Fragaria Fields Forever

FOFstrawberries There are literally hundreds of types of strawberries from Annapolis to Valley Sunset. And while we typically think of strawberries as being a June fruit, harvests can last all the way into mid autumn. Strawberries are classified into three varieties: June bearing, Everbearing (a bit of a misnomer as they usually produce two crops throughout the growing season) or Day-Neutral (smaller berries that produce up until October if it is mild).

Possibly the best strawberries I ever tasted were teeny tiny wild strawberries grown in the Apennines regions of Italy. Fragaria vesca, or Alpine strawberries, although miniature, pack a punch of intense flavour and sweetness. Delicious on their own or with balsamic vinegar, they also are delightful fermented in liqueur.

Sadly I haven’t come across any quite like those in Ontario, but our own local strawberries, in season now, are a fine substitute. I try and buy local organic wherever I can as Strawberries are one of the “dirty dozen” produce that is heavily sprayed with pesticides. There are so many wonderful recipes for strawberries from shortcake to freezer jam or just dipped in chocolate. I’ll be doing a workshop at the end of June on a classic recipe of strawberry and balsamic conserve. Perfect for pairing with goat cheese. Why don’t you join me?

Out with the old, in with the new

Oldpickles

This time of year I’m so anxious to get my hands on the new and  fresh produce that sometimes I get ahead of myself. Frequently I still have jars left over from last season that really should be used up, but I’m less inclined to as fresh asparagus, strawberries and tender turnips are much more appealing than slightly soft year old dill pickles.

 I found a way of freeing up my jars without the guilt of actually dumping the contents in the compost. Dehydrate! Start by slicing your pickles to about 1/8″ thick, place on the dehydrator racks on a low setting and letting it do its magic (some 5-8 hours later). This will result in dime sized dill pickle pellets.

Why would anyone want dill pickle pellets? Well for starters you can throw them into a spice/coffee grinder (make sure it’s clean of all coffee residue), grind them up, add a little sea salt and you have an excellent popcorn topper! You could also add the ground mixture to salad dressings, ground meat for tacos or even a funky salt rimmer for a casesar!

If you don’t have a dehydrator on hand (which most people don’t), I think putting it on a baking sheet in an oven on the lowest setting c. 200 F. for about 6-8 hours will probably do the trick. I’d be interested to know anyone out there who has tried dehydrating in the oven.

 

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!

 

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http://www.theheal.ca/uploads/pdf/LarsenGilliland_2009_FarmersMarketFoodDesert.pdf

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.

 

Messofstrawberries

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!