Nova ScotiaWords Holly O'Neill
Sparks are about to fly at Grohmann Knives. “This is a lost trade,” Scott Jamieson says, then he disappears behind a fountain of gold. As Scott finishes sharpening and buffing the blade, his wife Michelle explains that these are some of the final steps in the 53 that go into making this knife. The Grohmann family have been honing their skills in Nova Scotia since 1949, and today Michelle, the great-granddaughter of the founder, runs the company, where everything is still made according to tradition. The knives – outdoor and kitchen – are still hand-crafted and then honed on a strip of walrus hide taken from the original skin given to Grohmann by the government in the 60s.
No one would look at the humble brick building, on a nondescript street in the sleepy holiday town of Pictou, and think that it contains an internationally acclaimed business. Yet it’s something we see repeatedly in Nova Scotia: unassuming artisans, creating world-class products to traditional methods in family businesses. At Sugar Moon Farm near Halifax, locals come to the wood cabin for epic brunches featuring buttermilk pancakes. But behind the shop selling syrup and maple candy, what looks like a hokey tourist trap is actually a working maple syrup processing plant. Maple trees in the forest are tapped, then the sap flows into pipes that lead down the hill like telegraph wires. The message: delicious. The sap is evaporated down in a large wood-fired stove – 40 litres makes one litre of syrup, and on a good year, owner Quita Gray says they make 1,200 litres. It’s only sold from the shop, in four grades, from the pale nectar of the early season, to the dark, strong end-of-season syrup.
Sean Laceby, chef at The Blomidon Inn in Wolfville, taps the property’s trees every year, hanging buckets to collect the clear sap. He then boils down the syrup on the hob in the kitchen. “They complain about me making too much steam,” he laughs.
Sean may be a chef, but his approach to food – he grows many of the vegetables he uses in the restaurant, he hunts, he fishes, he smokes the fish he catches – reflects the engagement many Nova Scotians have with food. Food appreciation starts at home, and there’s no rarefied restaurant culture here. There are good restaurants, sure, but there’s no frenzy about where’s opening next and how do we get a table. There’s a basic appreciation and understanding of food, and that includes making it. In winter, it’s not uncommon to see sap-collecting buckets hanging from trees in gardens, and people talk about the right weekends to make freezer jam, or when that year’s crop of blueberries is due.
Blueberries are the province’s favourite fruit, and two kinds are grown – the high-bush variety, yielding the fruit that’s more common in UK supermarkets, and the low-bush variety. You’ll see these scrubby, heather-like plants, often wild, as you drive round the province, their leaves turning red at the end of summer, setting fields aflame. Their fruit is much smaller, with a far better flavour than their often-bland cultivated cousins.
The varying climate across the large province create ideal growing conditions for a variety of fruit – apples do particularly well in the Annapolis Valley, where growers are experimenting with sweet, crisp fruit aimed at a premium market. Grapes also thrive. Not many people are aware of it, but there’s a proud collection of winemakers in Nova Scotia working hard to improve the vinous offering. Little of the wine is exported outside the province due to small yield and local laws, but much of it is worth seeking out. There’s also a tradition of fruit wine in Nova Scotia, but until recently it’s had what winemaker Pete Luckett calls an amateurish reputation. “We thought we’d try to lift it to another level,” he says at his vineyard – with its red English phone box – overlooking the Gaspereau Valley. His apple and blackberry wine is perfumed and full, off-dry with a clean finish.
Pete, originally from Nottingham, opened his winery last year. “It’s very exciting,” he says. “Nova Scotia wines are improving dramatically.” Tidal Bay is a recently established appellation – a white wine that ranges from clean and crisp, to full and off-dry, and pairs well with the region’s seafood.
While Nova Scotia’s wine may not be well known, its seafood doesn’t suffer the same lack of recognition. Its lobsters are exported around the world as a premium product, but at home they’re cheap (about CA$5–6 per 500g) and a common sight on menus, in casual diners and fine-dining restaurants. Fishing them is staggered around different areas, so that stocks are kept sustainable and plentiful. Here, as everywhere, managing ocean stocks is a high priority.
“I haven’t sold salmon for six years,” says Michael Howell in his Wolfville restaurant, Tempest. Instead the chef, whose first position in the kitchen was as poissonnier, serves char that’s been farmed on land by a company called Sustainable Blue.
“They have invented the most advanced water filtration technology in the world, so they can do on land what fish can in the sea,” says Michael. He says he’s researched it, and now believes in it so wholeheartedly that he’s their corporate chef. Jason Lynch, at the excellent Grand Pré winery restaurant, also believes it’s the best future for managing fish stocks.
Even clams are stock-managed – diggers in Digby, such as Terry Wilkins, must adhere to a 2-inch (5cm) limit for each. Terry works with Wanda VanTassel, a seaweed harvester, and both have a passion for introducing people to the wild food available around the Bay of Fundy. Their foraging trips reflect the Nova Scotian attitude towards food – enthusiastic, humble, entrepreneurial, accessible and always lots of fun.
EAT, DRINK & SHOP
Fox Hill Cheese House 1678 Church Street, Port Williams; +1 902 542 3599. Several gouda-style cheeses, and farm-fresh delicious yoghurt and milk.
Grand Pré Wines 11611 Highway 1, Grand Pré; +1 902 542 1753. Excellent winery –standouts are a dry, fragrant Verrazano rosé and an apple ice-wine – and a restaurant with perfectly judged food.
Grohmann Knives 116 Water Street, Pictou; +1 902 485 4224. This small family owned business hand-makes knives of an international standard.
Halifax Seaport Farmers Market 1209 Marginal Road, Pier 20, Halifax. A showcase of Nova Scotian produce.
Ironworks Distillery 2 Kempt Street, Lunenburg; +1 902 640 2424. Artisan vodka and rum, plus blueberry liqueur and eau de vie, both made from local fruit.
L’Acadie Vineyards 310 Slayter Road, Gaspereau (near Wolfville); +1 902 542 8463. Seek out Bruce Ewert’s Brut Prestige – seriously good sparkler.
Luckett Vineyards 1293 Grand Pre Road, Wolfville; +1 902 542 2600. Stop in for wine, a snack and the best view in the Gaspereau Valley.
Mrs MacGregor’s 59 Water Street, Pictou; +1 902 382 1878. Looking for a taste of Maritime baking? Try the butterscotch pie, or get shortbread to go.
Salt Shaker Deli 124 Montague Street, Lunenburg; + 1 902 640 3434. Relax on the deck after wandering round pretty Lunenberg. Keep it local with mussels, picked just around the bay, award-winning chowder, or lobster mac’n’cheese.
Sharon’s Place 12 Front, Pictou; +1 902 485 4669. Ask the locals in tiny Pictou where they eat, and they’ll direct you to Sharon’s Place for a lobster burger and coconut cream pie.
Sugar Moon Farm 221 Alex MacDonald Road, Earltown; +1 902 657 3348. Epic brunches, and a chance to see how maple syrup is made.
Sweet Treasures 125 Montague Street, Lunenburg; +1 902 634 4949. Excellent homemade ice cream.
Tempest 117 Front Street, Wolfville; +1 902 542 0588. Michael Howell is inspired by the Mediterranean and locally for his refined rustic fare.
Tangled Garden 11827 Highway 1, Grand Pré; +1 902 542 9811. Don’t miss the chance to wander round this herb garden – a real-life Arcadia.
STAY & DO
Blomidon Inn 195 Main Street, Wolfville; +1 902 542 2291, . A restored mansion decorated in the Victorian style, and a picturesque place to stay in Wolfville.
Pictou Lodge Beach Resort 172 Lodge Road, Braeshore, Pictou; +1 902 485 4322. A relaxed holiday lodge for families, with a restaurant menu created by Alain Bosse, and cabins with kitchens – perfect for cooking the local seafood you’ve bought.
FundyAdventures.com Whether clam digging or seaweed harvesting, Wanda VanTassel shares a wealth of knowledge about Maritime foraging, as well as cooking tips.
Jamie Magazine travelled courtesy of Nova Scotia Tourism and Taste of Nova Scotia.