It’s Harvest Season

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.

The Gladstone Hotel continues its Harvest Wednesdays series until mid-October with a variety of prix fixe dinners and tasting events featuring produce from Chick-A-Biddy Acres CSA Farm, as well as many other local producers of meat, cheese, produce, grain, honey, wine and beer.

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.

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Missing You

Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel started a couple of weeks ago. They did the first tasting event (similar to a cocktail party where all the growers and partners were present so guests could meet the people who grew their food) and the first prix fixe dinner ran this past week.

Normally during the tasting event and during each of the two seatings for the prix fixe dinners, Gladstone Hotel president and owner Christina Zeidler stands up and says a few words about how Harvest Wednesdays came about, how the partnership between the CSA farm and the hotel works every week to get the food from field to table, and about the general principles they try to follow.

Christina was away last week and I was incredibly honoured to be asked to take her place and do the presentation for the two prix fixe dinner seatings. As TasteTO is a media partner for the event, is was a logical choice, but they still could have gone with a Gladstone staff member. There’s an ongoing joke that because Greg and I are there so often and that we know so many people on the staff, and because we’ve been involved with Harvest Wednesdays for a few years now, that we are considered honorary staff members.

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Gather Round the Table

I haven’t met anyone who isn’t just a little bit sceptical of the communal dining trend, except perhaps restaurateurs who have added a communal table in the hopes of using it for either large groups or stragglers. For most of us, our inclination when going out to eat is to dine and talk with the people we came with. Strangers can be, well… strange, and dining with people we don’t know – people who might have odd table manners, or smell funny, or natter on and on about some topic we have no interest in – can make an otherwise lovely evening turn out to be a bust.

Communal dining isn’t a new idea, though, it’s as old as the discovery of fire when prehistoric man gathered round a single heat source to cook  food. Even without the restaurant trend, it exists today in the form of dinner parties, bed and breakfasts,wedding banquets and office lunches. We eat together to celebrate an occasion, to get to know one another, to strengthen bonds. And often we find ourselves eating with people who start out as strangers but who are friends, or at least acquaintances, by the time dessert is cleared.

Despite being a curmudgeon and a bit of a misanthrope, I find myself at a communal table at least once a month, often more. Most of the time, the dinners I attend are comprised of other food writers; colleagues who have been invited to cover the event or a specific product. But I’ve also been to plenty of dinners that are purely social, because I am interested in the food, or the experience.

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Harvest Wednesdays – Have You Been Yet?

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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.

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Where Can I Find – Red Fife Flour?

multipleflourThe “Where Can I Find?” column is a new bi-weekly feature here at TasteTO starting this week. We’ll research and track down hard to find items and let you know where they’re available. Got a question for the “Where Can I Find” lady? Drop us a line.

I see red fife flour showing up on restaurant menus that have a local food theme, but where can I get this product to bake with at home?

The hot ingredient this summer is most definitely red fife flour. Restaurateurs and bakers from Jamie Kennedy and Marc Thuet to St. John’s Bakery are using this wholly Canadian product, and articles about the history and near extinction of the grain are popping up in a variety of publications from MacLean’s and Toronto Life to Edible Toronto.

The short version – red fife wheat was first planted near Peterborough in 1842 by David and Jane Fife, and it became the backbone of the Canadian wheat industry, giving Canada the nickname “granary of the world”. Immigrants were given free seeds to encourage them to settle on the prairies and become farmers. Over the years, red fife fell out of favour as other varieties derived from the red fife strain became more popular because of shorter growing times and higher yields. The original strain was on the verge of extinction by 1988 when a seed-saver activist named Sharon Rempel got her hands on a pound of seed and planted it in Keremeos, British Columbia.

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Harvest Wednesday Dinner – July 23rd, 2008

I never manage to take decent photos of the food at the Harvest Wednesdays tasting nights, but at the actual prix fixe dinners, where the food isn’t rushing past with a hundred hands grabbing at it, the photos are a little easier to snap.

As a recap, Harvest Wednesdays is a weekly event at the Gladstone Hotel throughout the summer where Chef Marc Breton creates a four course dinner based on products from CSA farm Chick-A-Biddy Acres as well as a number of other local suppliers. The fun part is that he often doesn’t know until the day before as to what ingredients and in what quantities he’ll be working with, so the project keeps the kitchen staff on their toes.

We went last week with some friends, and here’s what we had…

Red Fife biscuits, Raisin-Walnut Bun, Epi, and Rosemary Foccacia with herb butter rosettes – didn’t get a photo of these, but they were great; I’m really digging the red fife flour that’s coming available.

Amuse Bouche (above)
Broccoli and Black River cheddar-filled ravioli with basil and toasted walnut pesto.

We all loved this, and wished there was more!

Garden Antipasto
Marinated white and orange carrots, red and candy striped beets, cauliflower and fingerling potatoes tossed with cold pressed canola oil, mixed tender herbs, heirloom radishes and cracked black pepper.

A few complaints at our table that the vinaigrette on this was too strong, but the vegetables were a really nice combination, and were all crisp and bright and tasty.

Honey-Lavender Fresh Ham Roast
Red Tamworth-Large Black Cross brined overnight, slow roasted and sliced thin

This was one of the pigs I met when I went to Chick-A-Biddy with the Gladstone staff, although Chef Marc said it wasn’t the mama pig pictured in the photos for my TasteTO post.

Broiled Leek and Tofu stuffed portobello mushroom
with a honey-sherry glaze

Our guests each had the vegetarian option, but I didn’t try this.

Mains were served with stir-fried three colour beans, shredded baby cabbage and a wedge of chickpea ‘Socca’. We all loved the socca, which was a chickpea flatbread that sort of resembled naan.

Raspberry Whip n Chill

Fresh raspberry jelly topped with raspberry streaked whipped cream served with fresh berries and a ChocoSol chocolate dipped Tuille.

Dessert was perfect – fresh, bright, not too sweet. My only complaint was that the tuiles must have been set out with the dessert early on because they had lost their sharp crispness, but I was overruled when everyone else at our table said they liked the cookie chewy.

Greg and I also had the wine pairing for the meal, although it was a bit much for me in terms of alcohol, particularly because we headed down the street to a pub for another drink afterwards.

We’ll be attending the remaining three tasting events and at least two or three more weekly dinners before the Harvest Wednesday series ends in late October. If you’re in Toronto, the tasting events are $15, and the 4-course dinners are $35 – a great deal all around.

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Back to the Farm with Harvest Wednesdays

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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.

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The Final Harvest Feast

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.

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Harvest Wednesday Dinner

We attended our last of three Harvest Wednesdays this past week. The schedule rotated through Tasting Nights at $12 each, which were cocktail-party style, Buffet Dinner at $38 each, which was pre-set seating and a huge buffet table, and the Harvest Dinner, the most expensive at $48 each – a family style dinner where you sit with strangers, and pass large platters of food.

The event continues every Wednesday at the nearby Gladstone Hotel until September 19th, which is the finale of a 7-course meal for $110 with proceeds of that night going to FoodShare a local organization that sells weekly boxes of produce to low income people.

The premise of Harvest Wednesdays is that the hotel works with a CSA, and Chef Marc Breton pulls together a menu with only a day’s notice. He has an idea of what he’ll be getting based on seasonality and talking to the farmer, but it’s only when the boxes of produce arrive on Tuesday that he can really put together the menu for that week’s event.

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