A chill has begun to form in the air. The leaves in the heart of their annual change, frolicking in the breeze as some spin to the ground. The sun radiating off their autumn colours setting the forest ablaze. Harvest in full swing, the marshes were flooded. A light jostling and the tart red pearls float to the surface. It was my fifth October in the unforgettable beauty of Muskoka and the Bala Cranberry Festival always eluded me. Working in hospitality weekends are quite foreign to me, but somehow I managed this one off. Cranberry everything ensued.
I hit the streets around noon. Cars already lined the sides of the road. People meandered from booth to booth. I needed a little grub to start the day and there was no shortage of that around. The typical festival foods were there as one would expect, but I wanted something that paid homage to the cranberry. Makes sense considering the festival. First I found a local charcuterie and cheese maker who had samples of all their products. I tried nearly all of them before purchasing a cranberry goat Havarti and peppercorn salami. This just making me hungrier, I stepped back onto the street and put my nose in the air. I caught wiff of an unmistakable scent. Peameal bacon on a griddle. I queued up for peameal and cheddar on a bun with cranberry sauce. Doesn’t get much more Canadian.
There still wasn’t enough cranberry in my life. I knew what would fix that. I needed to get out to the marsh, the main attraction. I bought a ticket and jumped on the school bus they were hauling people with. Not far out of town sat Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh. I strolled around the property at first taking in the captivating views of the colours reflecting in the marshes. Staff members were giving presentations on the procedure of cranberry production from the farming to harvesting and sorting. Explaining that they grow on vines opposed to underwater like many people’s beliefs. The marsh is flooded the night before. A machine then goes through loosening the cranberries, that with their pockets of air inside float to the top. Then they are simply corralled together and loaded onto trucks.
After getting the lowdown on the farming aspect, I wanted to see some of their products for sale. There was sauces, chutneys, dressings, candies, baked goods, dried and fresh. Just about anything one could want. I didn’t have time for the wine tasting so just opted for a bottle of regular cranberry wine for later. Only 7%, and I had a presumption that it would be overpoweringly tart. To our surprise it was good and dangerously sweet. It was time for a second lunch and this one loaded with the main event. A cranberry sausage on a bun with Dijon and cranberry sauce, a cranberry butter tart and a cran-apple cider. Amazing I know, but cranberry overload. I got what I came for after 4 previous years of it taunting me from around the corner.
Have you ever been to a festival celebrating a particular item of food?
On a side note, being in the hospitality industry is great for travel. It is quite simple to get a job anywhere in the world. For myself as a chef I have been able to move around pursuing both my passion for travel and food. I have cooked in Thailand, the Arctic and as just a little perk this weekend. Becoming introduced to the management of a couple local establishments and learning of their shortage of staff, I filled in on the fryer station. A mere 4 hours of dropping wings and fries and I had a free dinner and 2 concert tickets to Lighthouse playing at the Kee to Bala. Not a bad deal.