It’s been a weird summer, especially for farmers, but those fruits and vegetables keep on coming regardless. This being the peak of the season, there’s no better time to enjoy a meal prepared from locally-sourced ingredients.
If you haven’t made it out to a Harvest Wednesdays event yet, it’s not too late – the prix fixe dinners continue on August 26th, September 2nd, 16th, 23rd and 30th, and October 14th. These four-course dinners are $35 plus tax and gratuity and wine pairings are also available.
When someone refers to a pub as their “local”, no doubt we all imagine the same thing; a place where the atmosphere is homey, where the staff greet them by name, and where they probably know at least one other person in the room. Imagine the set from Cheers and that would be just about right.
We call these establishments our Local because it’s probably within walking distance from home – geographically it’s nearby.
When it comes to food, however, local is about more than geography. We are comfortable in our local pub because we’ve formed relationships – with the staff and owners, and with the other patrons, who are more than likely our neighbours. But even when we make an effort to buy local food, to support local producers, we don’t often get that same connection.
It’s hard – farmers are out in their fields, bakers manning their ovens, fishers on their boats. Building relationships with the people who make our food isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. And I say that as someone who works in the industry and gets to spend time a lot more time with local food producers than the average consumer.
It has spawned countless copycats, and has earned Chef Marc Breton a local food hero award from the Toronto Food Policy Council. It brings together farmers and local food producers with the people who eat their food. It has created friendships and communities, and has taught urbanites how easy (and delicious) it is to eat with the seasons.
Harvest Wednesdays is back for its fourth year, offering up dishes made from locally grown produce, as well as locally-produced meats, cheeses, wines, beer and more.
It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.
For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.
Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.
The last week of August is always bittersweet. The smell of fall is in the air, the kids are getting ready to go back to school and Ontario produce is at its peak, with the abundance of the season available in farmers markets across the province.
For anyone who finds themselves at the Gladstone Hotel on a Wednesday night, the abundance of the season is also to be had in the ballroom café where Chef Marc Breton and his staff continue to serve up a seasonal 4-course prix fixe dinner featuring the best locally grown products that Ontario has to offer.
Pulling up the driveway into Chick-A-Biddy Acres, I almost want to break into a rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, for Sherry Patterson has created something that seems almost too good to be true. I am tagging along (“embedded” in journalism-lingo) with some of the kitchen and catering staff from the Gladstone Hotel as they join Patterson and her three employees for a day of weeding and a tour of the 75 acre community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.
From the second we arrive, I am enchanted, opening the car door to find half a dozen of Patterson’s colourful laying hens rushing toward me with curiosity. We’re not here to play with chickens, however, and Patterson quickly directs us to a nearby field where we’re put to work weeding rows of peas.
After the long hard winter we’re just now starting to see the back of, there were times when I almost believed that it wouldn’t end – that it would be perpetual winter forever. Fortunately Mother Nature takes care of things, and just like it has for every other year since the beginning of time, spring has arrived. Which turns the heads of farmers and gardeners to one thought – planting.
Since many of us city-dwellers don’t have access to a yard in which to grow our own vegetables, we rely on area farmers to keep us well-stocked with nature’s bounty. And as we become more in tune with the philosophy of eating locally and supporting local growers and producers, we city-dwellers need a quick and easy way to do that. While farmer’s markets are always a delight to visit, many people just don’t have the time, or else don’t have any way to haul their swag home.
Recently more and more smaller local farms have been setting up Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs in which customers can buy a share of the farm’s output for the year. Depending on the farm, customers can either pick up their weekly box of goodies at the farm, or else the farmer will make deliveries to a pre-set drop-off point a couple of times a week. But how are we city-folk who want to join a CSA supposed to find one? Drive around in the country, stopping at every farm we see?
Autumn is undoubtedly my favourite season. It smells fantastic, the air is crisp, you sweat a whole lot less, and in terms of food, there is such a huge variety on offer. It also means the end of the harvest season, though, and I get how some people can find it a bit sad. Things are dying off, the summer is done, and it will be many long months before we can bite into a freshly picked strawberry or tomato again.
Which is why I was so excited to receive the email about one last Harvest Wednesday event at the Gladstone Hotel. Scheduling conflicts made this one a Harvest Monday, but that didn’t matter – the opportunity to sit with friends and enjoy one final meal from the CSA and Chef Breton’s kitchen was worth potentially missing Heroes (we didn’t).
Throughout the summer we enjoyed the rotating events of Harvest Wednesdays, from the cocktail-style finger food nights, to the grand buffets to the family-style passed dishes, with the bright summer sun streaming through the south-west facing windows. This final dinner definitely reminded us it was fall, for it was dark when we arrived and even darker when we left. My photos of the various dishes turned out to dark to use, even with some Photo-Shop tweaking, and I must admit that I forgot to photograph the hot dishes completely. I was too busy eating. Instead, here’s the menu with commentary.