Wednesday, August 6, 2008

L-R: Margaret's book, event host Ian Graham, participants in the book signing area provided by Brian Prince Bookseller, and a partial view of the farm; two photos each by Katrina Simmons and Ian Graham, respectively.

Meet Margaret Webb, Author of
Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms

“Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms” signals the arrival of a rising star in food literature circles. Margaret Webb skilfully regales us with her tasty tales of travel, her hunger for the ultimate in Canadian foods, and most importantly here, a loving respect for those who produce it.

…Webb enjoys a certain, almost comical notoriety for documenting the life-altering experience: the act of eating a spectacularly good carrot, freshly pulled from the ground and offered by its grower; this direct experience of a farmer’s work and the remarkable taste of that carrot resonated with her… even though (and perhaps because?) the soil that it had been grown in still clung stubbornly to its length! Her book makes for surprisingly sensual reading. The chapter called “Johnny Flynn’s Oysters”, available for reading on her website practically made me blush.
This book also has heart. This may stem from the fact that of all of the thousands of dedicated food producers in the country, Margaret chose one type of food to represent each province, and conducted research. In the end she relied on word-of-mouth and reputations among peers to choose the producers that she would come to refer to as “her farmers”. She spent one intense, experience-filled week working alongside each and every one of them. Through her book we appreciate the wealth of knowledge and dedication that it takes for these individuals to produce and protect the bounty of this land. She encourages us to lend a hand. We are further rewarded by the fruits of her labour: savouring them as individual book chapters, with each concluded with recipes to help us recreate her gustatory discoveries in the comfort of our own kitchens.

An Interview with Margaret Webb:

*karen b: First of all, what made you think it would be okay to bite into a raw carrot, straight from the ground, that still had dirt on it?

Margaret Webb: Good question! But how could I not eat the carrot! David Greenberg ate one first. And he spoke pretty lovingly of the compost it grew in. I trusted the farmer.

*kb: How old were you when you first discovered your inner foodie?

MW: When I remember work on my family's farm, I remember saddling up my horse and riding beef stews and tomato sandwiches out to my dad in the field, the corn roasts we had after a day of haying, the maple fudge I made at Christmas from my great grandmother's 100-year-old cookbook – using the maple syrup my father made from the maple trees on our farm. I remember my uncle, a high school teacher in Toronto, commenting that everything we were eating for one Saturday night roast beef dinner came from our farm and I was very proud of that. That was all before I was 12. When I was in university, I would walk to Kensington Market Saturday mornings just to stare at the sides of beef in the butcher's shop and the mounds of vegetables in the market stands. But that word "foodie", I never applied that term to myself until I started writing this book about farming.

*kb: Has the experience of researching, writing and talking to people about "Apples to Oysters" changed you in any way, or revealed to you any surprising truths?

MW: Yes. I've developed an eating disorder. Who's the farmer who grew my food? I want to know that before I eat it. Also, I realize how much I miss the farmI grew up on and the food that came from that farm. I wish my dad were alive so that I could talk to him about that. I wish we could reconsider the last 50 years of Big Agriculture "advancements."

*kb: Are you planning a return visit to any of the locales that you wrote about so lovingly? Which one first? Do you feel now that you might have "missed a spot" -- could there be a sequel?

MW: Launching the book across the country allowed me to visit with many of "my farmers" and that was amazing. We traded stories, we drank some wine. Wanted to know how they were all doing. This summer, I am spending time in my own backyard of southern Ontario launching the book and meeting farmers and foodies here. There is some interest in the book as a TV series. I have a farm novel in my filing cabinet. And I have another food book idea, in a pumpkin patch somewhere! Deciding which crop to plant or animal to raise might be a farmer's hardest decision. Why should mine be easy?!

*Originally published in Mayday Magazine, June 2008. Margaret was kind enough to appear as a guest speaker at Slow Food Hamilton event that I co-hosted with the local chapter of The Canadian Organic Growers (COG). For pictures and more visit

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