For generations, kids in Bear River, N.S., headed to a certain sharply sloped hill to go sledding every winter. So when Martin McGurk and Gordon Tingley moved from British Columbia to the fabled spot in 2010, they knew exactly what to name their new homestead and farm. Sledding Hill is the namesake of a series of products that have become known throughout Nova Scotia for introducing a plant that was once relegated to perfumes and potpourris into pantries: lavender.
Mr. McGurk and Mr. Tingley fell in love with the property after visiting it in 2008. They decided to leave their paper-pushing careers behind and move across the country. Although Mr. McGurk had grown up in a farming family in California and Mr. Tingley had studied landscape architecture, neither of them had farmed for a living. "Right from the start we wanted to come up with a business model that leveraged the farm as a resource but wasn't limited to what the land could produce on its own," says Mr. McGurk. After discussing the pros and cons, the duo decided that lavender would be a perfect entry crop. It was easy to maintain and would provide them with plenty of opportunities to create value-added products.
They worked for months on perfecting their recipes, experimenting with various types of lavenders. While French and Spanish varieties were too harsh for cooking, English lavenders worked well. By blending three varieties known as Munstead, Hidcote and Maillette they were able to create the perfect mix. "Our goal in creating the lavender products was to take some of the guess-work out of working with lavender straight from the garden and introduce the flavour to people in familiar forms." Those familiar forms include lavender sugar for baking, jellies and shortbreads.
Sledding Hill's products have won awards, with their lavender syrup winning Innovative Product of the Year from Taste Of Nova Scotia in 2011. But the real winner in all of this is their lavender pepper. A mix of lavender, Tellicherry black pepper and citrus zest, this idiosyncratic mix has some very vocal fans, including Dennis Johnston. The owner and chef at Fid, a casual upscale restaurant in Halifax, Johnston says that the blend reminds him of the south of France. "The flavour is unreal, it's so well-balanced between the pepper and lavender," he says. Mr. Johnston uses the blend in sweet and savoury preparations, noting that it works beautifully with such dishes as raw scallops and cured salmon.
Sledding Hill products are available online at Sleddinghill.ca. The Lavender Pepper retails at $7.99 for 50 g, plus shipping and handling. It's also available at various retailers and farmers markets in Nova Scotia.
Editor's note: Lavender Pepper is available in 50 g packages. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.