Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2014 (990 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Used to be, if somebody was putting together a Christmas care-package for hungry expat Manitobans, the bundle would have arrived with a box of Old Dutch chips (ketchup-flavoured, naturally), a loaf of KUB rye bread and a few bottles of Pic-a-Pop -- lime rickey or black cherry, take your pick.
"And a Jeanne's cake -- don't forget the Jeanne's cake," says writer Shel Zolkewich, founder of the Manitoba Food Bloggers, a 500-member group of gastronomes that promotes recipes, refreshments and restaurants associated with the Keystone Province.
How times have changed. Last month, when Zolkewich started thinking about a Manitoba gift basket -- something she could dole out to her foodie friends and family during the holiday season -- her biggest problem wasn't figuring out what locally produced goodies to put in it but, rather, which ones to leave out.
"My goal was to come up with between 10 and 15 different things," Zolkewich says. "But these days there are literally hundreds of unique items to choose from. So it wasn't quite as easy as I thought it was going to be."
Carla Dayholos has the same predicament. Dayholos is the owner of Mulberry Tree, a business that ships gift baskets filled with Manitoba-made foodstuffs to people across North America, and as far away as Great Britain and Australia.
"I've been doing this since 1998 and there is so much more available now than there was when I started," says Dayholos from her office in St. Adolphe. "Customers always comment that they didn't realize there are so many specialty or artisan food products that are made right here."
Take Mulberry Tree's "Best of Manitoba" basket, for example. Priced at $140, it comes with every Manitoba-produced item Mulberry Tree stocks -- 19 in total -- including Danish Mermaid hand-dipped chocolate cherries, John Boy Farms apple syrup, Gourmet Inspirations Peppercorn Whiskey Finishing Sauce and an assortment of Bothwell cheeses.
"As a gift-basket producer, it makes sense for me to purchase locally as much as I can," says Dayholos, who also markets a "Winnipeg Jet Pack" for ravenous puckheads that includes La Cocina tortilla chips, GORP energy bars and an NHL coffee mug. "The product is fresh, suppliers can usually get items to me quickly if I run out of something and I'm supporting the local economy."
Come this time of year, Dayholos gets the odd request for good, ol' North End garlic sausage and paté, which she can accommodate if delivery is in the Winnipeg area.
"Over the years some of my favourite products have ceased to exist -- things like McGarva's shortbread, Flanders Belgian cookies and Taralli Italian pretzels. But with some leaving there are always new ones coming out. Manitoba has an amazing bunch of food entrepreneurs."
The 12-item package Zolkewich settled on contains Adagio Acres organic oats, Wendell Estate honey and Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts.
"One of the things I always have in the house is energy bars," Zolkewich says. "With this (package), you can use the oats, the honey and the hemp hearts to make your own (energy bars). Add some chocolate chips and peanut butter and they're great for breakfast or snacks, or as a teacher's gift, if you put a few in a nice tin."
Zolkewich's basket -- she's dubbed it the Made-in-Manitoba Foodie Christmas Basket -- opened some eyes when she shared its contents with her fellow bloggers. Not everybody realized, she says, that a company called Naosap Harvest grows organic wild rice in lakes in northern Manitoba. Or that Green Bean Coffee Imports roasts its own beans in a plant in Clandeboye.
"Ontario obviously has a way bigger population, so they're leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of variety," Zolkewich says, when asked how a Manitoba basket would stack up against ones east and west of us. "Saskatchewan is coming along, too. They have some pretty interesting local products these days. But everybody has their own niche. We're all on equal footing, in my estimation, it's just we're all very different."
And sure, everybody loves to be surprised on Christmas morning but Zolkewich has a hint for anybody shopping for her this December.
"Everyone always says they don't know what to buy me but I say, heck, get me one of these and I'll be perfectly happy."