Monday, April 25, 2016

Time to Garden

With snow hitting the region earlier this month, it has been difficult to get back to do some farm work. Our fingers however have been getting "itchy" to plant.

As we finish our Birch syrup, the weather has been more typical of Spring and we could finally use our Growing Dome greenhouse to begin planting our seeds. We're quite pleased with our effort since for the first time, we are generating plants from our very own seeds. This includes all of our Tomato varieties, herbs, Peppers and even Asparagus.

We're finally (and proudly) planting our very own seeds.
As many useful plants begin to sprout, it was also time to move our Rhubarb and once again split the roots. From two plants originally found in the back of the old Victorian house some three years ago, we now have well over 40 roots firmly in place! They had to be moved once again since we had located them in the back of the barn where some construction work has taken place and this work will likely continue thru summer.

Transplanting Rhubarb in their new raised beds
From seeds gathered off "feral" Asparagus in the field, our Asparagus raised bed is also showing signs of life. It will not be long before the family can enjoy its first Asparagus dinner of the season.

The Asparagus are sprouting!
We'll close this week with our favourite find of the season: Ramps (Allium Triccocum). They are only to be found for a very short period of time in the Spring. However, they are a real delicacy.

The Ramps are out.
We have so many Ramps available to us from our swampy patch of Carolinian forest that we like to share a taste of these with our Tea Room customers. Recently our guests have had an opportunity not only to learn about this wonderful plant, but also to taste it in our daily soup.

Ramps ready for soup!
We'd like to close by warning people not to pick Ramps in conservation areas or the Greenbelt. Extreme care must be given to prevent these from extinction. The problem is the very long life cycle attributed to the plant. It may take 6-18 months for a seed to germinate and it can take 5-7 years before a plant is mature enough to flower! As a result, in our own patch of forest, we greatly limit how many plants we will pick in any given season.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wine Pairing and Pop-Up Dinner at the Farm

We're happy to announce a special evening at the farm. This will be held on Saturday April 23rd.

Good friend, local wine exec, oenologist, and SlowFood advocate Daniel Boudin, will be sharing his passion and knowledge of wines in order to educate our guests on the art of "pairing". To complete the evening, Niagara College trained, young local chef, Calvin McAlister has decided to use the farm for his first "pop up" dinner.

The event will include a 5 course Spring Blossom menu designed by Calvin and a selection of wines for each course specifically chosen by Daniel to please the palate.

At $75/seat, tickets are limited and will be sold on a first come, first served basis. So if you are into good food, good wine, good company, and a learning experience, be sure to get your tickets at the Tea Room.

Meanwhile on the farm, the weather has been a real surprise. After enjoying Spring-like weather in February, we face the harsh realities of the Canadian climate: a snow storm and and frigid temperatures in the first week of April.

This has slowed our work in the field and in fact may prove damaging to the buds on many fruit trees in the area.

In our case, we just decided to finish off our Maple syrup and begin tapping our Birch.

Our 2017 vintage Ridge Berry syrup is  ready
This year's Maple syrup is darker than previous but still has the same great taste and we're rather pleased with the results.

For those that have never tasted Birch syrup before, we should have some available in the next 2 weeks. Unlike Maple, Birch is not a "desert" syrup. The taste is more akin to molasses. And although you may not want it on your pancakes, Birch syrup is simply fantastic for marinating meats for BBQ.

Even the old Birch next to the house is tapped this time of year.
We'll close this week, with our latest surprise from the old Victorian manor.

When we first arrived here, we could never open the front windows of the house. The old counter-weight cables were damaged, or the years of paint were sealing the frames and they were simply tightly wedged into place. So we were rather surprised one very hot summer day to see that one of our windows had opened upwards on its own. Although it took us a week to shut it, we rationally tried to explain this by blaming it on window frame expansion during this rather hot summer.

This past week however, we were once again caught by surprise on a very cold morning to find the same old window had opened itself again! This time we definitely cannot blame the heat and we're certainly at a loss to explain how this has happened. Thank God for storm windows or our front living room would have been a frozen shell.

The mystery window (far left) keeps opening up!
We've now decided we better find a way to lock this mystery window!

With the immense Copper Beech still bare, we decided to take the opportunity and finally get a full picture of the old lady (our Victorian house). Every day when we come home, we are still impressed with this historical piece of architecture. It certainly was worth renovating.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Tea Room Opens Tomorrow!

It's Spring time and of course, this means our Tea Room is re-opening for the 2016 season. We will be open as of tomorrow, March 22nd. Our hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM to 6PM.

Spring time and the tea pots are blooming! Ready for the 2016 Tea Room Season.
We've updated our menu a touch. As promised, we've replaced our (unsustainable) Tuna salad with Niagara Coronation Chicken. This is our own version of a UK classic, using a chutney made from local Peaches. We've also now sourced our drug-free and hormone-free meats from sustainable farmers.

We've also made some significant upgrades in our egg procurement. We have finally found local eggs we can use in our restaurant (Provincial regulations mean they have to be graded). These eggs are somewhat more expensive but well worth the difference in price. The multi-coloured eggs are from free-range heritage varieties locally farmed by  Bertha's Bounty. You can tell the difference in quality just by the strong egg shells and the large orange yolks. We're really looking forward to using these.

Finally! A local source of high quality eggs (Bertha's Bounty)
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the farm, it is Maple syrup season. We've been collecting our sap (this year a lot earlier than before). In fact, we'll be switching to Birch soon and this is a few weeks ahead of last year, given the Spring like weather we faced in February.

Spring like weather has made it easy to collect sap this year.
We'll close by suggesting to everyone that it is now time to visit your local "sugar bush". A good place to visit in Pelham would be White Meadows, where everything they do is Maple themed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Re-Opening Soon!

March is upon us and this means also means the Tea Room will be re-opening soon! Many have asked when this will occur and we're happy to say Tuesday, March 22nd. For this new season, we will be open 10AM to 6PM, Tuesday to Sunday. We will be closed on Mondays.

It is now time for us to get out of hibernation and get ready! Over the coming weeks, we'll be working on updating our menu and trialing some new items for the upcoming season.

Although, we've not accomplished much this Winter, we still managed to get the first phase of our barn restoration completed. Finally, the back half of the barn is looking a lot more "civilized".

The back of the barn was looking a little sad...

...a  face lift has provided it with new life.
There is still much to be accomplished in the interior, but this is a great start, Our ultimate objective is to have a patio where guests can dine overlooking the berry fields.

Although our Winter was a lazy one, we did manage to discover and develop a few new things. One of these is a "white" wine made with (of all things) Raspberries.

Of the new berries planted in our fields, the most difficult to use has been the Yellow or Golden Raspberries. They taste great and are very similar to their red counterparts. However, when cooked, they turn brownish and are not exactly appetizing,  Although tasty, even the associated jams and jellies tend to take on this darker colour.

Since our plot is generating quite a few berries each year, we have more than we can use. This Winter, we were left with a reasonable amount that we ended up freezing for long term storage.

We decided that one option might be to transform these into wine.

Delicious golden raspberries ready to be transformed into wine.
The result, has surprised us completely. We ended up producing a distinctive white wine. The bouquet is all Raspberry and so is the taste. Not as sweet or "liquory" as some of the other fruit wines we've been playing with, this wine is perhaps the best we've managed to produce to date.

A Raspberry "white wine", perfect accompaniment to....chocolate!
We'll close this week with one thing that we were able to accomplish during this rather warm Winter: pruning. The lack of snow and bitter cold weather meant that a few days could be spent catching up on our pruning...although we still have a heck of a lot more to do!

An easy Winter means easy pruning!

Monday, February 1, 2016

A New Hive

In the past, we have let some of our property for commercial bee keeping, hoping to eventually do this ourselves. This year, we decided to start on a very small scale. Of course, not satisfied with doing anything the traditional way, we wanted to try out some new apiary technology.

Our new assembled Flow Hive
Last year, a father and son team from Australia launched a crowd funding campaign for a concept they had developed. This involved a bee hive, called a Flow Hive, which would allow the beekeeper to collect honey from the combs without the removal the combs from the hive or the use of centrifuge to extract the honey from the combs. We were intrigued and after a bit of research we were compelled to be one of their original backers. We were definitely not alone and their crowd funding campaign exceeded all expectations, raising much more than originally anticipated.

This month, as original supporters, we were rather thrilled to get our first Flow Hive. The entire hive came in two neat packages and required quite a bit of construction. It was a bit like an Ikea kit. Based on recent Ikea experience, we would have to admit this was of better quality. The instructions were well detailed and after a morning of construction we were pleased with the results.

From the Flow Hive kit, a brood box takes shape.
The only two issues we did face during assembly was a brood box panel which was not pre-drilled and an access door which was rather tight.

The key to this technology are plastic frames which sit on top of the brood box. These frames are composed of multiple partially finished plastic cells. Bees will eventually complete these cells with wax and fill them with honey.

The critical element to the Flow Hive
Once the hive is assembled, two access panels or doors are used to collect the honey. On the top is a slot in which a long key is inserted. In the bottom is a collection tube. Once turned, the key splits the combs and the honey flows to the collection tube.

Accessing the Flow Hive frames for honey collection
A couple of added niceties for being original supporters of the concept, were a wood burned recognition on the hive's access window panel and a beekeeper's hat which was sent with the kit.

Already feeling like a beekeeper 
Of course we will be augmenting this hive with a couple of more conventional units. However, our first experience with this particular model would suggest that this may be the ideal hive for the hobbyist. We will now need to assess it with a bee colony and their honey to give a final verdict.

For those wishing to know more about this technology here is the Flow Hive web site. Below, you will also find one of their videos which really explains the concept.

It's now time to educate ourselves on beekeeping and get some colonies!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

It's a New Year

2016 finally begins with snow on the ground. The holiday season is over, but we'd like to share a couple of cooking experiences which may be of interest to our readers.

As most blog readers know, our favourite holiday meat is goose. To end 2015, we decided to take a different path to cooking goose. Our Slow Food event for Terra Madre last month was based on deboned quails. We decided to use what we have learned to debone our goose and effectively create what the french call a "ballotine".

The results were amazing. By keeping just four bones (2 leg bones and 2 wing bones) we were able to create a "ballotine" that still resembled a roasted goose and yet had no carcass. Cutting this large bird in half proved impressive and very easy to serve. We'd recommend everyone at least try this once with a roasted bird. There are ample videos on YouTube; in particular, we would recommend those published by Chef Jaques Pepin.

A "re-constructed" bird; "ballotine" of goose

Always impressive to cut a boneless stuffed bird in half.

For New Year's eve, we decided to draw on the Polish side of the family for a different cultural tradition: Bigos.

Since arriving at the farm, we have been practicing and promoting on this blog home made sauerkraut. Yet once made, what is the best way to enjoy this great food during the Winter season? Our answer is Bigos; also known as a Polish hunters' stew.

Bigos is a national Polish dish, yet its roots are in Lithuania. In 1385, newly crowned king Wladyslaw Jagiello, originally from Lithuania, introduced the concept to his court and featured it as part of his hunting parties.

The concept is simple, yet we're certain that for every Polish family in North America, there is a different version of Bigos. In fact, we would not be surprised if something similar can be found in many North Eastern European countries and tradition.

Basically Bigos is a combination of sauerkraut and meats. To this are added onions, mushrooms, and sometimes tomatoes and cabbage. The essential meat to this meal is of course Kielbasa (that wonderful garlicky Polish sausage).

For us, we decided to use local meats to add to our Bigos. This included pork loins (which we braised in white wine), pork belly (bacon can also be used), and smoked pork chops (Kassler) which were added to our Kielbasa. Locals can source great meats for this meal at the Country Corner Market in Welland (this includes Kassler and Kielbasa).

New Year's Eve Bigos

If you have home made sauerkraut at hand, we highly recommend making Bigos. There is nothing heartier as this wonderful Winter stew and every element of it reflects our own local Ontario food culture, since our climate is so similar to northern Europe.

Finally, on the farm, it is now time to tackle our barn project.

Before much can be done structurally, we actually have to clean up a horrendous mess. This is an accumulation of "stuff" which existed in the barn when we moved in, plus a large amount of our own things. "Stuff", lots of stuff,  we've not even yet bothered to sort through from our various moves over the past 10 years.

The barn: a mess that needs to be sorted through
Progress has been slow, but things are starting to look good. In the process, we've even found a few historical artifacts from the farm. These we hope to display in our Tea Room and Market this year.

Progress is slow, but things are looking up.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Although this has been an exceptionally warm December (and we have no snow on the ground), it's already time for the Holidays. We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Ridge Berry Farm
For us at the farm and tea room, this means we are now closed for the season. As such, we would like to also thank our guests and patrons who have made this year our best so far. The Tea Room will be open once again in the Spring, with a planned re-opening date of March 22, 2016.

The seasonal closing of the tea room actually gives us time to catch up on our farm work, clean up the Tea Room kitchen (from top to bottom), and experiment with our anticipated new additions to the menu. For example, one item we have been working on is a beautiful apple tart with almond paste.

Made with local apples, these tarts are not only pretty...but delicious!

It is also the time to begin the second phase of our barn renovation. This entails fixing the foundations, demolishing an old crumbling addition, re-finishing the exterior and insulating the lower back half of the building. In the past few weeks, work on the foundation was already started.

The beautiful stone foundations in the back of the barn are now undergoing restoration
Ultimately, we hope to have more insulated storage space for the market, an extended kitchen (we really need more space)....and a new oven! Our old oven failed us this summer and for the past few months, we have been working from a small (but very capable) cafeteria oven. It's time to increase our capacity and our capability.

We'll close this entry by announcing that the old Victorian manor is finally back in the news and reclaiming its conservative splendor. In 1880, the Victorian Tribune called it a "testament to the fellow's good taste", referring to Josiah Ward. This month and 135 years later, it is back in the news and showcased in the Niagara winter edition of Our Homes magazine.

Want to know more abut the house? Check out the latest edition of Niagara's Our Homes magazine 
Next year, plans are in the works to have at least a couple of Tea Room events centered around the Victorian manor and the property's rich history.