Supporting Local Supporting You

Shop1km and Clearwater Farms

These are strange times indeed. 

Until we are advised otherwise, the Mercantile will be open to serve you. Certainly now we will all be eating at home more than usual and you'll be looking for the variety and quality of products you always find in the shop.

We are taking some extra steps to protect ourselves and our customers according to public health experts and we would ask our customers to observe those same recommendations, which you can find on the Toronto Public Health website here. Please be good to yourself and your neighbours. Practice social distancing and don't crowd the store. And please handle only the items you wish to purchase.

So, having said that, it's appropriate that today's post is about two programs that support local business AND local growers - more relevant today than ever - and we're proud to participate in both.

First, Shop1km is a coupon book you will likely already have found in your mailbox. We are one of the stores participating with a page in there and it's your opportunity to get 15% off your entire purchase. Just make sure you let us know you intend to use your coupon BEFORE we ring in your purchase. Customers using a Shop1km coupon will also receive a free single-serving bottle of Singer's Vegan Caesar mix - delicious on its own or in your alternative Bloody Caesar (while supplies last). The current coupon program is set to expire on April 3rd - we'll let you know if there's any revision to that schedule given the current emergency situation.

And second, the Clearwater Farm weekly food basket program is back and we are once again serving as a hub. Clearwater farm not only works with a network of local organic growers to provide a weekly choice of fresh fruits, vegetables and other farm products but also runs educational programs on food system sustainability and your membership helps run those programs. Sign up online here by April 12th to get some delicious perks! 

It's important to remind customers participating in the program that we are a hub only - your relationship is with Clearwater Farm - but we hope you'll find things in store to accompany the produce you take home from Clearwater. You might also like to know given the current situation that you can opt for home delivery when you sign up.

That's it for now. Stay healthy, Roncesvalles - we love you.


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Let's Make this a Thing!

Bunny Hug Kaya - coconut spread

One of the great things about being in a diverse city like Toronto is that tastes for certain things - be they music or movies or fashions or food - move beyond their cultural origins. At The Mercantile we see this every single day in the number of people who come in to stock up on their harissa paste or Okazu or gojuchang or preserved lemons or pasilla peppers or Mado's sauce who aren't north African or Asian or Latin American or Caribbean. All of these flavours have become part of a common repertoire.

A week or so ago, the folks from a local producer called Bunny Hug came into the store with a product we'd never heard of called Kaya. Its roots are in the colonial era of Singapore/Malaysia when local cooks ventured to approximate the jams and morning toast spreads of British officers using local ingredients. 

So think of something like lemon curd in terms of consistency but remove the tartness and replace it with the soft, round, creaminess of coconut and you've got Kaya. It. Is. DELICIOUS!

Now, we can totally see this being overlooked because it's an unfamiliar product and you're not looking for it in the first place and wouldn't know what to do with it if you just stumbled upon it. But we're pretty confident that if you try it you're going to want to keep a jar in the fridge for when you want that sweet comforting piece of toast - or even dolloped on a cracker. We tried it on a salty potato chip and it was fantastic! For now, we're keeping it with the jams and jellies in the cabinet just to your right as you enter the store.

If you're in the neighbourhood tomorrow at 4:00pm, Bunny Hug will be at the Mercantile offering samples so you can see whether you might like to make this taste part of your culinary repertoire.

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Great Taste, Great Gift, Great Cause... Scout's Honour!

Boy Scout Maple Syrup

When I was a kid, the Girl Guides had the cookies and the Boy Scouts had Apple Day (not ApplePay, Apple Day) as fundraising tools. Things are a bit more sophisticated these days. The 65th Toronto Scout Group based on Roncesvalles has teamed up with family-run Pefferlaw Farms to offer this high quality dark grade 100% pure, organic maple syrup gathered from trees in the Woodland Trails Scout Camp and surrounding forests.

For many Canadians, maple syrup is a pantry item. For Canadian and visitors alike it's one of the most popular Canuck souvenirs going and "Where do you keep your maple syrup?" is one of the most common questions we get when people enter the store for the first time. We have several excellent maple syrups to choose from and you'll find them on the top shelf above the mustards and pestos on the north wall of the store but for a limited time (and for extra convenience) you'll find this special fundraising edition bottle right on the counter. 

Come see us and help support the Scouts in your neighbourhood!

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Toronto Heatwave

Toronto Heatwave

Clustered on your tongue, in your mouth and on your skin are thousands of TRPV1 thermoreceptors. Their function is to kick into action at temperatures about 43C and above to initiate a pain response and trigger some protective measures to try to cool us down and dissipate the heat - things like producing sweat.

Now, by complete accident it turns out that a couple of non-heat-related enzymes also bond to these receptors - one of them being capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers. That's why we perceive spicy foods as "hot". They're not really. It's an illusion created by those TRPV1 receptors!

So why do human beings deliberately subject themselves to that pain response by eating spicy food and adding capsaicin-rich sauces to all foods? One theory floating around the scientific community is that prolonged exposure to capsaicin causes a desensitization of the TRPV1 receptors. ie., eat more spicy food and feel the actual heat a little bit less!

Given the successive heatwaves that have hit Toronto this summer - and global warming trends in general - maybe one response is to amp up your intake of hot sauce. Toronto produces some exceptional hot sauces and spicy condiments from a number of different traditions - including Okazu fermented sesame chilli and Mado's Dominican pepper sauce, both featured here on the blog in recent posts - but the flag-bearer for the recent explosion of heatwaves of flavour in this city has got to be No. 7 Mexican Hot Sauces.

Founded in the Junction Triangle in 2013 by the husband and wife team of Sandra and Carlos Flores, they offer a line of hot sauces ranging "from Mild to Wild" with no added preservatives, sodium or sugar. They are soy/dairy free, gluten-free, peanut-free, as well as vegan. Try the sweeter Pasilla (made with tequila!) or the smoky Chipotle or challenge yourself to the Habanero-Ghost Pepper blend (softened somewhat by the presence of cauliflower and carrot in the mix).

Remember, you may be preparing your body to handle the heatwaves still to come!

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Summer Refreshment at your fingertips, literally.

Augie's Ice Pops

We figure most of you know that we carry a couple of different (but equally great) lines of ice-pop moulds so you can make frozen treats at home. We know this because we are already on our second or even third order of the things. We keep selling out of them!

But for those muggy days when you're not at home but you need a quick hit of cool, we've got ready-made ice-pops in our freezer at the back of the store. And not just any ice pops. They're the best in the city and they're made right here in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood: Augie's.

Of course, there's no pleasure like a simple pleasure and Augie's ice pops certainly do the trick. But some of those flavour combinations (wild blueberry citrus, strawberry basil lemonade, Vietnamese coffee...) hint at a background working with some of the city's top chefs and a dedication to sourcing local ingredients from the farms where the flavours grow. Simplicity and sophistication in one delicious, refreshing treat, right at your fingertips and right down the street at the Mercantile.

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Meredith's Holiday Ginger Collection

Meredith's Ginger Syrups & Elixirs of Meaford Ontario are a great example of the world-class local products we feature at the Mercantile. They have become a customer favourite for everything from cocktails to teas to straight shots for a healthy boost during cold season.

Like many locally made products, these are made in small batches and any slight issue at the production end might result in dwindling stock on our shelves - there are no warehouses of preservative-filled bottles to draw from - so occasionally we find that demand exceeds supply. But it seems Meredith has borrowed a few elves from the workshop and just this week delivered an abundant Santa-sack of syrups and elixirs including all the regular flavours plus the holiday favourite Ruby Ginger Elixir with clementine, cranberry and orange blossom PLUS two new special edition recipes: Turmeric Cardamom Syrup and Asian Pear Elixir.

You'll find the elixirs in the fridge at the back of the store and the syrups at the front with several sizes to choose from and a special Holiday Syrup Set for the ginger fiends on your gift list.

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World Flavour City

Abokichi Okazu

One of the things that marks a great city or a great neighbourhood is the availability of flavours and products and specialties from around the world. Of course, Toronto is blessed with a large and diverse population that creates a demand for an astonishing variety of foods that not only cater to specific cultural communities and food traditions but that transcend those communities and get adopted and adapted in new ways by a general population known for its curiosity and adventurous palate.

But Toronto goes one step further. People with roots in multiple cultures have found the imported products lacking and stepped into the market with their own takes on those food traditions. We've got countless such products in store at the Mercantile and have featured many of them in these posts - including Mado's Pepper Sauce, El Tounsi Harissa, No. 7 Hot Sauces, Mad Mexican salsas, dips and chips, Jaswant's Kitchen spice blends and many more. We're very pleased to introduce a new such local/global item to our shelves from a producer on Dupont St. called Abokichi. Abokichi means "Fortunate Avocado," a coinage from abokado, the familiar South American fruit which has found a place in cuisines all over the world, and kichi which means fortunate in Japanese, to express the blessing of the diversity of different cultures in the world and in our city.

There are a number of other fresh products available at the Abokichi HQ on Dupont but we're just carrying her small line of Okazu. Okazu is a miso-based spiced oil condiment and Abokichi makes three varieties: a milder but headier curry version, a reasonably spicy chili version and a very spicy chili version. Try them on rice or meat or seafood or vegetables or pizza or burgers or omelettes or even popcorn. You get the idea, this is a versatile world of flavour that will find a regular home in your kitchen and all over your menu.

Find it more or less mid point on the south-wall shelves to your right as you enter the store.


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Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

It turns out that cities are great places for bees to thrive: there are strict anti-pesticide laws, untapped floral diversity and largely unused rooftop spaces. Alvéole has come to Toronto to expand their work and they and their urban honeybee partners have delivered the sweet results of their time in the city in the form of this extraordinary collection of honeys produced in four distinct neighbourhoods in Toronto:  The Junction, Rosedale, Cabbagetown and Leslieville. Bees collect the nectar to support their colonies generally within about a 5km radius so each of these honeys has a distinct flavour and colour that reflects the botanical character of its part of the city.
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Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day selection

The shelves of The Mercantile are stocked with staples, treats and treasures from all over the world but we take special pride in promoting homegrown products that compete with the very best the planet has to offer.

This coming Friday, July 1st, will mark Canada's 149th birthday. There will be concerts and picnics and fireworks and - for many - a long weekend to celebrate. So today, as you stock your own pantry or think about gifts to bring, think Canadian! This is just a small sample of some of the truly great products we carry that make us proud to be Canadian:

  • Hand-painted, dulce-de-leche-filled chocolate skulls from extraordinary Toronto chocolatier Laura Slack (her bars, wrapped in paper from the Japanese Paper Place are  also extraordinary and her ice-pops and ice cream bars in our freezer at the back are to die for!);
  • Kernal's Black Peanuts - a rarity born and grown in southwestern Ontario - are simple, delicious and simply the most delicious peanuts you will eat;
  • True North (by Southwest) spice blend from Epicentre - located on the shore of Chemong Lake near Peterborough - combines maple and Texas BBQ flavours in a rub that is for your holiday picnic ribs;
  • A new line of syrups from Ottawa's Split Tree Cocktail Co. are small batch, hand crafted cocktail mixes using whole fresh ingredients, no artificial preservatives, and nothing you can’t pronounce (our favourite is the Rhubarb and Elderflower). They join an impressive selection of Canadian made syrups and bitters from makers like Meredith's Ginger, Dillon's, 3/4 OZ and Bar Le Lab;
  • All the entries in our selection of maple syrups are (naturally) of Canadian origin but we have a particular fondness for the one from Edwin County Farms near Picton. If you're traveling and want to bring a little taste of Canada with you as a gift, we have special travel sizes that meet the threshold for carry-on safety or soft-packs that won't add too much weight to your checked luggage;
  • Walter's Bloody Caesar Mix is a High Park success story (though it has since moved its centre to Vancouver) built around that most Canadian of cocktails. Read the list of ingredients on the can of the national brand and then read the list on Walter's - you'll be reading with your own eyes what your tastebuds have already told you about why this is your best friend at brunch;
  • With humble home-kitchen origins from a Trinidadian-Torontonian (Trinitonian?) grandma and now made by a famed west end bar-owner, Mado's pepper sauce - if it wanted to - could rise to join the ranks of ketchup, HP, 57, Worcestershire and Sriracha and become one of the world's truly great standard sauces. It goes with eggs, it goes with shrimps, it goes with steak, it goes in a crudité dip, it goes with everything! We roasted a spatchcocked chicken in it and it was sublime. Anyone who buys one bottle will buy it for life and we have customers who come from way outside the neighbourhood to ensure their stock is secure - it's that good;
  • Boyo's Hot Sauce is another Trinitonian feature in our Canadian hot sauce selection. And not only is it made in Toronto, it's made right here in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Talk about local;
  • Wendy Tancock is a local west end artist and designer who has been mining the charms of Canuck iconography for years. We have a wide selection of her greeting cards featuring everything from Leonard Cohen to Casey & Finnegan to Butter Tarts and Nanaimo Bars. This July 1st, send a card to a friend outside of Canada and remind them just how much we rock;
  • And finally, OrganicFair Chocolate isn't quite from Canada. It's from just across the B.C. border in Blaine Washington but they maintain a farm and garden in Cobble Hill, BC. And sometimes it's nice to have friends and neighbours recognize the best in you - which is the inspiration for their Canadiana bar: organic 70% cacao dark chocolate with maple, apples and northwest coast alder smoked sea salt.

These are just some of the products from here in the neighbourhood and across the country we're so proud to serve and just some of the ways it's fun (and delicious) to celebrate being Canadian. You'll have a whole bunch of your own and we hope you take some time this weekend to do just that.

We ARE open at our regular time of 10:30am on Friday, Canada Day, though we're closing a little bit early - at 5:00pm. Have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend!


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