiwi and a Raspberry chutney (using our own organic fruits) and of course, since we are in Peach country, a Peach chutney using some Niagara grown Peaches.

For the chutney lovers!

Since we serve some great Ontario artisan cheeses at the Tea Room, this gave us an idea for this week's special. Most people have heard of a beer or wine "flight", a tasting or selection of beer or wines. We decided to create a chutney flight. This is a selection of our new chutneys (including our tomato relish which has become quite popular), each served with an Ontario artisan cheese and a basket of bread....perfect for the cheese lover!

Meanwhile on the farm, our work is increasing. With the soil soft, we are now able to return to our Kiwis and begin the transplanting of some rather mature plants. We're not sure they will take, but we did need to clean up our rows and maximize fruit production. All of the large vines we were able to transplant had already grown some formidable roots.

Example of one transplanted and trellised Kiwi.

Our major project this Spring, the accessory building, is also coming along very fast. Everything is up and we're just now waiting for the main door. The building was finished to match the colours of our barn.

Just waiting for the door!
Finally, we finished and bottled our first batch of Maple syrup. As reported on in last week's blog entry, this year's syrup is very dark (copper like) and seems sweeter. 

We also  had some major problems with "Maple sand" (the crystallization of minerals in the sap). This year's batch had to be filtered 3 times to remove these crystals. Nevertheless, we're quite proud of our syrup this year. The flavour certainly seems more intense than last year.

We're quite proud of this year's batch of Maple syrup.

Now that we are finishing our last batch of Maple syrup, it has also proven time to start work on the next set of trees: the Birch. Birch tapping can be done a little after Maple and so we have now started to tap the few trees on the property. After all, one of our Tea Room menu items includes a warm mushroom salad prepared with Birch syrup!

Tapping Birch: the process is identical to Maple.

We'll end this week with a few photos that indicate that Spring is definitely on it's way (even though we still had some snow this week).

The bees are waking up!
The Skunk Cabbage will soon be the first to attract insects in the creek.
The Strawberry Rhubarb is "peeking" through.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy Easter!

Hopefully we saw Winter's last gasps this week. Although cold and snowy, we've been kept quite busy at the Tea Room.

Since this week is Easter week, we thought we'd welcome the Spring season by celebrating with an Easter special. We decided to create a seriously decadent Easter chocolate cake, decorated with our own little meringue bird nests. We'll be offering it half price per slice with every main order this week.

A nest for every slice!
Meanwhile, elsewhere at the farm things are starting to progress. We're finally getting some things done in anticipation of our Spring planting.

The first thing accomplished was the pruning of the old Concord grape vines. This was rapidly done; however, we still need to rebuild the trellises (perhaps we'll have time this Fall).

Finally reached the grapes just in time for pruning.
Even our Maple syrup is coming along quite fine. We're at the stage of finishing some of it in the Tea Room kitchen.

The Maple syrup is generating a heavenly smell in the kitchen.
This year's Maple syrup is quite different than last year's. It is very dark and rich in flavour. It actually seems that the sap has a much greater sugar content.

We'll quickly close this week by wishing all our readers a very Happy Easter and with a picture of our major project: the accessory building. The weather has not slowed down this team and we're already looking forward to move some of our equipment within the week,

Our accessory building is rapidly taking shape.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our First Week Open

The opening of the Tea Room this week has kept us quite busy. It was however quite fulfilling to see our new high teas served for the first time this year. Also, now that the Tea Room is licensed, we were pleased to see a few people enjoying the afternoon on the veranda while sipping a glass of wine (we actually feature the local wines of Henry of Pelham).

The first High Teas of the season
We were also quite pleased with the popularity if our seasonal desserts. With Maple season in full swing, this week, we have focused on a new pie: Maple Syrup, which we also provided as tarts for our High Teas.

A Quebec tradition: Maple syrup pie
Meanwhile our "gateau" has been a carrot cake with a twist (combining coconut and raisins).

A carrot cake with a coconut twist:
The quiches have turned out very well as well. The key ingredient turns out to be a local artisan cheese: Comfort Creme by Upper Canada.

The vegetarian option: Comfort Creme and baby spinach quiche
Meanwhile on the farm things continue to progress. Primarily, this has entailed recovering maple sap for our own syrup production. However, we now have to look at our old grape vines which need pruning. Now that most of the snow has disappeared, they are finally accessible.

Finally accessible, the old Concord Grapes are due for pruning this week.
We'll end this week with a quick update on the latest project: our implement shed. This week the concrete pad was poured and we now have taken delivery of the lumber. This building will up up in a rather short period of time, then we can begin to work on our old barn.

The implement building is rapidly progressing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Tea Room Opens: March 21st!

We've not been regular in logging over the past few weeks. The main reason is that both the cold and the snow meant that most of our work was mundane. In fact, we've been entirely focused on the opening of the Tea Room this next weekend. This has meant cleaning, resurfacing the Tea Room kitchen floors, taking in new inventory, and even moving in new equipment.

Getting ready for a lot of canning...a long awaited glass container shipment
Re-surfacing the kitchen floors...it's amazing the wear and tear on a professional kitchen
All of this activity was necessary since we have decided to open the Tea Room for its new season: March 21st (that is this coming Saturday!).

This week however, we were also very pleased to see the day time temperatures climbing back to above 0 Celsius.  This meant we could finally return to working on the farm. Our priority of course was the Maple syrup.

Although we do not have many trees, we produce enough of the syrup for the Tea Room and our market. Our few trees are all Sugar Maple and their sap is intensely sweet, producing a very high quality syrup. So it was clearly time to get back to our trees.

The rather painful and exhausting first trip to the Maple trees

Now we've already started the evaporation process and look forward to producing a lot more of our clotted cream, maple fudge.

Starting the evaporation process....soon our first  2015 batch of Maple syrup will be ready.

The thaw has also given us the opportunity to start on this year's major project: Phase 2 of the barn renovations.

In the back of our barn, we have an ancient dilapidated structure where we house a lot of our equipment. We will be taking this down and refinishing the walls of the barn and the interior lower floor. In order to do this, we need an implement building somewhere out of the way, yet convenient enough to be accessible year-round.

We decided to build this small structure down the farm not too far away from our "Beaver pond" and next to our Kiwi rows. This week, the beginnings of the foundation were finally started.

The first step to our barn renovation...a new implement building.
We'll end this week's blog with our latest wildlife pic. We've not seen them much this Winter, but we were really glad when a small herd of deer visited us one morning. Truly Spring is on its way.

The deer are back...Spring is on its way!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clotted Cream

In our past travels, we spent quite a bit of time in the UK. We quickly learned to love the British countryside, the pubs, the cricket matches (along with a few pints) and of course afternoon tea. It is the latter that introduced our family to a real English culinary delicacy: clotted cream. Clotted cream is a "must" for scones and tea and yet is not readily available in North America.

This week, we decided to make our own...and it's the easiest thing to do (although a bit expensive when all things are considered).

Clotted Cream....where cream meets butter.
To start, we used 35% whipping cream which is readily commercially available here. It is really one of the highest fat content cream we could get our hands on.

We simply poured the cream into a shallow container so that we had as much surface area as possible and no more than 1 inch of cream in the container.

Pouring cream into a shallow container.
There is actually few steps to the recipe....you simply put this container into an oven (at 180 F) overnight. In our case, we let it sit in the oven overnight for 12 hours.

The result is a buttery crust that will form on the cream. At this point, you know things are done.

A buttery crust is formed after 12 hours.
All you need to do now is refrigerate the cream. It will solidify and then it is just a matter of scooping it all up. With our 35% cream, we still had some liquid left over.

Of course, having produced this clotted cream we had to make some of our very own Tea Room Raspberry Scones.

Clotted cream and Raspberry Scones....all that is missing is our farm's jam

Having clotted cream and scones is a natural....however, we wanted to take this a bit further and make something really special: a traditional Cornish Clotted Cream fudge with a twist: using our own farm Maple syrup (since we're already getting ready to tap our trees, hopefully next month).

To make this fudge, we simply combined:

225 g of our clotted cream
100 g of our Maple syrup
275 g of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Fudge ingredients are all combined in a saucepan.
All ingredients are combined in a saucepan and heated to a boil. At this point, a candy thermometer is essential. The idea is to bring the solution to 116 C.

Getting close to the magic 116 C
Once the desired temperature is achieved, the hard part begins. As the liquid fudge hardens, we continuously whisk away. We do this until almost impossible but to the point where we can still spread the fudge into a baking pan, lined with parchment paper.

Whisking the fudge as it cools
As the fudge solidifies it is just about ready to be transferred....

Spreading the fudge on parchment paper
Once it cools, the result is simply amazing.

We are not big fans of traditional fudge....it is usually much too sweet for our liking. This fudge however is just amazing. It does not taste as sweet as you would expect. On the other hand, it is incredibly creamy and simply melts in your mouth.

Cornish style Maple clotted cream fudge...well worth the effort
Finally, elsewhere on the farm, we are rapidly anticipating the coming Spring. Along with our growing waist lines :), we are also suffering from "cabin fever". The extreme cold and snow have prevented us from doing much on the land. We've even neglected our dome.

We decided to look into it this week, knowing that the temperatures in this greenhouse have gone to 0.

Our growing dome is looking like an igloo

Running the dome "off grid", we've now concluded that temperatures will always likely reach around 0 C in the Winter. This means that many crops will simply not survive. Our tomato plants for example are all  dead. There are a few things however that do seem to survive. In particular, cold hardy crops like Kale are still doing well.

In the Growing Dome, the Kale is still "alive"

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Bread

As we spend most of our Winter days experimenting with our menu, cooking and baking, we promised that we would share some of our more successful recipes.

This week we decided to share our bread making recipe. Although bread is commercially cheap, good bread is hard to come by and there is actually nothing more satisfying than making this culinary staple at home.

Our preferred method is a cold fermented dough. Although it takes time, we consistently produce a beautiful golden and crisp crust around a light spongy bread....just about as close as we can come to a European artisanal bread without having the same raw ingredients.

In fact, there are few ingredients to this recipe (it's all in the process):

  • 450 gm hard flour
  • about 300 ml water
  • 6 gm deactivated yeast 
  • 6 gm sugar
  • 8 gm salt
First we begin by activating our yeast. We combine it with some lukewarm water and the sugar, and let it sit for some twenty minutes. You will know the yeast is ready when bubbling occurs on the surface.

The yeast is alive and ready!
If there are any changes we will likely make to the recipe, it will be at this point. Ultimately we would like to work with live yeast. We strongly believe that the yeast makes a substantial difference to the taste of bread and in a lot of cases, we believe it is the most important ingredient that distinguishes our north American bread from the European artisanal breads.

The next step is to combine the salt and flour into a mixing bowl. We use hard flour because it has a higher Gluten content. Gluten is a Wheat protein that helps bind the flour when processed.

To make our dough, we use a small Kitchen Aid mixer with a hook attachment. Once the salt and flour are mixed, we add the yeast and slowly introduce the water.

Adding water to our yeast and dry mix.
This is a critical step. Depending on the humidity in the environment and the amount of water used to activate our yeast, the actual volume of water added can vary. The objective is to have a dough which is not too wet or not too dry either. After a few trials, we've determined that we can do this by eye and touch. We end up waiting for the dough to form in a nice ball around the hook of the mixer.

The dough is just about ready to pull from the mixer.
At this point, we prepare an oiled bowl, place our dough in it and let it rise over the period of an hour. In this time frame, it will relax and almost double in size.

Our initial dough from the mixer.

After an hour it is almost double in size.
At this hour of resting, we take our dough and place it on a floured surface. We deflate it (by effectively punching it with our knuckles).

Deflating the dough.
We then fold our flattened dough four times and return it into a ball to bring it back into the original bowl.

The bowl is covered and the dough is set to rise again at room temperature for an hour. We then place the entire thing in a refrigerator for at least 14 hours.

Slowly fermenting at cold temperature for at least 14 hours.
Covering the dough is important. This can be done using plastic wrap or a wet cloth. If this is not done, the dough will form a crust and will be harder to work in subsequent steps.

Beautiful bread dough ready to work again after cold fermentation.

After cold fermentation, we take the dough out of the bowl and place it upside down on a floured surface (the dough will have developed a "skin" on the top and it is this "skin" which will be facing the floured surface). The bottom surface of the dough will be "wetter' and you can already start to see the creation of bubbles by the yeast which is now live.

At this point the entire dough ball can be used for a large bread or it can be cut or split in two for two medium sized loaves.

Splitting our dough to make two loaves.
Once the dough is split, we once again deflate it and fold it four times before making another ball. We let these rest for 45 minutes (always covering our dough when letting it rise).

Getting ready to make two loaves.
After, the dough has risen again, we shape our bread. We tend to just roll them out and "seal them" with the heal of our palms so that the seal becomes the underside of the bread.

Our shaped dough
Once shaped, we allow the bread to rest again for an hour. Afterwhich, we use a sharp knife to cut a pattern on the surface of the bread (you can be quite creative at this point).

Scarring the surface of the bread.
We cook our bread in a pre-heated 500 F oven. However, it should be noted that we also pre-heat our baking sheet and we place our dough directly on this pre-heated sheet. This ensures a well-cooked and crispy underside.

In order to get a golden and crispy crust, we also use steam. In our Tea Room's professional oven, this is easy to introduce. At home, we actually put a water bath in the oven and when we are ready to bake the bread, we add ice cubes to the water bath.

The bread is usually done in 20 minutes. You will know the bread is done once you knock on the crust and hear a hollow sound.

Another nice loaf!
As indicated earlier, making your own bread is really satisfying. Whenever we bake ours, I have to admit... it does not last a day!

We'll close this week, with another installment of new art glass from the gallery. This time, it is a pink irridescent and signed Loetz, circa 1910.

Loetz pink iridescent "elephant foot" vase.