Autumnal Inspiration

Fall seems like the time that everyone starts cooking and baking again. Maybe it’s the cool nights that just beg for the oven to be turned on.  Or perhaps walking through all the wonderful produce at your local farmers market, like the Welland Farmers Market next door to our store, makes you want to want to roll up your sleeves and put something up for the cold winter nights. If you are really fortunate like me, you will have a tree laden with ripe fruit that is wishes to be glorified in some special recipe.

I am enjoying an amazing apple harvest this year. Last year with its late spring frost, I got a total of 2 apples on our tree. This year the tree is loaded with apples.  I estimate at least double its usual output of 1 bushel.  We have already been enjoying apple sauce and crumble from the my cullings. Anything that has flaws, has been pecked by a bird or has fallen is ending up in a pot or a tin. We have a wonderful cold storage so the more perfect specimens will keep well into the new year.  Provided that I don’t have any unwelcome little B&B guests. I have already dispatched 4 of them.  Eying my wealth of apples I did a walk around on my day off to find out where these pesky little creatures were getting in. I found some loose mortar and stone around one basement window. I have never outgrown my childhood enjoyment of playing with mud so I spent a pleasant hour repairing those spots with some mortar. The way back into the house is past the apple tree.  I couldn’t help myself…before I knew it I was stuffing apples into the bib and pockets of my overalls….enough for a large strudel and some apple cake.

I must admit I cheated a bit on the strudel by using phyllo pastry we sell in our store. But I was quite proud of my results…albeit a Dutch-Canadian woman’s interpretation of a Hungarian specialty…and posted pictures IMG_4742on the Hungarian food Facebook page I am a member of.  That led to a long discussion about the origin of strudel…it made its way to Austria via Hungary who were bequeathed the mysteries of strudel dough making by invading Ottoman Turks.  I waIMG_4743s also treated to many wonderful hints about making strudel dough so I can go the whole way next time and start totally from scratch. With all those apples I shall sometime soon since I have never been one to walk away from a challenge. The one thing no one offered was a recipe for the dough.  I found one on line…click here if you want to discover the mysteries of homemade dough yourself  …Otherwise you can cheat like I did and buy phyllo.

Strudel isn’t the only fall treat that has been intriguing me.  A few weeks back a customer asked me to get some nice aged provolone because she would be preserving stuffed cherry peppers. Most Provolone you will find in stores is mild, soft andIMG_4745 reminiscent of Mozzarella. I found her a wonderful Provolone Torpido Auricchio aged about a year. It is made by an Italian family in Wisconsin. I think the mild Provolone in the cooler is probably is feeling very mediocre right now…although I told it that it still makes a wonderful pizza or grilled cheese. Of course,my curiosity was tweaked and I had to find out how she was making these stuffed peppers… here is the recipe I found:  Marinated Stuffed Cherry Peppers.

Then if all this wasn’t exciting enough, I had another customer come in to buy Gorgonzola for…wow…Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola sauce. This recipe uses wonton wrappers to make the ravioli.  I think my customer makes hers totally from scratch but, hey, if we can cheat with ready made phyllo pastry, we can cheat with wonton wrappers. When the smells waft from your kitchen window, your neighbours won’t know any better!

TGF & new beginnings

To be honest I have always found exclamations of “Thank God it’s Friday” a bit flippant.  End of work week jubilation probably grates on the ears of those without the privilege of a regular job to go to.  Wellanders who have experienced their “last Friday” might long for the good old Fridays of the industrial era and their steady paychecks.

But like Fridays’ promise of weekend fun, the end of that era has also lead to promise of new beginnings. I would like to share some of the exciting developments past the tracks in Welland’s East End.

  • A realtor told me last week that there are more new developments and building permits are happening in Welland East than in the rest of Welland.
  • The downtown BIA development board jurisdiction ends at the East Main tracks. Businesses east of the tracks are so excited about the new developments and initiatives that they see happening downtown they are wanting to get organized. I recognize this as a new beginning because I have lived in this neighbourhood for over 25 years.
  • Niagara Regional Council has approved retaining the Provincial Offences Act Court in Welland. A new courthouse is in process for the old Empire Public School property. Welland’s historic courthouse on Cross Street brought growth and prosperity to Welland in its day. This new courthouse will help spread the revival we are experiencing downtown past the tracks to the old Atlas Steels neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago on Friday I helped survey Food Fest attendees about their impressions of Welland downtown. There were an overwhelming number of positive responses to what is going on downtown. People are noticing. The young people love coming downtown. They are not focused on what was and will be no more. They see the new beginnings; a new Welland.

Let’s take a moment to remember the end of an era and celebrate new beginnings:

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“A Taste of Heaven”

That’s how one customer just described out new “Sticky Toffee” cheese! This delight is the creation of Combe Castle Dairy who descIMG_4737ribe their cheeses as adventures. Think creamy cheddar with raisons, chopped dates and toffee pieces. A decadent dessert offering. The British know how to make great toffee and cheeses. Who would have thought combining these would taste so dangerously good….what do you think, is it cheese or candy? It’s definitely dessert!

Goodbye Dear Family

My friend, Vicky, and I were chatting about the immigrant experiences of our parents. Many were funny; others were poignant. Vicky told me that when her mother wrote home about her life here in Canada, her father took his daughter’s stories and published them in a Dutch newspaper column. However, many immigrants’ stories have never been published let alone recorded. Their stories are wonderful testaments to human resiliency, perseverance, ingenuity, community and faith. We need to share their stories before they are forgotten because many of our parents and grandparents are no longer with us. .

Welland is a city built by immigrants from many different countries. In keeping with “Throw Back Thursday” I would like to give people the opportunity to share their stories and those of their parents and grandparents. If you have a picture and story to share, please send it to us and we will try to share one each week. Here is our first installment:

Goodbye Dear Family

In today’s world of internet: Facebook, facetime; Skype, emails, it is hard to imagine the great chasm immigration created between immigrants and their families back home. Alkema family 1954This picture is of my mother-in-law, Tjitske with her family in 1954. She was already engaged to my father-in-law, Jan but wouldn’t join him in Canada for another 3 years. In the meantime, they carried on a courtship by correspondence. She is the young woman on the left looking very poised at less than 21 years of age…younger than each of my Alkema Jaap&Geertjechildren already. In those days when people immigrated they did so knowing that they might never see their loved ones again. Special events like weddings would probably be missed. In fact, when Tjitske and Jan married in 1958 here in Canada, only Jan’s sister Gerda and her husband were present.  Photos became very important leaving a record of the significant events that Tjitske missed back home: Like her brother Jaap’s wedding above and the funerals of her father and grandfather. Alkema, Pake Bergsma graveAlkema, Pake gravestoneBut she never focused on what she missed but rather on all she gained by coming to Canada.

Canada was indeed very much the land of new horizons. After my mother and her sister immigrated as teenagers, they decided that their weddings would be done the Canadian way: diamond engagement rings; beautiful white wedding dresses; bridesmaids, a large wedding celebration with a wedding cake. You can see in this picture that my mother did get her wish.Corry & Simon wedding group pic Her aunt, a skilled seamstress sewed her classic wedding dress. I hate to think what the cost meant for these cash strapped immigrants! For my grandparents this was all a bit foreign and complexing… what exactly was a “Canadees” wedding? My grandfather finally thought he had answered this question after both these sisters were married. At my parents’ wedding during the double ring ceremony one of the rings was dropped and had to be retrieved. A year later on my Aunt Willie’s big day, another wedding ring went rolling. Opa leaned over to my grandmother and said, “So this is what makes a wedding Canadian?”

The Beer Project

As a young immigrant in the 1950’s my father spent time harvesting tobacco in south western Ontario one summer.  The farmer’s wife kept a hospitable house and it was there that Dad first tasted pumpkin pie. He was not impressed!  One can’t even say that the taste was too foreign because the seasonings of pumpkin pie resemble those of the Dutch speculaasspeculaas cookie. Nevertheless, he had great difficulty finishing that first piece so when the farmer’s wife asked if he would like a second piece he politely replied, “No, thank you!”  I don’t know if he did the Dutch mumble but the kind lady never heard his “No.” Somehow he managed to eat the second piece. As I said, he was a polite young man.

Fast forward 50 plus years.  It’s Thanksgiving and my father arrives bearing a pumpkinpumpkin pie pie with a confession that he had finally tried pumpkin pie again and discovered that he actually liked it. Perhaps his preferences had become more assimilating or perhaps that first pie had been poorly made.  We will never know. However, pumpkin is now one of Dad’s favourite pies and he regrets all the years he missed out in enjoying it.

I grew up on the edge of Brampton and worked in the agricultural sector during my secondary and university school years. Huttonville public school At the end of hot summer days our boss would pass out beer. This was the 70’s before urban sprawl became epidemic when Molson had a firm hold on the beer industry. I never was too impressed and some of that free beer ended up benefiting some thirsty plants.  Those under-aged beers never did corrupt me but they did prejudice me against drinking beer for decades.

It was probably the taste of my daughter’s strawberry blondie at The Merchant Ale House in Saint Catherines, Ontario a few years back that opened my eyes to what I might be missing. Today’s beer culture has changed significantly since the days of Molson’s golden years.  My West Coast son, an electrical engineer who has designed control panels for breweries is a self avowed beer geek.IMG_4610 He has introduced me to mysteries of IPA’s and IBU’s.  He slings around words like hefeweizen with the ease of a publican. As a cheesemonger, I am very interested in the science of food pairing. So August found me across the table from my visiting West Coast son sampling multiple beers and an even larger selection of cheeses.

I must admit that I am now fascinated by the interesting relationship between beer and cheese. In the 1950’s the term “ploughman’s lunch” came into use when the British government wanted to encourage the consumption of British cheeses after the severe post-war rationing finally ended. A ploughman’s lunch is a traditional pub meal of bread and cheese that usually includes a “pickle”, and of course, ale. Pickle might mean what we as Canadians think of a pickle…a dill pickle, for example, or it could mean a chutney or a relish like piccalily. However, as I discovered this summer, beer has taken on a much more sophisticated crowd than the guys at the pub. More about what became “The Beer Project” soon!