From April 2013

Foraged Wild Leeks: Tasty, Versatile, and Endangered.

A patch of wild leeks.
A patch of wild leeks.
Already this week, I’ve seen a number of Facebook posts/comments and Twitter conversations about the arrival of wild leek (or ramp) season.

I’ve got to say, folks, that I’m as excited as all of you. Ramps are versatile spring vegetables that can spruce up just about any meal. They are also the first fresh veggie that you will find each spring.

While I may be as excited as many, I may, however, also be a bit more worried.

You see, the number of local people who have become dedicated wild leek foragers has exploded over the past few years. We went from having virtually no one knowing what ramps were, to them being darlings of the spring table in both restaurants and homes.

And this is far from being just a Peterborough thing.

All across Eastern North America, people are heading into the bush in ever increasing numbers to pick these delicate members of the onion family. As a result, wherever they grow, the species is in decline. Because of over-harvesting, ramps have been named a protected species under Quebec law. Across the Eastern states, where wild leek growth is more rampant than in Canada, they have been declared “species of special concern.”  Here in Ontario, there is growing concern about the plant’s ability to survive heavy harvesting.

In short: We’re foraging too many, and they are not growing back in sustainable numbers. If we are not careful, we will lose this tremendous ancient species.

Last year around this time, I spoke to local forager, Marcy Adzich of Fox Hollow Wild Edibles about sustainably foraging wild leeks. It appeared as a blog entry on MyKawartha.com, and a newspaper column in Peterborough This Week. It also includes tips on cooking with ramps, a recipe for Fiddlehead Quiche with Ramps, as well as sample menus for early spring local/seasonal eating.

Wild Leeks: Carefully Foraged Delights.

Enjoy the article. Enjoy the leeks.

And remember: Forage responsibly.

 

Edit: The MyKawartha.com blog has a typo.  It should read:

“They can take up to 5 years to reach maturity,” explains Adzich.  “Which means that even selective harvesting can take its toll.  In fact, there are bans on picking them in Quebec.  And major conservation issues here in Ontario.”

 

Friday Flashback: Staples Syrup, the Best in Show

A friday flashback moment. Last year, around this time, I wrote this Peterborough This Week column on Jill and Robert Staples and their award winning syrup.

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The Art of Maple Syrup
It was way back in 1813 when the Staple family, newly landed in Central Ontario, first took notice of the maple syrup potential of the Peterborough area.

In fact, the first letters back to the old country contained references to “the sweet sap” that came from the local trees, and the tasty wild strawberries that dotted the local meadows.

It’s no wonder that, nearly 200 years later, the descendants of these early settlers are making syrup that stands as among the best in the world. Actually, depending on the year, they are making the best maple syrup in the world.

Jill and Robert Staples, you see, have been world champion syrup makers four times in the past decade. They’ve been runners-up numerous times, and had their individual grades of syrup place first in separate categories more times than they can count. These folks know sweetness.

Lucky for us, the taste of this year’s sweet success is currently hitting store shelves and farmers markets. I was fortunate enough to be there while they were boiling down this year’s batch.

This year, however, things were a bit different.

Our very uncharacteristic warm spring meant that sap started flowing much earlier than usual. It also only flowed for a much shorter time.

“It’s definitely been a strange season,” said Robert. “And our yield is going to be a fraction of what it is in normal years.”

Will it affect the taste?

“Each year is different,” he explained. “It’s hard to tell what the syrup will be like from season to season, and even from different parts of the season. It’s still going to be great syrup though.”

And he should know. His knowledge of syrup stems from working the Staples sugar bush with both his father and his grandfather. A lot of knowledge has been passed on through the generations.

This skill has earned a number of accolades – including an invitation to supply syrup for participants at the Olympic Games.

“We had to turn that one down,” chuckled Jill. “We have a lot of very loyal and dedicated customers in this area. And there is only so much syrup to go around. We felt it wouldn’t be fair to our customers to send so much of our product out.”

How precious is this liquid gold?

On average, it takes 30 or 40 litres of sap to produce one litre of finished product. While the Staples tap an astounding 4,000 trees on their property, there are still limits on how much they can produce for sale.

“This year is going to be tougher than others,” confesses Robert. “But there should still be enough to go around.”

With this year’s batch making its way across our area, it is the perfect time to try their award winning syrup for yourself.

You can find their syrup – as well as maple sugar and maple butter – at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, the Canadian Canoe Museum, the Millbrook Foodland, as well as at several local restaurants (check with the Staples to find out who is currently serving and cooking with it).

You can also purchase it directly from their farm. You can find the Staples on Highway 7A (between Cavan and Bethany), or you can give them a call at 705-944-5501 for more information.

Farm to Table Spoons it Up

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It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Seasoned Spoon at Trent University. I’ve blogged about them several times, written magazine articles about them, featured them in newspaper columns, and even profiled them in an article that appeared in Metroland Media papers/blogs in regions right across Ontario: Here’s the Ottawa page of that article.

Why is it that I love them so? Well, they pretty much represent all that I believe in when it comes to local and seasonal food. They’re a co-op that offers both educational and employment opportunities to students and Peterborough residents. They specialize in serving food that is either grown at Trent or sourced (whenever possible) by local growers. And they are a part of some great educational sustainable food projects, such as Trent’s rooftop garden, community field garden, and brand new root cellar. Plus, it is just a comfy place to hang out — with food that will knock your socks off.

What kind of food are we talking?

While the menu changes from day to day, it usually features at least two different types of soup, two different types of wraps, numerous salads, and entrees ranging from casseroles to quiches to traditional fare such as lasagna and shepherds pie. Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. The Seasoned Spoon prides itself on incredible daily baked goods – including some gluten free options.

Now, ordinarily, I’d be preaching the Spoon gospel by sending you up to Trent for lunch — and, really, why not? It’s a short drive or bike to get to Café (located in Champlain College)…

Today, though, I’d like to take care of a bit of time sensitive Spoon-related business.

1. The Spoon will be celebrating their 10th Anniversary this coming Saturday, April 6th, with a full day of activities, including workshops, guest speakers, a celebratory dinner, and an evening of round and square dancing. I’ll be on hand facilitating a panel of speakers: “New Farmers Growing Ecologically in the Kawarthas” will feature Josh of Chickabiddy Acres, Kate Logan of TerraVerde farm, and Pat Learmonth of Farms at Work. I may need to do some homework beforehand to keep up with these great growers. More details can be found here. I definitely hope to see you there.

2. There are only 3 days left in the Spoon Silent Auction. There are some great products and services to bid on, including local food and beverages, “date nights” on the town, massages, bookkeeping services… really, there’s something for everyone. You can even bid on a ticket for 2 for our Downtown Culinary Tours — with all money going to the Spoon and its great programs. Hop online at www.seasonedspoon.ca/auction and get your bids in today.

Want to taste a bit of the Spoon from the comfort of your own home?

I managed to pry this recipe from longtime Spooner, Robyn Smith, who assures me that it is a wonderful addition to fries and curds.

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Miso-Mushroom Gravy

2-3 Tbsp. garlic (minced)
3 cups onions (diced really small!)
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. ginger
3 ½ cups mushrooms (chopped very small)
1-2 cups veggie stock
2-3 Tbsp. miso (it’s good without it too)
¾ cup tamari (or soy sauce)
½ tsp. black pepper

Fry onions with oil, pepper flakes and ginger, and when they are tender add in the mushrooms. Cook on moderate heat, stirring, until they start to release their delicious juices and break down a bit. When this happens, add your liquids a little at a time, so that a creamy texture is achieved.

If you’d like, you can also add a little rice vinegar for a kick, or a bit of almond or rice milk for extra creaminess. Keep cooking and stirring until things thicken up a bit and the mushrooms get totally absorbed in the sauce. The miso is not totally necessary, but very tasty, and I recommend it highly!

This gravy tastes awesome on many things, most notably poutine! To make an awesome poutine, slice potatoes in good big wedges, toss in oil, salt, pepper and spices (I like oregano and thyme) and bake at high heat (400o or so) until they get a crispy outside. Toss some cheese or, for vegans, nutritional yeast and sautéed veggies, then cover with gravy and stick back in the oven just long enough for everything to get all melty.

Mmm delicious!

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Thank you, Robyn.

krista

As a final note, how long have the folks at Farm to Table been fans of the Spoon? How about since before there was a Spoon. Here’s a photo of Krista in her role as the second ever rooftop garden coordinator way back in her days as a student at Trent.