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cherry3

I love processing the glut of fruit I transport home (by bicycle) from Not Far From The Tree picks. I remember fondly the hours and hours I stood at my stove processing piles of perfectly ripe grapes into pints and pints of grape jelly. I love kitchen projects that span hours or even days (like my traditional Seville Marmalade) but sometimes the Toronto heat makes canning impractical, which is why I still have mulberries in my freezer!

Here are five SIMPLE ways to process cherries!

1. Freezing: Arrange pitted cherries, in a single layer, on a baking sheet and freeze for at least one hour. Once cherries are frozen solid transfer to a freezer bag for long term storage. Pro tip: Pit cherries before freezing or the cherries will take on a bitter almond flavour from the pits.

2. Cherry Vinegar: Cover muddled ripe cherries with a cheap balsamic vinegar and let age for anywhere from 10 days to 2 years. Active recipe time? 10 minutes!

cherry1

Photo Source: thekitchn.com

3. Maraschino Cherries: Gently heat Maraschino liqueur in a saucepan. Add pitted cherries. Move to jars once cooled. Let sit for for a few days.

4. Fresh Cherry Syrup: A simple syrup based cherry syrup will quickly give you a scrumptious syrup for morning pancakes or waffles!

5. Cherry Sangria: This macerated cherry sangria allows you to process your cherries quickly but put off consumption for a beautiful weekend drink.

cherry2

Source: wineandglue.com

Coming on the heels of our own maple syrup making at Downsview Park was the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. This year on April 5 they marked their 50th anniversary with sugar bush tours; pancake flipping contests; antique, toy and craft shoes; pony rides; maple taffy making and maple themed food vendors as far as the eye could see. Interestingly, the festival coincides with volunteer month, over 2000 volunteers help to make the festival a success. As the world’s largest maple syrup festival over 10, 000 visitors from all over the world will flock to the town of almost 12, 000. In 2000, the festival made the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Single Day Maple Syrup Festival with 66,529 people attending.

After all the stats and tastes of the Maple Syrup Festival I was left with one question: what is life like on a maple syrup farm?

I spoke with the charming Dan Goetz from Shady Grove Maple Co. and one of the festival’s vendors, to find out some of the quirks of this life. Dan has recently become Chair of Promotions for the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association and is focused on getting Ontario maple farmer’s syrups into a major grocery store near you, side by side with the stuff from big factories.

Colleen: Your website states that you have been doing this for 15 years. Did you take over from family? How did you get into this line of work?

Dan: I married a farm girl. Her family did it as a hobby. I didn’t grow up on a farm but lived in a small town.  At first we did enough syrup for the family but we got more interested and put in 2000 pails. We then tried pipeline because it was becoming too much work!

You have 22, 000 taps, how many people do you employ?

We have 1 person full time year round, in harvest production we have 4 people full time. For the tourism and tapping, sporadic labour of 12 to 15 people.

What’s life like on your farm during maple tapping season?

As the season comes you’re excited and adrenaline is going. It’s just go go go. This is different than other cash crops, we can’t pick when we harvest our crop. With sap, when tanks are full they have to be emptied or it’s going on the ground, regardless of weather. We dance to Mother Nature’s drum and she has some weird beats sometimes. When the season’s over you’re completely exhausted but when it’s over you’re done. Two months of craziness but 10 months of doing your thing: marketing, doing markets. There are some very, very short nights and short tempers.

Is your farm strictly for syrup making? What else do you do on your farm?

We’re 80% maple syrup; we raise drug and hormone free turkeys from May to Christmas, for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Anything that can be made from turkey will be sold in our store. We do a bit of hay, my son cash crops one field. There’s not a lot of money there. We also do custom boils. Others bring us their sap, we boil it down and split it 50/50.

There is an image of the solitary farmer looking off into the distance across fields. You offer tours and have a presence at various markets. What role does customer service play in your line of work?

That’s why we started the tourism. It brings people out to the farm. 95% don’t know how it really works. People learn how we can do so much volume, then you’ve landed a customer for life. We are very concerned with food safety and traceability. People are also looking to support the local farmer. We are not afraid to show the whole process [that goes into creating] the food that we are doing.

What is your favourite piece of equipment or favourite job to do?

I run the most technological equipment, the reverse osmosis machine, the meat and potatoes why we can process so much. It takes out 75% of water. That’s my maple Corvette.  I’m like a guy driving around in his Corvette. It will process 2000 gallons of sap, that’s 50 gallons of syrup, an hour. Then we boil it further with conventional evaporators.

Photo credit: Shady Grove Maple Co.

What question do you wish people would ask you about but don’t?

When on the farm people pretty must ask all kinds of questions. We hire people and that is their job to teach people and answer questions. If they get one they don’t know they just ask us while we are working. The guides are specifically in charge of answering. A lot of educated people are asking some really smart questions. People don’t know until they come exactly how it works. We did a presentation for kids. We asked them what season the syrup is harvested in; they have a 25% chance of getting it right. Well, less than 25% of those kids got it right.

The tubes and hoses running from the trees look a bit sci-fi. While working, have you ever thought that your farm would make a good setting for a sci-fi or horror movie?

[Laughing.] We were talking about running a Halloween wagon ride through the bush but decided that is our downtime and didn’t want to. I walk those bushes, I know it all inside out. We have enough pipes to go from here to Markham and we walk those pipes three times a season. I can eat everything I want now.

Finally, where can we find your products?

In Toronto we’re at Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington market. We’re always at the Royal Winter Fair, a staple there. Out this way [Guelph area]: Aberfoyle Farmer’s Market and Antique Market. The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival as you know and the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, this year we’re trying to get into the Distillery Christmas market [Lowe’s Toronto Christmas Market],  and the store on the farm.

Miss out on the festival in Elmira? You can still take a tour of the Shady Grove farm on weekends and Good Friday until April 20th.

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Bicycling offers the rider a very specific type of freedom. That freedom can be used to weave carelessly through stopped vehicular traffic or to cruise aimlessly on shady park paths. Regardless of whether you are a hard-core commuter or a causal Sunday rider you will most likely encounter the need to transport food by bicycle. This is especially true if you are a Not Far From The Tree volunteer!

Method: Tote Bag

“I once overdid things and made a Dutch apple pie to take to a friend’s house, completely forgetting to think about the transportation options. Too loose to put in the backpack sideways, I was stuck with one solution: tote bag. I am certain that the pie would have been more content with a bike and basket from its motherland, but I later learned that the “carefully hung tote bag” is in fact a well known way to transport food. The moving center of gravity keeps the food from turning over. It just take some careful balancing when you need to brake.” (54, The Culinary CyclistAlternate Method: Described here

Method: Panniers

“Get a basket or panniers. Adding a rear-mounted metal basket or panniers (saddlebags) to your bike is a quick and inexpensive way to increase the amount of groceries you can manage. The word pannier actually derives from Old French and means “bread basket.” For toting frozen items in the hot weather there are even insulated panniers and bags that fit on the back rack. Add a regular old backpack to the mix and you can carry home a good amount of food.” (Source)

Method: Backpack

The most common way to bicycle with groceries is to simply pack them into a backpack. This is a great method as it doesn’t require additional supplies like costly panniers but heavy backpacks quickly turn the small of your back into a pool of sweat. Backpacks should be packed with care to avoid bruised fruits and squished loaves of bread. The real benefit of a good backpack is that forgotten (but crucial) supper ingredient can be tossed in and transported home.

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Method: Everything

As a bike camper, I’m frequently transporting a complete kitchen around with me. The first year we used a bike trailer but quickly switched to a combination of panniers, handlebar bags, and bungee cords. This method is not advised for travel within the city but is a lovely (and affordable) way to see the sights. You will be amazed at the types of kitchen equipment you can travel with once you start bike touring. Last summer I toured with a cast iron waffle maker which made amazing firepit waffles!

What do you transport by bicycle?  Ever had a need to transport a growler or a wine bottle? What are your favourite methods of transporting items by bike?

trees

Toronto is a great place to forage for food. Our volunteer fruit pickers know it, savvy wild foragers know it, and those furry bandits who shall remain nameless  definitely know it (hint: what rhymes with macaroons and houndgrogs?).

That said, Canadian winters are not well known for their bountiful harvests – except when it comes to one thing… maple syrup! Not Far From The Tree is big on making use of edibles from our urban forest, so when our friends at Downsview Park told us about their plans to tap sugar maple trees in the park, we jumped at the chance to help turn that sap into sweet maple syrup.

Last weekend, we invited our volunteers to join us at Downsview Park as we boiled sap into syrup, enjoyed the great outdoors and snacked on some local treats. Here are a few highlights…

boiling sap

We boiled down the sap around a big outdoor campfire. It takes about 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup so it’s a long process. Normally March is the month for maple syrup production, but this year has been so cold that the sap has not been flowing. Luckily, we had gallons of frozen sap from 2013 to boil down for the event.

pancakes

We served some of the sweet stuff on top of GRAINSTORM pancakes alongside some sweet Bunner’s cupcakes.

Hot chocolate

With temps of about -6 C (-13 C with the windchill) we had some piping ChocoSol hot chocolate and apple cider to warm everyone up.

Given the chilly weather, the indoor clubhouse was a popular place to hang out, make art and play games donated by our event sponsor LoyaltyOne. Kids of all ages got into it…

Colouring

from little kids…

kids playing

to big kids…

Big kids colouring

to bigger kids.

Orchard talk with Susan Poizner

Susan Poizner from Orchard People also came by to share stories from her experience cultivating the Ben Nobleman Community Orchard and to give tips on planting and caring for fruit trees. Fun fact: Downsview Park has recently planted a small orchard. The trees are tiny now, but in a few years there will be apples galore.

We also had a bird spotting station set up by Bird Studies Canada. You can find a lot of birds in Downsview Park – and not just Canada geese – we’re talking hawks and even snowy owls.

Sap to Syrup

All in all, it was a lovely day. A huge thank you goes out to the team at Downsview and the amazing volunteers who helped out at the event despite the frosty weather. Thank you Nicole, Chantal, Arjie, Wing-Yee, Neal, Ruvena, Sumitra, Val and Liz.

Another giant thank you goes to our event sponsor LoyaltyOne (and the team of students and staff who helped out before and during the event!), and to the local food providers who supported the event: GRAINSTORM, ChocoSol and Bunner’s.

The above photos are taken by Arjie de Chavez. You can find more photos on our Flickr page.

Photocredit: Colleen Zimmerman

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