Field Trip: Grimo Nut Nursery

Monday, July 26, 2010

When we visited Ernie Grimo's family nut nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we didn't know an awful lot about nuts. They come out in stores mainly during the holidays. Chestnuts are best roasted over an open fire. Etc. Etc. So we're pretty ignorant. But the point of our trip was to learn.

The first thing Linda, Ernie's daughter taught us was that we came at the wrong time. But that's ok. We're trying to get over our acclimation to year-round fresh produce. Seasonality, a thing that industrialization has proclaimed obsolete, is something that we're trying to reacquaint ourselves with.

The second thing we learned is that the Grimos are less interested in collecting nuts than they are finding and propagating the best varieties. Their nursery (which should have been our first clue) takes orders all year round and then fills those orders with seedlings in the spring.

As for the nuts, they ripen in the fall. Usually in October. They are collected after falling naturally into nets laid under the trees and then sold from the nursery, or from orders phoned in from "discriminating customers." They usually sell out by November.

So what does a discriminating nut customer look for? As we learned, freshness is key. The nuts are not really roasted and most of their nutrients and oils are intact. Linda said that the fresh nuts keep for 6 months in the fridge, and up to a year if kept in the freezer.

The Heartnut is a cultivar of the Japanese Walnut, which means that it's grown from specifically chosen walnuts that have a heart shape. The best ones crack easily and the nut remains unbroken once opened. Once you find a tree that delivers the perfect Heartnut, you don't plant the nuts. Doing that would then change them again, possibly with negative results. Instead, you propagate through cuttings to keep an exact genetic match. In our climate, they take the more fragile Heartnut (and most other nut trees they have) and graft them onto a hardy Black Walnut rootstock. You can see the transition below.

Linda told us an incredible story about two Niagara residents who were prisoners of war in Japan. While they were in the camp they found a heartnut tree whose nuts kept them alive. Once they were liberated, the two of them came home to the Niagara region with as many of the nuts as they could fit in their boots. One of them ended up eating all his nuts, while the other planted his at his neighbors farm. The Grimo Heartnuts are descendants of these trees.

Nuts at the Grimo Nut Nursery are treated less like the cheap supermarket commodity, and more like another famous product of their region - wine. When tasting their black walnuts, (which they've selected to crack much better than the ones in our yard) all I could taste was a cheese I had a few weeks back. Going through all their sample nuts (they keep a small selection for tasting year round) you can taste the distinctions. We also tasted Hickory and the Heartnuts.

If you like nuts, and aren't a squirrel, stop by the Grimo Nut Nursery in October. Maybe call ahead and see what's available and order a tree. You can ask about their "Alpricots" which are an apricot with an actual almond for a pit. Or you can finally see what a Paw Paw is.

Field Trip: Wilsonville Organic Farm

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, my mother-in-law Jane and I were driving down old 24 highway, through the hamlet of Wilsonville, Ontario, when we spotted a sign that read "Artisan Bread-Friday Afternoons". We drove in the driveway and down the lane, past the red barn and greenhouse, through a grove of fruit trees and stopped next to a field of tomatoes. Jane began to tell me that this was the late Mr. Hill's old house, and that Jesse and his cousin Timothy painted the now faded red barns when they were younger. We parked the car and headed toward a little cabin to find the bread when we were met by Rick, owner of Wilsonville Organics. He gladly escorted us to the bread where we bought 3 loaves: sourdough, cowboy and potato bread. After a little chat, Rick invited Jesse and I back for a tour of the property.

Meet Rick, a former white-collar business man, with a desk-job and a life-long dream of having a farm. Clearly a farmer, and a lover of nature, with his bare feet right in the dirt and his hands green from pinching the suckers on his heirloom tomatoes. When he first moved to the farm, he started out with 8 raised garden boxes close to the house - a kitchen garden. His family wanted in, so his gardens grew. His friends wanted in, and his gardens grew more. Now he grows for thirty families and has a waiting list for next season.

C.S.A (Community Shared Agriculture) is an amazing concept. Pay a fee at the beginning of the growing season and in return, receive a weekly box of mixed fresh and in-season produce. Some farms have a drop-off location (often a farmers market) or pick-up times at the farm. Rick said that he has someone from Burlington pick up boxes for 6 different families.

Eating locally, means eating in season. Like Rick pointed out, watermelons don't grow in March, so when we purchase them in the supermarket year round you know they must have travelled more than a little watermelon should. Food Shares make up for seasonal deficiencies with variety. By getting a box of seasonal produce, you get to try produce that you might not regularly buy, perhaps discovering love for a new type of vegetable.

Rick gave us a tour of the farm. His speciality is heirloom tomatoes, or heritage tomatoes, which are tomatoes that haven't been hybridized or modified to stand up to modern transportation needs. Let me tell you, you have never tasted a tomato until you eat an heirloom tomato ripened on the vine and eaten in the field, so full of flavor. Rick also mentioned that in the spring he offered a workshop on growing your own heirloom tomatoes, and hinted that he would likely offer it again next year.

As well as tomatoes, there were cucumbers, beans, onions, herbs, salad greens, squash, shiitake mushroom logs, fruit trees, berries, and more. At the very back of the farm you can even find some bee hives. He lets a local bee keeper keep them there in exchange for some honey and most likely, some pollination.

So, next time you are driving near Wilsonville on a Friday Afternoon, stop in and buy a loaf of bread, you will not regret it.

In fact, next time you see a sign on the side of the road inviting you in for something interesting like "artisan bread" or "local honey" or "free range big brown eggs" (a real sighting), go for it. Not only are you supporting local business and artists and farmers, you are one step closer to getting out of that homogenized, pasteurized grocery store. It is a much more pleasant buying experience, and you never know the people you might meet and the stories you'll hear!

Also, if C.S.A is something that interests you, ask around at your local farmers market, or do some research to find a farm close to you.

Garlic Scape Pesto

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A good friend of mine gave me a handful of garlic scapes from her garden.

The scape is the shoot that comes out of the bulb. The stem gets curly and this is when it is ready to be harvested and eaten!

I first learned of garlic scapes at the Ancaster Farmers Market, and I've had the chance to experiment with them since.

The scapes add a nice bite chopped into a salad or stir-fry. We also coated them in oil and salt and pepper and threw them on the grill with our other grilled vegetables. They tasted a little like asparagus that had been coated in garlic oil and cooked to perfection.

One night I got brave and whipped out the ol' food processor. Garlic Scape Pesto! I haven't even made regular pesto before, but I know generally what goes in, so I had a pretty good idea of what I should do.

So here it is!

Garlic Scape Pesto

• bunch of garlic scapes
• parmesan cheese
• a few fresh basil leaves
• olive oil
• salt and pepper

Process until smooth. If it is too thick, slowly add a bit more oil until you get a desired consistency.

I like to spread the pesto onto crackers, use it in a pasta or pasta salad, spread it on a chicken sandwich, or even put it on pizza!

It has bite, so you don't need much.

This is what it is all about- being resourceful and using the whole thing! And to think, a few months ago, I didn't know you could eat the entire garlic plant!

Dehydrated Cherries

Monday, July 12, 2010

We borrowed a dehydrator from my mother in law. Oh the things we can do now! Well... Oh the things we can dehydrate now! Cherries were our first experiment.

We have eaten and given away probably close to 20 quarts of cherries, and there were about 3 quarts sitting in the fridge while we debated freezing methods. So instead I pitted them by hand and threw them in the dehydrator.
The manual, well a manual for some random dehydrator we found online recommends somewhere between 8-34 hours for drying cherries - very specific - so I wasn't quite sure, but we figured we've eaten raisins before, so who's better qualified?

They look like big raisins and they are yummy!

It is crazy how little space they take up post dehydration. It seems like a lot of work for such little output, but it is a safe way to store them, and it's a yummy change. Since we don't have that many dried cherries, we keep them in an airtight jar. I think that if we had a ton we'd still freeze most to keep longer.

You can put dried cherries into anything where you would use raisins - granola, cookies, muffins, or just eat them straight up.

If you don't have a dehydrator you could either borrow one, or cook them in your oven at a really low temperature, however you might want to research this first, and it might not be the most energy efficient. We try not to let buying specialty appliances be an option, because usually someone we know has what we're looking for sitting in their basement. And we're not too proud to ask.

Spelt Crepes

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jesse made crepes for breakfast, we used the spelt flour again. It is amazing. We have been substituting it for our regular flour, and we can't really taste the difference. It is nice to know that it is easier on our bodies than white flour (not that we really use white flour), and we feel better feeding it to the kids.

He made them in our cast iron frying pan, no special crepe pan, just our regular-everyday pan,
and they turned out amazing. Well, I don't know if the average crepe-loving-french-person would say they were the best of the best, but I thought there were delicious. We filled them with strawberries (fresh) and blueberries (wild, from the freezer) and then covered them in maple syrup.

The kids were eating them faster than Jesse could make them.

Spelt Crepes

(we doubled this recipe to feed our hungry family of 4, but still had leftovers)

• 1 cup organic spelt flour
• 2 organic free-range eggs
• 1/2 cup organic milk
• 1/2 cup water
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 2 Tbs butter, melted
• vanilla

Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl, slowly sift flour into wet mixture.

Preheat the cast iron frying pan to medium, or just higher than medium, and let it get nice and hot. Put a knob of butter in the pan. Pour some of the batter into the pan and swirl it around so it spreads out nice and thin. If it's cooking faster than you can spread it out, you might want to add a bit more water to the mix.

Flip, serve and enjoy.

Now. Here is our little secret. After we put the kids to bed, we warmed up the leftover crepes, filled them with vanilla ice cream and topped with melted 70% dark chocolate and a dash of confectioners sugar.

Black Raspberries

Friday, July 2, 2010

The west side of our house is filled with black raspberry plants. For the past 4 years of living here we have eaten a few, but not really taken notice of how many are actually there. This year perhaps there are more, or perhaps we are just taking notice of what our tiny piece of land has to offer. It is so amazing that every time we go outside our kids can fill their faces until they are full. They are learning to forage, and to appreciate food in nature.

It's important to eat in season, and to build up nutrients. These little black beauties are filled with antioxidants, so we like to eat them fresh. Normally I would be thinking about making jam or pies, but what is the point of filling them with sugar when we can eat them in their natural state?

Last night, we found a huge patch of black raspberries behind our garage. We had no idea they were there. We picked about 2 quarts, not to mention the quart that the kids ate as we were picking.

I also heard because they are so dark in pigment that they make a great natural die, which makes me concerned with whether the stain will come out of the kids clothes as easily as it came off their hands and faces!

We've been putting the berries in yogurt, and we also made a pretty delicious custard dessert tonight with them layered in.

If you don't have the space for a garden, or can't grow your own, take a walk in the woods or on some local trails. You are pretty much guaranteed to find some.