All of our indoor and outdoor favorites are already open now or are soon to be in business — not to even mention our fabulous year-round downtown market. I am feeling as if I am in market heaven with all of this local bounty (along with the Nations Fresh store which is available for more exotic fare). But, I’m going to suggest that you do have a look at the new Mustard Seed Co-op on York Street at Dundurn (http://mustardseed.coop/), because I finally got in there last weekend and it was an eye-opener.
The Mustard Seed has been open since January, 2014 and it is already a resounding local success story. It’s an interesting concept that is new to Hamilton. First of all, the Co-op is dedicated to sourcing local and organic products and fair trade goods. Memberships are sold ($100) and members receive discounts on most of the products in the store, as well as access to weekly specials. The store is an exercise in democracy in the sense that it is owned by its members and they get to vote on management decisions. And prices are kept as low as possible: for instance, no credit card payments are accepted — payments must be made in cash, by debit or cheque — since credit card companies charge a 2% interest fee. There are also a few intriguing perks, such as a sustainable delivery service using cargo bikes for certain parts of the city, for a $5 fee. And soon to come: The store has its own kitchen and they are planning classes in such “down home” subjects as yogurt making, canning and preserving, fermenting basics and creating soap and other natural cleaning products.
Be aware that you will probably spend quite a bit of time in the store the first few times that you visit because you will find yourself compulsively reading labels. Most of the produce is tagged with sources of origin — not just “Ontario” but Grimsby, or Beamsville, for example, and there are usually two prices — one for members, the other for the general public. And there are all sorts of products that you can’t find easily in regular grocery stores. Here are just a few of the unusual items that I stumbled upon in my initial foray:
Verjus — Verjus (or verjuice) is a sort of liquor (non-alcoholic) made from pressing unripe grapes. (“Sour grapes” made happy?) It is used most often in salad dressings, sauces and marinades as an alternative acid for wine. I have always had to go to the Niagara region to buy it. This verjus is distributed by Niagara Cuisine and comes from a vineyard in Vineland.
Kozlik’s Mustard — Made by Anton Kozlik since 1948 and sold out of the St. Lawrence Market. I used to buy this in Toronto and it is extraordinarily tasty. There are all sorts of flavours available, from maple to Bordeaux to Dijon.
Hot Sauce — I noticed two hot sauces that I’ve never tried before, both made in Hamilton. (Who knew?)
One is Cooksville Chipolte(that’s how they spell it) Sauce made locally and sold all over Canada since 1974. It was created by a University of Guelph student in Cooksville and soon production expanded, there was a move to Hamilton and gardens were cultivated to over 160 varieties of hot peppers from around the world. And there is also Dawson’s Hot Sauce, made in Hamilton by Brodie Dawson since 2013. The sauce contains no preservatives and claims to be made with the highest quality of produce.
Well, move over Tabasco, I’m trying them both!
And I also found some very fresh-looking sorrel, which I usually have to trek to Burlington to buy; a whole bin of avocados poised at that singular perfect moment just between rock-hard and “ugh-squishy”; and a very pleasant counter person told me that fiddleheads should be in this week.
So, why would you go here instead of to the larger downtown market? Well, the hours are more convenient and the parking is easier. And, I suppose, although I don’t really know if this is true, the prices are better if you have a membership. Shopping in this store is also a very heartening experience. It has a warm and welcoming ambiance and much attention has been paid to aesthetics: Mustard Seed co-founder Emma Cubitt is an architect (Invizij Architects) and has designed the space with an eye to an ecologically-conscious use of materials such as old cooler doors from a former grocery store as interior windows and salvaged wood cladding on both the exterior and interior. But really, there’s no need to choose. I’m going to make the most of living in “Market-ville” by exploring a different venue every other week all summer.
So here’s a recipe for those avocados. I hope there are some left.
Avocado Aiöli (garlic mayonnaise)
from Gourmet magazine, May 1988
2 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
1/4 tsp salt
1 firm-ripe avocado
1 large egg yolk at room temperature
1 – 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
cayenne to taste
1) Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with the salt.
2) Pit and peel the avocado.
3) Purée the avocado with the garlic paste in a food processor, and add the egg yolk and one tablespoon of the lemon juice.
4) With the motor running add the oils in a slow stream, stopping the motor occasionally to scrape down the sides.
5) Season the aiöli with the cayenne, salt, black pepper and up to one tablespoon of the remaining lemon juice.
The aiöli may be served at room temperature on cooked vegetables but it is also wonderful on grilled or poached fish, such as trout or salmon or halibut steaks or even cod. You can make the sauce up to 8 hours in advance and keep it chilled, with its surface covered with plastic wrap.