This autumn, visit farms, take in festivals and savour foods that affirm the bounty of the prairies.
Alberta’s corn mazes require a mix of mental and physical stamina as you search for the exit along puzzling paths. At four hectares, the Calgary Corn Maze & Fun Farm is southern Alberta’s largest, and can take up to an hour to complete—though there’s also a smaller maze that’s great for families with little ones. “Flashlight nights” offer an extra test: navigating the labyrinth after the sun goes down. Once you’ve completed the course, there are other kid-friendly activities, like mini golf, a huge hill slide and pig races. Lacombe’s Kraay Family Farm and Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm in Bon Accord boast similar experiences, while visitors to Eagle Creek Farm in Bowden can navigate a one-of-a-kind sunflower maze.
• Most mazes remain open through Thanksgiving
• It’s best to visit before the first frost—stalks are at their highest and still green
• You can also buy pumpkins at most corn maze locations (except Edmonton)
• When maze season ends, the corn is harvested for animal feed
Now’s the time for famously sweet Taber corn! To make sure your cobs truly come from the district’s nutrient-rich soil, ask to see a roadside vendor’s certificate of authenticity from the Alberta Corn Growers’ Association.
3 FALL FESTS
Wainwright Scarecrow Festival:The entire community gets crafty at this event, which is highlighted by homemade scarecrow and “wacky veggie creature” contests. Sept. 22
Taber Pheasant Festival: Try a gourmet pheasant tasting by top Alberta chefs, sip at a free Scotch sampling and mingle at a gala dinner with silent auction. Oct. 20–27
Lloydminster Harvest Feastival: The post-Thanksgiving affair has fall-fresh food tastings, plus a market with local seasonal ingredients to take home. Oct. 23
What’s your idea of fall fun?
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A POTENT PRESERVE
Prairie food, often of Eastern European provenance, tends to be packed with onions and garlic. The fragrant, flavourful vegetables are nowadays available year-round, but early settlers had to preserve their late-summer crops for use during long winters. They did this by braiding onions together by their stalks, to hang in a pantry or root cellar. Learn more about onion braiding and other tricks of the pioneer trade at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village’s Harvest of the Past (Sept. 9). AMA members save 10% on regular admission.
How to Braid Onions
1 With a good length of string, tie together three onions at the base of their stalks.
2 Add another onion to the centre of the bunch, then braid the stalks (and string) in the same way you would braid hair.
3 Place two more (slightly smaller) onions on either side of the middle one, with their stalks crossed.
4 Keep braiding the stalks and adding onions in a one-then-two pattern. When finished, tie off the top of the bundle.
5 Hang your finished braid in a cool, dry place and enjoy garden-harvested onions all season long.
Visit these local producers to get great seasonal ingredients.
Apples: Attracted 2 Apples, Fort Saskatchewan
Pick many unique varieties in the 800-tree orchard.
MORE TO READ
Four roadside restaurants that are worth discovering
Strawberries: Broxburn Vegetables, Lethbridge
Yes, this farm’s u-pick fields yield sweet berries until the first frost.
Potatoes: Eagle Creek Farm, Bowden
Dig up 10 or more types of potato from the garden. No boring super-market tubers here!
Pork: Irvings Farm Fresh, Round Hill
Meat from free-range Berkshire pigs is the highlight at this farm’s new retail store.
Leona Staples, co-owner of the Jungle Farm in Red Deer, tells us how to choose a great pumpkin—and keep it fresh for Halloween.
• Pick as late as possible. At the farm, we wait for the first frost to kill the big leaves.
• A good pumpkin should be firm; soft spots will start to go bad.
• Don’t worry if the pumpkin’s partially green. It’ll eventually turn orange if you place it in a sunny, warm spot.
• Store your pumpkin in a dry place and it should keep for months.
• Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins differ from pie pumpkins, which have drier, thicker, sweeter flesh.
Pick your own pumpkins at the Jungle Farm until the first frost. After that, they’re available at the farm store until October 28.