Must try foods at the Home and Garden Show

Jams, meats, cakes and drinks galore!

For this newsletter I thought I would do something a little different: find out what I could expect from food vendors at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show.

I have to admit that what I found surprised me in all the best ways. We begin with dessert.

Memaw’s Cakes began life in 2022 and since then Paige Morgan has grown her artisanal bakery into a beloved local business.

Her broad range of cheesecakes spans all the favourite flavours to some new combinations such as honey pistachio, dark chocolate mint and wild blueberry. 

If you’ve relegated yourself to having cheesecakes at restaurants, you might have seldom had a boutique experience as many restaurants bring in this dessert from a commercial bakery.

Paige creates her cakes with freshness and full flavour taking centre stage. The textures are luscious and airy with an appealing sour tang rounding out the sweet and salty notes.

Her friend and colleague Nadine helps with product development and decorating and the products make for eye-catching appeal.

Just looking at the ocean of lemon curd on the lemon drop cheesecake had me hopping in anticipation of the lemon blast I was expecting. Lemon is a favourite flavour and Paige’s little master work didn’t disappoint. 

My mother used to make a German-style cheesecake (reminiscent of Basque cheesecake) to which she would add plenty of lemon zest in addition to the juice. Despite the differences, Paige’s cheesecake reminded me of my mother’s and it was a beautiful trip down memory lane.

All the examples were first rate but her maple white chocolate blondie bars stood out to me as a perfect coffee accompaniment. In fact it would be foolish if independent coffee houses weren’t lining up to carry this treat. Apart from one version in Vancouver, this blondie bar is better than any I’ve had, the disc of maple sugar on top melting on the tongue like cotton candy.

It’s clear that much thought and care has been put into her products but it doesn’t stop there. All her cake packaging is biodegradable and as Nadine told me, starts to break down when exposed to sun.

As someone who’s always been ambivalent about cheesecake, Memaw’s has made me a convert. For those who can’t wait, you can also enjoy Memaw’s at Yes Mama Kitchen on Clyde Avenue.

Cocktail Bombs

Show booth. Cocktail Bomb Shop/Handout

Cocktail Bomb Shop is the creation of Montreal’s Kiana Gomes. She first appeared on CBC’s Dragons Den two years ago and this month is celebrating her third year in business.

The idea is simple enough and was inspired by her time working at a shop that sold bath bombs. The pandemic hit and with time on her hands, began work on recipes for her idea of cocktail bombs.

Cocktail bombs. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

She has dozens of flavours and variety pack options in her line-up and has recently added cocktail glass rimmers to further dress up your drinks.

You simply need to add one bomb to a five ounce glass of sparkling water and wait five minutes for it to dissolve. 

I used a blue raspberry and watched as the swirls of edible glitter turned in the increasingly blue hue. It was a pretty sight but I grew impatient as the raspberry scent filled the air. Finally tasting it, I admit it was very nice and not as sweet as I was expecting. 

At the show booth Sandra, Kiana’s mother, told me that all the bombs were naturally made and used an edible glitter made from mica.

At five dollars a unit, it’s a bit of an indulgence but I imagine this would be quite the hit for children’s birthday parties. For yourself, feel free to experiment with your preferred spirit.

3 Angry Cats

Owner Gary Ridge. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

3 Angry Cats founder Gary Ridge started his business in his late 60s and now, in his 70s, he’s working the show circuit.

We’ve all been to farmers’ markets and trade shows where there is no end of choice when it comes to cottage industries like jams and hot sauces and pickled vegetables. Often these are retirement projects and sometimes folks just want to reinvent the wheel and themselves.

Sauces. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Once I’d tried Gary’s products however, I was certain that I was dealing with an entirely different food producer. 

He was low on pickles from last year's harvest but he was kind enough to give me a remaining jar for sampling. The pickles were of the cocktail variety but my palate lit up like the sky on New Year’s Eve. The chili, dill and garlic were carried by just the precise right proportions of salt and vinegar and that chorus made the experience absolutely explosive. 

The BBQ sauces were equally delicious and once more I felt that all the recipes were amongst the best I’ve ever tried. 

In fact they were so good that I used three of them as dips for a Korean fried chicken recipe and I look forward to using the Jerk BBQ sauce as a marinade one day soon.

Jams. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

The jams were beautifully crafted and showcased quality fruit artfully blended with a variety of spirits. The booze had been cooked off leaving only a pleasant accent of enhanced flavour.

The hot sauces range from Forest Fire to Hell Cat on the heat scale and all are primarily about flavour with even the ghost pepper laced Hell Cat still tolerable to this palate. That was a surprise.

Gary told me that he “doesn’t really have a food background” yet here was this genteel man starting a food business years into retirement and demonstrating a serious palate in creating his recipes. 

Another blessing for health conscious consumers is that his products are entirely clean label. Everything in his collection is natural.

I personally also happen to appreciate his packaging. It’s whimsical, direct and eye-catching. It’s also a name inspired by his three daughters although Gary has four cats of his own.

He has an attractive website with a contact form but offers no online sales at the moment. Retail stores should take note and consider carrying these products. Locally, 3 Angry Cats is available at Grace in the Kitchen and at the St. Albert Cheese Co-op.

For readers keen to have 3 Angry Cats at home, Gary will be returning to the EY Centre at the Cottage Life and Backyard Show April 12-14. Bring a shopping bag.


Co-owner Damiano Speziale. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

For those of us who were blessed to grow up in a community of Italian families, you know what great traditional Italian charcuterie tastes like. In rare cases you can find the occasional Italian import product that will do the trick but for the most part we need to be satisfied with the usual Canadian made, mass market deli offerings.

Enter Speziale Fine Foods, a food company that long escaped my notice even during my Toronto years.

In 1959 Joe De Maria left Italy for Ontario bringing with him a treasure trove of family recipes and by 1972 had such success that he and his wife Josie opened a shop in Bradford.

Eventually daughter Christina De Maria took over the business with her husband Damiano and to this day they elect to market all their products directly to consumers. Just as Papa Joe always preached.

Speziale salami. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

You can’t argue with that as a recipe for success because here they are more than 50 years on and the customer loyalty has been passed down through generations. The reason is simple: the products are delicious and the recipes recall the best of home for these folks.

Casalingo salami was once more common than it is now but the Speziale version, flecked with pieces of their prosciutto, gives fans something to cheer about. It really is one of the great Italian salamis.

Speziale has a full range of recipes from cold smoked and cured pork belly, to sopressata and prosciuttino, to dry smoked German and Hungarian style salamis and much more.

I had the smoked and garlic versions of the German salami and I was touched by the authenticity, getting a little sentimental for a trip back home.

Their capicollo is a dry version taking a minimum of six months to completely age. It’s simply magnificent and a perfect choice for an appetizer platter or simply as a nibble with a gin and tonic. 

Speziale continues to do things in an old school way and at the moment they don’t have a website for placing orders. You can however write to them and they will send you a brochure electronically. 

For me Speziale represents one of the finest food finds in years. They place their relationships with their customers above everything except the quality of their products and this is also reflected in their pricing. It’s remarkably fair.

Given what supermarket deli counters charge, you are infinitely better off ordering these products that are more finely crafted.

With my recent acquisitions I should be fine for a few months, but I will be ordering from them before they return to the EY Centre in December for the Signatures Christmas Show.