August 8th, 2017 Missive from J.K. Farm
I first started to get interested in canning in the mid seventies, during my apprenticeship in cooking. My great Aunt Myrtle led me down the back stairs of her house, just south of the city limits in Toronto. It was a hot August day and I felt the heat leaving my body as I descended the stairs to the cool depths below. We stood amongst the wooden shelves loaded with mason jars of this year’s production of jams and pickles. I was awestruck by the display. Everything looked so delicious and precious. There in suspended animation, like bottled sunshine, to later grace the table on a dreary February night, stood row after row of mason jars. After we toured the cellar, we went back upstairs and sat in the living room while Auntie Myrtle sifted through her recipe box of index cards. She handed me a few blanks and I excitedly transcribed a few of the recipes, eager to try my hand at this craft that Auntie Myrtle was amused to be handing down to me.
Fast forward 30 years to last week. As I descend into my new root cellar on the farm, I leave the still summer heat above and feel the cool damp air below as I carefully place the black currant jam and the dill pickles on the concrete slab. I imagine occasions several months from now where we will release the summer genie inside these bottles onto a winter table. The mason jar, for me is an iconic symbol of our cultural heritage in southern Ontario as we search to identify what is unique to our region. For decades the jar has been a re-occurring theme in the many restaurants I have operated over the years. This is form and function at its most delicious. The Wine Bar in Toronto had an imposing wall of preserves that was constantly being plundered by the cooks working alongside for the perfect condiment or flourish to garnish the dishes being prepared in the kitchen. For the customers, perched on the stools, watching all the action, the jar wall served as a place to lose oneself. It was a field of natural colours, harmonizing into a glow that was like a campfire, comforting and warm.
It was around harvest time in the vineyard and in the winery. The air was thick with the aroma of fermenting grapes. My brother Robert and I were sitting upstairs with Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser. These two were already famous in Canada for taking home the grand prize of honour at an international competition in France for their 1991 Vidal Ice wine. This incredible achievement paved the way for Canada to join an international stage of excellence in wine making. Robert and I tasted through the wines and listened to stories, our hands covering our glasses between sips to prevent the fruit flies from sharing the delicious wine. This is the first real recollection I have of meeting Donald Ziraldo. This past Saturday Donald and his wife Victoria graced our table for dinner. Although no longer at Inniskillin he continues to produce ice wine from Riesling and Vidal under his own label. For the dinner, Donald offered ice wine to accompany the cheese course and dessert. Maria Moessner, who represents Inniskillin wines now, provided wines from Inniskillin to accompany the preceding courses.
Anita Stewart, the doyenne of Canadian food culture was also present. The date for her national pep rally, Food Day Canada, coincided with our dinner on August 5th. Of all the dining tables in Canada celebrating Canadian cuisine on that day, Anita decided to come to ours. She joined Donald and Victoria and a wonderful time was had by all.
J.K. Farm Summer Dinner Series August 5th, 2017 featuring Donald Ziraldo and Friends
Hors d’Œuvres On the Ridge
JK Fries with Two Sauces
Bagna Cauda of Summer Vegetables
Chilled Cucumber and Buttermilk Soup
Marinated Salmon Roll-ups
Mushroom and Parsley Fritters
2015 Inniskillin Sparkling Cuvée, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Menu in the Loafing Barn
Summer Salad with Colourful Radishes and Kohlrabi
2016 Inniskillin Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Cauliflower Soup with Beet Jelly
2016 Inniskillin Reserve Pinot Gris, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Roasted Eggplant with Artichokes and Ripe and Green Tomatoes
2015 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir, VQA Four Mile Creek
Braised Brisket of Beef with Pearl Onions and Risolé Potatoes
2015 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Cheeses from Ontario and Québec with Summer Fruit
Ziraldo Vidal Icewine VQA
Griddled Peaches with Lemon Foam and Wild Blueberries
2014 Ziraldo Riesling"Victoria Vineyard" Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula