Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Season Has Begun

It’s Niagara’s first agricultural crop of the season. Harvesting maple syrup starts around mid February and depending on the weather, lasts until the end of March.

“We need 3 days above freezing to get the sap running”, explains Ann Bering of White Meadows Farm in beautiful Effingham. The freezing and thawing temperatures starts and stops the sap many times.

Maple syrup starts as a sticky sap from the insides of a maple tree and is then transformed into a lusciously sweet nectar that is irresistible to all who try it. White Meadows Farm is in full maple syrup swing right now. You can visit the farm every Saturday and Sunday (holidays as well) from 8:30 am to 4 pm from now until mid April. Bring the kids for a wagon tour of the sugar bush and see how the trees are tapped, learn how its boiled down into maple syrup and end in the Pancake House with a full pancake breakfast complete with loads of sweet, fresh maple syrup.

throughout Niagara more chefs are using maple syrup in their dishes because it's a more complex sugar with more depth of flavour and has more nutrition than regular cane sugar.

White Meadow offers different grades of maple syrup; light, medium, amber and dark. The different grades have more to do with the time of the season than it has to do with processing. Traditionally, at the beginning of the season the sap is light and as the season progresses, the sap gets darker and richer. You'll find all four grades of maple syrup in The Sugar Shack, the on-farm retail shop. The dark syrup is almost black and the taste is reminiscent of molasses, but not as thick as molasses. The Sugar Shack is the only place you’ll find this rare and unique maple syrup.

If you’re looking to eat local this winter and you’re thinking nothing is happening in Niagara in February, think again. Not only is the sugar bush in full harvest, but White Meadow is also a cattle farm offering frozen beef in boxes with mixed cuts; ground hamburger, wieners, hamburger patties and pepperettes.

There’s even farm made baked beans (Ann’s own secret recipe!) and popping corn. From just over 2-acres of popping corn planted last summer, the Berings have more than 5 tons of popping corn in storage, ready to test, package and sell. Their popular maple kettle corn is made from their very own popping corn.

Inside The Sugar Shack you’ll also find the Berings famous maple barbecue sauce – perfect to glaze a winter roast or rack of beef ribs. There’s maple salad dressing, maple vinegar, maple mustard and red pepper maple jelly. They blend and mix their own pancake mix in two varieties; Buttermilk and Gluten Free and have a trio of fruit sauces all laced with maple syrup; cranberry, peach and wild blueberry.

They have maple granola, maple sugar candy, maple butter, maple tarts and of course with a barn brimming full of popping corn, you can pick up a big bag of fully popped maple kettle corn.

Get out to White Meadows on the weekends and enjoy the regions first of many harvests to come and don’t forget to bring the kids for some good, wholesome, family, farm and country fun.

Zeppola are here!

In the donut capital of Canada, it’s amazing how little Niagarians know about pastries.

Zeppola are tiny (about 2-inches), fluffy and rolled in granulated sugar. Commonly deep-fried, these dough balls may be filled with custard, cannoli-style cream or a butter-and-honey mixture. Their consistency ranges from light and puffy to bread-like. They’re delicious, addictive and warming.

Zeppola are the pastry of La Festa di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph's Day, March 19). So from now, through to the patron saint’s day and the Easter weekend, this is the season to find these delicious little pastries.

In Niagara Falls, the famous Criveller Cakes & Pastries (4435 Portage Rd) keeps with tradition, but pastry master Giovanni Priore (the man responsible for all their heavenly pastries) creates his own exquisite versions of zeppola.

Crivelliers Zeppola de St. Giuseppe are baked cream puffs made from choux pastry. The airy little puffballs are filled with Zabaione cream (a frothy cream made by cooking egg yolks with sugar and spiked with marsala). They’re not quite small enough to pop into your mouth so you have to bite it in half; the Zabaione cream oozes over my fingers. The pastry is ultra light with a dreamy, sweet, airiness about it, very moist, light and elegant. As it sweetly floats in my mouth, I try to get it between my teeth and the rich, cream slides across the layers of sugar dusted pastry. Oh yum, ok these are the best zeppola I’ve ever tasted!

I can’t explain how donut hungry Niagarians have missed out on the most decadent, elegant, upscale, delicious pastry donuts in the world, but that just means there are plenty more for those of us who know where to find the best food Niagara has to offer – it’s the season for zeppola, enjoy.