The Niagara Region of Southern Ontario is rich in agricultural diversity. On the Lake Ontario plain and up the Niagara Escarpment (on what is called “the Bench”), vineyards support about 70 high-quality wineries; peaches and apricot orchards thrive wherever the vines aren’t planted; on the top of the Escarpment, the microclimate produces cherries, pears, and apples, and toward Lake Erie, fields of corn and soy. Throughout the Niagara Peninsula, market gardening, small scale meat production, and mixed farming complete the picture of locovore heaven!Pelham Slow Food is a small convivium fortunate enough to be located right in the middle of this bounty. The group mirrors the diversity of the terroire, since almost half our members are francophone and our professions range from food and agriculture to wine industry to education to the arts, while our interests (in addition to food) are all over the map.Since its formation, Pelham Slow Food has anchored its activities on meetings in each others’ homes, Lamb Roast 2012at which everyone brings a sample dish of food according to a pre-set theme: Eastern Europe, Québec, Greece, India, comfort food, etc. Local wines are chosen to match the food, and the atmosphere is the very definition of “convivial.” Special events are also held at the many local restaurants that espouse the values of Slow Food, and at each of these bi-yearly events, the chefs and staff have gone out of their way to produce an evening of imaginative and delicious recipes using local products.The flagship event of the convivium, though, is the Annual Featherstone Lamb Roast. Featherstone Winery has become renowned for its commitment to biodiversity and sustainability, as well as for its excellent wines. While many wineries use air cannons or other noisemakers to discourage birds from eating the grapes before harvest, Louise Engel, co-owner with husband David Johnson, flies hawks and falcons to scare away the nuisance birds. While most wineries employ workers to thin the grape leaves in the summer to expose the ripening grapes to the sun, Featherstone uses lambs, which graze greedily on the leaves, doing a far more thorough job of exposing the grapes than any human hands could. At harvest, the lambs produce succulent meat that is eagerly sought by the best restaurants in Niagara and Toronto. Thanks to the generosity of David and Louise, Pelham Slow Food gets its pick of two of the lambs, and the use of the picturesque wraparound verandah on the Featherstone estate to hold its annual lamb roast. Forty guests dine on local vegetables, organic salads, delicious cheeses, and Niagara fruit desserts along with the slow roasted lamb; the meal is accompanied by superb Featherstone wines. This is the essence of slow food.The convivium also encourages young people to begin thinking about growing and eating their own produce by supplying tools, expertise, and enthusiastic labour to create a vegetable garden at a half-way house for adolescents. In the past, the Pelham Slow Food convivium has supported Slow Food initiatives in Cuba and bought books related to the principles of Slow Food for the Pelham Library; new projects such as these are continually being sought. A monthly Slow Food Blog called “SnailSpace” at www.pelhamslowfood.blogspot.com, winery tours, farm visits, wine and cheese tastings, and special dinners round out the activities of this small but lively group of enthusiasts.
Slow Food Pelham