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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
NOTL has a peachy keen weekend
Volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church rely on their friendly connections to peach growers across Niagara-on-the-Lake to source the produce for the annual peach festival. Julia Sacco

It was an extra-sweet weekend for Niagara-on-the-Lake all around town, with Saturday’s Peach Festival occupying the length of Queen Street followed by Sunday’s Peach Festival at St. Vincent de Paul.

Queen Street Peach Festival 

Saturday’s Peach Festival was marked with another annual peach pie festival, where Erika Tubb took home first prize for the second year in a row. 

Tubb thanks NOTL peach farmers at the DBL fruit and vegetable stand on East and West Line for her win.

“The judges said that it was the taste of the peaches,” she said.

“They had this different type of peach called garnet beauty I had never heard of it before.”

Tubb bought the peaches three days in advance of the festival so they would be as ripe as possible.

“I think that’s the key,” she said.

Tubb said her pie had some other special ingredients that set it over the top, including a hazelnut and vanilla-infused crust and a sunflower design on the top.

“I practised for a month and made six different recipes. All my neighbours were very happy to test them,” Tubb said. 

After taking the best elements of each recipe, Tubb woke up early Saturday morning to bake the freshest pie possible for the competition.

It turned out to be well worth it.

Tubb told The Lake Report that she is moving to St. Thomas next year so she will not have a chance to take home a third win.

“I won’t be doing three years in a row,” she joked.

St. Vincent de Paul Peach Festival 

Ted VanderKaay, a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul for the past 14 years told The Lake Report that the 33rd annual Peach Festival would not have been possible without the 110 volunteers who stepped up to make it happen.

One of these many helping hands is Mario Puma, a member of the church for more than two decades who is in charge of sourcing the peaches for each annual festival.

Every year without fail, Puma approaches NOTL peach growers who agree to donate their fruit to the festival.

“I go to about 15 at a minimum, or sometimes as high as 20,” Puma said.

Along with retailers, Puma goes to family farms where one couldn’t typically buy fruit.

For Puma, it’s all about friendly connections.

“I grew up on a peach farm here in Virgil and worked with my uncle Vince (Pillitteri) and cousin Eileen at Seaway Farms and Garden Centre growing up,” he said.

“From there I just met so many other farmers in the area.”

Puma said he just “got lucky with a lot of nice community members,” reaching out to lifelong friends, members of the church and non-members alike who are always happy to donate.

“Certain years – like this year I had two farmers who got hit by hail – I showed up thinking they were going to give me less this year but it’s always the same number,” he said.

“I never tell people what to give me, they always just donate what they want.”

Puma said what makes the St. Vincent de Paul festival is so unique that they have so many varieties of peaches.

“You can get some ripe, some a little bit harder. You might already have red havens but you have red havens from all different farms,” he said.

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