Welcome to Maple Ridge Farm
It’s our Family Farm and we are Howard and Jacqueline Johnson.
Neither of us come from a farming background unless you count that Luther Burbank, who developed the Blight resistant russet potato, is located somewhere in Howard’s family tree- but since Luther didn’t have any kids, and Howard’s forebearers managed to get disinherited by the Burbanks who did, we believe that the farming gene started with us. [Continue Reading ]
Back to the Market,
By Jacqueline Johnson
We’ve been vendors at the Guelph Farmer’s Market for almost 45 years. Market gives rhythm to our lives. The beat starts in January when we wonder when that seed catalogue from Stokes will arrive. It’s a slow intermittent beat. Winter deepens, As February freezes our doors shut and we chip away the ice, one of us now wonders where we put the catalogue while the other can’t remember if it ever came. [ Continue Reading ]
by Jacqueline Johnson
The peppers are turning red. It’s at this time of year that I think of Norma. She ran Norma’s Kitchen, which used to be in the back of the market near Laza’s and where there is now a vegan donut stall .
Norma, however, wasn’t always located in that part of the market, and we weren’t always outside. I first met Norma when she was selling baklavas. She had lucked out for the month of July, and was located in the prime location by the main door for June and July while Gord Laidlaw was away.
Norma sold all sorts of Mediterranean food, most of which were far too healthy for the likes of my sweet tooth which lusted over her baklavas. Norma’s baklavas were tiny. This is important. Norma’s baklavas were two bite lightly browned, crispy pastries that gave you a hit of caramelized walnuts dripping with honey. At first glance, they looked like miniature sausage rolls. Remember that a sausage roll is already miniature so they were miniscule. Norma charged $1.75 apiece for these which were usually beyond my price range.
Being across the aisle, kitty corner from Norma, I had a lot of time each Saturday morning to lust after her baklava.
Norma also spent a fair bit of time each morning eying our stall, especially our beans, and concluding that my price of $3.50 a quart was way beyond what she was prepared to pay.
Being vendors, we tried the time- honored solution of trading. I was up for that. The way I looked at it, two quarts of beans equaled four baklavas. Norma wasn’t. Our organic beans were priced considerably higher than non -organic beans. According to Norma’s math, she was willing to deal one teeny baklava for one quart of beans.
Norma came from Lebanon where she had honed her bargaining skills in their free for all style markets. No matter that her English was spotty. Norma managed to get across the point that our organic beans were vastly inferior not only to her baklava, but to any other beans on the market, including those that were over a week old and had been set out at several markets before hitting ours.
Norma was a short chubby woman with a round smiling face and dark brown hair. She always wore a white apron. She looked like a dumpling, but her voice carried like a trumpet.
I don’t barter. I usually tell anyone who tries that most vendors don’t either. I also tell them that if they try to make points with me by arguing that our beans, which are consistently among the best on the market, are bad, hell will freeze over before I talk to them again about anything.
I knew that Norma wanted our beans as much as I wanted those baklava. However Norma and I were both stubborn, so we resorted to stink eyes and when we were sure neither of us was looking, we’d cast longing eyes at each other’s stall.
It was winter, and since we don’t sell in winter, I’d come to market for my weekly shopping. War had broken out in Lebanon. I stopped at Norma’s stall and asked her how she was doing and how her family was.
Her sister and brother were still there. They’d so far avoided the bombings. “Thank God”, Norma said. She looked at me, her eyes wide and wet. I touched her hand. “It must be so hard.”
I don’t know that I said anything else, but each week, I’d stop and we’d chat a bit about her family in Lebanon and how she missed them. She told me that she’d been a chef in Lebanon.
Then one day, she pointed at me and herself. “We sisters,” she said
When we came back that summer, Norma and I had a new deal. Since I didn’t like bartering and Norma was never going to like my pricing, I would give Norma a big bag of whatever produce we had left over which almost always included Swiss Chard and occasionally, beans. She was not allowed to pay a cent for it, but she had no choice in what she got ( since Norma had rabbits, this was not a problem ). Each week, Norma and I would play hide and seek. At the end of market, I’d pack the bag and drop it at her stall when she couldn’t see me. Norma would scurry back, often secreting her surprise package in the piles of baskets waiting to be loaded onto the truck.
Our packages were not unconditional love. Indeed, they were comments on what we had to offer. Neither of us really loved Swiss Chard. So if Norma had received no beans, but a large quantity of Swiss Chard, my package would contain Norma’s Swiss Chard dolmas. Norma would give me a big smile.”We sisters” she’d say.
Over the years, we got to sample a lot of Lebanese food. My husband fell so in love with her salsa, that I had to make sure that we’d set aside some beans to make sure Norma would be salsa inclined. To my surprise, though, my favourite was not Norma’s baklava but her stuffed red peppers. Occasionally, when Norma was feeling particularly sisterly, if I happened to stroll past her stall in the morning, she’d tell me I had to eat to be healthy, hold up her hand to tell me to wait, and with her tongs take out a huge red pepper with rice peeking out like white curls from a floppy red hat and put it on a white tray and wrap it in saran wrap, “ You eat.”
A few years ago, I noticed that Norma was looking tired and moving more slowly. “Are you okay? “ I asked. She told me she was fine, that she arrived at market at 3:30 in the morning to cook for the customers. I nodded, but knew she’d always done that.
A few weeks later, her daughter in law was at the stall. Norma had had a heart attack and was awaiting surgery at St. Mary’s. She didn’t survive the surgery.
I look at our red peppers today, and all I see is Norma.
Red peppers remind me of Norma.