In The Quest For Tea…

sheona     Guest blog by Sheona Della-Fort

If you are from England you will understand our love affair with tea. Though I have adapted somewhat to coffee drinking and Tim Hortons in Canada, I will always love a hot steaming cup of tea.

When I opened the kitchen cupboards the other day and found out that I had run out of my favourite drink, I was really glad that the European Pantry in Welland was open. Jacqui, the owner sells a bewildering array of teas.

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I have enjoyed a number of the teas she carefully selects from a variety of tea blenders from as nearby, as Wainfleet, Ontario and all over the world…definitely the best place to go in Niagara for the best teas. Click here for more information about their tea selection.

As I walked down to The European Pantry, my mind slipped into a reverie and memories of a country I had traveled to which is a major exporter of tea. tea 1Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was called by the British is an island off the coast of India, and its teas are world renowned. Interestingly, it was also a Dutch colony during the 17th century.

During my last visit to Sri Lanka in 2012 I was able to visit a tea plantation. The scenic drive to the tea estate based in Nuwara Eliya was breathtaking with numerous waterfalls, bakers falls near tea estatelush green hills and fields thickly covered with tea plants. The cooler climes of this region make it the ideal place to grow teas such as Orange Pekoe. Tea pluckers in colourful garb were busy picking tender tea leaves and placing them into baskets tied to their backs.

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After arriving at the centre, we were allocated a lady guide who showed us pictures of the history of the factory before we went into the main tea processing plant. Our guide continued her commentary by stating that Orange Pekoe undergoes extensive processing before it gets to the market. Tea leaves must first wither, after which processors roll, heat and ferment them. It is this fermentation process, which is also known as oxidation that distinguishes black teas from white and green teas.

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tea2Later that day, my interest was piqued as I found out about the conditions for tea workers on the island. I had read about human rights violations in the past and hoped to discover what improvements were being implemented. I met with my friend Charlotte who was originally from the UK and now resided in Sri Lanka helping street kids in various parts of tea workersTea image - some of the kids being helped by CHILd Action Lankathe country. She was part of a charity called Child Action Lanka or CAL for short. Because of my concern for women and children who live in poverty, I had volunteered with this charity in the past. Charlotte was able to tell me about the work that they were now doing reaching out to children who live in grinding living conditions. You can read about the charity’s work here.

 

Volunteering abroad has made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a western country where access to basic necessities and education is available to all. It stops me taking things for granted and to live with an attitude of gratitude. Helping in a small way through personal volunteering or making a financial contribution seems like a drop in the ocean compared to the need, but it is necessary to keep me grounded.

My walk was over so time for my reverie to end and decide which of the teas here at The European Pantry I will enjoy this time. I reached for a packet of herbal tea…

 

Memories of Hungary

European Pantry in Welland brings back memories of historic Hungary

 Guest Blog by Sheona Della-Fort

The lure of breathtaking scenery, a chance to experience another culture and the warmth of the friendly Canucks were the reasons that drew me to leave England to study in Canada. Settling into Welland, located in the Niagara Peninsula was not particularly difficult and I adjusted well to the wintry conditions.

It was on one of those frosty mornings that I discovered by chance the European Pantry. I first thought it was a quaint house,DSCF9274 but on entering the store discovered it to hold a bewildering array of cheeses, smoked meats, chocolates and spices.  Remember the time you walked into Grandma’s house and she had spent the day baking and preparing treats for you? The warmth of the store enveloped me and the colourful array of goods begged me to touch, taste and smell.

I spied some Hungarian paprika on a shelf and immediately a flood of memories came back to me of when I last visited Budapest.  I remember visiting Szentendre, a DSCF9304charming town near to Budapest and seeing shops selling paprika in its various forms. I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing like authentic Hungarian paprika in your Goulash with lashings of soured cream.

Another memory of handcrafted table linen slipped into my mind.  Handcrafted linen is a dying art these days in our technology focused world. I remember one Hungarian lady displaying her wares. There was something so sweet in her stature. Though she had hands gnarled with years of59124_1616205210915_7658038_n hard work, she proudly displayed a tablecloth with an intricate pattern of flowers.  A truly beautiful lady.

Anna and Richard, my Hungarian friends also introduced me to Langos – a dreamy dish of fried dough topped with cheese.  Highly calorific but well worth it. They handed me a shot of Palinka or firewater to wash it down; a fruit based brandy to add to my Hungarian experience.

Walking along the Danube River at night is an experience not to be missed; the skyline is dotted with landmarks of historic buildings and is an impressive sight to behold.  The sounds of busking musicians and the bustle of restaurants getting ready for the nightly trade filled my senses.  A moment in my life when time stood still.

Back to the real world. Jacqui the owner of The European Pantry breaks into my DSCF9279reverie and offers me a sampling of cheese and introduces me to the delights of marzipan chocolate.  Will I be coming back? Yes, of course when I need my European fix!

 

 

 

Jamestown, New York comes to visit.

IMG_4196Some more cyclists came by last weekend. This time from Jamestown, New York. Did you know that Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown?  I didn’t. She also is buried there and it is home to the Lucy Desi Museum and Center for Comedy.  This summer Jamestown hosted a Lucille Ball comedy festival.  So many interesting things to learn when people come by and visit the Pantry. And our visitors went home knowing a bit more about Welland. Plus they received one of our handcrafted souvenir  lunch bags.

The world will be coming to Welland next week for the International Dragon Boat Races. Take the opportunity to chat with someone and learn a bit about their part of the world!

Sheep in the Brambles

zacharie-cloutierZacharie Cloutier is the ancestor of probably more Quebecois Canadians than any other man.  He and his wife Xainte immigrated from the Perche province, France in 1634.  They founded one of the foremost families in Quebec. By 1800, the Cloutier descendants numbered close to 11,000.Today it might be impossible to count them but they include Marie-ChantalIMG_2836 Houde (pictured on right) one of the principals of Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Their sheep’s milk firm pressed cheese is named for this forefather. Fromagerie Nouvelle France is part of a growing number of farm cheese producers.

This washed rind cheese is semi-cooked. Ripened from 4-6 months the paste has a buttery caramel flavour with the rich tones associated with a sheep’s milk cheese. It is best paired with a moderately full bodied red wine with strong dark berry undertones but balanced with mild acidity. Try Cattail Creek Cabernet Merlot. The black raspberry, cassis and Damson plum aromas of this wine will evoke summery days picking IMG_4166blackberries in wind blown brambles. Its refined tannins and spicy vanilla finish will balance well with Zacharie Cloutier’s richness. Serve with some toasted pecans and crusty white bread. As you nibble note the distinct zigzag design on the outside rind of the cheese.IMG_4165

Why Toronto shops in Welland.

Yesterday, a customer came in confessing that he was twenty minutes down the road home to Toronto when he realized he had forgotten to stop by our store before leaving. He turned around. Last weekend we had a group of Torontonians come by. Immigrants from Russia, they were in town to see the historic Welland Canal.  We also have people coming in regularly for family in Toronto because they can’t find products at home. These incidents got me thinking about this shift. I grew up just outside of Toronto. In those days, we often traveled to “the city” to purchase products not available in our moderately large city. Now people travel to outside the city to shop.  Why? Most certainly, internet has changed the environment. Well maintained websites allow businesses in smaller communities to connect with customers on a provincial and even broader level. But I think there are also other factors at work. Welland is representative of many post-industrial towns. As factories closed we were left with more brown fields than green fields. The children of the post-war immigrants who had settled here left for those greener fields that we no longer could offer. Frequently, that meant Toronto and other larger centers. There are those who love the hustle and bustle of city life but there are also those who yearn for the simpler, stronger roots they remember in communities like Welland. People are coming home to visit and even retire.

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But not everyone I meet once lived in Welland. Those of us who have remained here often take for granted the attractions that Welland possesses.  We have a rich resource in the recreational canal.  People come to trace the history of the Welland Canal commemorated in many ways like above. Others come for the water sports hosted here.  This summer we will host racing events for the Dragon Boat races and Pan Am games.  The walking and biking trails on Merrit Island draw many visitors every year. This summer our outdoor waterside amphitheatre will stage musical events again. These visitors shop in Welland. People tell me that Welland has the best farmer’s market in Niagara. People travel to shop there. We benefit from The European Pantry’s location adjacent to that market. Proximity is important, so let’s not forget that Welland is next door to many wineries. There are also huge advantages to shopping in smaller communities like Welland. Yes, there are ethnic delis in Toronto but unless you live in the neighbourhood one has to battle traffic and find parking to shop there.

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High land values necessitate squeezing product into much smaller stores to keep prices competitive. I thought our store was tiny until I visited Toronto stores like the one pictured above.  These stores do a good business but the shopping experience is much different. People who grew up in Europe tell us that stepping into our store is like going home.  We brag that we have Niagara-on-the-Lake atmosphere with Welland prices. In Welland we can create an iconic store atmosphere and offer low prices. And that is the crux of why Toronto shops in Welland.  We offer a break from the city: cultural, historical and recreational opportunities; a relaxed environment where people wave you into the parking spot they were about to take; a milieu where shop keepers have time to talk about food not just sell it to you. We need to stop apologizing for what we no longer are.  We need to catch the vision of what we can become. There in will be the salvation of post-industrial towns like Welland.

Surprises are nice but…

IMG_2265At The European Pantry, we keep a container of leftover cheese pieces from our sampling sessions.  I try to label them but sometimes I pick up a piece neatly wrapped but with no label.  I like all the cheeses we sell so I don’t mind these surprises when I am making myself a snack or something for lunch as I work. Today though, I have to admit that the horseradish cheddar on my lunch bagel came as a bit of a shock after the first half bagel slathered with European peanut butter.

It reminded me of the stories of a friend whose parents had trouble making ends meet when he was growing up in the 1960’s.  Some nights they had dented can surprise. In those days it wasn’t uncommon for stores to clear out cans that had lost their labels and also experienced the hard knocks of life at discount prices.  Russ told me that for some reason cans of peaches and fruit salad seemed to show up a lot. Not a bad dessert for the 60’s but hard to make a meal out of.  Other nights when his mother was asked about that night’s menu they were told it was something that would stick to their ribs.  That meant only porridge was left in the larder. Dented can surprise would have seemed like a luxury on porridge nights!

Labels are important but we tend to take them for granted if we don’t live with visual impairments.  My horseradish surprise was well timed because I had just read an article about how braille ended up on wine bottles. It took one person who began to imagine life in someone else’s shoes… click here to read “The Story of How Braille Wound up on Wine Bottles.”.

Bellavitano Espresso Cheddar…dark notes of Jazz!

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Do you associate food with music?  One of our many special cheeses, Bellavitano Espresso Cheddar conjures up dark notes of jazz for me!  This is a reserve cheddar that has been rubbed in espresso for a rich taste that lingers on the palate. In contrast, Bellavitano Raspberry Cheddar has a fresh fruity finish that brings Chopin to mind.  Come in, taste our cheese every Saturday.  Tell us what you are hearing!