Sumptuous Saturdays at the Evergreen Brick Works

I’m ready for spring. A quick piece on one of my favorite harbingers of better weather:

As my San Francisco-based sister and I wind our way down the Moore Park Ravine, we laugh and catch up on months’ worth of career development and family dynamics, fair Irish skin shaded by the canopy of ash, birch, maple, oak, and poplar. My husband trails behind us documenting our travels with his digital camera. Sudden blinding sun and a steady stream of strollers and hypoallergenic dogs signal arrival at our destination.  It is Saturday morning at Evergreen Brick Works and the aroma of buttery crêpes, maple-sugared sweet potato doughnuts, and sea salted-French fries from the Farmers’ Market wafts up and calls us in to sample local treats.

We descend down the snaking asphalt path from the ravine to the Brick Works, noticing young families, couples, and the occasional solitary walker wandering the paths of the quarry gardens and turtle ponds to our left. One hundred twenty-five years ago the Don Valley Brick Works, as it was formerly known, opened its doors and quarried clay to fire into the bricks found in many Canadian landmarks from Toronto’s Massey Hall and Casa Loma to the Eatons Building in Winnipeg. The clay eventually ran out and the owners shuttered the business. Now nature trails crisscross the bowl left from a hundred years’ of quarrying and the ponds find themselves home to carp and painted turtles migrating from the nearby Don River. The three of us have walked the five kilometers from home to the market so we continue on past the trails, on a mission to taste as much of what we smell.

Rounding the corner, the din of vendors and customers greets us from the Pavilions while the ceiling over the open-air market provides us with a little relief from the late morning sun. We weave our way past handmade wooden cutting boards and upcycled wine boxes and pass into the food court. With mouths watering we search for a short line to join until we hear, “A two dollar donation goes right to Evergreen. Try our smoked pork belly.” Russ’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree as I hand him two loonies and he takes a sample. I hand over a toonie to the hipster in charge of the smoker and stare at my purchase. A plump slice of pork belly topped with a dollop of Dijon mustard and a radish sprout sits on a thin cracker studded with dried cranberries. Do I attempt to eat this delicately in multiple bites or go for the gusto, I wonder. Russ is already bowing in deep appreciation to the smoker as I go for the gusto and pop the whole sample in my mouth. The rich, smoky flavour of the pork belly knocks out my taste buds. The market goes silent for a split second. Then the noise rushes back into my ears and I float on to explore the rest of the market’s wonders.

Merchants at the Evergreen Farmers’ Market represent Southern Ontario from Muskoka to Norfolk County.  Farmers, vintners, bakers and soap makers sell seasonal produce, fish, cured and fresh meats, flowers, herbs, soaps, and wines. The juicy red Niagara strawberries scream my name but I know I will not be able to get them home unbruised. Another time, I promise them. Russ and I settle on a two pound bag of mixed root vegetables to complement a weekday dinner. Kristen snacks on a whole wheat flour chocolate cookie. I succumb to the maple-sugared sweet potato doughnuts.

After filling up our bellies and bags with treats, we wander through the rest of the Brick Works: past Chimney Court where kids have their own whimsical play area, through the Visitor Centre with flood-proofed polished concrete floors and walls, around the former kilns which now regularly host art installations, and past the Burrow which educates on the ecology of the Brick Works. While we have only skimmed the Brick Works’ surface in one Saturday morning, we head for the trails with a good feeling that Evergreen is meeting its mission to inspire Torontonians and tourists alike to eat, live, work, and play mindfully.

Just the Facts:

Hours: Evergreen Brick Works is open all year long, Monday to Sunday. Check evergreen.ca for seasonal hours. The Farmers’ Market runs Saturdays, from the first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in November and is open from 8am until 1pm; the Food Court is open 8am until 2pm.

Getting there: There is limited paid parking. It fills up quickly on a Saturday morning, so consider public transportation or getting there under your own power. TTC bus 28A runs to the Brick Works from Davisville Station. There is also a free shuttle bus from the parkette at Erindale Avenue and Broadview Avenue, north of Broadview Station. The Beltline trail system runs right by Evergreen’s western boundary and is bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

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