Irene Rudigier shakes her head in amazement at how things turn around in life. At her booth in the Millbrook Market, she offers produce that she shunned as a child: things like celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke and horseradish. Growing up in Germany, these items were commonplace, and found in backyard gardens. In addition to these unusual crops, she grows lots of garlic. What began as a hobby developed into a passion and is now transitioning into a small business which she calls Bullbs ‘N More (it’s a typo that she has embraced).
Irene came to Canada 22 years ago having met and married a visiting Canadian. Her teaching credentials were not recognized here, so she switched gears, becoming a makeup artist for television where she was known as the “potion lady” for her miraculous concoctions. Commuting home at 3 am to Ajax prompted Irene to seek another career, so twelve years ago she and her husband moved to a property south of Millbrook.
A few bulbs purchased from Peter Kennedy were literally the seeds that launched Irene’s garlic production. An avid consumer of the product, she was looking for something to grow on their property. Unlike her neighbour’s sandy soil, Irene’s property has heavy clay soil, and a dip in elevation provides a microclimate that works for her unusual crops.
She began with 20 bulbs, and this year has 2200. Until this year, her crop was consumed by Irene, her friends and neighbours and people showing up at her door having heard about her garlic. After her experience at the Millbrook Farmers’ Market, she plans to double her production next year. She arrived at the April market with some mature bulbs from the previous year and sold out in two hours. Last month she brought some bulbs from an early harvest, as well as some prepared horseradish and some root cuttings for those inclined to grow their own.
Garlic varieties include General Red, Russian Red, Bogatyr and Elephant garlic, which she explains is in fact a variety of leek.
Her timing is good. She believes young people are hungry to learn more about food, and consumers are particularly keen to purchase locally grown garlic rather than Chinese imports. She is now applying her concocting skills to experimenting with new types of pesto incorporating herbs like sage and thyme. The successful ones will likely show up in her booth in the coming months.
Later in the season she will offer her own celeriac, which is a root variety of the common celery, and like its cousin can be consumed cooked or raw and has a similar taste. This vegetable is much more common in Europe, where it is prepared in a variety of ways including roasted and mashed, and slices of it appear in soups and casseroles. Even less familiar is the Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither artichoke nor originating from Jerusalem. Other names include sunroot and sunchoke, which are more relevant as the plant is in fact a species of sunflower native to eastern North America.
Working in her garden, Irene often has flashbacks to her youth, remembering her neighbour’s garlic curing on a clothesline or turning up her nose and some of the products of her mother’s garden labours. She would like to say “Thank you” to her now, and tell her she was right about those odd–looking vegetables. Her mother would be pleased to see her efforts are appreciated, not just by her daughter but by a growing number of consumers looking back in time to learn how to make their food more natural, nutritious and even more interesting. There’s a food revival taking place bringing a new appreciation for old-fashioned crop varieties. Who would have thought that horseradish roots would become trendy? KG