Cooking local, seasonal fare

Photos and story by Casey Lessard

If you’re thinking of eating local food, but don’t feel like cooking, the seven area restaurants that are dining partners with the Grand Bend Farmers’ Market can help.
The farmers’ market’s Simply in Season dining partnership is halfway through its second year, and diners can enjoy a meal including seasonal items with produce from the market. Among the partners are F.I.N.E. A Restaurant, The Schoolhouse Restaurant, Aunt Gussie’s, The Colonial Hotel, Back ‘n Time Diner, Paddington’s, and Hessenland. Each restaurant will feature at least one recipe from the Simply in Season cookbook published by the Mennonite Central Committee three weeks this summer.
“We want as many people as possible who prepare food to think local,” says market manager Christine Bregman. “We want the consumer to be both the customer and the professional preparing the food.”
“This year I changed it a bit to something I could give in our breadbasket,” says F.I.N.E. owner Erryn Shephard, whose restaurant is next featured August 27 to September 2. “I did strawberry soup from the book, and a lemon thyme bread so people could get a sampling from it.”
When possible, restaurants are asked to purchase their raw materials from the farmers at the market. For F.I.N.E., it’s an extension of a policy to aim for local food whenever possible.
“We get our meats from Metzger’s, a great butcher,” Shephard says. “It’s an old German family. It’s an awesome place. This summer, Metzger’s has a cold-smoked pork chop, and we’re selling the heck out of it, with caramelized onions and pineapple salsa. Then we get our perch and pickerel just down the road here from Forbes, where we get our corn, too.”
Being able to access large quantities of local food is a challenge for Hessenland, which increasingly relies on the banquet business.
“It’s challenging to source a lot of stuff locally because of quantity and consistency,” says Frank Ihrig. “When you’re cooking for 200 people, I can’t say I can necessarily get potatoes for that many people from someone’s backyard or garden.”
Both restaurants enjoy easy access to special items at various times of the year.
“As the season comes, tomatoes will be on soon, and we’ll be making chili sauce and canning it for sale,” Shephard says.
“I can almost walk (to Mike Masse’s pumpkin patch) and pick up my pumpkins and squash for soups and salads,” Ihrig notes.
“We use honey from Ferguson’s for desserts and for sauces because honey has a more intense sweetness and is more rounded. It gives a nicer transition from salty to sweet.”
And the sweetness translates into local suppliers’ wallets, too.
“If we can get it locally, the quality is higher because it’s not traveling as far,” Ihrig says. “If we can keep the money in our own community, there’s an economic spin-off as well.”