I almost missed my flight but I wasn’t leaving without my onion confit. Traveling for food is one of the greatest joys in life no matter if you eat for a living or for pleasure. It was Fredericton, New Brunswick and I was at the Delta Hotel on the other side of Government House. I say on the other side because Government House was in between the Delta and downtown Fredericton.
Fredericton is a pretty town with a city feel. The University of Fredericton has an influence by way of the number of pubs that dot the downtown area on main streets and in quaint alley ways lit with newly planted trees strung with tiny white lights. The St John River and nature trails divides the town in half and adds the beauty other towns can only wish they had.
My short stay starts off with a welcome reception hosted by Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside and Lieutenant Governor Graydon Nicholas. The three-story sprawling manor is one of Fredericton’s grandest and oldest and is for sure the estate that generates more pride than any other of the grand buildings in the town. Woodstock Road is lined with grand Victorian manors. The houses are spaced well apart giving the small town feel of a welcoming community. A community that not only has space, but time for a curious and hungry traveller.
Six in the morning on Saturday the Fredericton Farmers’ Market comes alive with the clatter of metal poles erecting 10-foot sideless tents for market vendors. Food alley is outside and filled with artisans serving up food specialties, local delicacies or traditional family dishes. One vendor stands in front of a mound of cold cooked lobster getting ready to make a steaming kettle of lobster chowder. There are smoking barbecues grilling sausages and kettle drums turning with the firecracker sounds of exploding popcorn, there are croissants being pulled from a hot oven, and falafels being warmed in a dinging microwave. Food alley has about 20 vendors in total and everyone comes for breakfast.
Dan of the Belgian House food truck builds waffle dippers. “I saw the idea on Dragons Den and I loved it”, he says as hi dips strips of Belgian waffles into chocolate then in different sweet coatings that ranged from nuts to candy. His signature dish though is a full waffle with home made raspberry preserves topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, fresh raspberries and more shaved chocolate.
I’m interested in the giant piles of imported Montreal bagels. The vendor is too busy to notice me, he banters back and forth with a woman walking by, calling to her to save for him, what she has. “I only have two you know, the rest are all gone,” calls out Tina and that was enough for Tim to ignore me until he had secured them both. “Promise you’ll keep them aside for me and I’ll pick them up after market today.” Peter turns to me with a joyfully animated face to say, “she makes the best darn butter pickles in the world!” Obviously Tina needs no market stall to sell her wares. It’s obvious the Fredericton Farmers’ Market is a social highlight of the week as well as a place to buy good food.
Inside it has all the sights and sounds of any farmers’ markets except today was the first day fiddleheads made their appearance on market stalls. Already packaged in bags, ready to be weighted and bought, they were piled high next to the freshly hacked, thick stalks of rhubarb and greenhouse picked salad greens and beet greens. All of this bright new food of a new season sat in amongst the last of the winter foods; a few bags of apples, jars of dried beans and bottles of maple syrup.
While in Fredericton I was given a delightful gift of onion confit. The small wire-hinged preserve jar held dark, chocolatety coloured onion confit that I could only believe would be sweetly caramelized and incredibly yummy. “It needs to be refrigerated,” said Pascal Banville, Director of Public Relations for the Chateau Bonne Entente in Quebec. “It was made by our chef for you.”
I ran my precious gift up to my hotel room to stash it in the refrigerator and found my roomie, fellow food writer Liz Campbell standing there with her own jar of onion confit. We swung open the cabinet and gasped at the cavernous hole where the refrigerator should be. Liz picked up the phone and requested some hotel refrigerator space, and after a few excited confirmations she hung up and explained, “they’re bringing a fridge right up!” On check out day I remembered my onion confit and arranged for it to be securely tucked away in the hotel refrigerator until my departure later that day. Of course, I knew I’d forget it – but that doesn’t mean I’d leave without it. In the end, we all arrived at the airport running; me with my jar of onion confit.