North of the Border: Questions

by Pat Mestern

Books in my library regarding the simple life? Carla Emery's "Old Fashioned Recipe Book-An Encyclopedia of Country Living," "The Mother Earth News Handbook of Home Business Ideas and Plans," "The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book," Catharine Parr Traill's "Roughing It In The Bush," Helen Lyon Adamson's "Grandmother's Household Hints," Michael Gore's "2001 Household Hints and Dollar Stretchers" and the "Mother Earth News Almanac" - to name a few goodies but oldies.

Which three family-suitable festivals or events would I recommend for visitors to Ontario this summer? The following festivals cannot be surpassed for reasonably priced admission and quality entertainment for the entire family. By the way, I am not on the payroll of any mentioned festivals and travel destinations in either Canada or the U.S.A. I speak from penny-pinching field experience.
The Celtic Festival held in Goderich each August (the second full weekend) is a swirl of Celtic stage entertainments, demonstrations, children's activities, in-theme crafts and workshops. Visitors receive total Celtic immersion in a festival that never varies far from theme. Goderich offers excellent value for admission charged.

Collingwood's Comeback Elvis Festical is a marvelous weekend of everything ELVIS for the entire family. Their not-to-be-missed Saturday Parade is a must-see. Held during the last weekend of July each year, many events are FREE! Collingwood, on Georgian Bay, famous for its marine fossils, is also close to the beautiful beaches of Nottawasaga Bay - seven miles of safe sand beach - one terrific family destination. Collingwood holds one of the best Elvis festivals in North America. Canada, you say? Yep!

The granddaddy of unusual summer events is Ontario's Renaissance Festival. Dishing up medieval "faire" on a permanent site below the Niagara Escarpment near Milton, this in-theme festival (held weekends through June, July and August) is amazing. One is totally immersed in King Henry VIII and "England." Costuming is fantastic, entertainment spectacular. In-theme foods are the best. Try the turkey legs! Do not miss the jousting and music workshops. My family loves this festival. So do I, for total fun and entertainment at reasonable gate admission. A special children's weekend is held mid-July, but children are welcome (and entertained) at any time.

Where to find old-fashioned recipes? A good question indeed. Check garage, yard, church and estate sales for cookbooks that were published 1920 -1950, when processed foods were not widely used and most recipes utilized cheap, easy-to-find ingredients. Look for books that were printed by church and community groups. Excellent home cooking was served "back then" by great cooks. I can always find a suitable recipe in my collection of more than 60 old cookbooks.

Save on oven heat? Do I have a tip for you! People are surprised to find four fire bricks (I stress fire) in my oven. They sit on the floor inside, but not touching the element. Why? My oven had a very uneven heat until an Italian visitor solved my problem. "Fill the bottom with fire brick". He bought the brick and "lined" my oven.

It takes little time to heat the fire brick along with the oven - an extra minute. When the bricks are hot, they distribute an even heat throughout the baking period. When cooking a roast, the oven is turned off 45 minutes early and still maintains proper heat levels. When the dial is set at 350 degrees F, my oven thermometer shows 370 degrees F, so cooking time is less. I bake some breads and pizza right on the fire brick. The oven is easy to clean too. Take the bricks out and wire-brush them. Never soak in water! Never wash in water! Why not? If the bricks absorb water they will burst in a hot oven if not properly dried - as my friend showed by exploding a soaked brick in a bonfire. Use FIRE BRICK ONLY (the kind used in fireplaces). They are manufactured to take heat. Wall bricks cannot take the heat. After baking, prop the oven door open to let the heat radiate throughout your kitchen. It takes several hours for the stored heat to dissipate -just like a fireplace.

Cheap potpourri oil? I occasionally tuck potpourri sachets in the hot air ducts during the winter. As heat gives maximum distribution to oils, you do not use as much. Potpourri oils do not need to be expensive. You will need a dozen pretty small glass bottles with cork stoppers, bottles of citrus oils used in cooking - orange, lemon and lime, cheap potpourri oils (available at farm and flea markets), small vials of baking oils, i.e. oil of cinnamon, oil of cloves, oil of peppermint and a bottle of mineral or unscented apricot oil. I get all these ingredients at a Reading Glass Outlet once a year - with a stop at a country store for tiny vials of baking oils. Purchase OIL, not watered-down essences. OIL is the key word. Now, have fun. Smell and mix right in the bottles using a small funnel - a little of this, a little of that. Wear rubber gloves if your skin is sensitive. Some oils are strong. Cork and put in a cool dark place. Visitors that comment on the lovely scents throughout the house receive a pretty bottle of "Mestern's Own" potpourri. Each bottle is different. I never write down how much of what was added but the bottles do have labels. As I experiment I write - "Blue bottle - lime, cinnamon, heather, peach" . . .

A trick to make shampoo last longer? Put three tablespoons of cider vinegar in an 8 oz bottle of your favourite shampoo (6 T in a 16 oz - 2 cup bottle). Not only will the shampoo last longer, but your hair will be shiny and squeaky clean.

Make soap bars last longer? After purchasing hand soaps in bulk, unwrap the bars and place them in an open box in such a way that the air can circulate around them. Exposed to air, the bars harden (just like the best hard British or French soaps). When used they do not soften/mush as quickly - unless of course, they are left standing in water.

And about that snow? We have three feet on the ground, drifts eight feet high and another storm on the way. As snow is a good insulator we have heaped it around the house foundation to help insulate the basement which saves money on heat - we have piled snow high up the straw shelter that protects our mission fig tree, a rarity in Ontario. Yep, we do get figs off the tree each year. We piled snow high around kiwi and grape vines. We piled snow on our rose bushes. And for fun, I just finished baking a snow cake, substituting snow for water/milk. Beat in one cup of snow for every 1/4 cup of liquid called for in the recipe. By the way, the first thing we Canucks learn as very young children (after learning how to make snow angels) is NEVER to eat yellow snow...

Hunker down and hang in. Winter does have an end - which ultimately brings out the black flies up this way. I'm working on a great black fly pie recipe (shoe-fly pie) - a variation of the Amish "shoo fly" pie. It is a beggar getting the little booties off those darn flies . . .

Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at

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