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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Farm-To-Table Fall

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday September 4, 04:38 pm
The traditional communal supper of autumn gets a foodie twist

When I was growing up, one of my absolute favourite days of the year was the local fall supper. For a budding foodie, it was absolute heaven. Sure, Halloween and Christmas were also high on the list, but somewhat tainted by vivid memories of frozen feet and trying to fit my costume over my snowsuit in the case of Halloween, and all manner of family dysfunction in the case of Christmas.

But the fall supper was my first introduction to an event where practically the entire community gathers together in one place for the sole purpose of gorging themselves on home-cooked food.

I still marvel at the quantities of food produced for that event, and the lineups out the door. We’re talking about the hall of a dying hamlet with a population of maybe eight, with two nearby towns around 400 people each. But that hall was packed with people, and the lineup never shortened for the three or four hours that the supper took place. Seriously, I think the entire population within a radius of 30 miles showed up.

And it was always worth it. In our town, the women’s association that put on the supper was predominantly of Scandinavian descent, so our classic turkey dinner was augmented by bowls of Swedish meatballs and never-ending stacks of crunchy flatbread and lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread, which is a weakness of mine to this day). Lefse was always a precious commodity, so to experience a constantly-renewing pile of it once a year was so tempting I’d almost always run out of room for one of the hundreds of pieces of pie on offer for dessert.

Gawd, I loved those suppers.

Sadly I can’t help but have the distinct sense that these events are becoming fewer and farther between. Ten years ago, when I was researching a story on fall suppers around Saskatoon, I could still find a few by calling the local post office of nearby towns.

I attended a fall supper at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of All Saints while conducting that “research,” and was struck by the advanced age of most of the women running the event. I couldn’t help but wonder how these events could survive without a good number of younger recruits.

Fast forward 10 years to now, and there’s a new version of these suppers out there: the “farm to table” dinner. I remember the first time I looked at a foodie magazine article featuring a long table somewhere ridiculous, like Martha’s Vineyard, filled with beautiful people enjoying an equally beautiful family style dinner of summer-fresh produce picked that morning.

Everything in me positively yearned for that experience. When I attended a food and wine writers’ workshop in Kelowna earlier this year, I got to have my first authentic, al fresco farm-to-table dinner, at a long table, outdoors in an orchard, and dining on locally harvested food and locally produced wines.

Finally, I’d arrived! And I promptly wished that Saskatoon had something similar.

Well, rejoice! This year, the Saskatoon Food Council held its first local food celebration. It was almost exactly like my experience in Kelowna, except made better by the fact that I was surrounded by fellow Saskatonian foodies and was served a brilliant meal prepared by Chefs Anthony McCarthy and Darren Craddock (executive chefs of the Saskatoon Club and Riverside Golf and Country Club, respectively).

This wasn’t comfort food prepared by grandmothers (which I’m totally not knocking; at some points in my life it’s the one thing that kept me going). This was a celebration of all the amazing meat and produce available from right around Saskatoon, including pickerel cheeks with seabuckthorn puree, rabbit terrine, beef carpaccio salad, a mixed grill of lamb, duck, farmer sausage and chicken, lentil risotto, new potatoes, eggplant parmigiana, green beans and grilled red peppers, planked trout and summer berry tiramisu.

Okay, so it’s a little more meat-heavy than some people might like, but truly it was the eggplant parmigiana and lentil risotto that kept me coming back for more. And maybe also the farmer sausage. And the duck. And the trout. And the rabbit terrine. And if there had been a vat of the summer berry tiramisu rather than the prettily plated servings we were given, you would have found me in the vat at the end of the night.

But besides the quality of the food, and the delight I took in knowing it was locally produced and prepared by talented local chefs, what I enjoyed most was being surrounded by a tent full of like-minded foodies, with my bare feet nestled in the grass under our table, reveling in the community and the camaraderie.

As an aside, the new farm-to-table dinner movement comes with a hefty price tag. The Local Food Celebration was a steal at $50, but that’s still probably five times what I would have paid for a small town fall supper — or with inflation over the last 20 years, at least three times the price.

There are more events coming, for anyone who’s intrigued. You’ll find me at Pine View Farms’ version of the farm-to-table dinner on Sept. 7. (Check out pineviewfarms.com for details.) While it’s a slightly different experience, since it’s a fundraiser for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, it will still be a fantastic meal. And the Sustainable Gourmet Dinner will take place at the Saskatoon Club on Sept. 27. This dinner may not be the long family style table, but it will still be a wonderful, locally sourced meal. (Get more information at environmentalsociety.ca.)

Also, local Community Supported Agriculture programs often host a free dinner for their members, so if you want to get in on that for next year, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

I can’t say enough about these big community dinners, whether the old-fashioned fall supper or the newfangled farm-to-table dinner. We need more of these, so this is a both-and, rather than an either-or, question. Find as many as you have time for — and can afford — and pull up to the table, shake hands with your neighbour and prepare to connect to your community, the land and the amazing food that comes from it.

Read more about Noelle’s dining and cooking adventures at www.amazoninthekitchen.ca. 

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