Archive for July, 2009

We’re going on vacation!

Don’t worry, lots of posts queued up to tide you over while we’re gone (we just wont be as quick to respond to email and comments). We’re on our way to Cape Breton Nova Scotia (Canada) for another (BIG) family wedding and a week of exploring, relaxing, drinking beer (some rum too I imagine…) and lots of seafood. It’s a fantastic place. Joel’s family is from Cape Breton so he’s been visiting there all his life. My first trip was 3 years ago, and I’m hooked (on both the big boisterous family AND Cape Breton). Look forward to some interesting posts when we get back, and some new ideas for the blog too…for now, some pics from some of our last visits:



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Short post today.

The weekend is approaching and there will be another bounty of fresh fruit available to be transformed into jams, jellies and preserves.

Like most passions, there is a lot of contradictory writing when it comes to preserving.  One guide tells you that it`s safe to do several things and another tells you that those exact things are the most dangerous activities you can possibly partake in.  It`s difficult to get straight answers and find scientifically tested (and safe) recipes.

Each of us has to do our research, make educated and informed decisions and ensure that we are protecting ourselves and those we care about.

Regardless of where you turn to for advice, find a source that you trust and do your reading.  Many great cookbooks which specialize in preserving a re great sources, as is the Joy of Cooking which has some great writing on the topic.

The US National Standard which is produced by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Follow the links for guides to the process and for recipes they have tested and stand behind (including many which do not have added pectin).  Pickling, Fermenting, Freezing, Drying, Jams, Jellies and more are all covered in great detail.

Regardless of whom you decide to trust, do your research and make the safest choices.  Preserving is extremely dependable and safe if it is done with the right precaution.  Be safe, share your learning and always be willing to learn more.

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It was twelve minutes after nine in the morning when the young man at the other side of the counter smiled broadly and exclaimed, “I told her that those were 9:00AM berries.”  I grinned sheepishly – I had found what I was looking for.

Golden raspberries are a rare find these days.  They are slightly less tart than their red counterparts and tend to be scarcer.  I’ve rarely seen them in retail stores (though they do make an occasional appearance) and they are often more expensive.  I had found my rare treasure – and they were the same price as their traditional counterparts.

The vendor I found offered 4 pints of Golden Raspberries for sale – that was their complete inventory before I arrived.  I left none behind.  I also purchased 4 pints of red raspberries and set off to make some jam.

You can use the same recipes for golden as you use for red.  I have a trusted recipe I trust – crush 4 cups of berries and mix 3 cups of sugar (I used dementia) and a ¼ cup of lemon juice and let them sit for an hour.  Cook to the jelling point (I use the quick set method – spoon a small amount onto a plate and freeze for 3 minutes, remove and drag your finger through; if it remains parted you have gelling).  Scrape of the foam and seal (I use the pressure cooker).  This is a tested recipe – more detail can be found in our preserving section.

Once again we did not add extra pectin – this reduces the need for a pile more sugar (a single batch with pectin would call for up to 7 cups of sugar).  It took a few days to show that it’s full set is taking hold and that they will gel up nicely – I can’t wait to open the first one.

This was 2 of the 5 batches of the weekend (6 in 48 hours).  Most of my summer jams are complete – it’s an exciting time!

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I have a lot of time for Everdale Organic Farm – even though I’ve never been there.

I first heard of this Organic Farm and Learning Centre through my local bartender.  Simeron is Canada’s silver-medal award winning Oyster Shucker and poured me several late night beers.  Our typical conversation was animated and ranged from silly to serious and were often fun-spirited verbal battles with no intent to find a winner.  Our first debate was a battle over who sung “My Name Is Luca” (two marathon sessions of brainstorming ended up with his bet of Suzanne Vega clearly the wiser of my ballots for Tracy Chapman).

Simeron is a kind soul and friendly as the day is long.  He is super intelligent, passionate about life and wanted to learn how to farm.  He announced that he was moving to Everdale where they would house him with small quarters (insulated by hay if I remember correctly) and a single power outlet.  He would make a minimal stipend and work at the farm for the summer and fall and learn how to become a farmer.  I knew I’d miss the late night banter but admired his sense of adventure and commitment to learning.

He reappeared early one Saturday morning at the Brickworks Farmers Market.  Simeron introduced me to garlic scapes and seemed even more alive than ever.  The work is hard and his passion grows each time I see him (he’s on his second year at the farm now).

Everdale is a working farm that runs education programs to help the rest of us to learn about farming, sustainable living and energy efficient buildings.  They run workshops (including a canning workshop we are going to at the end of August), sell their organic goods at several markets (and a small Community Shared Agriculture program) and have a model green home on their property to show to visitors who come to learn.  Everdale is very active in their program named “Farmers Growing Farmers” program and are making modern life a little more sustainable with equal dashes of modern, future and historic approaches.

The farm is about 90 minutes from downtown Toronto.  They are one of the larger vendors at the Brickworks market and there every week without fail.  Here’s a sample of their table from last weekend:

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5 batches of preserves – just over 10 liters of goodies for the winter are ready and waiting for the winter ahead – what a weekend!

There are 58 bottles in all – sweet cherries, golden raspberry jam, multi-currant jelly, red raspberry jam and gooseberry jam.  None have added pectin and all are from Ontario.  We’ll be profiling each recipe over the next few weeks as we’re preparing for a trip to Nova Scotia to visit friends, family and celebrate a wedding that I am most excited to be going to.

The cherries were the most work by a mile, followed by the gooseberries.  The currants had to strain overnight but took very little work and raspberries are extremely simple.  We spent about $100 on fruit and active prep time was about 6 or 7 hours (most of which work can be divided by two or more people to cut about 50% of the overall time).

The sound of tins popping sealed has been like a small orchestra!  Each pop brings a smile to my face – it’s the sound of thing working.  It’s also the echoes of generations before me who preserved and canned fruits, vegetables and meat like this for most of modern history (and some which are even older).  This sense of tradition is a significant part of the process and why we preserve.  It does require us to slow down a bit and I feel a connection to the past as we go through the physical labour that remains virtually unchanged from that of my grandparents.

Dana commented on how proud I seemed to be as she caught me gazing over the “flock” of jars cooling on the table.  I am thrilled with the knowledge that we will be able to feast on the flavours of summer through the winter.  It’s a great knowing that we have enough fruit put away (including our other recent adventures) to last the winter.

As I removed the last cans from the sealing process, it occured to me that I was done preserving fruit for the year.  There will be pickles, beats, corn, beans, garlic and all sorts of other preserves but I felt a tinge of saddness as I reflected that this was the end of the jarring of fruit.  My saddness was short-lived as I remembered blueberries, peaches, grapes, apples and other treats that will soon come our way!

If you haven’t tried to preserve before – there is still plenty of time.  If you have, we’d love to hear your favourite things to preserve in the comments.

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There’s a small window of opportunity every summer when the berries are plentiful, fresh and at their peak. That time is NOW.  Joel was up early pillaging the markets for anything good and local that he could get his hands on. The Brickworks and St.Lawrence Market were buzzing, the tables are overflowing and the vibe is energetic. I’ve taken over today’s post because Joel is currently up to his elbows in berries. There will be lots of posts to come about what he’s up to, but for now we’d like to encourage you to get out there and grab some great berries while you can** Preserve them, freeze them and better yet…eat them.  I’m on a natural sugar high from pinching raspberries and cherries of amazing variety out of Joel’s stash. It’s fun, but hard work that will pay off when the snow is flying and we can taste summer on a piece of toast.

berrybounty Here’s a list of what we got to preserve this weekend:

• red raspberries

• golden raspberries (my new favourite!)

• gooseberries (the green ones are not ripe – but perfect for preserving, while the red ones are riper)

• black currents

• red currents

• white currents

• 3 types of sweet cherries

** note: we stopped off at a few big local grocery chains to pickup other supplies that we needed and took a spin through the produce section. Berries everywhere, but almost all were from the United States.  There’s lots of Ontario berries to be had, but you have to look for them. Read the signs at the grocery store, visit a farmer’s market, try to go right to the source for your berries.

stay tuned for all the preserving details!!

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The smell of melting cheese, warming bread and the process that turns a pasty layer of hardened butter into a crisp golden sheen on the outside of a grilled cheese makes me salivate instantly.

What is it about certain foods that opens warm sensations in our hearts, souls and tummies and transport us to places of comfort, excitement and relaxation?  I am powerless to resist the charm of the simple grilled cheese and its many variations.  Wonderbread with a cheese slice can actually get me emotionally excited when it is grilled with butter-  yet the thought of either by itself would not coax me to walk 3 feet.  Onion soup, spaghetti in tomato sauce, Sheppard’s Pie and a few other magical combination transform me into the same Pavlovian Dog time and time again.

I can’t remember the first time I got to try a grilled cheese sandwich – it’s always been a part of my life.  I don’t remember not knowing of it’s existence.  I do remember my first oyster, first sushi, and first martini.  The sandwich is a sort of universal truth, something that has always been a part of me.

Hot, golden bread with melted cheese dipped into cold ketchup.  Of course warm ketchup is better than no ketchup but the collision of opposing temperatures takes the experience to an entirely different level.

I have a theory that I was served these when I was sick (i.e. had a flu) and mending as a child.  They meant that I was being cared for, looked after and loved.  These emotional ties during stressful periods of my life created an emotional bond between comfort and the sandwich which now transfers to me even if I’ve made it for myself and even if I am not ill.

I’ve tried variations of the grilled cheese – adding onions, tomato, bacon, herbs and even another layer of bread.  The addition of bacon is my second-place favourite (the rationale is that while bacon is tasty it can be difficult to bite off cleanly and a single bit can steal a whole rasher of yummy pork fat).  Cheese, bread and butter (cut in half, on an angle if possible) is my sure fire favourite .  I suppose I am a traditionalist in some ways!

As an adult, my take on the classic has evolved slightly.  A baguette (with its top and bottom trimmed with a knife for flatter, better grilling) is cut in half, buttered on the outside and filled with cheese in the middle.  The cheese of choice has been a combination of 5-year old white cheddar and 5-year old orange cheddar.  Cheese should be shredded, not sliced.  I drizzle a little olive oil on the bread (after the buttering so that it does not seep in to the dough) so that I can cook it at a higher temperature and bring it to the ultimate in colour and texture.

What is your favourite version of the grilled cheese?  Do you have other favorite comfort foods or theories on why they hold such a special place in your heart?  We’d love for you to share them in the comments!n

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