Love among the ruins at the Alton Mill
Set in the stone ruins under the stars, a rustic summer wedding and vegetarian feast was like a mid-summer night’s dream come true.
A Caledon couple finds harmony, happiness and the marriage of true appetites on their big day.
For 24-year-old Caledon resident Hannah Slade, it was love at first bite. A serendipitous lunch on a warm Sunday in June 2011, and her heart spoke. This was the one. They bonded over cheddar-apple paninis, pub cider and the art of straw bale construction. Morally, ethically, philosophically, on food and the environment, Hannah and the objects of her affection were kindred spirits. As this young bride would discover, however, sealing the deal with her future wedding caterer would require some courting.
“We said no again and again,” says Tom Wilson, who with his wife Nicole opened Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in 2009. While the couple has hosted weddings at their cidery/bakery/food shop near Cheltenham, “We didn’t feel ready.” Hannah and her fiancé James Wood planned to hold their reception at the Alton Mill. Catering offsite, explains Wilson, “was more in our five- to ten-year plan. We went so far as to find another chef for their August date. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“I’m a nutritionist and we’re both vegetarian, so quality fresh local food was really important,” says Hannah. “I also loved their innovative use of ingredients, like tahini and quinoa, things just emerging into the mainstream.” James was equally enthusiastic: “I remember walking in and being hit by the sweet smell of the bakery and the rustic charm of a barn setting, warm and toasty with a light dusting of flour. It started to feel like we’d hit the jackpot.”
Spirit Tree’s philosophy and style of food meshed perfectly with Hannah and James’ vision for their wedding. “We had in mind the intimate, relaxed feel of a dinner party for close friends and family. Nothing formal,” she says. “Just a real homey celebration for people invested in our lives and who wanted to be part of the day.”
Once Tom and Nicole agreed to cater, the bride and groom met with them to go through their menu. Like most Spirit Tree regulars, they had their favourites – the roasted squash and pasta salad, the Out of the Blue pizza (caramelized onions, roasted potato, blue cheese and fresh rosemary), washed down with pub cider. Tom and Nicole took over from there. “They added ingredients to make dishes more special; they figured out quantities for the numbers,” says Hannah. “I think they got inspired by how in tune we felt with their fresh rural and rustic approach.”
August 29 arrived. In keeping with the day’s casual vibe, friends chipped in to set up at the Alton Mill. Hours before the ceremony, a mix of vintage china Hannah had collected from garage sales was carefully laid out for the 65 al fresco place settings within the Mill’s outdoor ruin. Horseshoes and other yard games crafted by Hannah’s grandfather were set out. Lights were strung across the stone walls. Rain was simply ruled out, because Hannah had insisted on no tent. The look: distinctly Caledon meets Tuscany.
Hours later, bright sun with a few distant storm clouds provided a dramatic backdrop as the procession began across the idyllic pasture of Scotsdale Farm, an Ontario Heritage Trust property near Georgetown, where the ceremony was held. Hannah’s older brother Daniel Jr. and his friends led the way, playing Down to the River on the accordion and acoustic guitar as everyone joined in.
With her father Dan Sr. at her side, Hannah appeared in a simple ethereal gown by New Zealand designer Juliette Hogan. There were no elaborate floral arrangements, no festooned white chairs – just a very happy group of loved ones gathered to share in the joining of James and Hannah. At the end, the familiar riffs of All You Need Is Love rang out across the fields.
Back at the Alton Mill
Meanwhile, back at the Mill, things were a little less serene. The usual frenetic catering prep was underway, complicated when a food rack tipped over in the delivery truck. Happily, only the fruit pies were crushed, and Tom raced back to the cidery to make more. As with true catering pros, no one was the wiser.
Tom and Nicole opted to set up just beyond the ruin walls. Some friends roasted chickens nearby for the resolute carnivores. Soon the Waldorf and potato salads, the cauliflower and brie quiches, the cheddar/apple and roasted veggie paninis, and other assorted vegetarian delicacies emerged. For dessert – butter tarts and very freshly baked fruit pies. To add to the homemade feel, Hannah, her family and friends baked treats too, including a British cream layer cake – a nod to James’ homeland. Each dish was artfully displayed on a mix of antique wooden crates amid eclectic vases of flowers.
On occasion, reality surpasses even what we idealize. Under the stars on a warm August night, surrounded by dear friends and family, with the delicate twinkle of patio lights overhead and the nearby glow of an open fire, James and Hannah fêted their union, very much in their own unique way. As Hannah reflects, “We only wish the celebration could have gone on for days.”