Uh oh!

November 30, 2009

Photo: James Tse

According to a study by Ketchum that was reported in the February issue of Canadian Grocer magazine, 78% of Canadians would like to get their food from local farms or companies by 2020.  Regrettably, this isn’t likely since as Rebecca LeHuep, executive director of the  Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance pointed out in the September issue of that same magazine, “by 2012, more than 60% of farmers and farm managers will be retiring. The average age of a farmer is about 57 and he doesn’t have a succession plan for his farm.” In an email correspondence Rebecca shares another grim stat that between 1991 and 2001 Ontario lost 135 of its farmers.

Beyond the fact that these stats reveal a disappointing gap between Canadian consumer aspirations and the reality of farming situation, LeHeup’s comments point out that we may be en route to becoming a society almost solely dependent on other countries for food.

Would you ever consider being a farmer?  Or, if you are a farmer, is it a career choice you’d make again?

Topline Trends Tuesday: Bridging a gap between farms and tables

September 15, 2009


Local foods are enjoying renewed popularity as people all over North America and Europe realize that nurturing a dependable, nearby food source leads not only to delicious eating experiences but enriched communities, too.

This new trend has spawned interesting new jobs. Take Paul Sawtell and Grace Mandarano who started 100km Foods in 2007. They noticed a lack of infrastructure for local food producers. Before 100km Foods, chefs who wanted local products had to find individual farmers, coordinate deliveries, and source new farms and products themselves. Plus, the farmers had to deal with deliveries, invoicing and receiving orders on top of their regular workload.

Enter Paul and Grace with an ambitious idea to help both sides do their jobs more easily:

“It was literally a case of cold calling farmers, driving up to their farms, sitting at their kitchen tables to tell them what we were trying to do and seeing what kind of products they could offer,” says Paul when asked to explain how 100km Foods started.

He and Grace initially drew largely on the member lists of organizations such as Durham Farm Fresh as well as York Region Farm Fresh to make contacts with the growers. Since then, their roster has grown mostly by taking product requests from chefs and subsequently finding farms that can offer supply.

What’s next? “In the future, 100km Foods will be a resource to GTA chefs offering a vast array of local foods including protein and dairy sourced from north, east, west and south of Toronto, all harvested to order with multiple deliveries per week. We also hope to expand our direct-to-consumer Ontario Artisan Share Program, providing all local, artisan-produced food products direct from producer to consumer.”

What’s happening in your area? Are you involved in CSA’s or aware of restaurants who work with companies like 100km Foods in your area? If so, give them a plug in the comments section.

Also, visit Christie’s Corner today to read Paul Sawtell’s perspective on fresh food prices. His comments about what we pay for food may surprise you.

Grape expectations

September 4, 2009


Does everyone have food memories that take them back to their childhood? Probably. I know I have many.

At this time of the year, popping a semi-seedless Ontario Coronation grape on my tongue and feeling that burst of juicy goodness takes me right back to age 11 when my family lived in a house whose former owners had valued self-sufficiency very highly. Our standard-issue suburban yard was crammed full of wonderful fruit-bearing plants: damson plums, peaches, apples and pears grew in our backyard. All around the house, positioned above the lower storey windows like living awnings, were full, glorious grape vines whose leaves shaded the house all summer.  I fondly remember, as an 11-year-old, teetering on my desk chair to open the window, sliding back the screen and picking a bouquet of blue-black grapes to eat before settling down to memorize my first list of spelling words for the school year.

Coronation and the other Ontario blue grape variety, Fredonia, are only available from mid-August to late September, so this is the perfect weekend to pick up a basket if you don’t have a grape vine growing over your bedroom window.

During the rest of the year, most commercially-available table grapes sold in Canada are imported from places like California. You can easily distinguish native blue table grapes from other table grapes by examining their size and skin. Imported table grapes are considerably larger than the blue grapes Canadian home gardeners can grow and they have skins that cling to the flesh of the fruit. Canadian-grown blue grapes, on the other hand, are each about the size of a small marble, cluster in tight bunches on the vine and feature ‘slip’ skins that can easily be removed from the fruit.

These wonderful little grapes are still a favourite of mine to eat out of hand, but I also like to add them to salads and use them in this once-a-year focaccia recipe:

Coronation Focaccia

1 envelope fast-acting dry yeast
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) bread or all-purpose flour (approx)
1/2 tsp (2 mL)  salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) very warm water
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
1/4 cup (50 mL)  melted butter
2 cups (500 mL) Ontario blue grapes, halved and seeded if necessary
1/3 cup (75 mL) muscovado or granulated sugar

1. Stir yeast with flour and salt and reserve. Stir water with lemon juice, honey and melted butter in a large bowl. Stir in half the flour mixture and blend well. Stir in remaining flour mixture and turn out onto the counter. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic,  adding up to 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra flour if necessary. Place in a lightly buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Rest for 10 minutes.

2. Turn dough out of bowl and press out all the air. Roll dough into a large rectangle. Scatter half the grapes over dough and sprinkle with half the sugar. Brush around the edge of the dough with a little water and fold dough like a letter to make a rectangle. Crimp the edges of the dough to seal. Sprinkle with remaining grapes, turning skin side up and pressing gently into dough. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

3. Tent bread with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Bake focaccia on middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until well browned. Immediately loosen bread with a spatula from pan (it will be saucy on the bottom) and slide onto a rack to cool. Makes 1 loaf.

Produce panic part two: basic crumble topping

August 14, 2009


So, you’ve got lots of yummy, fresh fruit and you just don’t know how to use it. All you have to do is cut enough of it up to make 6 cups (1.5L). What can you do now besides make a fruit salad? You can make a crumble! (You can call it a crisp if you prefer. I don’t care as long as you save some for me.)

It’s easy to make a crumble. Just toss your fruit with enough honey or sugar to make it palatable and sprinkle with 2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour; toss well and transfer to an 8-inch (20 cm) round or square baking dish.

Next, throw together the easy crumble topping below; sprinkle it thickly and evenly over the sweetened, raw fruit and bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 45 to 60 minutes or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is golden.

Basic crumble topping

3/4 cup (175 mL) all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup (175 mL) rolled or quick oats
2/3 cup (150 mL) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) melted butter

Toss the flour, oats and sugar together until evenly combined. Drizzle with butter and toss well.

By the way, this topping can be made in bulk and kept in a tightly sealed container in the freezer so that you can use it anytime.

Now, before I sign off, let’s take a poll. Which title do you prefer: crisp or crumble?

Produce panic part one: peach and tomato salad

August 13, 2009

peachtomatosaladThis salad was the result of a panic attack: I looked at the counter and realized that I had way too many ripe peaches and tomatoes. The solution? Transform them into something fast!

I can’t seem to resist over-buying when I’m in the produce aisle at this time of year – everything looks so fantastic; it’s local; it’s good value and I just want it all! The downside to buying peaches and tomatoes by the basket instead of two or three at a time when you’re a family of three is that you have to eat a lot of produce quickly to avoid the guilt of wasting the best fruit you’ll taste all year long.

Peach and tomato salad

3 peaches
Balsamic vinegar
1 beefsteak or field tomato
4 fresh basil leaves (approx)
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4 handfuls mâché or another tender, small leaf lettuce

Blanch and peel the peaches. Cut them into wedges and toss with enough good quality balsamic vinegar to coat all over. Slice the tomato into wedges and add it to the bowl. Thinly slice the basil leaves and sprinkle over the fruit. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss gently.

Taste and add more vinegar, oil, salt or pepper as needed. Toss with the lettuce and serve immediately.