Ottawa Citizen

Ghoulish delights

There’s more to pumpkins than scary faces and savoury pie. We check out the good eats at Saunders Farm

- RON EADE

I’ ve interviewe­d many people over the years, but never before have I chatted with a woman who is green from head to toe and who gets so excited about Halloween. On shaking her hand, I instinctiv­ely check to see if any of her makeup rubs off. Thankfully, the colour does not — but her enthusiasm most certainly does. Angela Grant is the self- styled “ director of beauty” who’s most assuredly in her glory these days as the Green Queen at Saunders Farm in Munster Hamlet, in rural west Ottawa.

While Christmas may be a special time for elves and jolly fat men, October is the haunting season for ghouls, ghosts and green folk who take special delight in startling visitors who come to the 100- acre farm because they enjoy being, well, a little bit scared.

I ask you, what better place to go for our delicious Halloween recipes this year? Who better to ask than the lady in green?

Saunders Farm is famous in these parts — and has even won internatio­nal awards — as the quintessen­tial theme place to celebrate the scary season.

It wasn’t always so. Bill and Anne Saunders moved there with the family 32 years ago and for years grew strawberri­es. As demand for pick- your- own strawberri­es eased in the 1980s, the Saunders cut back ( strawberri­es were completely phased out about five years ago). Today the farm has a 10- acre pumpkin patch producing 10,000 pumpkins a year, another 10 acres growing landscapin­g and Christmas trees, and 10 acres devoted to cattle corn.

But it’s the entertainm­ent side of the business that’s really taken off. Among all the events at the farm that attract upwards of 70,000 visitors each year, the haunted theme park is by far the most popular — 40,000 people are expected to visit in October alone, creating employment for some 120 actors, students and profession­s in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Son Mark Saunders is the selfprocla­imed director of fun, ably assisted by his sometimes- green wife Angela.

His dad got the idea of the Halloween theme back in 1991, after hearing success stories from other farmers who provided hayrides to entice city folk to visit and buy their produce.

“ My father got the idea of a haunted hayride,” Mark says.

“ We weren’t doing anything in the fall at that point on the farm, so we renovated the 200- yearold barn 15 years ago, organized a hayride and built a road to run through the forest.

“ And we were surprised to find people came out in droves, right from Day One,” he says.

“ People enjoy being scared in a totally safe environmen­t. So in the daytime our program is all for kids, but at night we get a lot of teenagers and adults.”

At Saunders Farm you will not find Frankenste­in, Dracula, werewolves, dismembere­d bodies and the like. “ We don’t do blood and gore and that kind of stuff,” Mark says.

“ Here, we create an environmen­t where people feel a bit tense and nervous — and then we startle them.”

Mark likes to talk about an attraction along the route of the haunted hayride that was created by Aidan, his seven- year- old son. “ As you’re driving along in the dark the people notice a person in a tree with a mask, wearing a lumberjack jacket and carrying a chainsaw,” Mark says.

“ So, the chainsaw guy is 14 feet off the ground. And as the wagon drives below him, he sort of lunges toward the wagon — at this point, most people aren’t too fazed. But then he actually flies with his chainsaw using a special rig and harness we had installed by a profession­al stunt company in Toronto. The lumberjack actually flies over the heads of the people in the wagon.

“ There’s a strobe light, it’s dark. Believe me, even the adults are startled when they see that.”

The farm has 21 spooky scenes in the woods — everything from pirates to dinosaurs to a collaps- ing bridge — all designed to give viewers a bit of a start.

Instead of the usual bloodstain­ed monsters, Saunders Farm has created its own characters including, of course, the lovely Green Queen, Larry Scary, arch- villain Mortimer Toad, a glittering orange Pumpkin Princess, the Screaming Mimi who’s half- human and half something- else, and Greta Ghost dressed in a grey turn- of- thecentury costume.

“ Greta is lovely,” Angela sighs. “ She’s just a poor lost soul.”

The Barn of Terror features actors and special effects, including a spinning tunnel that’s designed to “ make you lose your orientatio­n,” Mark says. ( The Barn isn’t really recommende­d for kids under 10.)

Small surprise that Saunders Farm is a busy place with its Ghost Town Stage Show, games, mazes and spooky attraction­s. By day, Halloween activities are more for children and families while, at night, the fear factor is kicked up a notch. ( The farm also offers corporate retreats, picnics, birthday parties and a Christmas theme.) Admission is $ 16 for adults, $ 12 for kids ages 4 to 12. Check the website at www. saundersfa­rm. com .

We asked the Green Queen for pumpkin theme recipes, which appear on this page. In each case, she has taken tried- and- true favourites — some from family and others from friends — and adapted them to her liking.

Many recipes call for a simple pumpkin purée, which can be made quickly in the oven or microwave ( details above). You’ll find the purée adds a nice note to the pancake recipe, which includes cinnamon and ginger to torque up the taste. If you make a large batch, freeze the pancakes individual­ly and enclose them in a plastic freezer bag to pop in the toaster when you want — so easy when you’re trying to get the kids off to school.

I enjoyed the Pumpkin Chowder, a mix of savoury and sweet that is smoothed with the addition of half- and- half cream. The Green Queen’s “ Ghoul- ash” tastes great and looks terrific when served in individual­ly sized small cooking pumpkins. ( Presentati­on is everything, even when you’re serving monsters.)

I especially enjoyed nibbling on her Spiced Pumpkin Seeds, which are surprising­ly addictive. I recommend using the seeds from small cooking pumpkins, or others no larger than 10 or 12 inches ( 30 cm) in diameter. The smaller the pumpkin, the more tender the seeds.

Finally, you will discover the addition of pumpkin in Chocolate Pumpkin Cake makes the dessert incredibly moist. Use two rounded stainless steel mixing bowls for the cake pans, so you can assemble the layers later to resemble a round pumpkin.

If nothing else, have fun with your food. You’ll be amazed at the tasty treasures you can create with an ordinary pumpkin.

 ?? ROD MACIVOR, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? The addition of pumpkin purée makes this Chocolate Pumpkin Cake from Saunders Farm especially moist. Right, Angela Grant, alias the Green Queen, with her tempting ‘ ghoul- ash’ served in a pumpkin. Recipes on page B3.
ROD MACIVOR, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN The addition of pumpkin purée makes this Chocolate Pumpkin Cake from Saunders Farm especially moist. Right, Angela Grant, alias the Green Queen, with her tempting ‘ ghoul- ash’ served in a pumpkin. Recipes on page B3.
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