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The Coady & Tompkins Memorial Library sneaks up on you as your eyes are pulled in all directions by the stunning vistas of the Margarees: rolling mountains, pastoral valleys, rushing rivers, and winding roads. There is a reason why those who can make a go of it here on Cape Breton Island are fiercely proud to call this place home. As families new and old to this landscape can attest, it takes more than a nice view to make a place home. With such a rural population, access to community resources is an ongoing challenge; a challenge that the library in Margaree Forks has met with open arms.
When you walk in the door, it is immediately apparent that this is more than a place to source books. Besides the comfy couch, the inviting play area, and the curiosity piquing displays of books, there is an over arching theme. Food.
Kim Tilsley is the Library Assistant in Charge. She is also a farmer, and her passion for food permeates her work at the library. The wall behind the front desk is adorned with a stunning, tear-jerking story quilt made by Kim’s mother, Bea Tilsley-Cummingham. It is titled Imagine the Possibilities – Kimberly’s Dream. The quilt’s blocks depict a vision of a library oasis, complete with a rainbow of vegetables, garden creatures, a cob oven, and of course, books.
Near the entrance, there is a large display board, depicting the progress of their Margaree Cooks! Project. The plan is to build a community run cob oven on the library land (owned and managed by the Margaree Area Development Association). Kim and Library Assistant, Susie Paddon, have been attending workshops on a rebuild project of the Park Avenue Community Oven in Dartmouth. “There is nothing like hands-on learning to really understand something. And we certainly got our hands dirty during the oven workshops!” said Kim. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer. Donations to support the oven project are being gratefully accepted at the library.
As you make your way back through the library, there is a newly hatched batch of chicks in a brooder box, along with information displays on chick development, and chick care. The children that visit the library cannot tear themselves away! At the back of the library there is an area set up with grow lights, where a table full of seedlings have been started for the library garden outside.
The library’s community garden is called Paul’s Garden, in honour of local gardener Paul Chiasson. His memorial fund allowed for the start-up of the garden. This was the pilot garden for the Living Library Project, an initiative of the Eastern County Regional Library. There are now six ECRL branch libraries with gardens on site, including Petit de Grat, Mulgrave, Canso, Guysborough, Sherbrooke, and of course, Margaree Forks. Others without the land base are doing some container gardening. Activities in the garden were linked to their children’s summer learning programming through their “How Does Your Garden Grow?” curriculum.
Last year, the gardening season wrapped up with a harvest potluck. Offerings cooked up from the library garden included a cornbread made from Painted Mountain Milling Corn (seed purchased through Hope Seed). They dried and milled it themselves, before baking up the recipe below.
Besides vegetables, Kim is working on gradually incorporating fruit bushes into the garden plots, as well as the landscaped beds at the entrance. As we say our good-byes, Kim points out some little cherry bushes tucked in amidst the tulips. They are just starting to bud. This is indeed a living library, and it is a true gift to the Margaree community.
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
3 T. oil
¼ c. honey
1 c. buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 425⁰F.
- In a large bowl combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In a large measuring cup combine oil, honey, buttermilk and egg.
- Add wet ingredients to dry, stir until just combined. Pour batter into a greased 8” square pan.
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Jody Nelson is the Community Food Coordinator for Cape Breton with the Our Food Project of the Ecology Action Centre.
Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre
Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ ourfood
Or follow us on Twitter: @OurFoodProject
Facebook: The Ecology Action Centre
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It certainly felt that way during our Summer Picnic cooking class, where we prepared and and then feasted upon Inside-Out Dragon Burgers with Herbed Mayo, Honey Balsamic Strawberry Salad, Roasted Kale Chips and Smashed Potatoes. Our instructor, Elisabeth Bailey rounded out the meal with some homemade rhubarb-ade and some honey-mint ice cream that was simply incredible. I could definitely imagine recreating this menu at home and enjoying it on a sunny deck with some locally brewed beer or a rhubarb mojito!
This wasn’t just your average burger menu – we also learned a lot of new techniques. Salting ground beef well before cooking will allow the meat to bind together, and stuffing lean and flavourful grass fed beef with Dragon’s Breath Blue cheese is a great way to keep them moist. We also reduced an enormous pile of kale to a manageable serving bowl by roasting it with a bit of salt and lemon juice for about 20 minutes. A great way to eat your greens!
Jean Snow from Lake City Farm, joined us for dinner and discussed her challenges with getting municipal governments to address zoning regulations for growing food to sell within city limits. It’s always great to combine stimulating conversation with great food! (For more info about this issue, check out this CBC story and to contact city planner Darrell Joudrey email him at email@example.com).
2 pounds local, grass-fed ground beef
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
4 ½ tablespoons Dragon’s Breath Blue cheese from That Dutchman’s Farm, Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, or other soft cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Combine ground beef, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Gently blend the mixture, then refrigerate for at least 1 and up to 6 hours. (Giving the salt a little time to work on the meat will help the finished burger stick together.)
Preheat a frying pan on the stove over medium heat. Remove beef mixture from the refrigerator, add egg, and mix to combine. Gently form beef mixture into10 thin patties. Place 1 generous tablespoon of cheese in the middle of 5 patties, then cover them with 5 remaining patties. Gently mould the edges to seal them together.
Melt butter in heated frying pan then add burgers, cooking in batches if they do not all fit at once. (Do not press down on the burgers with a spatula as this will dry them out.) Cook until burgers reach an internal temperature of 160˚F.
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil, oregano, dill, or thyme leaves, or a mixture
4 springs fresh parsley
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Purée the herbs, parsley, mayonnaise, and lemon juice in a blender. (Alternatively you can hand-mince the herbs and stir with mayonnaise and lemon juice to combine.) Season with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Yield: roughly 2 cups
1 bunch kale, washed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat an oven to 325˚F.
Rip tender parts of the leaves off the thick stems and into bite sized piece. Toss in a large bowl with olive oil and salt (you may also add any other seasoning you like, such as lemon juice, parmesan, or Cajun spice—personally, I like mine with a bit of lemon and a squirt of hot sauce!)
Spread kale evenly over a baking sheet. Bake until pieces are crisp and edges brown but are not burnt, 15-20 minutes.
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons local honey
3 pints strawberries (or any other in-season berry)
Combine balsamic vinegar and honey in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Add strawberries and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
1 cup salt
3 pounds new potatoes, gently scrubbed clean
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (or other fresh herb of your choice)
Butter and pepper to taste
Heat a stock pot with 2 quarts of water over medium-high heat. Add salt and stir to dissolve.
Once water begins to boil, add potatoes, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 20–25 minutes or until potatoes split easily when stuck with a fork. Drain immediately, but do not rinse.
Toss the potatoes with rosemary, butter, pepper, and love.
Use this potent liquid as an alternative to lemon juice in many recipes, or to make a delightful rhubarbade with the addition of sugar or honey and either flat or sparkling water.
4 cups chopped rhubarb
Cook rhubarb over medium low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until fibres have completely broken down into the liquid. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, then strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth. Squeeze cheesecloth firmly to extract all liquid. Transfer rhubarb to ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, seal in a freezer bag until ready for use.