Something about this time of year that makes me reflect. Or maybe I’ve spent too long in newsrooms and like a reflex reaction — or bad habit — I feel compelled to compile a list of some sort to sum up the year that was. In an effort to satisfy either need, I present you with my five favourite local food finds of the year. These are locally made products or Niagara- grown foods that I enjoyed for the first time this year and they have fast become favourites. The stuff of cravings, pregnant or not. Items to which I’ve given precious permanent shelf space in my pantry and always seem to have room for in my belly. I share them with the hope you’ll give them a try and find yet another Niagara great.
White Meadows Farm maple ancho BBQ sauce
I bought this sauce on a whim when placing an order through the Niagara Local Food Co-op earlier this year. I like it hot and I have a weakness for maple so this sauce sounded like the complete package.
I also love everything the Berings, who are White Meadows Farm, do. The exemplify the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of local farmers and empitomize resiliency, given all the changes their farm has undergone in the 75 years it has been in the family. This sauce lived up to my expectations and dazzled me from the first taste. Yes, there’s a fantastic wallop of ancho to make you sit up and pay attention but the flavour of the sauce doesn’t defer to the heat, making it my go-to condiment this summer. Anytime I grilled anything (OK, veggies), I reached for my bottle of maple ancho BBQ sauce and it made my meals just that much better. My omnivorous husband also loved it on his chicken parts that he’d grill. It gave us the sniffles on a hot summer day but if our taste buds had a voice, they’d have been singing ‘Laaaaaaa!’ That’s something that no other store-bought barbecue sauce can claim.
Zeta Farms goat’s milk castile soap
I am a huge fan of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castile soap. Better than any cup of caffeine, that soap will give you a jolt in the shower and make you feel invincible as you start your day. My love runs equally as deep for this soap made by Rosemarie and Hans Meier, who run Zeta Farms, an organic mixed farm known for lamb, veggies, eggs and honey. Again, all credit goes to the Niagara Local Food Co-op for helping me discover this beauty of a beauty product. With a soft lavender scent, this homemade soap has kept my skin from going all flaky in these recent cold climes. It’s gentle enough that I’ve even used it on my face and have been happy with the results. And unlike a lot of handmade soaps, it lasts. One bar will stick around in the shower for two weeks, keeping my husband and me squeaky clean. As someone who always reads ingredient labels on her cosmetics, soaps and shampoo, I feel just as good putting this on my skin as Dr. Bronner’s and even better that I’m supporting local farmers, who continue to find interesting ways to add value to their products.
Sweetie Pie’s cherry pie
Until this summer, I never considered myself a huge cherry pie fan. I’d eat it because I’m a sucker for pie, but in the presence of peach or pecan, blueberry or bumbleberry, well, it wouldn’t be my first choice. So I”m not sure what compelled me to try this pie. Heck, I may have already been pregnant when I put in my first order, so maybe it was one of those belly-driven cravings. Whatever the case, this pie was a highlight of my summer. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, or just because — they were all opportunities to eat this beast of a baked good with a crumble topping. My pies were also still warm when I picked them up with my co-op order, attesting to just how fresh they were. Beth McIntee, a huge talent and mastermind behind Sweetie Pies Bakery in St. Catharines, uses a farm to table approach to her baking. So if it’s in season locally, she’s baking with it or preserving it as part of her Bumblebee jams and preserves line. She also freezes some pastries so people like me can get their cherry pie fix even now. I have a frozen pie in my fridge that will be devoured over the holidays.
Merry Christmas to me.
The only downside: every time I ate a slice, I got Warrant’s Cherry Pie stuck in my head. If cheesy hair metal music on heavy rotation in your brain isn’t an issue, then fear not.
Grimo Nut Nursery shelled Persian walnuts
Squirrels love me in my neigbourhood for the very simple reason that any time I get a walnut in its shell, I toss it in my backyard for them.
Sorry to anyone who has given me nuts in the shell but my reasons are simple: cracking and shelling them myself is a huge pain in the butt with the wimpy nutcracker I own. It’s work and while I normally don’t mind that, I know the squirrels have a way better system for enjoying walnuts than I do, which usually wind up smashed and mixed with bits of tooth-chipping shell by the time I have my way with them.
So, thank goodness that the Grimos offer this service instead (and they’re darn good at it, too). I’ve been ordering Ziploc bags of their shelled Persian walnuts and have re-discovered how much I love walnuts. Fresher than anything you’ll ever find in the grocery store and so much more flavourful, these beauties are a bargain at $11 a pound. I bake witih them, add them to my chopped kale salad, put them on oatmeal or just snack on them. Dubbed one of the world’s healthiest foods with all that vitamin E, those flavinoids and phenols to fight cell-damaging free radicals, I should really add the Grimos to my Christmas card list for doing me such a favour.
The Pink Pearl Apple
I was told it was pink-fleshed apple. I was expecting mostly white flesh with a slight pinkish tinge when I bit into this green-skinned fruit for the first time about a month ago.
My mind was blown when I pulled back to see the most stunning bubblegum pink innards. Like any food geek who was eating such a treat while driving, I immediately pulled over and tweeted this new eating experience to the world. (Sorry to the family in the minivan behind me).
Not only did it have the looks, it had a wonderful flavour that flitted between sweet and tart with every chew, working its way onto my list of favourite apples in no time. Though its flavour reminded me most of a russet, which has always been among my favourites, it usurped that ugly duckling of an apple and quickly demoted the Empire and McIntosh as well.
I have Chef Mark Picone to thank for introducing me to a food that wowed me and made me gush like a 12-year-old girl would over a helmet-haired lead singer of a boy band.
And we have Campden farmer Dan Smerek to thank for growing this rare hybrid right here in Niagara. If I had one wish for every apple fan out there, it would be to eat one of these apples.
Your world won’t be the same afterward.