Monday, 4 August 2008

A Trip Down Memory Lane . . .

I was reading the other day and I came across a story about two little boys who were watching some bees going about their business in their garden one day.

"Did you know that bees are our friends?" asked the first little boy. "In the summer they collect pollen from the flowers and take it back to their hive so that they can make it into honey."

"That's right." said the second boy, "and then in the winter they stay at home and put it all into little pots for us to buy in the shops!"

A cute little story that brought a smile to my face. The innocence of youth . . . and simpler times.

I once lived in an old farm house which sat on the banks of the Georgian Bay in southern Ontario. We were renting it from an old farmer. It had once been his family home, but . . . with old age and his family having grown up and moved on into their own homes he had built a smaller, much smarter home for he and his wife next door, and they rented out the old homestead for a little extra income.

It was a big rambling old house and quite rickety, but all we could afford at that time. It had questionable plumbing, and in the winter all we had to heat the place was an old wood firing mennonite stove, which sat in the huge country kitchen. The place was also full of mice, despite the two cats we had as pets at the time. I could not keep ahead of them, no matter what I did. The children use to be afraid at night as they listened to them scurrying around in the walls and overhead above the ceiling.

We had a huge vegetable garden, which was one of the things I loved most about living in that house. It lay at the Northern side of the property. and we had it just full of a variety of vegetables we had planted . . . potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, squash, corn, beets, onions, cucumbers . . . you name it . . . we had it! I really enjoyed going out to the garden to pick a mess of beans or peas for our supper and bringing them back into the house to prepare them. There is something really satisfying about knowing you have grown your own food.

Next to our vegetable garden was a chicken run, where our landlord kept his chickens. Every evening after supper, the children and I would wander down with our leftover scraps and feed them to the chickens. It was so fun to watch them and they really enjoyed our simple offerings. The landlord did not mind at all, and every week we were the happy recipients of a lovely dozen farm fresh eggs. We were so lucky . . .

Next to the other side of the house were the bee hives. We lived in a prime apple growing area and the farmer across the road from the house grew sunflowers for birdseed. There was also a lovely large field of clover just next door, so there was no shortage of pollen for the bees to collect and turn into honey. My ex husband and middle son used to enjoy helping our landlord work with the bees and gather in the honey from time to time. They would put on their bee suits and go to work, returning home afterwards all smelly and sweaty. Honey really does smell kind of obnoxious in such large quantities. The farmer had an old wringer washing maching that he used to remove the honey from the supers. Quite ingenious really. My own father loved it when he came to visit us. He loves honey and he took home several large jars that the farmer sold from his doorway. My father said that it was some of the best honey he had ever tasted.

The sloping banks down towards the bay were just covered with wild blackberries. I picked buckets full in the autumn to bring home and make blackberry cobblers with and my favourite blackberry jelly. My sister and I found an old abandoned orchard not far away as well, that was just full of wild raspberries and blackberries. We read somewhere that in the olden days farmers used to plant raspberries at the bases of their apple trees to help attract bees to pollinate the apple blossoms. It's probably not true, but we liked the story anyways, and I have many fond memories of the hours we spent in that old orchard picking berries together in quiet companionship . . . and of the time we spent afterwards making jam together in that big old kitchen.

At the end of the garden was an old pond. There was quite a large tree that had fallen down in a storm which lay across part of it, all dark and covered with moss . . . one day my sister and I watched a lovely blue heron rsting in solitude on it for quite some time. It was glorious and majestic to see . . . and so very large, much larger than I had ever imagined one being! I used to love watching the birds that came into our garden every day. We had a huge variety . . . cardinals, cedar waxwings, kingbirds . . . to name but a few. One year a robin built it's nest in the cedar bush that lay right up against the living room window, and the children and I got to watch the eggs hatch and the chicks grow, until one morning we got up . . . and they were gone . . .

In the winter I had lines strung over the wood stove and they were often full of clothes drying. I often had a kettle of something simmering on the back. There was a huge picture window near to it, and our old pine dining table right in front of that and I spent many an hour sitting there studying my scriptures, writing or doing my crafts, listening to the logs crackle and feeling the lovely warmth of the wood fire, not to mention the smell. We had a bird feeder in the tree just outside the window and I sat and watched the birds as I worked, and thought and pondered . . . it was quite magical.

Simple times . . . hard times . . . but in many ways, the best of times. We were as poor as church mice then, and yet, we hardly knew that we were. I have enjoyed looking back on them this morning . . . and to think . . . it all started off with some little boys and some bees . . . funny how the mind works!

The garden is full of lovely raspberries right now. I made myself sick eating raspberries once when I was a small girl and it was a very long time before I could eat them again. I am quite happy to say that they are once again one of my favourite fruits. These toasts may seem a little extravagant for breakfast, but they are lovely little pleasures, simple to make and very enjoyable to eat . . .

*Little Berry Toasts With a Drizzle of Honey*
Serves 2

You could have these for dessert if you wanted, or even for a lovely tea break late in the afternoon. We choose to have them for a leisurely Saturday breakfast from time to time. The smooth cheese provides a lovely and rich base for the tart berries and sweet honey. When you combine that with the lovely crunch of the crisp toast underneath you have something that is utterly delicious. Very quick to put together, these are quite simply a delight to make and to eat!

6 - ½ inch slices of French Bread
¼ cup of mascarpone cheese at room temperature
1 cup fresh berries, such as raspberries, black berries or even strawberries
¼ cup fragrant honey, such as orange blossom or lavender

Pre-heat the oven to 180° C/350° F. Place the slices of bread onto a baking sheet and toast them in the heated oven for about 12 minutes or so until they are toasted golden brown.
Place the toasted bread onto each of two plates and spread each with some of the mascarpone cheese. Arrange several berries on top of each and then drizzle each one lightly with some of the honey. Serve immediately.

Mascarpone cheese, while lovely to eat is sometimes difficult to find and when you do find it, it can be very expensive. I have found that this next recipe makes a delicious and more than adequate substitute.

*Fake Mascarpone Cheese*
Makes 1 ½ cups approx.

This is a very good substitute for Mascarpone Cheese when you aren’t able to get the real thing. Works very well in desserts such as Tiramisu and others and to be perfectly honest, it is hard to tell the difference!

1 (250g) package of cream cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 ½ TBS of sour cream

Whisk ingredients together until well combined. Use in the place of mascarpone cheese in any recipe.


  1. What a lovely trip you've taken us with you down memory lane.

    Thank you

    My John just started being a bee keeper. We only have one hive so far. I know that he would love hearing more about your bee hive experience.

  2. I love this post Marie!
    Last week a blue heron came to visit us several times. At one point it was on the roof of our house and when I came out to call to the kids it swooped down over my head. The wing span was incredible!

    I have to try the substitute for mascarpone cheese, very clever.

  3. What a trip down memory lane! We lived in a big house like that when I was in middle school for a while. I remember we picked up enough black walnuts to pay our rent for the winter that year! We have a man who has lovely honey here in town and a man who lives about 35 miles away who has very nice - we usually buy several jars at a time.

    I would definitely eat those toasts for breakfast!

    Much love - Raquel XO

  4. You lucky woman! We love raspberries and my kids will gobble them all day as if they were popcorn. Those toasts look delicious. Your life in Ontario sounds almost idyllic-except for those mice!

  5. you have such a beautiful way with words... I feel when I am reading your posts that I am right there.... can imagine everything in vivid colour... its lovely.
    Thanks once again


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