Nor­folk County

12 de­li­cious rea­sons to stroll through On­tario’s Gar­den

DINE and Destinations - - ONTARIO - By Adam Wax­man

Time was, to­bacco reigned supreme; and farm­ing the “to­bacco belt,” Nor­folk County, was based on a quota sys­tem—a piece of pa­per that pro­vided en­ti­tle­ment to lo­cal farm­ers. In re­cent years, the gov­ern­ment re­moved that sys­tem, and farm­ers were faced with con­vert­ing all of their fields and equip­ment to­ward al­ter­na­tive crops. Op­por­tu­nity knocked. Al­ter­na­tive crop-talk led for­mer to­bacco farm­ers, Ernie and Nancy Racz, to peanut farm­ing. At Ker­nal Peanuts, Va­len­cia peanuts are oil-roasted and dried in to­bacco kilns. It’s an ef­fi­cient bou­tique sys­tem where shells are burned to heat the build­ings, and un­der­de­vel­oped peanuts are fed to the birds. Not your av­er­age range of flavours, I snack on tra­di­tional salted and un­salted peanuts; pi­quant sea-salt and black pep­per; sweet gar­lic; po­tent dill; and two kinds of hot-and-spicy Ca­jun. I take to-go rich, vel­vety peanut but­ter ice cream, and deca­dent dreamy peanut but­ter pie. Nearby, Pi­card’s Peanuts, Canada’s first com­mer­cial shelling plant, makes a va­ri­ety of unique snacks, like “chip­nuts” (crispy potato-chip-cov­ered peanuts of ev­ery flavour un­der the sun), and “cookie nuts,” with sweet tastes like cin­na­mon and choco­late-rasp­berry cookie-cov­ered nuts. Nor­folk sits in a ge­o­graph­i­cally per­fect po­si­tion be­tween lakes. Light sandy soils al­low farm­ers to grow ten­der fruits, veg­eta­bles and grains, and raise live­stock. An abun­dance of wa­ter, am­ple heat and sun­light have en­abled al­most ev­ery­thing that grows in On­tario to be en­cap­su­lated in this unique and dy­namic mi­cro­cli­mate. On a still day when the laven­der is in bloom, we hear the buzz. Bees love laven­der. Ma­jes­tic rolling fields of purple at Bon­nieheath Laven­der are har­vested to in­fuse into honey, ap­ple jelly and even ice wine. Herbs de Provence, laven­der sugar and es­sen­tial oils are also pop­u­lar items that we snatch up at the gift shop. More than 27 va­ri­eties of this aro­matic herb are grown here, and its per­fume floats in the wind. This is the cen­tre of a grow­ing com­mu­nity of laven­der. I am sur­prised to learn that the high­est-qual­ity white gin­seng in the world is from Nor­folk County. Equally sur­pris­ing is that most of the gin­seng we buy at the re­tail level is im­ported. Eighty-five dif­fer­ent grades of all-nat­u­ral gin­seng are grown at Great Moun­tain Gin­seng. We add it to tea, honey, soup and smooth­ies to boost our mem­ory, in­crease our en­ergy, pump up our im­mune sys­tems and help reg­u­late choles­terol. Its strong flavour is an ac­quired taste, but it packs a nu­tri­tional punch. From gin­seng and goji berries, to the fra­grant paw paw fruits at Burn­ing Kiln Win­ery that taste like ba­nana cream pie, Nor­folk is an ex­otic cor­nu­copia of spe­cialty pro­duce to be dis­cov­ered. The re­pur­posed to­bacco pack barn of Burn­ing Kiln Win­ery is where star wine­maker, An­drzej Lip­in­ski, over­sees hand­picked grapes dried in to­bacco kilns to raise their brix lev­els for Amarone-style wines. “Kiln Hanger 2010—The Se­quel” is a bold Cab Franc that’s rich with con­cen­trated notes of cof­fee, choco­late and blue­berry that linger on the palate. “Stick Shaker 2012” is from a lesser-known va­ri­etal, Sav­agnin. Its bal­anced acid­ity, with a trop­i­cal bou­quet and notes of ap­ples and honey, pairs with Nor­folk County perch. Glamp­ing un­der the stars in our warm and cozy Ara­bian-style tent, the wood floor­ing, queen-sized bed and en­suite bath­room and shower feels like we’re in a ho­tel, but we’re in the for­est. Long Point Eco Ad­ven­tures of­fers a va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences, from mush­room for­ag­ing, cook­ing and pair­ing at Burn­ing Kiln, and hik­ing and zip-lin­ing through

The most di­verse farm­ing area in all of Canada, Nor­folk County—once a to­bacco-grow­ing cap­i­tal—has be­come a mag­net for agri­tourists, and is cul­ti­vat­ing On­tario’s south coast as the hot new get­away.

the Carolinian For­est, to stargaz­ing and glam­orous camp­ing. This is one of the most unique and ro­man­tic set­tings to ex­pe­ri­ence in On­tario. Long Point is a 42-kilo­me­tre fresh­wa­ter sand spit—the largest in the world—and a UNESCO World Bio­sphere Re­serve. Zo­diac Boat Tours mo­tors us past the tip, half­way across Lake Erie. An­chor­ing on the far side, we jump out to a beach rem­i­nis­cent of the Caribbean, and we are en­tirely alone. At Blair Town­shend’s On­tario Pop­ping Corn, to­bacco kilns are con­verted into pop­corn kilns where ker­nels are dried di­rectly on the cob. Pop-acobs are whole cobs ready to be popped. GMO (ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­ism)-free corn is sold un­der the Un­cle Bob’s Pop­ping Corn la­bel; tra­di­tional yel­low corn is or­ganic, and all the coloured ker­nels—shamue Blue, Straw­berry Red, White Cloud and Purple Pas­sion—are free of pes­ti­cides, chem­i­cals and added fats. Each cob is hand­s­e­lected, and even flavoured corn, like dill pickle or sour cream and onion, are gluten­free. At home, we watch the ker­nels pop off their cob as it ro­tates in the mi­crowave. Pop­ping corn has never been more ex­cit­ing. “It’s not the farm­ing you prac­tice, it’s how you prac­tice your farm­ing,” says John Gorzo of Sprouts for Life. Qual­ity con­trol over hy­dro­ponic sprouts, liv­ing greens and tra­di­tional greens is air­tight. Ready-to-go sal­ads are cer­ti­fied or­ganic, Lo­cal Food Plus, and are en­tirely Gmo-free. De­li­cious med­leys of fresh vegetable pro­teins in­clude red clover, radish, al­falfa, ka­mut, adzuki bean, len­til, canola, gar­banzo beans, fenu­greek, mus­tard sprouts, pea shoots, and sun­flower greens. Leav­ing no car­bon foot­print, Gorzo also con­trols a weekly cy­cle of di­rect de­liv­ery of cus­tom­ized or­ders to guar­an­tee fresh­ness. Ja­son Per­sall is com­mit­ted to pu­rity, and through eth­i­cal farm­ing and cold press­ing, his Pris­tine Gourmet en­sures max­i­mum qual­ity in flavour and aroma of 100-per­cent pure vir­gin Cana­dian canola, soy and sun­flower oils. No chem­i­cals, no preser­va­tives—the soy­beans are cer­ti­fied non-gmo, and are tasty and snack-able edamame. The soy oil is nutty and vis­cous, which makes for el­e­gant gar­nish­ing or poach­ing. “Not your su­per­mar­ket va­ri­ety canola oil,” this ro­bust canola is per­fect for driz­zling over­top sal­ads or for mar­i­nat­ing meats. A taste of sun­flower oil is like liq­uid sun­flower seeds. Sum­mery and light, it is ab­so­lutely nu­tri­tious. These are all non-gmo prod­ucts, how­ever, with canola oil, “we in­tend for it to be non-gmo, but we can’t ver­ify it. You just can’t these days, be­cause it’s ev­ery­where,” Per­sall says. Across North Amer­ica, as the wind blows from one field to the next, GMOS have gen­er­ated pas­sion­ate con­tro­versy. “I’m not con­vinced GMOS are nec­es­sar­ily bad,” shares Per­sall, “but how they’re mar­keted, the lack of trans­parency; it’s a con­trol is­sue.” It’s an is­sue that’s be­com­ing a prob­lem as farm­ers are get­ting cornered. For Gorzo, “with GMOS be­ing in­tro­duced, it’s even­tu­ally go­ing to cause ev­ery­thing else to be im­pure, be­cause of what hap­pens to the land and cross-pol­li­na­tion.” For now, at least, when we buy pro­duce from Nor­folk County, we can rest as­sured it is ex­actly what it’s sup­posed to be. Great lo­cal pro­duce and grow­ing tourism de­mand a high-end restau­rant. At The Com­bine, our can­dlelit din­ner on the ve­randa re­flects the bounty of the re­gion. Perch ta­cos with but­ter­nut aioli are a scrump­tious con­flu­ence of tex­tures. From out of the brick oven comes steam­ing hot car­bonara pizza with caramelized onions, ba­con, reg­giano and a sunny-side-up egg—it’s one de­lec­ta­ble bite after an­other. Tangy grass-fed Longhorn short rib from award­win­ning Y U Ranch is bal­anced by rich and full-flavoured Syl­van Star Gouda po­lenta. Down the road is the cozy Cul­ver­dene House B & B. Built in the 1840s, this Loy­al­ist brick home, shrouded by tall trees, is a trip back in time. Coun­try com­fort and hos­pi­tal­ity im­me­di­ately set­tles us. We are in good hands. Our pri­vate break­fast is a dis­play of lo­cal pro­duce: poached freerange eggs, meaty grass-fed beef sausages, fresh sea­sonal fruits, and warm fresh bread with a se­lec­tion of tangy jams and ketchups made in-house from in­gre­di­ents grow­ing on the prop­erty. The lo­cal move­ment is con­sumer-driven and qual­ity con­trol is the main pri­or­ity. For On­tario Pop­ping Corn’s Blair Town­shend, “The lo­cal thing is work­ing, but the su­per­mar­kets still haven’t got­ten it.” Town­shend is one of a grow­ing cho­rus ques­tion­ing why su­per­mar­kets do not have a “Cana­dian-only” con­tent area, or why lo­cal pro­duce is not ex­empt from list­ing fees that make “buy­ing lo­cal” more ex­pen­sive. We need to sup­port our lo­cal farm­ers! One On­tario farm alone grows enough food to pro­vide for 120 On­tar­i­ans each year, and yet, the fruits of their labour are by­passed for bal­loon­ing im­ports from coun­tries with less strin­gent food-safety stan­dards. This puts enor­mous stress on our own farm­ing in­dus­try. While still Canada’s largest pro­ducer of to­bacco, Nor­folk County is also be­com­ing On­tario’s hor­ti­cul­tural cen­tre. It is the num­ber-one pro­ducer of as­para­gus, sweet corn, cu­cum­bers, pep­pers, cab­bage, straw­ber­ries, sour cher­ries, gin­seng and pump­kin in all of Canada. Dis­cover On­tario’s south coast, and buy lo­cal.


Top to bot­tom: Glamping un­der the stars with Long Point Eco Ad­ven­tures; a look in­side the Ara­bian-style tent; zi­plin­ing through the Carolinian for­est; a bike tour through the for­est.

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