What is it that just makes things from Ontario taste so much better? It’s the quality and the flavour, yes, but also the stories and the people behind the products that really make an Ontario-sourced ingredient shine.
A perfect example of this is the Harrow Fair Cookbook (2010, Whitecap Books) – a love-letter to Essex County, its agricultural history and the growers, producers and wineries that bring the story of food to life in the region. Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with two of the authors, Moira Sanders and Lori Elstone (also the owner of the awesome Provisions Food Company) about their inspirations for writing the cookbook and what it takes to become a certified fair pie judge (!).
Being a fair-themed cookbook, there is a sizeable section on pies (personal thank you from me!). Tell our CTA readers a bit about the Harrow Fair and some of your favourite parts about it.
LE: Having the kids be able to participate is really important to us and really fun for them as well. My kids are 4 and 6 years old and even just getting a participatory ribbon last year was such a thrill for them. Another highlight for both Moira and I, would be the pie auction. That happens on the Thursday evening, right after the judging and then the pies, that actually have a sliver taken out of them which the judges tasted, get auctioned off and the proceeds go to a local charity. One of Moira’s pies went for $1,200 last year which is just amazing!
MS: They just do things so well at this fair. Next year is a great year to go because we’ll be there with a booth selling our new cookbook (and our old one). Lori will also be selling some of her food stuffs.
I love the little tidbits that you’ve included about the region in the cookbook (for example, Harrow shares the same latitude as northern California and Tuscany). What do you think surprises guests visiting the region the most?
MS: To visit the area in the summertime, is to be just blown away by the sheer amount of agriculture that’s down there. And the fact that it’s surrounded by water on three sides is pretty unique. Also that the majority of fish that comes out of the Great Lakes, actually come out of that Erie basin.
What are some of your favourite places in Essex County?
MS: Klassen Blueberries is definitely a place you want to stop at. They’ve really created a total experience. You can do pick-your-own berries, sip on a blueberry milkshake…it’s really fun. Erie Shore Vineyards is a great little winery that does food events out under their pavilion in the summer. Alma makes everyone feel welcome. This is the winery that I usually stop at on the way back to Toronto.
Also, The Fruit Wagon. It’s a very popular fruit stand just east of Harrow, the owners are Doug and Leslie Balsillie, and the wagon is at the end of their driveway. They also sell at the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market during the growing season and one of their daughters has started a bike rental business [called Farm Dog Cycles] at the Fruit Wagon site as well. Leslie is one of the biggest apple experts in the province! They also have peaches, apricots, cherries…and her raspberry cherry pie is in the cookbook.
How did the cookbook come together?
MS: Our cousin, Beth, has a marketing background and helped get the ball rolling. She gave us the confidence to talk to Whitecap Books, who is now our publisher.
What was your favourite part to write?
MS: I loved contacting the prize winners and getting them to give up their recipes, which in some cases took a lot of massaging! I loved that aspect of it. Some of these women have been doing it for so many years which is why I think the Pies and Cakes section is really the best.
If someone was only going to make one recipe from the cookbook, which one would you recommend?
MS: The one that always pops into my mind is the Peaches n’ Cream pie. Helen, who gave us the recipe, is an unbelievable baker and her daughter, Mila, also contributed the peanut butter cookies recipe in the cookbook.
Lori, you live in Niagara now. What do you miss most about Essex County?
LE: The fresh perch! That’s a big thing and top of my menu request list every time I visit my parents in Harrow. The local farms, the fruit stands and being around friends and family.
And what do you really enjoy about being in Niagara?
LE: I love the access to the food scene – the food trucks, the great restaurants and the proximity to Toronto is always great too. It sounds kind of cliche but just being in a beautiful area with the wine industry and that lifestyle is great. I love it!
What are you working on at Provisions right now?
LE: I just dropped off some Butler’s Bitters caramels at the Niagara College Teaching Brewery yesterday. I might also be doing something with ice cider…I did a caramel with it recently and it turned out reeeally nicely. So that might be something that turns up soon. The collaborations have been really nice – I love being affiliated with such great businesses. There’s a really nice synergy.
And Moira, what is your new cookbook about?
MS: The working title is Moira Sanders: Food & Family Cookbook, so it’s still got a lot of stuff about Harrow and also the town where we live now, Mt Albert. It runs the same scope as the Harrow Fair Cookbook, except in this one there are THREE dessert chapters. The chapters sort of elaborate on baking competitions and becoming a judge, which I am trying to do.
What does that process entail? I’ve always wanted to be a judge in a pie competition so I’m curious.
MS: It’s harder than you would think! You have to shadow a certified judge for I think, three times and you have to take two courses. It’s actually a much bigger thing but I learned so much from the two judges I shadowed – for example, “this is how a freezer jam should look”. The man who judges the canning at the Harrow Fair is also in charge of the canning at the Harrow Experimental Farm, which is really cool.
Pick up a copy of the Harrow Fair Cookbook at your local bookstore or order online. It also makes a great Christmas gift (hint, hint).
You can find Lori’s plethora of Provisions products at various locations in Niagara and beyond, including: D’Lish Tasteful Gifting, Kurtz Culinary Creations, 13th Street Winery, Dillon’s Distillers, Cherry Lane, Viewpointe Winery, Stratus Vineyards, Norman Hardie Winery and more.