I came in from outside tonight with my fingers all coated in saskatoon and raspberry juice, and read Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney’s post about harvesting berries – I took it as a sign. So, here I am contributing my handful of harvest ideas and memories to her theme for this week.
I live in the Okanagan, western Canada’s fruit basket. We have an edible fence in our front yard, with tayberries, golden and red raspberries, white currants, and two kinds of gooseberries. We also have a cherry tree that is over 60 years old, the only one left from the original orchard that surrounded our farmhouse. Late June our harvest begins with the currants and saskatoons, then it’s non-stop eating till the first frost.
As I stood out there tonight, picking and eating (you know, “one for the bowl, one for me”), I thought of how fortunate we are. To live in a place where all summer long I can eat my fill with the dogs nuzzling at my feet – it made me think of the phrase “an embarrassment of riches”.
When I was a kid growing up in Calgary, berries were much more of a luxury. My parents tried to grow raspberries, but we only ever managed a few handfuls for a harvest. My mom would buy them occasionally but they were doled out like gold coins. Perhaps that is part of why they taste so good now.
My favourite way to eat berries is by the handful right off the bush, but if I’m cooking them I want to make sure I can still taste the full impact of their flavour.
- Our golden raspberries are more delicate in taste than red ones, but in Raspberry Financiers they shine. These are delicious for brunch or afternoon tea, and they make a delectable hostess gift.
- Gooseberries have great taste but they are tough to deal with. The prickly bushes put up a good fight for their bounty, and their stems and tails are rather gnarly to eat. I like to make syrup by simply boiling the fruit with a bit of sugar and then I strain it for syrup – yummy on pancakes, ice cream, or even in salad dressing.
- Currants are good for syrup too, and you can take things a step further and make mostarda. This Italian condiment is a great savoury match for roasted meats and cheeses. You can use this recipe for cherry mostarda for currants too.
As a foodie, I am all about the flavours of life. It amazes me that Mother Nature can offer us so many variations on a theme. I mean really, your imagination has to be good to develop the sweetness and range of colour in blueberries and golden raspberries and then head all the way through the spectrum to the different but equally delicious tangy gooseberries and currants.
I have been fortunate to have flavour memories from other parts of the world, but I’ll save that for another post. Today I’m just going to stay grateful for the bountiful flavours of home.
We are in the midst of a heat wave. It’s not unusual for where I live at this time of year; the Okanagan is the northernmost tip of the Sonoran desert that runs through much of North America. It is a summer vacation destination, so many people are on holiday and don’t worry too much about being hot. For those of us working though, it’s tricky when the outdoor temperature is at or above body temperature. I bet you really could fry an egg.
Thankfully we have Okanagan Lake and a few other lakes along the length of the valley. They allow for moderate temperatures much of the year, but there is always a week or so that makes the mercury boil. I work mostly outside in the summer, long hours, but I vow not to complain because I am someone who dislikes cold much more than heat. I am thankful I don’t work in the snow and ice, and I am in a happy environment sharing in people’s celebrations. It could be worse. If sweating a little (okay, some days more than a little) is the price I pay, so be it.
It is especially delicious when we get to cool off. Some days we get down to the lake with the dogs and all of us go for a swim. Other days, it’s a soak in the tub, maybe even with a cocktail if we finish work early enough. At the very least, we can wander down the road for an ice cream cone at our local favourite, Paynter’s Fruit Market.
When I was a kid, it was easy to beat the heat. You gathered a few friends and someone turned on the sprinkler. Ta da! Instant fun. Or you listened for the ice cream truck – it was bound to come by sooner or later. Then you could critique your friends’ choices (“ice cream sandwiches are better than fudgsicles, for sure!”), and decided whose tongue turned the best colour.
I don’t hear an ice cream truck anymore, and kids seem to play at municipal water parks instead of in back yards. As long as they find some way to have honest-to-goodness fun, what does it matter? A little bit of creativity is all it takes.
I am reminded of a podcast I heard one hot summer day years ago, by the late great Stuart McLean. It made me think of a summer with my cousins when we had an epic water fight. In case you are in need of inspiration on a hot summer day, here it is:
With that said, I am going to close now, and see if perhaps the dogs want to frolic a bit in the shade with the hose. The sweat is dripping down my nose as I write this, sitting even in the shade…
This is it. The longest day of the year. It was hit and miss for sunshine here but I managed a few candid shots…
It might not be our usual decadent summer this year, but it was another day above the dirt for me, as the saying goes, and that’s good whatever the weather.
We had the good fortune of a day off this past weekend and so we took full advantage. It’s a bit early to celebrate the bounty of the region but we did our best.
The best place to start is you want a taste of fresh local food is a farmers market. My favourite in our region is the Penticton market, a sprawling conglomeration of farm booths, food trucks, craft vendors and even a bit of kitsch. Being able to wander Main Street amongst the families with dogs and children while being serenaded by the many buskers along the way is a special experience. I love the chance to enjoy my coffee in a ceramic mug too – local roasters Cherry Hill offer freshly brewed java and you just deposit the mug in one of the bins they provide en route.There is plenty of sustenance to be had – we each got a muffin from Brodo Kitchen and some fresh-picked strawberries (“picked last night” he told us). The fruit galette we got at Joy Road Catering we wanted to save for later, but we also could have munched on Thai food, crepes, tacos, or any one of a myriad of pastry choices.
This early in the summer the fruits and veggies are not as plentiful of course. However there are plenty of booths offering flower bouquets, homemade preserves, honey, eggs, and even frozen meat from the farm.
Another wing of the market has crafts and artistic products as well as goods sold by what I call “hawkers”. These items are no so much “as seen on TV”, as they are nifty inventions or natural alternatives for household or body maintenance. I feel like I’m at the county fair when I walk this section; it’s entertaining.
Once we had our fill of the market fun, we mosied up the road for some wine. After all, when in Rome – or wine country … We didn’t have much time but I had pre-ordered some wines in the spring. I took a bunch of scenic photos and a few pages of notes, so that will be in a soon-to-be released post.
Here’s hoping you make time to taste the flavours of where you are this weekend.
I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.
In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.
These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?
I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)
Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!
Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.