A W.E. Heart Local Summer Barbecue
Fresh Finds from Around Essex County
By: Jen Brignall-Strong of Tailgate Takeout
The warm weather is finally here and there’s so much to see and do in Windsor-Essex. While I’m definitely looking forward to checking out all the amazing events and festivals, I’m most excited to hop in the car and explore the many farms, shops, and roadside stands that dot our region.
With our warm climate, long growing season, and the most greenhouses per capita in Canada, Essex County is known for producing a bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables. We’re also home to numerous family-owned farms and markets featuring a variety of artisan food products including meats, cheeses, craft beer, baked goods, and so much more. Wherever you live, you don’t have to travel far to find everything you need to create a fresh, flavourful meal.
Want to explore the bounty of the county for yourself this summer? I suggest planning your route with Tourism Windsor-Essex’s W.E. Heart Local Program; your guide to buying farm fresh in Windsor-Essex. Simply log on to weheartlocal.ca. There, you can download your digital pass which allows you to check in and take advantage of exclusive offers at participating businesses. It also features a “What’s in Season?” guide to show you which local fruits and veggies are currently being harvested. I love this program and used it quite often last summer, so I was eager to register for free for the 2022 pass and get shopping.
To prepare for my summer BBQ, I went on a quest looking for the best local goodies to create an epic feast for the hard-working dads in my life. I wasn’t quite sure what was going to be on the menu; I basically gathered all my finds and said to myself, “How can I make this a meal?” (This is also how I do my regular grocery shopping; buy things that look yummy and hope they all work together somehow. A solid strategy.)
After a weekend of cruising the county, I was able to put together a delicious 3-course meal with some of the freshest ingredients grown right here in our own backyard. Have a peek at my menu, then visit your favourite markets and get grilling!
With an afternoon of grilling and smoking ahead of us, I knew we’d need something to nosh on while we were awaiting the main course. Good thing I like to keep copious amounts of cheese on hand.
While out in Belle River recently, I made a stop at La Belle Fromage. A cute little shop located right on the main thoroughfare, this cheese emporium is home to a wide selection of Canadian cheeses, as well as accompaniments, frozen meals, desserts, and a variety of locally made food items.
I picked up an aged cheddar from PEI, a few of my favourite Ontario cheeses, plus a couple of suggestions from the lady working the counter. I also spied a few cheesecake slices that just happened to fall into my basket (oops) as well as a loaf of sourdough bread from Green Heart Kitchen (they deliver fresh bread there each week.) I grabbed some of their pickled asparagus as well, knowing I wanted a mix of flavours and textures for my little charcuterie creation.
When it came time to assemble, I broke out my fanciest cutting board and tried my best to make it all look pretty; even though I knew it would be devoured in mere minutes. I was excited to find a jar of Hawksview Honey in my pantry to add to the board. Seriously, if you’ve never dipped cheese in honey, you’re missing out.
Hawksview Honey is a small farm located in Harrow that raises bees to produce pure, natural raw honey. These guys know beekeeping and are very interesting to chat with, so I encourage you to pop in and see them if you’re in the area. Their honey is fantastic and made a great addition to my cheese board which, as I mentioned, was gone faster than you can say “gouda.”
W.E. Heart Local perks: I scored a “buy one, get one 30% off” cheese offer at La Belle Fromage, and if you spend $20 or more at Hawksview you get a free 45mL jar of honey. (*Insert money-saving happy dance here*)
Ah, the main event. Since my husband got a new smoker for a Father’s Day gift, I knew he’d be eager to use it. And he wants to cook literally EVERYTHING. Steak? Sure! Pork chops? Yup. Oh, lamb would be good too. Oh boy.
Since turning my patio into an outdoor kitchen, we’ve slowly been discovering all the local butcher shops and farms across the county. We’d heard great things about Bradt’s Butcher Block in Leamington, and popped in to explore. They have such a wonderful selection; we had to restrain ourselves so we wouldn’t buy all the things. We settled randomly on some ground beef and ground lamb, which got me thinking about some kind of Mediterranean dish.
We had also visited a few farms in the Woodslee and Maidstone areas: Trimble Farms for some fresh beef and Quinlan Farms for pork and chicken. With a deep dedication to sustainable farming practices, both these family owned and operated farms are fabulous options for purchasing your favourite meats. My husband was excited to “reverse sear” the giant ribeye steak he grabbed from Trimble’s, and I was trying to figure out how the juicy pork chops and whole chicken we grabbed from Quinlan’s was going to fit in the mix.
Once we stopped for produce at Riberdy Farms on Riverside Drive, I really had that Mediterranean/Greek theme in mind. Riberdy’s carries a large variety of produce from their own fields and others across Essex County. While we were there I was able to grab onions, lots of garlic, dill, parsley, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and mushrooms. I also grabbed garlic scapes for another meal. Yummy.
Now I had all the makings for a Greek-ish style barbecue. I mixed the ground lamb and beef together with some fresh dill, onions, and garlic to make kabobs, marinated the pork chops with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and herbs, and spatchcocked the chicken and marinated that with a lemon/garlic/dill/olive oil mixture. We used so much garlic the whole block could probably smell us (no vampires at this barbecue!) We kept the steak pretty basic with salt and pepper because that’s all a good steak really needs.
For sides, we prepared garlic lemon potato wedges and grilled mixed veggies. A colourful, healthy meal with a ton of flavour…and garlic. I also used the fresh dill, parsley, cucumber (and ta da, garlic!) to make a homemade tzatziki dip. Aside from the lemon and Greek yogurt, literally everything else in this meal was completely local. And honestly, you could taste the difference. I love summer in Essex County.
W.E. Heart Local perks: Use your pass at Bradt’s and redeem for 5% off purchases of $75 or more. At Trimble Farms, enjoy a free ½ pound package of all-beef pepperettes with $150 purchase.
I have an unspoken rule that if I see a dessert somewhere, I must buy it. Which is probably how I ended up with three different desserts for our meal. Is anyone REALLY going to complain about too much dessert, though?
As I mentioned, I had snagged a few pieces of cheesecake from La Belle Fromage (New York style cherry and Skor toffee mmm…) That didn’t stop me from grabbing a package of Christine’s Bake Shop pecan tarts from Sauve’s Country Market though. This adorable farmers’ market is located in Woodslee and offers a great selection of plants, fresh Ontario fruits, veggies, and meat, as well as locally made spices, sauces, baked goods, and so much more. They also host pop-up vendor events throughout the summer with a variety of local makers. Really a one-stop-shop if you’re in the area. I also picked up local asparagus, as well as a pint of Raymont’s Berries strawberries while I was there; not sure if I’d use them for dessert or simply eat them on the way home. I love strawberry season.
Thankfully, the berries survived the car ride so I was able to use them in a delicious Maple Strawberry Crumble recipe I found on Pinterest. I had maple on the brain after picking up a bottle from Ruscom North Shore Maple Farm. There’s nothing better than real maple syrup, and I think it’s so great we have access to it right in our own backyard. They host a variety of events in their sugar shack market throughout the year, and sell a sweet selection of maple products including syrup, maple butter, maple candies, and more.
I used their maple syrup to sweeten my strawberry crumble, and I even used it in my homemade whipped cream. Yes, you read that right: maple whipped cream. It’s as delicious as it sounds. I even used it to top some of the pecan tarts.
While dessert was a bit of a mishmash, we enjoyed the variety and everyone had a bite or two of everything.
W.E. Heart Local perks: Stopping by Ruscom Maple Farm? Be sure to use your pass for a free tasting of maple butter, maple taffy, or maple candy.
Of course a summer backyard barbecue wouldn’t be complete without a few cold ones! We’re big fans of craft beer and we love to grab a few from each of the local breweries and discovering new favourites.
The W.E. Heart Local program also includes local breweries and wineries, so while I was out in Leamington getting meat, I popped into Cured Craft Brewing Co. and grabbed a 6-pack of some of their staples. The Barbecue Master enjoyed a Pelee Island Pilsner while he cooked, and we also tried the S.O.S Oatmeal Stout. We’ll definitely be back out to visit them again soon to enjoy a pint and a bite to eat on their patio; their food menu looked fabulous and the brewery itself has a great vibe to it.
W.E. Heart Local perks: Check in with your pass and redeem your offer for 10% off any Cured Craft merchandise.
I’d like to take all the credit for this culinary masterpiece, but I’d say most of the praise should go to my husband’s grill skills and all the fresh local goodies that went into creating it. You just can’t beat farm-to-table freshness and I feel so lucky to live in such an agriculturally diverse region. I encourage you to shop your local farmers’ markets and fruit stands this summer and discover all the amazing food Windsor-Essex has to offer.
P.S. Don’t forget to check in with your W.E. Heart Local pass to redeem your offers and be entered to win some fantastic prizes!