Category Archives: Seeds, Spring, and Promise

Sugarbush Sugarshack

Story and photographs by JP Campbell, voiceover by Lew Williams.

Winter arrived early and stayed. Now it’s March and even in this deep freeze the longer days hint at the Spring to come.

Trees - Photo by JP Campbell
Trees – Photo by JP Campbell

I embrace Winter if only to maintain sanity. Life in a little old cottage on the Gatineau river can be a challenge. What lies just, just, around the corner, though, has become my favourite time of the year. The sun will be bright. Temperatures will hover above zero by noon and just dip down to freezing at night. It is sugarbush season.

Every Canadian knows Maple syrup. Commercial syrup operations are even popular tourist destinations. Eggs, pancakes, and sausages come slathered in golden sweetness. In my part of the world, West Quebec, sleigh rides and minstrels are often part of the scene. It’s a lovely little escape for my urban friends. My sugarbush season is different and the result of a challenge.

I had been given an unlabelled bottle of syrup by my friend Ian. It was dark, smooth, and the sweetness seemed simply part of the whole experience. I had to have more. Where could I get it?

“Well, if you want a supply you can come and help work in the bush” he smiled. He knew he had my attention as he sketched out a map on a napkin.

ShackinWoodsShoesThe next afternoon I was on my way. Hidden between the highway and river is a century old farm owned by Don. Around the farm are hundreds of hilly acres  covered with Acer saccharum the sugar maple. My host just smiled and nodded when I introduced myself as Ian’s friend and we slowly walked ten minutes up a skido-packed  trail from the farm yard to the top of a hill. Running around us and playing in the snow were several of the setters Don raises and trains. I was not going to see a typical commercial operation.

DogOnTable - Photo by JP Campbell
DogOnTable – Photo by JP Campbell

Nestled in a small clearing, picnic tables, snow shoes and pails surround the cabane à sucre. Don supervises the sugarbush as a co-op of family and friends with Ian as his lieutenant. It’s a pretty traditional setup. The surrounding trees are tapped. The sap is collected and brought back to the shack to be boiled down. In the furthest parts of the woods the pails of sap are ferried by skido and trailer. There are no gravity fed tubes running through the forest here. Don pointed to some snowshoes, handed me a pail and told me to  start collecting right on the nearby hill. With a wave and a promise to return he headed off.

TapholeThe trees had already been tapped. I noticed that the older trees with a substantial girth often had two taps and their buckets attached. I started to empty the buckets into my pail immediately. I was about to learn my first sugarbush lesson. If you’re collecting the liquid gold on a hillside start at the bottom and work your way up! Not only is it easier to carry the soon heavy pail it is also easier to manoeuvre with said pail on showshoes. It’s a mistake you don’t repeat.

I returned to the shack with minimal spillage sweating from my labour and from having worn too many layers of clothing. Don had returned with Ian and was waiting to add my pail to the holding tank. I promised to be back the next afternoon.

Sugarbush pails Photo by JP Campbell
Sap buckets – Photo by JP Campbell

It was the next day that had me hooked. There was no sign of life at the farm or in the bush with the exception of a setter who followed me along the trail. At the cabane there was evidence of a party around the barbeque pit. Snowshoes on I slowly began emptying buckets. The sun beamed down through the branches bright and warm. Jay was called and disappeared.

I suppose I must have been twenty trees along my way when I heard a sound. I stopped. Ping. Long pause. Ping. Sap was falling into the first bucket I had emptied. It was the only sound in the woods.

I returned everyday. I stacked wood and stoked the boiler. I met my co-workers and had post-collection wine with friends. On the weekends whole families showed up and the hills were filled with the sounds of laughing children. When the season ended there was a party in the barn where everyone ate and drank and the music was live and real.

I remind myself the season is just a few weeks away. The cold snap has to end. This year I will return to collect the sap and, perhaps, have the opportunity to learn more about the boiling down process.

Come on Spring!

DogOnGuard

Recipes

This month the recipes all feature seeds in one form or another.

Butter chicken 2Gurpreet Chana shares a delicious Butter Chicken recipe made with whole seed spices.

 

 

LindysBeansLindiwe Sithole offers Lindy’s Kidney Beans in spiced tomato sauce.

 

 

DSC_0007GaddAboutEating, has a hearty Labrador Creole Bean Soup.

 

 

hummusAlison Cole has shared a Sunflower Seed Hummus

 

 

RibPaste…and Sean Galt’s BBQ is flavoured with hot pepper seeds.

Bon apetit!

Chai packets

Recipe, article and photos by Gayle Hurmuses

I love chai, but am not a fan of commercial blends, preferring to make my own. This recipe is my personal blend.

Make sure to always buy the freshest spices you can get. They do last quite a while at some level, but you’ll notice the difference as soon as you get something fresh and new. I had this brought home to me last year at SIAL Canada where I tasted spices that were directly off of plantations. The difference between these and my ‘pretty fresh’ spices was dramatic.

Also, be sure that you are using genuine cinnamon, which has many feathery layers curling around each other like a crinoline, where cassia, which can legally be sold as cinnamon, but isn’t really the same thing, has only the single thick layer. There are huge flavour differences, and cassia does not have the health benefits of true cinnamon. I enjoy having the vanilla in the cup as well, but it’s an expensive indulgence and the tea is still good without it. My standard tea for this is orange pekoe, but Earl Grey blends  an also be a nice addition.

These instructions in this recipe are for making a single pot of chai, but since the biggest amount of bother with making the tea is getting all the ingredients assembled, I make enough for 20 pots of tea at a time and keep it all in individual snack bags. If you keep pinch pots or small fruit dishes, those are great to use as receptacles for the spices both for containing the ingredients and for preparing the mixtures before putting them into the bags.

 

‘Pitmastery’

Article, recipe and main photo by Sean Galt, additional photography, Glen Synoground, voiceover by Lew Williams.

On alternate Fridays I load myself up in the car and begin the anywhere from 2 o 3 ½ hour drive toLondon where my 10 year old daughter lives with her mother.

RibsOne Friday, about 4 years ago the weather was terrible – cold, snowing and windy. On days like that I have a backup plan, which is to stay in London in a hotel where my daughter and I spend the weekend going to movies, eating out, attending concerts or sporting events.

That Saturday, we had dinner out at a mom and pop restaurant downtown. The special that night was BBQ baby back ribs. I ordered those with a salad and a pint of their house draft. My daughter ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. I offered her a rib when the plate arrived. She looked at me with that quizzical expression a child gives you when they know you’re trying to give them medicine but you’re telling them it’s a gummy bear.

“I don’t think I’ll like those,” she said, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“Try one,” I said, “You won’t know till you taste it.”

“But just one. If I give it back, will that be ok?”

She took one bite and her eyes opened like she had tasted the food of the gods.

She ate the rack of ribs. I got the grilled cheese sandwich.

“Daddy, can you make those?” I honestly had no idea. Up to that point I was not a big fan of ribs, but for $9.99 with a salad, it was a good deal. I blame my mother. Her idea was to cut the racks into single pieces and boil them for at least 3 hours before covering them in spaghetti sauce and cooking them in the oven for another hour. I’m sure there was flavour there somewhere.

So when my daughter asked if I could do something, as a good dad, I took up the challenge, if only to see what I could do for my little girl and if i could cook more than burgers and chicken for her.

RibPasteGiven my past experiences with ribs, namely boiling and baking, it seemed to make sense to add flavour right to the meat and cook it into the flesh. Checking the grocery store, there were a variety of pre-made rib rubs and sauces, all seemed to have the same ingredients, and I thought about making my own rubs and marinades and testing what flavours complimented the meats well.

Some worked: curry/pineapple/apple was a hit; some didn’t: lemon/honey mustard. But it was fun every two weeks to drop two racks of ribs at dinner and ask, “Which is better, a or b?”

Usually we could tell by which rack was done first, but sometimes the runner up was deemed more creative and original. Then at the end of that summer, we went to the Oshawa Ribfest and we were introduced to a whole new beast: the smoked rib.

Flavors, layers, textures; I tried my best to decode everything I was tasting, only to ponder, “How on earth can I do this at home?”

I managed to catch the ear of a Pitmaster to compliment him on his product. When I asked him how I could do this, he said the four words I’ve since lived my life by when it comes to the BBQ:

Smoke.

Water.

Low.

Slow.

OnGrillI began pricing various BBQ’s and realized I didn’t have the money in the budget to purchase one of those gigantic smokers the Pitmaster used; nor did we have the space on the deck for one of those giant oil drum smokers. For a while we experimented with the gas grill, they were cooked. But gas vs wood is kind of like water vs wine. Sure, it’ll hydrate you, but the end result is just not the same.

Then one day my (then) partner said, “I think I found a smoker for you.” We headed over the next day. It was small, maybe room for 5 trimmed racks of ribs, or 3 whole chickens. It didn’t have an offset smoker box, so it meant only being able to utilize half the cooking space. But it would do the job. We plunked down the $150 and brought it You know that expression ‘you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette’? I had my own. ‘You gotta ruin some ribs to make a masterpiece.’

Rack after rack came off the grill dried out and flavorless. Shreds of pork peeled away like strips of jerkey. Everyone was polite. But I didn’t like them. Then one Saturday, I found the right combination of spices, water, smoke and temperature, and I discovered the secret ingredient.

Forget they’re there.

The problem was that I kept looking at them every few minutes, asking myself, “Is there enough smoke? Is there enough water? Are the coals burning in the right direction?” Every time I opened the lid, all that magic was being undone. Imagine biking up a hill, and you stop peddling every 20 seconds or so. remember how hard it was to get the bike going again. It was the same with the BBQ. The process had to start all over again.

So now I close the lid, go play with the kid, read a book, watch a movie, take the dog for a walk. Do anything but check on the food. It’s doing just fine on its own. That night at dinner, we had a hit.

Now that I had winner smoked ribs, it was time to fine tune the recipe. We’ve cooked dozens of ribs and countless other meals on this little smoker over the last three years. My daughter is more an active part of cooking now. We’ll go to the bulk store and she will pick out spices and mix them to see what the best flavour combinations will be.

Daddy/daughter time used to be in a movie theatre or restaurant. Now, it’s in our restaurant. And I think we’re ok with that.

The recipe is here.

Ribs in foil
Ribs in foil

 

Food for Thought – Seeds

The theme for March is: Seeds, Spring, and Promise. Food follows the cycle of the world and we follow both. Both globalization and the industrialization of food (an idea that makes me shudder as I type the phrase) allow us to eat what we want, when we want it, granting the illusion that we have mastered food and conquered its cycle. I’m not sure why that idea makes anyone happy.

BIGTomato2There is something wonderful in living in sync with the world, with having that first crisp apple right off the tree, or the thick slices of newly picked beefsteak tomato that makes a perfect sandwich.  There is something magical about taking that fresh, living produce, inhaling its perfection as you eat and there is a feeling of purpose and anticipation in preparing that fresh food for later consumption through the year.
Nothing tastes like your own, home-canned produce, or dried fruit, or frozen vegetables. Why am I writing about preserving homegrown produce in March? Because this is when it begins. The apple, the tomato and all other produce begin as seeds and through much of Canada, we’re starting those seeds now. Today I’m going to pick up some potting soil and start some seeds. Some zucchini, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, kale, spinach, herbs, peas, beans, carrots, radishes, squash, lots of lettuce, tomatoes… garlic, lots and lots of garlic.

It’s all in the strategic planning. I like to do a lot of tomatoes, but won’t be putting in more than a few plants, as they ripen unpredictably and rot relatively quickly. Since I don’t want to have a huge load of fresh tomatoes on my hands when there isn’t time to deal with them, for $25-$30 I’ll buy a bushel. Meanwhile, I’ll plant one or two each of beefsteaks, cherry tomatoes and some romas for freshly made sandwiches, salads and sauces…and for the wonderful things that get made out of green tomatoes, like chutney, mincemeat and hotdog relish.

FirstCucumber1I’ll grow some pickling cucumbers because pickles are so easy to make that I could have a pot of jars on while having my morning coffee…and I love homemade pickles. One of the tricks for making perfectly crispy pickles is to add a grape leaf or two to the jar. Thankfully, the garden has a grapevine…which reminds me, this year, I’m canning grape leaves early in the season. Not a lot, just a jar or two for the winter, just in case.

Yes, I can buy them, but why? They’re right there in the garden and it won’t take a lot of time to pick and prepare them. With a headset, I can do most of that while talking with a friend (or even a client); I know exactly what will be in them when they’re used and let’s not forget that previously mentioned wonderfulness and earthy groundedness of the homemade…plus, if I take dolmathes made from grape leaves from the garden to a party, guaranteed, it adds to the charm of the presentation when others know that’s part of the story.

Overall, it’ll take me 20-30 minutes of actual effort to get the leaves and prepare them in the jars, where it’s often taken longer to buy them, given that there are no Greek specialty stores in the neighbourhood any longer…later in the year of course, I’ll also be making grape jelly.

Baby Eggplant
Baby Eggplant

Eggplants are surprisingly abundant and especially lovely. Perhaps I’ll grow some extra plants this year and research some antipasti recipes for canning as well.

Hot peppers are made into Thai curries, tom yum and other sauces, as well as 3 bean chili (which is made in bulk for the freezer) and dried on strings. Some of the dried peppers from last year will make it into this year’s pickles. Sweet peppers are sliced and frozen on trays, and one or two red bells will find it’s way into the Thai red curry for colour. This reminds me…I also need to plant lemongrass!

Radicchio
Radicchio

Spinach is incredibly lovely when grown fresh, and this year I’ll put in a lot more to try and have a more continuous supply…possibly even enough to freeze a bit. Kale starts producing early, grows right into November, and freezes well, especially when vacuum-sealed to reduce the volume. The hard squashes like acorn and pumpkin will store well.

The tomatoes, when I buy them, will get made into sauce for the freezer and also plain canned tomatoes in jars, while the skins and cores left over from both will be used, in combination with apples from the front-yard tree, to make ketchup. The plain canned tomatoes will get used to make soup on nasty days. That’s a recipe that I’ll be sharing next year about this time, after we’ve gone through canning the tomatoes…because there is no point making this soup with even the very best commercially canned tomatoes.

If you have time or space for only a few small plants, then grow herbs. Herbs are the best investment of time and space, especially when you consider that the best price per bunch ever is $1.50, of which one may use only a portion and then toss…while a flat of plants costs about the same and will last through the entire summer.

Garlic01

First though, let’s get out there and buy some nice potting soil and GMO-free seeds.

Becoming a Pitmaster

Article, recipe and main photo by Sean Galt, additional photography, Glen Synoground

On alternate Fridays I load myself up in the car and begin the anywhere from 2 o 3 ½ hour drive toLondon where my 10 year old daughter lives with her mother.

RibsOne Friday, about 4 years ago the weather was terrible – cold, snowing and windy. On days like that I have a backup plan, which is to stay in London in a hotel where my daughter and I spend the weekend going to movies, eating out, attending concerts or sporting events.

That Saturday, we had dinner out at a mom and pop restaurant downtown. The special that night was BBQ baby back ribs. I ordered those with a salad and a pint of their house draft. My daughter ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. I offered her a rib when the plate arrived. She looked at me with that quizzical expression a child gives you when they know you’re trying to give them medicine but you’re telling them it’s a gummy bear.

“I don’t think I’ll like those,” she said, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“Try one,” I said, “You won’t know till you taste it.”

“But just one. If I give it back, will that be ok?”

She took one bite and her eyes opened like she had tasted the food of the gods.

She ate the rack of ribs. I got the grilled cheese sandwich.

“Daddy, can you make those?” I honestly had no idea. Up to that point I was not a big fan of ribs, but for $9.99 with a salad, it was a good deal. I blame my mother. Her idea was to cut the racks into single pieces and boil them for at least 3 hours before covering them in spaghetti sauce and cooking them in the oven for another hour. I’m sure there was flavour there somewhere.

So when my daughter asked if I could do something, as a good dad, I took up the challenge, if only to see what I could do for my little girl and if i could cook more than burgers and chicken for her.

RibPasteGiven my past experiences with ribs, namely boiling and baking, it seemed to make sense to add flavour right to the meat and cook it into the flesh. Checking the grocery store, there was a variety of premade rib rubs and sauces, all seemed to have the same ingredients, and I thought about making my own rubs and marinades and testing what flavours complimented the meats well.

Some worked: curry/pineapple/apple was a hit; some didn’t: lemon/honey mustard. But it was fun every two weeks to drop two racks of ribs at dinner and ask, “Which is better, a or b?”

Usually we could tell by which rack was done first, but sometimes the runner up was deemed more creative and original. Then at the end of that summer, we went to the Oshawa Ribfest and we were introduced to a whole new beast: the smoked rib.

Flavors, layers, textures; I tried my best to decode everything I was tasting, only to ponder, “How on earth can I do this at home?”

I managed to catch the ear of a Pitmaster to compliment him on his product. When I asked him how I could do this, he said the four words I’ve since lived my life by when it comes to the BBQ:

Smoke.

Water.

Low.

Slow.

OnGrillI began pricing various BBQ’s and realized I didn’t have the money in the budget to purchase one of those gigantic smokers the Pitmaster used; nor did we have the space on the deck for one of those giant oil drum smokers. For a while we experimented with the gas grill, they were cooked. But gas vs wood is kind of like water vs wine. Sure, it’ll hydrate you, but the end result is just not the same.

Then one day my (then) partner said, “I think I found a smoker for you.” We headed over the next day. It was small, maybe room for 5 trimmed racks of ribs, or 3 whole chickens. It didn’t have an offset smoker box, so it meant only being able to utilize half the cooking space. But it would do the job. We plunked down the $150 and brought it You know that expression ‘you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette’? I had my own. ‘You gotta ruin some ribs to make a masterpiece.’

Rack after rack came off the grill dried out and flavorless. Shreds of pork peeled away like strips of jerkey. Everyone was polite. But I didn’t like them. Then one Saturday, I found the right combination of spices, water, smoke and temperature, and I discovered the secret ingredient.

Forget they’re there.

The problem was that I kept looking at them every few minutes, asking myself, “Is there enough smoke? Is there enough water? Are the coals burning in the right direction?” Every time I opened the lid, all that magic was being undone. Imagine biking up a hill, and you stop peddling every 20 seconds or so. remember how hard it was to get the bike going again. It was the same with the BBQ. The process had to start all over again.

So now I close the lid, go play with the kid, read a book, watch a movie, take the dog for a walk. Do anything but check on the food. It’s doing just fine on its own. That night at dinner, we had a hit.

Now that I had winner smoked ribs, it was time to fine tune the recipe. We’ve cooked dozens of ribs and countless other meals on this little smoker over the last three years. My daughter is more an active part of cooking now. We’ll go to the bulk store and she will pick out spices and mix them to see what the best flavour combinations will be.

Daddy/daughter time used to be in a movie theatre or restaurant. Now, it’s in our restaurant. And I think we’re ok with that.

The recipe is here.

InFoil