Crispy Pickles

Cukes1There is something so satisfying about biting into a crisp tangy pickle and nothing so disappointing as chomping down on a soggy one. There are many “tricks” of the trade to get that perfect “crunch” including commercial additives “Pickle Crisp” (which is really Calcium Chloride), adding a grape leaf to a jar, lime (the powdered calcium type not the fruit) or the fail safe method I use-blossom end off. So what does it all mean?

The old-fashioned method of using pickling lime was generally a safe method of ensuring your pickles would stay crisp. But it was labourious, as it had to be washed off at least three or four times prior to pickling as the solution is rather alkaline which counteracts with the acidity of the vinegar. Alum (aluminum potassium sulfate) was another additive used but now discarded as it sometimes left pickles tasting bitter.

Another method popular with our grannies was putting a grape leaf in the jar. Why a grape leaf? The National Center for Home Food Preservation suggests it inhibits the enzyme which makes the pickle soggy. Grape leaves contain tannins which some suggest is the compound which affects the texture of the pickle. But unfortunately results are often unreliable.

One sure fire way I have found is to cut the blossom end off of the cucumber. This is where the “soggy” enzyme resides. If you are unsure which end is up (blossom ends are generally a little paler with a white/tan circle), it doesn’t hurt to cut off both ends… Continue reading


Food Deserts and Farmers markets

      Imagine having to walk more than a kilometre to your nearest grocery store just to buy an apple, or worse, having to resort to convenience stores to buy fresh food. This is what living in a “food desert” is like. And if you think that this only happens in inner city America, then think again. Food deserts exist all over Canadian cities too, such as London, Ottawa, Vancouver and even Toronto.

     The implications of not having fresh, affordable and accessible food are widespread from developing chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity to learning difficulties in developing children.

     But with land prices soaring and urban density rising, some areas still do not have suitable access of fresh food in the form of grocery stores and small produce vendors.

     Some innovative solutions for this food security dilemma include a pilot project by FoodShare to bring Food Trucks supplied with fresh produce into food desert neighbourhoods. And of course during the summer months many neighbourhoods are lucky to have farmers markets.

     An interesting study by Kristian Larsen and Jason Gilliland, researchers from U of T and Western respectively, looked at the opening of the London Farmers’ market (an all year round market) in an area where there was a significant population of lower income families. They concluded that the “introduction of a farmers’ market in a food desert increased the availability of healthy food and lowered the overall food costs for households in the neighbourhood”. Not only was the availability increased but the variety and range of fresh produce increased as well.

    Farmers markets are good for the community and send a message to our politicians that buying local matters!



Mowhawk, L’Amour, & Glooscap….name the fruit

If you came up with strawberries then you are a clever one! There are in fact about 30 varieties of strawberries grown in Ontario in any given season.  Another fact you may not have known, the strawberry plant is actually related to the rose! Who knew? Maybe that’s why the heady smell of fresh strawberries smells almost like perfume.



A twist on the classic strawberry jam is adding herbs you may not think about pairing with strawberries. This one comes from Liana Krissoff’s “Canning for a New Generation”.

Strawberry Jam with Thai Herbs

3 lbs rinsed and hulled strawberries, diced (about 9 cups)
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh Thai basil1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

Put strawberries and sugar in a wide preserving pan ( or Dutch oven), bring to a simmer,
stirring frequently, then continue to cook for 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the berries gently to drain off the juice. Return the juice to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally until the syrup is reduced to about 1-1/2 cups (about 20 minutes)

Return strawberries and juice to pan, add lemon juice and bring to simmer, stirring frequently (about 15 minutes), until a small dab of jam spooned onto a chilled plate and placed in freezer becomes firm (not gelled). Skim off foam, remove from heat and stir in herbs.

Ladle hot jam into sterilized warm jars leaving 1/4 headspace at the top. Wipe rims if necessary to clean of excess jam. Put lids on and screw bands so that they are finger tight. Immerse in waterbath, bring to a boil and leave for 5 minutes. Remove and do not disturb jars .

Should make about 4- 250 ml. jars. Any excess you can put in a jar and refrigerate to eat right away!