Sunday, July 13, 2008

Country Cuisine: TASTE! of Summer

Country Cuisine is one of the most underrated celebrations of local food in the GEA (Greater Edmonton Area). I spent the afternoon today at the gorgeous St. Albert Grain Elevator Park surrounding by other local producers, restaurants, and hungry people. 300 people came through--and calmly. Everyone was happy--buoyed by summer sunday afternoon and the prospects of delicious food. The site set-up was great; it never felt crowded, there were lots of places to wander, to visit with local producers or artisans. There was a FANTASTIC bluegrass band (whose name I never caught--I'll find out!) set up on a wagon. The visual effect--three guys playing against a blue sky with an old grain elevator in the background--was breathtaking, actually. And the weather! Country Cuisine is in its the fourth year--fifth if you count the media picnic we did down by the creek at McLeod Creek farm in 2004--and WE'VE NEVER HAD BAD WEATHER! It was breezy today, but super sunny. It's that mid-summer dream-time--with all the fresh produce that is coming in--like STRAWBERRIES! Prairie Gardens booth had line-ups most of the afternoon--baskets of strawberries, strawberry shortcake, mmmmmm.

The fields are pulsating with strawberries at Prairie Gardens. I'll head there this week with Rory to pick a few pails, some to eat fresh, some to freeze, some to jam, and some to FUSE WITH HONEY. I started mixing fruit with honey in about 2002 or 2003. I did it just for fun. Despite our harsh prairie climate, there's a lot of interesting and tasty local fruit around here. I only really started doing honey-fruit fusions consistently in the last year or two (before that it always felt experimental, I'd do them whenever I felt like it and I'd have different types available sporadically at the market which I'm sure drove my customers crazy) . Of all the value-added things that I do with honey, they are the most popular. I've always felt a bit frustrated at the lack of diverse bee forage in the area where I live (large flat fields of clover, alfalfa, canola); I've never really been able to quite launch my dream of producing unique varietal honeys like you can in other parts of the world. Mixing fruit and honey as well as steeping herbs in honey are ways, I find, that I can make working with and selling honey a little more interesting, unique, and unusual.

I pulled off a new fruit/honey-culinary experiment today without a hitch: three refreshing drinks featuring local fruits or herbs with HONEY. The Honey-Mint Crush was the winner hands-down--which I never would have expected this morning while I was tasting it and pouring in the honey to cut the bitterness of the mint. Honey-Rhubarb Nectar was a go; I've made it before just for friends and it received rave reviews. Raspberry Sweetini probably tied with the rhubarb refreshment in popularity. At the final hour, I thought putting basil in it might have been a mistake, but people loved it. All the feedback was good. It'll be exciting moving onward, figuring out where to go with some really cool totally natural honey-based drinks...

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