Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017

Chef Patrick Bourachart of the Café Chartreuse in Collingwood with a freshly baked apple tart.

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Baking a revolution

North of Toronto, the Apple Pie Trail is leading Ontario's culinary tourism boom

Rural Ontario has mostly sidestepped the trend of culinary tourism. In spite of an abundance of fresh ingredients and idyllic countryside, burger stands and fry trucks make up the bulk of the eating options. Thankfully, attitudes and palates are beginning to change, and there’s no better example of this than the increasingly popular Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail.

My family and I made the drive one early autumn weekend, heading 90 minutes northwest of Toronto along the Niagara escarpment. We had plenty to see in a short time; the Apple Pie Trail consists of over 30 businesses that stretch between Collingwood and Owen Sound. There are farmers markets and orchards to visit, art galleries, museums, cafés and two local wineries.

We weren’t alone; no one knows exactly how many are visiting, explained Kristin Ellis of the Blue Mountain Village Association, but all indications are the numbers are on the rise. “We’ve noticed a dramatic shift. It’s really working at getting people moving around the area,” said Ellis.

There are still a few growing pains. The lack of road signage, in our case at least, meant ours would be something of a meandering trip. “It’s tough to get the right road signage,” said Ellis. “It would be a wonderful achievement, but we’re not quite there yet.” In the meantime, the Trail’s printed and online editions of a brochure and map are the only sources for navigation.

This has been apple country since European settlers discovered that the moderating effects of Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment provide a microclimate suitable for apple farming. In the past few decades a tourism industry has grown there too, based around skiing in the winter and biking, hiking boating and more during the summer. With plenty of tourists and plenty of apples, it was only natural that gastronomic attractions would come as well.

If you’re heading up from Toronto, chances are you’ll be starting in Collingwood. An amble through the busy, friendly farmers market there turned up apple-cinnamon butter, and stops at either the Café Chartreuse (70 Hurontario Street, Collingwood; cafechartreuse.com) or the Espresso Post (139 Hurontario St, Collingwood; espressopost.com) to try the apple dishes there are a must. Further west along the bay, we explored the area’s Scenic Caves (260 Scenic Caves Rd, Collingwood; tel: 705-446-0256; sceniccaves.com; adults from $22.57, kids under 18 from $18.58), which feature a wide range of outdoor activities in addition to the caves.

Feeling a little claustrophobic, we set out for the open air of hiking the Mountain and Bruce Trail. Back in the village, we managed to squeeze in the thrill of the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster in Blue Mountain and toured a few quaint galleries to unwind later. Thanks to a warm fall, we swam in the clear waters of Georgian Bay.

If you go during harvest time (September and October), head west to the Apple Top Farm (416476 10th Line, south of Clarksburg; 519-599-6177), where the Johnson family opens the historic barn doors to visitors. With just 27 acres of orchard, it’s a small operation, but it’s a heavily-trafficked spot. “We see a lot of people come through these doors,” said Helena Johnson. Here, you’ll find various certified-organic apples like Paula Reds and Empires, cider vinegars and other farm produce such as squashes.

Winding our way along concession lines through the scenic Beaver Valley, even stopping at one point for a jaywalking rooster, we stumbled upon finds like The Farmers Pantry (788030 Grey Road 13, Clarksburg; tel: 519-599-3691; farmerspantry.com). This charming spot is a pick-your-own orchard with a small petting farm where kids can ogle bunnies, goats and other cute creatures.

There were more things to do than we could manage on our short trip. And with local wines, baked goods, preserves, cheeses, cured meats, more than we could comfortably ingest. But since most of the goods on offer never make their way out the area - they're small-scale delights to be eaten here – we’d made a plan that combined the pleasures of food and active fun.

On our last afternoon, we decided to take a parting trip: from orchard to oven. Unpacking a peck of Northern Spy apples from Apple Top, we baked a pie in our hotel room at the Westin Trillium House (220 Gord Canning Drive, Blue Mountains; tel: 705-443-8080; westinbluemountain.com) while the sun lingered behind a blaze of trees. The room was fragrant. Glasses of iced apple cider from the nearby Georgian Hills Vineyards awaited and the pie cooled. Fork in one hand, map in the other, we began planning our return.

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