Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Peaches and Plums and Pears! Oh my!

I have a confession to make. I've been eating Ontario peaches. Yes, I have a weakness for them since I did grow up, at least partly, in Ontario and when those Niagara peaches came in it was just heaven for us. Dad would smush them up with a little sugar and put them on pancakes and we all forgave him for moving us to Ontario from the Maritimes. And the smell of ripe peaches wafting through the kitchen.... Fabulous. But my fall from grace has been brought to an end because last week I discovered Nova Scotia peaches at Cochrane's. My guilt has been assauged. I can continue happily eating peaches even as local apples and pears and plums start filling the stores. I did also stock up on plums from Gagetown while at Cochrane's. And I picked up a basket of "Eco-logik" labelled (reduced chemical input) pears from La Fleur du Pommier (at Les Digues in Shediac but also available at the farm and the Dieppe market). For a while there I was inundated with peaches and plums and pears, and there's really only so much you can do with peaches and plums (although there are some good peach dessert recipes out there and peaches and chicken go together nicely as well...)

Pears, on the other hand, are very versatile fruits. Good thing since clearly local pears are in full season now. I found local pears, both red and yellow, at Baleman's in the Saint John City Market - and they are no doubt showing up in farm markets all over the province. I make a marvellous ginger pear crisp and pears can pretty much subsitute for apples in most cases. But this year I have promised myself I would "put up" some pears in a light syrup (i.e. can them). So I'll let you know how that goes. But now is the time to get on those fall food preserving projects. So get out your canners everyone!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tomato bonanza

You may have noticed my recent absence (0r not) but I'm just back from two lovely weeks of local eating in BC (perfectly timed to coincide with the best sockeye salmon run in many decades). BC is of course a bit freakish when it comes to local food; I was indulging in cherries and strawberries and hazelnuts and fabulous cheeses, BC wines and many, many salmon. I was prepared to be let down on my return home but really, it's pretty impressive what we can find here - even if it takes a bit of looking. Today's run to the Kingston market and Cochrane's netted me NS strawberries and cherries, lovely cheese from Armadale, Gagetown plums and apples, local cauliflower, broccoli and organic beets, baby turnips, carrots, a wide variety of potatoes (including gorgeous little reddish fingerlings) and, because of the storm warning, I even managed to score free-range eggs from Cedar Lanes (which usually sell out well before 10a.m.). So really, no shortage of local goodies here either (and, I must say, our wild blueberries are superior to the high bush BC variety - I'm just saying...)

Anyways, the threat of a hurricane meant that the Kingston market was not particularly well-attended and particularly wanting for customers were bushels and bushels of tomatoes. Now I have lived in an Italian neighbourhood in Toronto (who hasn't?) and always admired those huge baskets of tomatoes and everyone going happily home to make sauces. But not actually being Italian I have also always held back from actually buying a bushel since I really hadn't progressed far beyond putting tomatoes in salad (sad, I know.) The thought of coring and then "x"ing and then parboiling and skinning all those tomatoes before cooking them for hours into a sauce was really too daunting. But the opportunity to give it a go was just too tempting to pass up this morning and, because I really do want to avoid those highly-salted tins of tomatoes I tend to rely on all winter, I walked away with what was probably two bushels in all. My fear over what to do with this cornucopia was alleviated by one tomato seller who said she simply quarters them and freezes them and then throws them into soups and sauces as needed. Brilliant! Why not? I know they are usually skinned and cooked down to make a smoother, stronger sauce, but frankly I'm not that picky and I only ever end up throwing a tin of tomatoes in with onions, garlic and whatever else is going in the sauce and cooking it down to a bare level of thickness. It was a great relief to realize I could just cut the suckers up and freeze them on a cookie sheet. Suddenly the tomato world was my oyster (so to speak). I checked out my Preserving for Beginners book and it indeed concurred that you could freeze tomatoes (although they would be more watery) and you could even freeze them whole after coring. So I prepped a few cookie trays of tomatoes for freezing in a matter of minutes. Amazing.

I also remembered a recipe for roasted tomato sauce that I had wanted to try and lo and behold another dead-easy tomato preservation technique presented itself. You just quarter or halve the tomatoes and put them cut side down on a baking sheet or baking dish, drizzle them with olive oil and salt, throw in some whole garlic gloves and chunks of onion and roast them for 40 minutes (until the skins brown somewhat). Then, when they're cooled, throw them in the food processor or blender. Again, fabulous results. Really, really tasty base tomato sauce ready to freeze with minimal effort. I also discovered that if you want the sauce thicker just pour off the "juice" that will have accumulated in the pan and reserve that for the most amazing soup broth ever. I can't wait to get more tomatoes. I'm on a roll!

In fact I started looking for other things to roast so I checked on line about roasting beets - which again, I love but am intimidated by. Easy as all get out it turns out. Wrap 'em up in some tin foil, pour on a little oil, and roast until fork tender. Once they've cooled the skins "slip off like big winter sweaters" as one website quaintly put it. Absolutely lovely. Besides I just happend to have some NS feta, and some roasted walnuts to throw into a salad with the roasted beets. And, to top it off, a honey balsamic vinegar I had brought back from Vancouver island (Okay, this is the part where my dear brother-in-law would ask - so is it still local if you brought it back from the other side of the country? Okay, well, we'll discuss that later. But it was really good with the beets....)