The Hillier Woman's Institute apple dumpling has reached a crossroad.
That's bound to happen when you're a roaring success. For this year's Pumpkinfest (the dumpling's major sales event), I am reliably informed that the Hillier W.I. prepared 800 units - up 33 per cent from last year. All the dumplings were gone by noon.
I had structured my day around a well timed dumpling purchase (right after the pancake breakfast, when I figured no-one else would want to round off a maple syrup drizzled meal with a dumpling). I managed to worm my way through the crowd, delivering elbow chops to a couple of hapless bystanders, and obtain five of the sought after delicacies.
I carried the dumplings in a tray to a waiting getaway car, in full public view, for some 200 metres - at considerable risk to my own personal safety. I nobly resisted the temptation to resell them at a quick profit and leave town.
Arriving at my destination, I was besieged as I imagine I would have been had I brought the Stanley Cup to Toronto to let Leafs fans see what it looked like.
If you haven't tried a Hillier W.I. apple dumpling, you had better make a point of doing so next year. The combination of not too crisp pastry, warm and mushy apple and oozy sauce is, as they say, to die from. The dumpling also has solid insulating properties - a useful tool to counteract the playfulness of the elements at the edge of Lake Ontario. Two dumplings (so I am told) have even more: three, we can only dream about.
The Hillier W.I., to its great credit, has clearly tapped a culinary nerve. The crossroad it has reached means it must ask: all right, we've got a success on our hands. Where to from here? Grow or die, they say in business. But grow how, and how big?.
The Hillier W.I. apple dumpling could go very big. Think of being at every fall parade in eastern Ontario; or maybe in North America. Think of adding the apple dumpling to the menu of a major hamburger chain. Or having it available in fine grocery stores as a ready made item. A vision appears of County ovens being a major source of new revenue growth, perhaps spearheading the introduction of a whole line of County W.I. products. Jobs for everyone.
But going big has its downsides. Obtaining financing can be a pain in the neck. So can dealing with people who come out of the woodwork to claim appropriation of their intellectual property (aka stealing the recipe). Keeping a success going can be much harder work than building it up: quality often declines, loyal customers begin to get edgy, and everyone is looking to see if you trip.
When you grow big, things can turn sour, fast. Look at what happened to Starbucks: it opened so many outlets that the brand lost its cachet.
That's where the interest of the County consumer comes in. Speaking loudly as one of behalf of all, what really matters to us is to have timely access to a high quality and adequate (make that more than adequate) supply of dumplings. Even if prices shoot up. Our stomachs demand nothing less.
So I implore the Hillier W.I.: resist the temptation to go for the 'go big' version of the brass ring. Instead, serve your core market well. And your revenue and loyal customer base will continue to grow.
I realize that this grovelling only serves to put the the Hillier W.I. in a strong bargaining position. It could threaten to take its business to another festival. Or it may demand, as they say in showbiz, marquee billing. In the not too distant future we may see advertisements that announce "Pumpkinfest - featuring the Hillier Women's Institute Apple Dumpling"; and the year after that "Hillier W.I. Dumplingfest - featuring a few large pumpkins".
And maybe - I shudder to think - maybe we'll live to see a sign that says "Wellington. Home of the Hillier Women's Institute apple dumpling and the hottest spot when the weather's cool. Also, home of the Wellington Dukes".
Surely, calmer heads will prevail - if everyone would just take a dumpling.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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