Field Trip: Oak Manor Farms

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In the countryside nestled in a cluster of clay-red silos just north-east of Tavistock, Ontario, Dave Reibling, and his son Perry operate Oak Manor Farms, a stone flour mill.

Dave's father, Delton a grain farmer, was a sort of pioneer. In the 1950s, he was one of the first farmers in the area to embrace chemical farming. People told him he was crazy, and that these chemicals couldn't grow anything. But without knowing of the long-term consequences, he proved them wrong.

After their initial successes, Delton and his son Dave began to notice that the soil was dying. All of the natural life, organic matter and earthworms began to disappear. In fact, it wasn’t soil anymore. It was just dirt. Essentially a medium to hold roots and chemicals. Delton felt they had to do something and he pushed Dave to look into organic growing methods. Again, people called them crazy. Going organic in 1970 seemed a complete step backwards as chemical farming was just beginning to hit its stride.

In 1975, tired of seeing their beautiful organic grain end up in the same place as all of the conventionally grown grain, the Reiblings purchased their first stone mill and began to take control of their grain’s future. Over the next thirty years they slowly phased out growing to focus solely on milling locally sourced grains. They mill hard wheat (high gluten bread flour) and soft wheat (low gluten cake and pastry flour), light and dark spelt flour, as well as process organic oats.

With stone milling, you’re stuck with whole grain flour, or partially sifted flour, which means it’s on its way to white. But we believe that’s a good thing. In fact, we usually opt for whole wheat whenever possible. White flour leaves out a lot of the grain’s nutritional value. By taking the endosperm, essentially the starch, out of context of the bran and germ, you’re ripping apart a healthy balance that nature has put together for you.

And whole grains are harder to work with. The bran tends to cut the gluten that makes white bread rise so beautifully. That’s why most “whole wheat” bread is mostly white flour. In addition to this, after grinding the grain, the oils that occur naturally in the grain are released and start to go rancid and bitter. This goes against one of the main pillars of the processed food industry - shelf life.

Oak Manor sells sourced unbleached (white) organic flour, so you're by no means limited to whole wheat. Regardless, we’re excited to learn how to work with more and more whole wheat. It’s easy to make a nice, fluffy loaf of white bread, but its definitely an art form to work with whole grains. So instead of picking up a warehouse-aged “all purpose” flour, why not get stone ground bread or cake flour from a place you know.

Oak Manor Farms
756907 Oxford County Road #5,
Rural Route #1,
Tavistock, Ontario

Recipe: Apple & Cream Cheese Turnovers

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cleaning out the freezer, I found a pack of frozen puff pastry and was inspired to take my homemade yogurt cream-cheese to the next level.  I know what you are thinking, a pack of frozen puff pastry? Shouldn't she be making this herself since they are trying to get out of the supermarket? Well, wouldn't it be better to use it up than throw it out? And since I canned the apple sauce, made the yogurt cheese, know the chickens who laid the egg and could take a quick drive to see the bees who collected the honey, I wasn't overly concerned. I've never made puff pastry before and I've heard it's pretty labour intensive. Perhaps it will be another project all in itself.

Here is my recipe for quick and easy Apple Cream-Cheese Turnovers.


1/2 cup (roughly) of Apple Sauce
1 Apple, chopped (to add some crunch the turnovers)
1/3 cup (estimated) of Cream Cheese or yogurt cheese
1 Spoon full of Local Honey
1 Farm Fresh Free Range Egg, divided
Puff Pastry

1. Mix homemade apple sauce and chopped apple in a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl mix cream cheese with a spoon full of honey and a free range egg yolk.
3. Roll out pastry and cut into squares.
4. Put a small dollop of apple and cheese mixture onto each puff pastry square.
5. Rub edge with egg white and fold over, lightly pressing the edges.
6. Place turnovers in fridge for 15 minutes.
7. Top with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
8. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, rotating pan once.
9. Enjoy!

Garden Status Report

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

1. Banana Fingers, Purple Peruvian, and Chieftain seed potatoes   2. Sugar Baby watermelon seedlings
3. Giant pumpkin seedling   4. Basil, Tomato, Pepper and Brussels Sprouts seedlings.

Our self-sufficient garden is slowly, but very surely beginning to take shape. Nothing is in the ground yet (except for our garlic) but there's going to be a lot of digging very soon. Before planting, we have a lot of infrastructure to install. Teepees for the beans, 15-foot trellises for the hopyard, and raised beds for the asparagus all need to be constructed over the next few weeks.

The idea of a self-sufficient garden is not just to have a tasty tomato for a sandwich in August, but to also have a delicious tomato sauce for pasta in December. And to make this happen, we're going to need to build the biggest piece of infrastructure yet. A genuine, in-the-side-of-a-hill, root cellar. Something along the lines of this.

Left to right, Jacob's Cattle beans, Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, Dakota Black popcorn and Chioggia Beet seeds

Since we're planning for winter storage, we're trying to be careful and resist the temptation to start too many plants too early. It only makes sense that a cabbage picked as late as possible is going to taste the best in the middle of winter. To help me (and eventually you) do this, I'm designing a planting chart to help me get things into the ground in the proper order and keep track of what should be seeded directly into the garden. We're also planning on doing later plantings of the same varieties to ripen at different times.

From the seeds that we started just a couple of weeks ago, we've already got a jungle of tomato and pepper plants. We're most excited about our Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper seedlings. They are not only the most delicious peppers ever, but our plants are growing from seeds we saved last summer. Whenever I look at the hundreds of seeds we saved from that one pepper, enough to plant a whole field, it amazes and reminds me of the generosity of nature, and annoys me to think that we're modifying our vegetables simply so we can grow them in the way we find most convenient and thought-reducing, not in the balanced way nature prefers.

A one-year-old Mary Washington asparagus crown and Chinook hop rhizome.

Asparagus is one of those plants that is at odds with our modern world. It's not until you start growing it for yourself that you realize how cheap it really is at the grocery store. If you were to start asparagus seed this spring in your home garden, your first harvest would be in May of 2015. It takes four years for the plant to establish before you can start harvesting the shoots. And will you even be in the same house in 2015?

So we have ordered a few 1-year-old asparagus crowns to give us a head start. 2014 can't come fast enough. They'll be going into raised beds to live for the next twenty years and provide us with more than enough seasonal spears.

The other thing I sourced in root form is the hops. They arrived as a "rhizome" which is essentially a root cutting, that once planted, will send up a shoot and form a new plant. I had some suggestions from Neil, a homebrewer I visited back in December and now I'll be set for whenever I'm ready to brew.

A self-sufficient garden is more complicated than planting a casual summer vegetable garden where you don't need a plan and can easily fill in the gaps with a visit to a farmer's market or supermarket. I know we're going to miss something, and that other things are going to fail, but rather than getting too worried about it, I know we'll just do our best and get it right next year.

Field Trip: Morden's Organic Farm Store

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The moment you drive up to Morden's farm, you can feel the history. The classic farm house and barns are nearly original and a beautiful symbol of a simpler time. Sandy Morden, the 7th generation Morden on the property, took over the farm in 1997 and converted one of the original barns into Morden's Organic Farm Store. A store filled with foods that match the barn's simplicity.

Inside, there is a great selection of local, organic and naturally raised meats, wild caught fish, and produce. You can pick up eggs, butter, yogurt and cheese, and the shelves are stocked with items from jams, pickles, honey and maple syrup, to granola, gluten free flours, ice cream, emu oil products and more.

The floors are crooked, the beams are rough. It's a very rustic and warm experience. It's also very kid-friendly. The old silo has been converted into a small playroom, where you can peer through windows in the ceiling and see right up to the top. And there's a cornmeal-filled play barn with miniature tractors for kids to practice their tilling.

Outside, there is a small barn with a horse, sheep, goats, miniature horse, donkey, llama, chickens, rabbits and more. And I'm a little envious of the horse's view of the seemingly infinite fields.

Some of the produce they sell in the store is grown on the property, but most of it is sourced locally, and quite fresh. Some of the pea sprouts they were sampling the day we visited were absolutely delicious. The meat selection is spectacular. From wild fish to bison, you can spend a lot of time in their walk-in freezer.

Not everything in the store is local, typical exemptions are things like coffee, chocolate and bananas, but everything is organic. If you're ever in the Dundas area, make sure you visit Morden's. It's a great little experience and you can get your groceries at the same time.

Morden's Organic Farm Store
801 Collinson Rd. Dundas, Ontario

Yogurt Cheese

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This weekend I decided to take our homemade yogurt to the next level and make a sort of "cream cheese" or strained yogurt. It's tangy but none-the-less delicious.

It was the simplest thing. All you need to do is place a colander over a bowl and line it with couple layers of cheese cloth. Pour in your yogurt and let sit overnight in the fridge.

You will immediately start to see the whey dripping into the bowl and in the morning you'll have a thick yogurt cheese. You can use it instead of cream cheese, or add some garlic and cucumbers to create a tzatziki sauce.

Field Trip: The Potting Shed

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cell packs filled with seeding mix.

This is going to be a big gardening year for us. The plan is for a big, quarter-acre garden on some land we've been allotted at the Senko Farm. It's exciting to plan and decide on all the vegetables that will hopefully, after lots of preserving and proper storage, see us through to next spring.

There is much planning involved in a large garden in order to take into account all of its variables, including soil, seed, pests, seeding times, and transplanting times. There's also companion planting and even succession planting, which is staggering plants from a specific variety so they don't all ripen at once. It can get overwhelming, so we sometimes stop for a moment and think about all the stuff we won't have to pick up at the supermarket anymore.

Most of the seeds we're starting are open-pollinated, as opposed to hybrid. Hybrid seeds are produced by cross pollinating two plants with different traits you want to see in the next generation. These traits are sometimes for flavour, but others often only serve the industrial food system and its need for shipping rigour and uniformity. The other thing about hybrids is their seeds, if usable at all, usually revert back to only one of its parents' traits.

Open pollinated seeds on the other hand can be gathered at the end of each season and saved to plant the next year's crop. Not only do you have free seeds, but you also have the benefit of plants that are comfortable with your field or backyard.

Another part of our plan is variety. Instead of going to the seed rack at a department store and picking out, for example, "cucumber" seeds, we ordered six different varieties - three slicing varieties and three pickling varieties - We'll be taking notes on all the vegetables we plant and which ones worked best.

Most of the herbs we started last week are up now.

So how did we start our seeds this year? We bought trays (to catch any drips), cell-packs that have the individual cells to plant your seeds, and clear humidity domes to cover them and keep it warm and wet in order for the seeds to germinate. We filled an old pail with fine seed-starting mix (not the much heavier potting soil) and added hot water, making a thick mud. We filled our cell packs with soil and added two or three seeds to each cell.

We also borrowed an old grow-light rack that helps speed up germination and also keeps the seedlings short and tough, rather than spindly and reaching for light out a nearby window. Once the plants sprout and get established, we'll transplant them into individual pots in our greenhouse where they'll wait it out until the magical, frost-free date of May 24th.

Bread Failure

Monday, April 4, 2011

I was organizing my photos the other day and came across these. I had quite possibly been a little too inspired by the Bread Baker's Apprentice - a book I first heard about on our visit to Spirit Tree Estate Cidery. A few people we've talked to consider it the bible of artisanal bread-baking.

So I tried two kinds, first a couple of classic Italian loaves, and then a Challah, since we had just recieved the first batch of eggs from my mom's chickens.

The photos are deceptive. The Italian loaves were supposed to be the same size as the challah, but they gave up on their final rise. So instead, they're simply Italian door-stops. And the annoying part is that the Italian loaves were started the day before, and the challah was relatively simple. The book is full of breads that are fermented overnight, so it's a little bit of a time management exercise.

But hey, we'll keep trying. Next up, no-knead bread!