Country Cuisine: Tomato Fare

Though we missed this year’s Taste of Summer in St. Albert, we trusted from our previous experience with Edmonton’s Countryside’s Country Cuisine that their first ever Tomato Fare event would be just as festive and delicious.

Tomatoes galore!

Mack and I met up with May at the Country Road Greenhouses in Strathcona County. Parking attendant volunteers were out in full force, directing traffic to spaces still available – though it seems like a minor detail, given how hodgepodge the cars could have been scattered, it was much appreciated.

For $15 admission, we were given 6 taste tickets right off the bat (additional tickets could be purchased for $1 each), and a welcome bag that included, among other things, an Atco Blue Flame cookbook. A folk singer helped set the tone (Mack observed that all food events of this nature default to folk), and the atmosphere was light and carefree. A few of the food vendors (and lone beer purveyor) were set-up outside along the perimeter of the designated eating area, but the majority of them were inside one of the stifling greenhouses. And though having the option of shelter was good given that clouds threatened rain, the setting definitely wasn’t as glorious at the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park.

Country Road Greenhouses

Pretty zucchini and squash

Tomato Fare is an event similar to Taste of Edmonton, but all of the dishes incorporated fresh, local ingredients. In an effort to decide what to sample, the three of us did a round past the vendors. Unfortunately, everything looked so tempting that the only thing the visual preview determined was that we would all have to top up our ticket wealth. Eventually though, we all bit the bullet and redeemed our tickets (most of the utensils and containers used were biodegradable, but we should have brought our own regardless).

Inside one of the greenhouses

Mack chilling with his beer

An unusual tomato muffin by the Country Road Greenhouse won my first vote, even though it was tiny and garnered the price of 1 ticket. It was slightly sweet, and had a rather mild, but fresh, tomato flavour.

Savoury Mini Tomato Muffin

Barbecued suckling pig from the Pipestone Food Company looked and sounded promising, but never having been the most graceful eater, and combined with the fact that the fatty pork hadn’t been sawed into cubes meant it was one of the messiest dishes I have ever eaten in public. While it was good, I can’t say I enjoyed it.

BBQ Suckling Pig with Bread

The best deal of the lot was an Irving Farm Fresh sausage roll, made by Cook’s Corner. Nothing beats puff pastry stuffed with ground sausage, and all three of us indulged in one each.

Sundried Tomato Basil Sausage Roll

Mack’s favourite dish was the butter chicken from Taste of India.

Butter Chicken

A refreshing carrot and cilantro salad from Cafe Haven finished off my tickets. I loved the bright orange ribbons specked with bursts of green, dressed with citrus juice and sesame oil.

Carrot & Cilantro Salad

Mack opted to end his sampling with dessert – ice cream with saskatoon berry topping from Shallow Creek Nursuries. The fruit topping was more like a jam, and overwhelmed the ice cream in both consistency and concentration. Still, it was a treat that helped cool us off in the glaring heat.

Ice Cream with Saskatoon Berry Topping

Feeling satisfied, we wandered to the family-friendly games area, with tomato bocce ball and putting green. I tried my hand at the latter – it was harder than it looked!

Trying my best

Before we left, I picked up a container of heirloom chocolate cherry tomatoes – the deep purple, almost brown colour of the tomatoes was too unusual to resist. They tasted slightly sweeter than the usual red cherry tomatoes.

Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes

Given the quality and creativity behind the food, Edmonton Countryside’s tasting events are worth seeking out. Their next big promotional event will be the Fall Country Drive event – check here for dates.

You can see Mack’s full photo set here.

Country Cuisine – TASTE! of Summer 2008

Sunday’s Taste! of Summer was like an event straight out of my dreams. Blue sky, bright sun, swift breeze, and in the shadow of two historic grain elevators, some of the freshest produce Alberta farmers had to offer, prepared by regional chefs with an understanding and appreciation for the local.

So picturesque

I bought my tickets for the annual event about two weeks prior just in case, and was relieved that I had done so when I saw the “sold out” sign tacked up near the entrance. Admission in advance was $15 per person (plus service charges), though we were each provided with $5 worth of food tickets upon entry.

Menus in hand, we perused our options. There were 12 vendors in total (roughly a quarter compared to a Taste of Edmonton) that offered about two dozen dishes or drinks. We started with Mexico Lindo‘s Lamb in Adobe and Lola Canola‘s Raspberry Sweetini.

The Lola Canola gals

Sweetini and Lamb in Adobe

We’re still not sure what was in the lamb sauce, but with our palettes, we detected a fair comparison to Indian cuisine. Still, with the sample’s tender, easily shredded meat, there were no complaints from either of us. The Sweetini had hints of basil and honey, and is a drink I could see served out on a patio on a warm day.

Stephen Tchir Trio provided some jazzy ambiance

Next up were two more meat dishes – Lily Lake Resort‘s Wild Boar Roasted on a Spit with Homemade Apple Chutney and CareIt Urban Deli’s Spring Creek Ranch Tip Sirloin stuffed in English Yorkshire Pudding (a mouthful, yes).

Slicing boar

Wild Boar with Apple Chutney

Sirloin stuffed in Yorkshire Pudding

The unfortunate result of roasting the boar for several hours was dry meat, though the apple chutney did help freshen up each bite somewhat. The charred bits of skin really were the best part, however. As for the Yorkshire Pudding? Mack and I could have spent our entire ticket fortune at that booth – the meat was juicy, the gravy was rich and oh-so-savoury, and though we first balked at the idea of a Yorkshire Pudding shell, the fluffy chewy exterior worked somehow. So good.

Mack enjoys the pudding

We weren’t too optimistic that any other dish could follow CareIt’s, but we tried to find one. Mack chose a Traditional Buckwheat Bread from Bricco Ristorante Italiano, while I had to have a plate of Sweet Herb Salad from Inspired Market Gardens.

Buckwheat Bread

Gwen prepares the salad

Mack likened the buckwheat, potato, onion and bacon-stuffed loaf to a perogy of sorts, and I couldn’t disagree. As for my salad, it tasted just like I remembered, and the black currant vinaigrette was a great pairing to bring out the sweet yet delicate flavours from the colorful flowers.

Using our last few tickets, Mack tried some beer from the Rough Neck Brewing Company, and we returned to the Inspired Market Gardens booth for two scoops of Herb & Flower Sorbet.

Raspberry-tarragon and Lavender Sorbet (a very generous serving)

The vendor indicated that the sorbet couldn’t be sold at the City Centre Market due to a lack of power to keep a freezer operating, and it really is a shame. The delicate dessert was refreshing, and so unique, and should be available for more people to try.

The entire experience was relaxing – the grass (as opposed to pavement) helped, as did the space to move around and ample seating areas. The menu also came rolled with a second sheet of paper titled “Our Chefs, Producers and Artisans”, and provides a detailed listing and contact information for all of the vendors present that day – this is something the Taste of Edmonton organizers should look at – actively promoting the restaurants as opposed to the one-shot food at the event itself.

I do think the limited number of people allowed into the site (capped at 350) and shorter time frame for the event meant that the vendors could focus on providing bigger portions of good food (for example, Mexico Lindo also has a booth at Taste of Edmonton, but have pupusas and fried ice cream on their menu instead of lamb).

To end off the evening, we decided to go on a short tour of the grain elevator.

Inside

Outside

It was such a lovely day overall. I encourage you to check out next year’s Taste of Summer event, or, if you can’t wait that long, Edmonton’s Countryside is running their 6th Annual Country Soul Stroll this weekend (July 19 & 20), where everyone is invited to visit farms and attractions in townships around the city.