I can’t say it often enough – I HATE SUMMER. I would honestly rather deal with 3 feet of snow and bitter wind chill than the heat and humidity we’ve gone through in the past few months. I’ve got my days arranged for the minimum amount of outside time absolutely necessary. Some days I only go outside to walk the dogs and then we don’t even go around the block, it’s so hot. I grew up in Nova Scotia where it was seldom humid and where, when the temperature hit 25C, we’d head for the beach and the frigid chill of the ocean. My body just never acclimatized to living in pea soup.
The only good thing that comes from an Ontario summer is the food. And it’s truly the only thing that keeps me from fleeing to Halifax for July and August. Because if I left, I would miss out on Ontario corn, melons, tomatoes and peaches. (Not blueberries, though… Nova Scotian blueberries far exceed those we get in Ontario.)
Peaches in particular are a point of contention. A couple of years ago, Ontario’s last canning facility shut down. Canned fruit in the supermarkets is 100% guarantee to be from away – usually from places like China or South Africa. Many Ontario farmers who grew peaches and pears in particular razed their orchards because without the cannery, there was no one in Ontario to buy their fruit in quantity.
We’re moving through the summer so quickly and with the harvest for pretty much everything being about two weeks early, we’re already done with strawberries (except for the everbearing varieties) and raspberries. Blueberries are in full force and I bought my first batch of blackberries this week. Like many people, I’ve been making jam, but there’s only so much jam two people can eat, so that isn’t always a practical way to preserve summer for the long cold days of winter. A few years ago we bought a small deep freezer and so now every summer I make “berry bags”.
The idea for putting together bags of frozen mixed berries came when I was searching for frozen blueberries at the supermarket and ended up with one of those 5-fruit blends by mistake. The berries were all from China or Chile and weren’t very good, but the idea was a good one and I started buying berries throughout the season as they became ripe and filling freezer bags.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses as to why people don’t make the effort to shop at farmers’ markets, with the most oft-heard one being that there just isn’t anything accessible and easy to get to. This has changed considerably in the past couple of years, and downtown Toronto now has over 20 separate markets, with at least one market taking place every day of the week during the summer and early autumn.
Which begs the question – have we hit a saturation point? Are markets the new Starbucks with two on every corner?
On Thursdays in the downtown core, there are now three separate markets within walking distance of each other. The market at Metro Hall is the most established of these, with a selection of vendors who are predominantly farmers. There are many vendors selling the same in-season produce, but this tends to create a healthy competition that keeps prices reasonable. During the lunch hour, there are live performances, and half a dozen food vendors along the south end of the square selling everything from Caribbean food to crepes to peameal bacon on a kaiser.
The Food Of A Younger Land
Edited and illustrated by Mark Kurlansky
Riverhead Books; 397 pages; $27.95
Seasonal, local, traditional. Before a certain period in time, these were the only options. There were no cross-country distribution networks, no fast food chains. And vast countries like the US had true regional cuisine.
Author Mark Kurlansky came across the archives for a book that was never published. Meant to be entitled America Eats, the book was to be an anthology of works produced by the regional offices of the Federal Writers Project. Created in the mid-30s during the depression, the FWP was part of a make-work project to help provide some semblance of an income to people in the arts (imagine that happening today!). The FWP created a variety of regional guidebooks during its run, some are still in use today, and included notable authors such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston and Nelson Algren.
America Eats was abandoned as the FWP wound down after the US joined the second world war. Submissions and files were gathered up – some, sadly, are lost, and nothing was ever done with them until Kurlansky stumbled upon them.