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.
Oh, we found wonderful and tasty stuff to share with you this month.
We’re big fans of the crackers and biscuits from Evelyn’s Crackers, and they’ve just come out with two new flavours. The Saw-Bucks are made with buckwheat and red fife flour, as well as spelt flakes and currants. They’re like a heartier, healthier version of the British Garibaldi biscuit. And the Berkshire biscuits are made with lard sourced from Berkshire pigs. Don’t turn your nose up, lard makes for tasty, tasty everything – especially biscuits. Available at farmers’ markets throughout the city and select stores (check the link for a full list).
This past Wednesday was sunny and warm – not a day you’d typically consider eating soup. But 400 people lined up at the doors of the Gardiner Museum to take part in Empty Bowls, an annual event featuring local chefs, local pottery artists and of course, great soup.
For $45, attendees not only got to sample soups from 20 different restaurants at the Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner restaurant, they also got a beautiful, hand-made bowl to take home.
This fantastic event is based entirely on donations – from the chefs donating their time and food, to local potters donating bowls, many made especially for this event. With bread donated from Ace Bakery and crackers from Evelyn’s Crackers, plus water from Gaia and cups from Green Shift, all proceeds from the event go towards Anishnawbe Health Toronto, a charitable organization that provides food to homeless people. Volunteers and Gardiner Museum staff also donated their time, and props, kudos and huge piles of thanks and appreciation must go to organizer Siobhan Boyd who pulls this thing together every year with aplomb.
It’s been a while since we ran an On the Shelf column. I’m not sure why – it’s not like I haven’t been shopping. But in the past month I’ve come across some great finds that I just had to share.
Dark Chocolate with fragments of Rose – Chocolats Yves Thuries
Available at: Domino’s, St. Lawrence Market, $5.99
This is exactly what it appears to be, a 70% dark chocolate bar with little nibs of candied rose. I’ve not heard of this chocolatier before but this is a really nice chocolate with a bright sheen and a good snap, although the flavour, logically, takes a backseat to the rose. There’s also mint and lavender versions of this confection, and the lavendar one is very pretty, and not at all soapy or overpowering.
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.
Over the past few years, Slow Food activists have taken part in a bi-annual event in Torino, Italy called Terra Madre. First held in 2004, the event brings together food activists from around the world in a giant conference and marketplace where people can exchange ideas and information. There are conferences, symposiums, dinners and markets, all with a focus on sharing ideas about how to promote sustainable food. Terra Madre takes place during the even-numbered years (2006, 2008… another coming up in 2010), and this year, Slow Food decided that it would be a good idea for individual convivia to hold local events – both as a great way to support local food producers, and because, well, not everyone can afford to get on a plane to Italy.
Organized and paid for by Slow Food Toronto (monies raised at the Picnic at the Brickworks allowed them to pay participating farmers and producers to take part, a rarity in the world of markets and trade shows where the producers usually have to pay to participate), this year’s Terra Madre Day took place at the FoodShare warehouse.
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.