It seems I’ve been remiss in keeping you all up to date on the great food finds I’ve come across lately. Apologies, because I shouldn’t have been keeping this stuff to myself. Like these fabulous waffles from the folks at Monckton Organic Farms and Bakery. These folks grow and grind their own grains and then turn it into breads, bagels, cookies, muffins and scones that they sell at a variety of local markets including Liberty Village, Green Barns and Trinity-Bellwoods. The waffles are $5 for a bag of 3, come in whole wheat, spelt and occasionally blueberry and need only a few minutes in the oven to warm up and get crisp and tasty. We’ve been eating them all summer with a changing variety of berries.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses as to why people don’t make the effort to shop at farmers’ markets, with the most oft-heard one being that there just isn’t anything accessible and easy to get to. This has changed considerably in the past couple of years, and downtown Toronto now has over 20 separate markets, with at least one market taking place every day of the week during the summer and early autumn.
Which begs the question – have we hit a saturation point? Are markets the new Starbucks with two on every corner?
On Thursdays in the downtown core, there are now three separate markets within walking distance of each other. The market at Metro Hall is the most established of these, with a selection of vendors who are predominantly farmers. There are many vendors selling the same in-season produce, but this tends to create a healthy competition that keeps prices reasonable. During the lunch hour, there are live performances, and half a dozen food vendors along the south end of the square selling everything from Caribbean food to crepes to peameal bacon on a kaiser.
While there are a few farmers’ markets that continue to run throughout the winter and spring seasons, they usually take place on Saturday mornings and are not always convenient. One of the wonderful things about Toronto’s farmers’ market scene in the peak season is that there are so many markets, scattered throughout the city, conveniently located near either home or work for most people.
During the summer, markets at Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday mornings and Metro Hall on Thursday mornings are both extremely popular. Workers in the downtown core frequent these markets not just for grocery shopping but use them to grab snacks of baked goods or fresh fruit. When the markets shut down in the fall, this large population is under-served.
First of all, an apology. When I find myself in a room surrounded by artisanal cheese, my note-taking skills go right out the window, so while I have lovely pictures of cheese for readers to enjoy, pairing them up with the appropriate cheesemakers might be difficult, especially because we were sampling from more than one place at a time.
The images below were taken at the Ontario Cheese Society Artisan Market and Tasting last Tuesday at Hart House. The market follows a day-long conference of Ontario cheesemakers and Ontario Cheese Society members in which they discuss all things related to cheese in Ontario. In the evening a number of the cheesemakers offer samples and items for sale – as many of the cheeses on offer are very rare, this is an exciting event for those of us who love eating the stuff.
I’ve got to admit that the Wednesday morning market at Nathan Phillips Square is still my favourite of all the farmers markets in the city. There is no face-painting, no snack stalls, no fun activities for the kids. Heck, usually there are no kids. And while there are “Fresh Wednesdays” concerts from noon to 1pm, it’s mostly just farmers and customers who are serious about their produce.
Most of the customers are, in fact, workers from within City Hall or the nearby office towers on Bay Street. To accommodate these customers, many of the produce vendors selling stone fruit ingeniously offer mixed baskets of seasonal items to accommodate snacking. Usually retailing for around $8, baskets can include cherries, peaches, plums and apricots, and as the season moves on, will see the addition of small sweet pears, apples and grapes.