Food Trippin’ in Prince Edward County
Ottawa Magazine 2008
A treasure hunt for a true tastes of the County
Who knew it was possible to experience an unconscious craving for food I’d never tasted? It happened every time I travelled along Hwy 401 between here and Toronto. Like the scent of freshly baked bread that seeps out from the neighbour’s window, the stories about Prince Edward County and its ever-growing crop of top-notch eateries wafted beneath my nose and made me salivate. I’d heard the tales of big-city foodies who migrated to the area to enjoy a slower, simpler life and the abundance of superb locally-grown and raised ingredients, many of which are featured along the jagged island’s self-guided “Taste Trail”. By all accounts the County, as it’s known, is in the midst of a renaissance—a full-scale food- and wine-fueled revival.
The energy behind the burgeoning movement has been fueled by an eclectic group of so-called “new settlers” who are helping to cultivate a vibrant local food scene (a practical pairing for Canada’s newest wine region) by nurturing a variety of food businesses and bringing dormant farmland back into production. It’s not unusual for County residents to describe their experience of first arriving as visitors and promptly falling under the County’s “spell”. Whether or not they were chefs, farmers, café owners, caterers, bakers or ice cream makers before they moved to the County, many of them ultimately chose to make food the focus of their lives.
Regardless of what brings people to the County, I found a passionate commitment to local agriculture, a community-minded spirit and a respect for food as the centre of life. It’s a combination that convinced me this is an area ready for its culinary close-up. While some local flavours were limited during the winter when I first visited, I still found plenty of home-grown specialties to bring back to Ottawa in a cooler stashed in the trunk. Within 24 hours, the cooler was overflowing. As a result of my successful mission, I offer up this delicious don’t-miss list as a starting point for your next visit to the County.
1. Donuts at Schroedter’s Market
Wander into the old-school country store and you’re likely to find a fresh batch of homemade donuts churning out of a tireless 20-year-old donut machine that resides on the kitchen counter. During the peak season, line-ups form for the famous cinnamon sugar-dredged cakes that are made several times daily and served while still warm. Remarkably light and fluffy with perfectly crisp edges, the palm-sized rings restored my faith in donuts. Husband and wife proprietors Fred and Suzanne Schroedter took over this roadside general store in 2000 and transformed it into a down-home food emporium featuring homemade soups and sandwiches stacked high with farm-fresh ingredients. The recently expanded on-site bakery is responsible for everything from classic fruit pies to gluten-free muffins and pizza crusts. “Except for laying the eggs and churning the butter, we make everything ourselves,” says Suzanne. Schroedter’s Farm Market 1492 Hwy 62, R.R.1, Bloomfield 613 393-2823 http://www.schroedtersmarket.com
2. Vicky’s Veggies
Equal parts educator, activist and passionate farmer, Vicky Emlaw’s thriving roadside stand is celebrated by local foodies for its stunning variety of organic and heirloom vegetables in all their various colours, shapes and sizes. Her ecologically-friendly family farm is home to a cornucopia of crops; some of which live on long into the winter in the form of beautiful jewel-toned jars of homemade pestos, sauces, and pickled preserves. During the growing season beginning in June visitor’s can stop by and select from whatever has been recently picked. There is a local following of weekly subscribers, but for everyone else it works on the honour system. That’s right, take what you like and leave cash in a can. Emlaw hosts an annual heirloom seedling sale in the spring and her “Heirloom Hurrah” on Labour Day with samples and sales of 100-plus varieties of rare and unusual heirloom tomatoes. Vicki’s Veggies, 81 Morrison Point Rd., Black River, 613-476-7241, vickisveggies.com.
3. Pat’s Jams
“This was not a plan, it was just a hobby,” says 70-years-old Pat York who looks more than just a little befuddled by the success of her homemade jam business. What began as an escape from renovation work with the sale of a few jars off of her picnic table has become the full-time year-round home production of jams, marmalades, chutneys, pickles and relishes (7300 jars were sold last year). In the same way the vegetables grown down the road by her niece Vicki (see Vicki’s Veggies) remind people of they way tomatoes “used to taste”, Pat’s jams tap into our desire for simple food made the old-fashioned way. Ironically, choosing from among the 130 different varieties can be as overwhelming as standing in the supermarket aisle. Some favourites include Columbia Blue Raspberry made from an increasingly rare local fruit and Jewel Jam a brightly balanced combination of sour cherries, gooseberries, red currents and red raspberries. Pat’s Jams, 113 Morrison Point Rd., Black River, 613-476-6929 http://www.pec.on.ca/patsjams
4. Black River Cheese Company 5 Year-Old Cheddar
It’s as if this remarkably resilient cheese company waited 100 years for its neighbours to start producing the wine required to put together the ultimate County cocktail party. The farmer owned co-operative created in 1901, a rarity in and of itself, survived the fate that befell up to 30 other local cheese factories over the years and was still in operation during its centennial anniversary. That’s when disaster struck. Today the local landmark, completely rebuilt after a devastating fire, continues to produce top-notch, naturally aged cheddars. I’m told there’s quite a following for their fresh garlic cheese curds, but I’ll stick with the crumbly razor-sharp five-year old cheddar and a glass of wine. Black River Cheese, 913 County Rd.13, R.R.2, Milford, ON www. blackrivercheese.com
5. County Crackers
When pastry chef and self-proclaimed “snacker” Marianne Sanders tried to imagine the ultimate biscuit, she wanted it to have elements of every cracker, cookie and oat cake she had ever loved. She wanted it to be slightly sweet and salty so it could pair equally well with a cup of tea or a plate of cheese. Using mostly organic ingredients, Sanders now makes these little snacks in two addictive flavours: toasted oatmeal & rosemary and current oatmeal. “They are a huge amount of work,” she says, “I roll them out, stamp every cookie and dock it with a fork so they look like big buttons.” The fuzzy black & white family portrait that adorns her packaging pays homage to her grandmother and namesake who fed the Bloomfield community during the Depression. County Crackers (613-476-1098) are available at Pinch and Black River Cheese Co.
6. Honey Pie Hives & Herbals teas and seasoning
Bay Woodward keeps bees, grows herbs and gathers wild flowers on her 69-acre property outside of Picton. Inspired by nature’s ability to nurture, she created a line of bath and body products, many of which look and sound good enough to eat. There’s pumpkin pie soap, rosemary ginger shampoo as well as apple pie, chai and chocolate mint lip balm. Thankfully she offers a few explicitly edible items as well. The lemon herb pepper blend adds a fresh citrusy zing to salads, veggies and fish. Blues Tea, with its dried buds of sunny chamomile, borage, St. John’s Wort, thyme and mint promises “to lighten the heavy heart.” Thanks to Woodward’s whimsical hand-drawn illustrations, the same might be said for all Honey Pie products. Available in a variety of shops and online at www.honeypie.ca 613.476.3216
7. Stone House Farm eggs
Five years ago, Geri and John Della Bosca were enjoying retirement, sailing around the Bahamas when they befriended a couple from Prince Edward County. Today their 11-acre farm across from Big Island on the Bay of Quinte has a reputation for producing some of the tastiest, freshest and largest free-range eggs in the region—not to mention a wide variety of organically grown vegetables, herbs and berries. When asked how a former financial planner and a hairdresser from Sudbury, Ontario came to be County farmers, John’s answer is philosophical. “The farm presented itself and we immediately fell in love with it,” he says. “It seemed to be saying: look after me and I’ll look after you.” Visitors to their Old Pig Barn Farm Store are welcome to peek in on the hens next door before buying their golden-yolked eggs. “People want to know that the chickens have a good life,” says Geri. “They’re happy birds. They listen to CBC Radio2.” Stone House Farm, 1023 County Rd. 15, R.R.2, Picton, 613.471.1234 http://www.stonehousefarm.ca
8. The Marshmallow Room’s four-day shallot confiture
There is a saying that good things come to those who wait. In the hands of Chef Scott Kapitan and his wife and pastry chef Jacqui Vickers time transforms the humble shallot into a seductively sweet, spicy and almost boozy preserve. With four days to develop its character, this unique product begs to be paired with local cheeses and charcuterie. This is just one of many reasons to visit Marshmallow Room, a tiny tea room and its fine dining sister, the Bloomfied Carriage House restaurant. Suffice it to say, this is where the region’s top-quality local and organic ingredients go to receive artisanal treatment. The Marshmallow Room 260 Main St., Bloomfield, 800-801-4905, bloomfieldcarriagehouse.com
As I set out to get a snap-shop of the true tastes of the County, I was determined to veer off the beaten path and find out where the year-round residents nibbled and noshed. With my cooler stocked with the best jams, the flakiest apple pies and eggs so fresh they were still speckled with dirt and feathers, I became curious about some of the less portable country fare. I wanted to find out where the food-obsessed locals unwind after work, where they shop for a dinner party or where they gather for an old-fashioned breakfast on the weekends. Here are a few stops that the locals say should make any County visitor feel right at home.
The Lighthouse Restaurant (33 Bridge St., Picton) at The Picton Harbour Inn is an ever-popular spot for home-style bacon and eggs breakfasts but I opted for the creative brunch at The Painted Peppercorn (172 Main St., Picton). Owner Renata Lenc, who ran Café Margit in Orleans until she and her husband moved to the County three years ago, brings an artsy vibe to the sunny spot inside a former farmers’ seed repository built in 1917. The chalkboard menu, which features as many local ingredients as possible, changes often. However Lenc know better than to remove the outrageously decadent deep-dish banoffee pie from her dessert case.
For on-the-go visitors, Picton’s Main St. happens to be the home of some extraordinary fast-food. Don’t be confused (as I was) by the fact that a handful of shops share the same address at #172. You can’t miss Buddah Dog, oozing with hipness, it sells tiny gourmet hot dogs made with local beef and garnished with local cheeses and chutneys on buns that are baked fresh across the street. Tucked in around the corner is The Acoustic Grill, a local haunt famous for fat, hand-packed juicy burgers and crunchy handmade potato chips that are served alongside live music. A few blocks down, is Schooner’s Fish & Chips (72 Main St.) where classic deep-fried cod and halibut is battered up next to hand-cut fries and wrapped in newsprint.
As the number of big city resident in the County grew, ex-Torontonians and chefs Michael and Karin Potters, recognized the need for a place that caters to “urban tastes”. “We’re used to being able to get the ingredients we want,” says Karin who now runs the go-to gourmet shop Pinch (7 Elizabeth St., Picton) while Michel runs the kitchen at their restaurant Harvest. The relationship between the two businesses means Pinch is another place to find the Potters’ local wild boar terrine and other specially sourced ingredients including local lamb and fresh fish brought in twice a week by the fisherman. Karin’s rotisserie chickens with herbes de provence and her protein-packed “power salad” are popular take-out staples.
No County visit is complete without a heaping scoop of Slicker’s homemade ice cream (271 Main St., Bloomfield). All-natural and mostly organic, it is made with fresh pears, berries, cantaloupe, lavendar and rhubarb plucked from neighbouring farms whenever possible. Whole freshly baked apple pies made from local apples, are crumbled into vanilla ice cream to make one of their most popular flavours. But fiercely loyal fans of real burnt fire-roasted marshmallows will tell you the Campfire ice cream can’t be beat.
- The Acoustic Grill 172 Main Street, 613-476-2887. www.theacousticgrill.com
- Stone House Farm 613 471 1234 http://www.stonehousefarm.ca/
- Schroedter’s Market 613 393-2823 http://www.schroedtersmarket.com/
- The Marshmallow Room http://www.bloomfieldcarriagehouse.com/pages/bakery.php
- Slicker’s Ice Cream 271 Main St., Bloomfield, 613-393-5433, http://www.slickersicecream.com/
- Pinch Gourmet, 7 Elizabeth St., Picton, 613-476-4404
- Vicki’s Veggies, 81 Morrison Point Rd., Black River, 613-476-7241, vickisveggies.com.
- Taste Trail, tastetrail.ca
- Black River Cheese, 913 County Rd. 13, Milford, 888-252-5787, blackrivercheese.com.
- Buddha Dog, 172 Main St., Picton, 613-476-3814, buddhafoodha.com