Today was a blustery, cold and rainy day–a typical November day in New Brunswick, in fact…and it’s only mid-October! Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to piling the kids into the car to go farm-adventuring, but when I considered our destination, I knew we had to be at the Gagetown Fruit Farm’s Harvest Festival.
I discovered the Gagetown Fruit Farm this past summer. I had heard through the grapevine that the food was good, so we drove the 10 minutes north of our home in Queenstown, past the many beautiful orchards of Queens County, and into the village. The Gagetown Fruit Farm is located behind the commercial district of Gagetown, and is surprisingly close to the shops and waterfront, but still maintains a feeling of being completely rural.
Upon driving through the farm gates, the cheerful red farmhouse is on the left, and then the restaurant/bakery/cafe is on the right in a former warehouse-building, surrounded by flower gardens and orchards further out. While the exterior of the restaurant is unassuming, we opened the door to a beautiful bright room, with baked goods and preserves displayed on gorgeous antique farm furniture, and tables set with crisp white linens overlaid with paper charmingly stamped with the Fruit Farm’s logo, and bright wildflowers in vases. The service was extremely friendly, and everyone was gracious about the fact that I was there with my almost-2 and almost-4 year old (and heavily pregnant with our 3rd)…and then the food arrived: dazzling.
In all honesty, I don’t have much experience with eating out on the Eastern side of New Brunswick (although I do love lobster, and I have a feeling that French New Brunswick has perhaps a more particular food culture that the English parts? More to discover!), but I have spent quite a bit of time in Western New Brunswick (Carleton County), and with the notable exception of Fresh, a gorgeous fine dining restaurant in Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick has a lot of room to grow in the restaurant department. In any case, not only does the Gagetown Fruit Farm boast some of the best food in New Brunswick by far, but some of the best food I have had*anywhere*, I think, without exaggeration.
Everything at the GFF is made from scratch, and most of the offerings are made from produce grown or raised in their extensive gardens. The menu is a la carte, and when we were there in the summertime, I ate cucumber-melon gazpacho, with tiny gorgeous mosaic cubes of vegetable, floating in a cool, fragrant, delicately flavoured broth which balanced perfectly the sweet and savoury, accompanied by a broad-bean, tomato and cucumber salad with generous shavings of a parmesano-type cheese. It was divine, and unexpected. And yes, despite my usual avoidance of sweets, we did try the hand-made ice-cream, which comes in the most intoxicating flavours: Honey & Thyme was divine, and the kids were pretty thrilled with their tangy black-currant sorbet.
Today, when we arrived at the farm, their first parking lot was full, and more folks were arriving, despite the rain. Under the tents outside, were tables already groaning with baskets of apples and plums and an array of beautiful seasonal dishes: Pasta & Beet salad, Potato au Gratin, a hardy and very “real” cole slaw with cabbage from the garden, plates with cookies, brownies, tarts, and more, and then of course, the piece-de-resistance, a whole pig, roasting on a spit. Our two oldest kids, Horus and Treva were mesmerized, and so was I, especially as the spit had been rigged up with a water wheel…We watched, spellbound, as the pig roasted, and then as it was hauled onto a stainless steel table. It took several people pushing and pulling with all their might to wrest the spit from the animal, and then, as more people arrived, we lined up to try some of the tender meat.
The atmosphere was fantastic, with kids, adults and elders intermingling, despite being a bit wet and muddy. And guests were encouraged to enjoy everything that was on offer, and to simply pop some cash–whatever we felt the meal was worth–into the donation box indoors. It’s not always by donation, of course! But the regular prices are extremely reasonable for such high quality products.
After eating our fill, the kids and I, along with many others, took a stroll down to the orchard and met, well, the other pigs, who were happily wallowing in the mud, and accepting with gratitude, the buckets of scraps that the children were excitedly throwing them. Horus and Treva had lots of questions as to the state of the pig that was eaten, in comparison to the live and happy and intelligent creatures who lived next to the orchards. I explained, and they processed the information with, I think, a sense of gravitas and understanding.
We left the Harvest Festival full and happy, having met some great people, and feeling very grateful to be living so close to such a fantastic institution.
Matthew Estabrooks and Heather Rhymes, the owners of the Gagetown Fruit Farm have done an incredible job of making community and of making a business, and I really get the sense that this model, of running a family farm with a focus on creating a great experience from many different angles, is such a wonderful idea. The restaurant has been open for 2 seasons now, and although I believe the restaurant does close for the winter season, I am already looking forward to coming back to eat this spring. In the meantime, their beautiful apples, apple cider, and pies (meat & fruit), home made breads and preserves are available every Saturday at the Fredericton Farmer’s Market.
Highly, highly recommended.
Gagetown Fruit Farm
30 Courthouse Road, Gagetown, NB