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.
Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.
Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!
Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.
I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.
To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”
I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.
Today is May Day, a celebration in many parts of the world – some countries have made it a workers day, and others have it as a celebration of spring, an evolution of pagan festivals such as Beltane. I am always struck by nature’s timeline on this day, perhaps because I live in Canada where the winter weather likes to linger.
It seems this year I am leaning more to the other side of May Day’s meaning – I need help to get out of my winter funk. I was in the garden this morning with my fingers in the dirt and that was a good tonic but wearing two woolly layers and still having my gumboots dampened my mood, if you’ll pardon the pun. My Lilies of the Valley have come up, but are far from blooming yet this year, so there will be no real “Fête du Muguet” for me.
The naval term “mayday” was created in 1923 by a British radio operator who came up with an easily recognizable phrase (he was inspired by the French “m’aider”, meaning “help me”). It is repeated 3 times when calling for help, to make sure everyone hears it correctly. It seems to me that wouldn’t be too hard in disastrous situations; one has a tendency to shout and repeat things. When the clouds get low and the wind blows day after day I feel like I should run out in the yard and send out this call.
I suppose a better way to deal with our long winter is to engage in the celebration of moving forward, though. I flipped the calendar pages and I will be planting the last of my greenhouse seedlings today. I will bake a pound cake to signify the sweeter time of summer with sunshine and warmth. (Historically, this was when grazing animals were put out to pasture to feed on the wild grasses and flowers, making butter and milk richer and more flavourful.)
I’ve always wanted to dance under a Maypole, but that will take some more work. There is something romantic and wistful about maidens in flowing dresses dancing with ribbons barefoot in the grass. Maybe I’ll put together a fairy garden. No one will notice if I tiptoe out tonight to dance with the little ones and have my own Beltane ritual.