Trout Lilies & The Joy of Foraging

by Ben Samann, General Manager

One of the joys of foraging is finding a community – countless happy little plants around us are known to many people as edible. So, when we hear of a new plant, we go online to find recipes, suggestions, and, importantly, conservation information.

A few years ago, we discovered trout lilies.

You’ve seen them, you just don’t know about them. They’re some of the first greens to pop up, and once they start, they’re everywhere.

It’s important to know a few things. They’re sweetest when they first come up, and once they flower, they turn a bit bitter. They’re slow to spread to new areas, but come back year after year in the same patch. The leaves are easy to harvest, and while the roots are a nice starchy snack, pulling that kills the whole plant.

We’ve been using them for years, mostly in salads (and as a source of vitamins on my hike home). There’s something magical about finding food just sprouting up in nature.

But we’re adventurous! No more “just put it in a salad!”

What are people doing with them? Off to the internet, Chef Kyle! Find some interesting uses! Foraging blogs are easy to find, and many write about how awesome trout lilies are. Recipes abound, but it was the same story: use them in salads, add them to salads, or cut them up and eat them in a salad.

…okay then. Thanks, internet. Off to the lab we go!

Dog with science experiment, captioned

Chef Kyle and I set to work. We pickled, in 3 styles. We jellied. We boiled, mashed, and served in a stew. We made sugar cookies. We candied. Dehydrated.

Interestingly, while this was going on, we were interviewing for a new sous chef. Mandy was coming for an interview to cook a 5-course tasting menu for us. She made a trout lily granita.

In each case, the trout lily flavour was incredibly mild, but always added something. Sometimes it was sweetness, other times we tasted the astringency (bitterness), and sometimes it just added a nice hint of green. But, it was interesting.

At this point, we have a bunch of ideas. We’ll see how many pan out, but there’s fun to be had. It’s an exciting year ahead!

Read more about our food philosophy and how we use foraged, farmed, and locally grown ingredients in our restaurants at The Whole Hog.

 


Preserving Summer

Strawberries being preserved

by Alyssa Joynt

As the lake begins to freeze over and the soft glittering blanket of snow descends over the rooves of the cottages, icing the trees and turning Viamede into a scene out of a mythical Christmas town, it can be hard to remember that just a few short months ago there were people playing on the water trampoline and fresh fruit on the tables. The bright and loud colours of summer can get lost in the wintery quiet, but Viamede has a secret for keeping the flavour of summer alive.

You may have noticed jars on the mantle in 1885 and Mount Julian and passed them off for decoration. All of those jars, however, are preserves, made right here at Viamede to help bring the memories of summer to the table throughout the year. This past July, I got to watch Chef preserve strawberries!

All of the berries come from nearby McLean Berry Farm. It doesn’t get more local then this! Before talking to Chef, I always thought of preserves in the form of jams and jellies. Chef, however, chooses to preserve the berries whole. When asked why, his answer was simple. Whole berries are much more versatile, and “in the dead of winter, when you have these freshly preserved strawberries, it’s just lovely”. As Chef explained, “Strawberries are such an Ontario ingredient… strawberries remind me of Ontario summer more than any other food”, and bringing the delicious flavour of local Ontario berries into a mid-January meal is the perfect way to harken back to the highlights of summer. These strawberry preserves will mostly be used for desserts, because the sugar used as a preservative adds a lot of sweetness, but they can also be used as an accompanying sauce on a cheese plate or in a salad dressing.

So how do the berries get preserved, exactly? The process can take a few days, and involves mixing the berries with sugar to really pull out the flavour, as well as cycles of heating and cooling until the berries are tender and can be strained out of the liquid. The liquid is brought to a hot temperature by itself and any foam is skimmed off, and then the berries are poured into sterilized jars with the hot syrup ladled overtop. The jars are then boiled to seal them and keep out any contamination- if the jars are properly sealed, the preserves can last for a year or more!

Strawberries aren’t the only thing that Chef preserves, though. As he noted, “the more local produce we preserve, the happier we’ll be!”. Viamede’s focus on local ingredients lends well to preserving the landscape around us, so it is always the goal to preserve aspects of each season. Some of the highlights of early summer include garlic, strawberries, raspberries, and cattails, and of course the wild blueberries that are such an iconic ingredient in the Kawarthas. Later summer features tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and the fall harvest focuses in on squash, apples, and potatoes. By preserving aspects of each season, every meal can remain centered around the local theme throughout the year, while also painting a picture of the seasons and the culinary landscape of the Kawarthas.


The Winter Harvest

by Executive Chef Alexander Barron

We’re well into November and the snows are falling hard.  It’s a visual (and thermal) sign of crossing into winter, though on the calendar it’s still autumn, and the kitchens are preparing to cook through the long snowy season.

In order to make it through, this year we are growing our own greens and sprouts in the main dining room with its floor-to-ceiling windows.  We are still learning the best method, but if you stay with us this winter you may see one of the cooks trimming greens for your salad or sprouts for a garnish on your plate.

Foraging is not completely finished either, as there are a few things we can harvest even through the snow cover.  Many of our perennial herbs can simply be uncovered and trimmed, and then covered up again with snow to protect them from the cold air.  We will also be harvesting sumac straight from the trees to play with.  Part of the fun is seeing what is still available.

This time of year much of the Ontario harvest is still good and fresh (kept in proper storage) so we can pickle a good variety of vegetables.  We’re also getting excited about squash, pumpkin, cabbages, roots, apples and pears which keep well.  They’ve gotten something of a bad name as part of a boring winter cuisine, (think boiled vegetables with no flavour! or don’t if you prefer), but we think this is just part of the cook’s ever-changing challenge to keep food interesting and appetizing.  It doesn’t hurt that Ontario now boasts excellent greenhouses as well.

As the earth quiets, and settles for a long winter’s sleep, it’s time for these beautiful ingredients to shine. The whole culinary team at Viamede is looking forward to serving up hearty, nourishing, and imaginative meals. We can’t wait to welcome you!


Mount Julian’s Fall Harvest

by Alyssa Joynt

As the leaves turn from green to gold, the numbers on the thermometer start to drop, and we watch summer roll into fall, it is the perfect time to look back at the summer gardens of Mount Julian.  When we say that the food we serve is local, we really aren’t kidding.  For the next installment of the Mount Julian blog series, Chef Alexander took me on a tour of the gardens around Viamede and explained how he uses each plant in various ways to create incredible meals.

One of the first gardens I saw was the one situated right next to Mount Julian. The building has gardens both on the side and facing the lake, and all are filled with delicious greenery!

 

 

This lavender has a very short growing season, but can be used in crème brûlées and infused into almost anything, especially in dishes involving cream and milk.

In the neighbouring garden, a variety of greens take centre stage.  Our goal is to grow all the lettuce used at Mount Julian, and the leaf lettuce seen here can be used in a classic salad or as a burger topper.

 

Right next door is Genovese Basil, which is used in classic pesto.  One of the dishes featured this summer included a homemade pesto that was made with these pretty homegrown leaves.

 

Leaving the Mount Julian side of the property, we explored the gardens by the main building.  These pear tomatoes, which are a kind of cherry tomato, grow right near one of the outbuildings by the main entrance to Viamede.  They aren’t quite ripe in this picture, but once they are, they are delicious!

 

Right beside the cherry tomatoes are string beans and peas, both of which are beautiful and fresh veggies for any dish!

 

While I recognized many of the plants on my tour, dinosaur kale was a new introduction.  Another neighbour of the incredible pear tomato, this is a very large and extremely tough variety of kale that would generally not be eaten raw.  When the leaves are big like this, they are better sautéed or in a stew.

At the front of the building, there is a vibrant flower garden, but those flowers aren’t just for show!  Some of them are nasturtium flowers, which have a bit of a peppery taste and add a fun bunch of flavour and a fun punch of colour to the summer salad they were added to.

 

In between the Mount Julian and main building gardens, there is a very special plant growing.  Viamede doesn’t use any pesticides and we try to preserve the natural landscape of the Kawarthas as much as possible. Because of that effort we are blessed with native plants like this wild grape.  This variety is completely edible, and not only can we munch on these grapes but we also use them in jelly.  Their leaves are especially exciting – Chef used them during the summer to make dolma as a starting course at Mount Julian.

 

Chef harvests the leaves before service and then boil them to make them nice and tender.

 

 

Once boiled, he fills them with wild rice and rolls them up into delcious dolma!

 

Another example of the wild Kawartha landscape incorporating itself into the Mount Julian menu is our sumac and honey butter.

 

Featured earlier on in the summer, this butter is hand-whipped and mixed with honey and sumac, which can be seen growing all over the property.

Our gardens supply our kitchen with as much natural produce as possible, and we are so grateful!  As our gardens transition into the end of the fall harvest, Viamede transitions along with them.  Into our fall season now, these Mount Julian blog posts are near their end.  Thank you for exploring the kitchen with me, and I look forward to sharing the exciting world of preserves with you later on in the winter.  We all need some way to preserve the summer season, right?


Mount Julian: From 1874 to 2018

by Alyssa Joynt

This is the first in a series of blog posts about Mount Julian restaurant at Viamede Resort. We’ll be talking about the food, the history, the ambiance, and more! Check back regularly for the latest!

In 1874, Mount Julian stood alone, serving as both an inn and restaurant.  It has always been a destination for great food and incredible experiences, with lakers boating over for meals and people riding from Lakefield, almost 30 km away, just for dinner and a one night stay.

Mount Julian used to be a stand-alone location, with the restaurant on the main floor and a handful of rooms on the upper floor.  When Viamede Resort opened in 1885, Mount Julian served as the leisure side of the property, while Viamede hosted the labour crowd with miners and loggers filling the rooms.  In 1999, Don Bennet took over the resort and joined the two businesses, making Viamede the resort and turning Mount Julian into an Italian style resto, called MJ Bistro.

When Ben Samann took over Viamede in 2011, he knew he wanted to turn MJ Bistro into something special.  A dinner at Bluehill at Stone Barn served as the inspiration for the locally-sourced menu, and when the groundskeeper at the time suggested that Viamede start it’s own farm, Ben was all over the idea.  Food that went straight from farm to table?  Food foraged from the forest?  It was a menu that wrote itself, and the stories behind the food match the storied history of the building itself.

In a recent interview with Ben, he explained that eating at Mount Julian should be a very natural, comfortable experience.  As he said, “we’re not serving asparagus soup in a shoe”.  The food is not overly surprising, deliberately weird, or alienating in any way.  This isn’t a fine dining experience governed by overly strict rules – it’s a place where you can sit down in shorts and a T-shirt and enjoy historic ambience and local food.  Ingredients sourced from as close as the land the building sits on and as far afield as the Lakefield farmer’s market, it’s a meal that feels like you’re coming home.

Welcome to Mount Julian.  This summer, we are opening our doors to a new, online experience on this blog.  From the way the food is foraged to the hand-selected wine pairings, we invite you to join us as we rediscover the stories behind Mount Julian.


Mount Julian Restaurant Welcomes Spring

by Alyssa Joynt

If you’ve ever visited Viamede, you will have spotted a white building with a green roof on your way in.  Perched overlooking the lake, The Inn at Mount Julian was built in 1847 to welcome overnight travellers and loggers.  Although it has been updated with modern day amenities such as electricity and indoor plumbing, the building has remained much the same, and as you step inside you know that you are in for an exciting experience.

As Viamede re-opened and welcomed the return of spring, I returned for my second season of work and my first shift at the timeless Mount Julian restaurant. The culinary experience at Mount Julian is all about the story.  Each ingredient that goes into the 5, 7, or 9 course tasting menu, as well as the a la carte options, adds not only to the dish but also to the story that your meal has to share.  I loved learning all about the stories that food can tell, and so I thought I would take you inside the walls of Mount Julian and give you a sample of an evening at the restaurant.

Recently, to celebrate the return of greenery to Viamede, Chef Alexander prepared a decidedly spring-themed meal that started off with an amuse-bouche nick-named the “spring bouquet”.  Featuring all of the first things to pop out of the ground in spring time, pea shoots and cat tail were wrapped in wild leek that was foraged on Viamede property, and the bundle was topped with a drop of maple syrup, which made its entrance last month.

Right before the soup course was served, guests were treated to multi-grain baguette and house-made butter that was prepared with honey and sumac.  Sumac is the bushy red plant that can be spotted all over, and the red buds, lending a distinctive citrus flavour, were what went in to making the delicious butter.  Sumac also grows white flowers, but thankfully Chef avoided those – white buds are poisonous!

Once the bread disappeared, guests were treated to a blast of spring in the form of soup.  Containing spinach and wild leek that was foraged on the property, the soup’s bright green colouring was reminiscent of the bright green that has returned to the Kawarthas after a long-lasting winter, and continued the spring theme of the meal.

Seared Manitoulin Island Rainbow Trout swam onto the scene for the next course.  Viamede is situated in a wild-rice region, and so the trout was perched atop wild rice and cranberries, and was topped with a savoury cranberry jam (ten points if you caught my fish pun. Ten points if you noticed the second one.).

The salad was served next and perpetuated the spring theme through its light lettuce, multi-coloured carrots, radishes, and red wine and shallot dressing.  It was followed by the main course, which was beef wrapped in Viamede bacon.  Viamede has a farm on-site, and our happy, adventurous, attention-loving pigs enjoy a happy and well-fed lifestyle before they make their way onto our plates in a sustainable and locavore-approved farming practise.  The beef was accompanied by caramelized mashed potatoes and topped with mushrooms and horseradish sprouts that were sprouted in Viamede’s own herb garden.

To finish off the night, dessert was a flourless torte-brownie hybrid with sour cream and a maraschino cherry made at Viamede.  The cherries come from Niagara, and they are drenched in maraschino liquer on-site.  The work that goes into their creation comes out in their delicious and fresh flavour.

For each course, every ingredient was carefully picked to be local, fresh, and delicious.  Each piece added something to the story of spring, and ultimately to the story of Mount Julian.  If it took a page of writing to describe just one five-course meal in the most concise detail, imagine the culinary adventures and the exciting stories that await you on your next visit to Mount Julian.

I hope to see you soon!