A flavourful history of Niagara’s bounty

Author Tiffany Mayer signs a copy of her book, Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty

Author Tiffany Mayer signs a copy of her book, Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty

Tiffany Mayer said there were plenty of stories to tell about Niagara’s food and farming legacy for her book, Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty, launched last week at Niagara Falls Public Library
“Each person in this book could be a book of their own,” Mayer said as a number of people she had written about were in attendance.
The first-time author said it came about after she was approached by publisher History Press last year.
“One of the commissioning editors had been reading Eating Niagara (Mayer’s website on local eating and agriculture) for some time, unbeknownst to me, and then in early summer 2013, contacted me about the idea. After formalizing a pitch and coming up with an outline, I set to work in August on it.”
Mayer, a former reporter, said there were many stories she wanted to tell about Niagara’s food and farming legacy, and said the common thread throughout the book that she hopes people will get is the abundance of good food, entrepreneurial people, and talented people in Niagara.
“We are very lucky here in Niagara and we all need to beat that drum hard and loud. I really just want people to appreciate what we have here.”
The 160-page book covers farming, its challenges and changes in recent history, the evolution of the wine industry, how wine country cuisine came to be, why Niagara is a culinary destination, and the people fighting for food security.
“I have profiles of local food artisans and local restaurants that could be counted as favourites or legends in Niagara. Really, it’s all aspects of food in Niagara.”
Mayer started writing about agriculture as a journalism student at the University of Regina where she took a course in agriculture journalism.
She did some freelancing after graduating before landing at the Simcoe Reformer, deep in the heart of Ontario’s tobacco belt, where she also covered agriculture.
When she moved to Niagara, she continued on the agricultural beat at the St. Catharines Standard, and started the Eating Niagara website – www.eatingniagara.com/.
“I started the site while I was still at the paper but was more motivated than ever after I left to continue on with it. I felt my identity very much wrapped up in my career as a reporter so I couldn’t let go easily.”
She said the blog helped her get her fix and stay somewhat in the local agriculture loop. It also became a creative outlet.
“I just loved the story of local food and farming too much to give it up.”
As she started interviews for various chapters in the book, Mayer said the most eye-opening chapter for her was on the wine industry.
“When I was at the Standard, there was a divide between the beats of agriculture and wine. Wine was assigned to (reporter) Monique Beech and while I read every story she wrote about happenings in the industry, I didn’t know its history here or fully understand its challenges. I know more now and it’s really fascinating, from the tumultuous transition from labrusca grapes to true wine grapes, to the difficulties that many wineries have just getting their vintages into consumers’ hands. It’s quite the story.”
Working on the book allowed Mayer to interview people she never had the chance to before.
“A lot of the food artisans and chefs I interviewed for this book fall into that category. I wanted to get to know the folks who are turning our harvests into something wonderful. I’m a bit of a food nerd so it was very cool to learn about what inspired them to do what they do, their visions and some of the tricks of their trade.”
Mayer said the agricultural industry is huge in Niagara, especially with manufacturing having taken a beating in the last six years.
“Agriculture is our bread and butter here. We’re also trying to be known as a culinary destination so the dining and restaurants are important, too. Then there are the wineries which draw thousands upon thousands of tourists — people who want to spend money in our region. Food and farming is so much a part of Niagara’s fabric, it really can’t and shouldn’t be downplayed.”
Mayer said more support for local farmers, farmers’ markets and buying locally is important.
“When your neighbour succeeds, we all succeed. And there are farmers struggling right now. It’s tough to compete with cheap imports and I don’t think most consumers really understand what goes into growing a basket of peaches in order to justify the $5 price tag. They don’t see the hours of labour that go into pruning each spring, into harvesting in the summer, sorting and packing that fruit and getting it on store shelves. They just see a number and make a quick judgment about whether it’s worth it to them.”
“To me, it’s worth it. People deserve to make a living and I am grateful for good food to eat.  That said, a diet of local food isn’t in the budget of some people and that’s okay. Ultimately, it’s about doing the best you can.”
As she conducted interviews and spoke to a wide variety of people, Mayer, known for being verbose, had to keep in mind that she had a word 40,000-word limit.
“Still, each one of the chapters in Niagara Food could have been its own book. It was hard in some cases to whittle down a two-hour interview into just a few hundred words but I had to stay as close to the word limit as possible. In the end, I went a little over. I wish I could have gone over even  more.”
Making things interesting was the fact she was also pregnant, though she didn’t know it, when she signed the book contract.
“It was a definite race against the belly.”
After her daughter Olivia was born, it meant starting to write at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
“When I heard the birds start to chirp outside my window, that was my cue that it was time for me to call it quits for the night. Some nights, I don’t know how I pulled the words out of me and the next day when I went back to self-edit, there were some, ;Whoa, what the heck was I trying to say there?’ moments. But in the end, I am happy with the result, just nervous about how it will be received. I hope people like it and that it makes them proud to live here.
The book can be found in most book stores and a few independent retailers, such as Nokara Farms. It’s also available online at Amazon, Chapters and directly from the History Press, the publisher.

Editors note: In the interest of full disclosure, I took a number of photographs that are in Mayer’s book.



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