At this time of year, it can feel like the season for locally grown food is ending. Farmers markets tables are no longer stacked high with berries and tender fruit, while grocery store shelves start pushing citrus and root vegetables like they’re going out of style.
Don’t let that fool you though. There’s still plenty of amazing, Ontario-grown edibles on offer well into the winter months. You may have a look a little harder, but we promise you — they’re there. Here’s a few you should keep your eye out for!
Ontario grows no less than 6 varieties of cranberries. Native to North America, cranberries were eaten raw by aboriginal peoples before the Europeans arrived. While raw cranberries may be a little tart for most peoples liking, they’re great dried or stewed — and also freeze remarkably well. Think beyond the jelly and add them to oatmeal, stews and especially dessert!
Farmer we love: Johnston Cranberry Marsh near Bala, Ontario. They’re growing Searles and Pilgrims variety berries and also turn them into delicious, all-Ontario wines!
It’s safe to assume as a big local food fan, you knew brussel sprouts grow on outer worldly stalks, almost 4 feet high — but did you know it was the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who introduced them to North America in 1812? We dig these mini cabbages every which way. Try peeling all the leaves apart and baking them until crisp and brown with fish sauce — or shred them raw into a slaw.
Producer we love: Lennox Farm, near Melancthon, Ontario. The French’s of Lennox Farm grow two of Ontario’s weirdest vegetables: rhubarb and brussel sprouts… and we think that’s just swell.
Is it a white carrot? Is it a long potato? It’s neither; it’s the nutty, spicy, sometimes peppery root of a plant closely related to parsley. The great thing about this pale root is it actually becomes more delicious when frost hits — and roots can be kept in cold storage for 4 to 6 months! We adore them roasted and tossed with buttery fried bread crumbs or creamed into soup.
Producer we love: Carron Farms in the Holland Marsh, part of Ontario’s Greenbelt. Besides growing yummy parsnips, they also offer a really reasonable CSA box for 20 weeks of the year.
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again — greenhouses are just amazing. The research and innovation going into extending our growing season is astounding. Cucumbers are one of the easiest to grow in this environment and can produce almost year round. We love them in tangy salads or hollowed and filled with chili, onion and cheese like a chalupa!
Producer we love: Link Greenhouses in Durham Region. They’re growing over 3,000 English cucumber plants at any given time and have cute little curly-cue cukes, perfect for kids lunches!
Butternut, Buttercup, Acorn, Hubbard, Hercules… are just a few varieties of hardy, sweet, winter squash. In a cool, dry place they can last for months — with Hubbard and Butternut being some of the hardiest. Roast ‘em, stew ‘em, shred them raw, whatever you choose, winter squashes are a great, locally-grown way to add a little colour to your winter plate.
Producer we love: Cricklewood Farm just outside Brighton, Ontario. They grow 11 (that’s right, eleven!) varieties of squash, including rarer varieties like turban, banana and kabocha.
Yes, late summer field tomatoes are a beautiful thing. Sun ripened and sweet, they’re a fleeting pleasure that should be celebrated. Greenhouse tomatoes though, especially small varieties like sweet million or grape tomatoes are equally sweet and available during the colder months. We call that a win.
Producer we love: Enns Plant Farm in the tomato capital of Ontario: Leamington! Farmer Steve Enns grows thousands of tomato plants. Like most greenhouse farmers, he’s able to provide local produce almost all year long — from February to December.
Many people are surprised to learn that tropical sweet potatoes, native to Central and South America, are commercially grown in Ontario. Sweet potatoes are harvested between September and October. They are stored in temperature and humidity controlled warehouses that extend the sweet potatoes’ shelf life for the entire year!
Producer we love: Berlo’s Best in Norfolk County. They’re the largest grower of sweet potatoes in Canada! It began as a 30 acre crop in transition from Southern Ontario’s “Tobacco Belt”, grew to over 900 acres, that provide over 20,000,000 lbs of sweet potatoes each year!
And, of course, that’s not all. Other things to keep an eye out for:
- Salad greens
- Sprouts and sprouted legumes
- Sweet peppers
- Bosc pears
- Red Prince apples
This year has been particularly good to us. Many farmers are still, in mid-November, harvesting greens, fruit and all manor of vegetables. It’s had us eating Ontario like never before — let’s keep the momentum going!