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.
The text across the shard of pottery says “Marmala”. The rest of the centuries-old stoneware jar is missing, presumably still buried somewhere here at Fort York where it has been sitting in the ground since the mid-1800s. We are told that children who visit the fort on school tours don’t know what marmalade is, which seems a terrible shame.
I am at the “Mad For Marmalade, Crazy For Citrus” event at Historic Fort York, the third annual event, produced by the fort and the Culinary Historians of Ontario, that celebrates all things marmalade.
This isn’t your typical Toronto food event – aside from myself and Sarah B. Hood of Toronto Tasting Notes, there are no bloggers, no writers, no “foodies” here for the free samples. Instead there are about 80 people, many part of the above-50 set, who are all here to learn – or share their knowledge – about that most delectable of preserves, marmalade.
I haven’t bought jam in years. I’m one of those crazy people who actually makes their own, despite it not actually being any cheaper than buying it from the store.
However, back during my organic phase , I did buy a lot of organic jam, and the main brand I turned to was Crofter’s.
So when a box arrived at my door unannounced – that is, there was no warning that it was coming  , I was a bit perturbed and then intrigued by the collection of “superfruit” spreads.
Crofter’s is a company from Port Perry, Ontario that specializes in fruit products – from jam to juice, everything they make is organic. I’ve been a fan of their stuff for many years, and if I didn’t make my own jams and preserves, Crofter’s would most likely be the brand I’d seek out; their stuff is all certified organic, comes in a diverse range of products and is not overly sweet.
However, I’m not a real fan of the idea of “superfruit”, which is what this new line of spreads (they’re not technically jams because of the sugar to fruit ratio) purports to be. The line of four flavours all start with a base of morello cherries and red grapes and then also include “superfruits” (fruit thought to have anti-oxidant properties) from 4 different continents. North America is represented by a blend of blueberries and cranberries; South America by maqui and passionfruit; Europe has black currants and pomegranate, and Asian includes raspberries and yumberries.
I’ve never been a huge fan of strawberry jam. Mostly because I’ve always found it too sweet. But this year I thought I’d make some anyway, maybe using a recipe that wasn’t quite as sweet as normal.
Because jam-making can be scary, what with all of that getting a proper seal and ensuring the jam sets, I was at first inclined to a freezer jam. Now, any jam can be stored in the freezer, and if the jars don’t get a good seal, cooked or not, the freezer is the best place to store them. But all of the recipes I came across for freezer jam reminded me of why I never cared much for strawberry jam in the first place. With a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to fruit, my teeth hurt just reading the recipe. Switching to a search for cooked jam recipes, that same high sugar ratio popped up, but many of the recipes were based on an opposite ratio; 2 to 1, fruit to sugar. That’s more like it. Except some of them called for added pectin while others called for none at all. This jam thing would be a lot less intimidating and confusing if all you people who post recipes on the Internet would form some consensus.
Toronto is known as “the city within a park”. Just about every resident lives with walking distance of a park, although most of these are not huge multi-acre swaths of land, but are little in-fill parkettes. Parkettes pop up in the middle of residential streets, and at one point, probably had houses on them. Now they are mostly home to swing sets, jungle gyms and a few benches.
The parkette closest to us, the place where we end up a couple of times a day while walking the dogs, has some landscaping along one side. It’s hard to tell if the city planted the bushes and shrubs or if they predate the park back to when there was a house on the property.
Last year, I joined a group of locals in cleaning up the park, as it regularly attracts crack dealers and hookers from the area. Underneath the hedges and shrubs, we came across a pair of quince bushes. The bushes were covered in vibrant scarlet flowers in spring, and piles of little green orbs in the summer.
Regular quinces grow on trees and get as big as apples. Quinces are, in fact, part of the same family that includes both apples and roses. But these were tiny fruit, about the size of crabapples. I had wondered if the fruit were edible, and a neighbour who is involved with the local horticultural society couldn’t tell me, but my Google-Fu told me that what we had stumbled across was an ornamental quince from Japan, appropriately known as a Japonica quince. Further Googling determined that not only were Japonica quinces edible, but they made awesome jam and jelly, because of the natural pectin.