Choose your condiments

CondimentsBarbeque season is nearly here and while we are all pretty much familiar with ketchup, mustard and relish, I thought it might be fun to look at a international twist on these three condiments that might be less familiar with the North American crowd.

The word “Ketchup” is actually from a Hokkien Chinese word  “kê-tsiap” made not from tomatoes but from fermented fish. Hmmm. For some reason I always thought it originally came from Indonesia. Probably because there is a condiment called “kecap” which is more like a sweet soy sauce than a ketchup as we know it. In any event, after the Europeans brought the dish from the Far East, it took on a whole different flavour. By 1870 three popular “ketchup” recipes emerged in Europe-mushroom, walnut and tomato.

A slow cooked ketchup like condiment from Bangladesh called “Kasundi” is one I’m dying to try.  I found out about it on one of my favourite pickling blogs Punk Domestics. The recipe calls for a blend of spices, tomatoes, sugar, chili and a few other ingredients and then slow cooked for about an hour. Apparently “It starts as a bunch of different flavors, but after a long period of cooking together, they come together into something insanely addicting,”. Sounds like a winner to me. Continue reading

Bears coming out of hibernation

Yes, I’ve been in a deep hibernation these days. But what better excuse to shake off some winter blues with a quintessentially English preserve-marmalade! Even bears like marmalade (think Paddington).

My clever husband managed to scoop probably the last dozen of Seville oranges down in Kensington market (there’s a short window for the season) and I set about to make the classic sweet/tart delicacy. Seville#1 As everyone has their favourite version, I’ll highlight a couple of points on technique rather than ingredients (which are essentially oranges, water and sugar in equal weight amounts) It is a bit labour intensive but I divided the tasks into the first part juicing and slicing and then soaking overnight, the second part boiling and jarring. Both parts require patience! (not a strong suit of mine) so if you are feeling lazy and think you can short cut it-don’t! Make some sort of other easy jam, as the effort, while time-consuming is really worth it. The full recipe is listed at the end of this but I’ll just add a little bit more on technique…. Continue reading

A not so “fameuse” apple

A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of some apple canning recipes, I thought to myself-wouldn’t it be nice to find some lesser known apple to use? Cortland, Honey Crisp, Gala are all very well and good but what about an heirloom variety?

So my quest took me over the “Beamsville Bench” as they call it (the fertile middle ground between the lakeshore and the escarpment) to an apple orchard named Windwood Farm.

Now full disclosure, I would have loved to have picked my own, but as it was a Monday and my husband and I were on our way to Niagara-on-the-lake for a special anniversary lunch, the orchard was closed to the public. But the proprietor had kindly taken my request over the phone, and two half bushels of Cox Orange Pippin and Snow apples were waiting for me. Continue reading

Natural Sweetness

I love beets from their dark green tops to their ruby red bottoms. But one thing that has always bothered meBeets2 about canning beets is the amount of sugar required in recipes. From a couple of tablespoons to as much as a cup. I did a little bit of research on this, and apparently the sugar has nothing to do with preservation, but everything to do with taste. Well! This was a game changer.

My favourite octogenarian Joyce suggested I roast them first to bring out the natural caramelized flavour of beets without the added sugar. Brilliant! Now when I can beets, I roast them first, slip the skins, add the brine without any extra sugar and throw in a few cloves for good measure. What a difference! The true flavour shines through without that sickly cloying sweetness that some beets (especially commercial ones) have.


Taco Toppers

Sweet cabbages

Sweet cabbages

Tired of the same ol’ grated yellow cheese topping for your tacos? Why not try curtido? What’s curtido you ask? Well, traditionally it’s a lightly fermented Latin American version not dissimilar to sauerkraut. It usually includes sliced cabbage, grated carrots and thinly sliced onions and is a favourite to add to pupusas-those diabolically tasty stuffy fried corn tortillas.

It’s deceptively simply yet packed full of flavour. Local cabbage is at it’s prime right now, super sweet and firm, like these beauties from North Gate Organics, a small farm just north of Cobourg.

If you want a lesson on making curtido for yourself, check out our upcoming workshop on August 13th.

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

      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!



Food Deserts and Farmers markets

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!






You say fennel, I say finocchio

fennel copy

It sort of rolls off your tongue when you say it in Italian. It sounds way sexier than fennel which to me conjures up the image of an overweight waitress at a road stop diner. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but really, try saying “I’m having finocchio for dinner tonight”. Doesn’t that sound divine?

Fennel is an underused vegetable in this country. While it seems to share equal time with eggplant and peppers in Italy, we don’t give it the same respect. At best we buy it as a novelty, but let’s face it , lots of us don’t exactly know what to do with it. Also, the taste seems a bit, well, foreign to us. If you grew up eating anise, drinking absinthe or ouzo maybe it would seem friendlier. But a licorice flavoured vegetable? Technically it’s not even a vegetable-despite having a large bulb, but a herb. Maybe that’s what confuses us so much.

One of the tastiest ways of preparing fennel is oven roasting with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This sweetens it and mellows out the strong taste usually associated with fennel. But eating thinly sliced raw in salads and side dishes are equally satisfying, especially when you can get your hands on young fresh fennel early on in the season (typically July-September).

Finally you can pickle fennel! Add some fresh mint and dill seed to your vinegar brine and eccolo, you have a crunchy, tangy, slightly sweet concoction that can be tossed into salads, used as lamb burger topping, scattered inside falafel wraps or tacos.

Tell me what you would use them for!


West Indian Zing

While on the subject of the tropics, I thought I would whip up a jar of Mango Achar. Well, not exactly “whip up” as it is a bit of a labourious event.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of tasting Mango Achar, it is a fiery condiment which probably originated in the West Indies. I say “probably” as there are certainly versions of it that can be found in India. Nevertheless, this one hails from Trinidad  (there are also Guyanese versions too).

I had my first taste of it from a lovely woman Jan who was hawing her wares down at the Harbourfront Hot and Spicy Festival many summers ago. One taste and I was hooked! I made sure I would visit her booth every year and one purchase turned into buying cases of the stuff.

A couple years back she stopped doing the festival and I was horrified. How would I get my mango achar? Well, I guess I would just have to go online to find some recipes. This is where I ran into some trouble. All the recipes said “dry in the sun” for 5 days. Well, maybe in the dog days of summer might you get 5 days in a row hot enough for drying, but my first attempt turned them into a slimy mess due to the humidity here. In addition, many of the recipes didn’t have very precise measurements, more like “a handful of this”, or “just enough”. So when trying this, don’t fret, just experiment and do your best.

Well, I managed to get my hands on a dehydrator thanks to a friend (you could use
the oven on a very cool setting like 200 deg. or less) and I shredded up 3 green mangos.
After they dried I added some browned garlic, a couple of hot peppers and about 2
teaspoons of Amchar Masala (recipe below), put it in a clean canning jar and covered
it with mustard oil. Then, I put it in the fridge and waited, and waited, and waited! It took
a good 2 months before all the flavours started to meld together, but it was worth the
wait! Next time I’ll be sure and do a few more jars.



Now you might be wondering what do I use it with? Traditionally the condiment is added to any rice dish, beans etc. But what I love, when the tomatoes are in their full glory, to spread it on a piece of bread with tomato and mozarella (or any other mild cheese)..HEAVENLY!!

Amchar Masala mix

4 Tbs. coriander seed
1 Tbs cumin2 tps whole black pepper
1 tsp fennel seed
1tsp mustard seed
1 tsp fenugreek

(You may want to grind it up together with a spice grinder
or mortar & pestle for a finer texture)