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The text came in early one Saturday morning. “The tomatoes have spoken,” it said. “It happens today at 11am.” It was my friend Victoria, alerting me to the specific time her in-laws would be putting up their tomatoes this year, something they’ve done since they moved to Calgary from Sessano del Molise, a small town just outside Naples, in 1967. When I heard it was an annual thing, generally a major production involving 20 cases of tomatoes, a dozen friends and neighbours, tables set up in the garage and a hot tub-sized pot set over a single burner in the driveway, I begged to tag along. Putting up tomatoes is largely a lost art, what with the availability of good-quality canned tomatoes just about everywhere food is sold, for a dollar or three. But I love the idea of picking up cases and doing it myself, and of letting the tomatoes determine when they’re ready to go. If you’re going to do this kind ofContinue reading

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These are a few (OK, two) of my favourite things: 1) When friends adopt me for the day (or hour, or afternoon) and let me cook with them and their families, and I get to pull up a stool and sit in their kitchen and watch their moms make dishes they learned from their moms. 2) When what they make is unfamiliar to me, and I learn something entirely new, like the joys of a fresh coriander chutney sandwich on buttered white bread. I’ve since learned these were the sandwiches of many friends’ childhoods – just the chutney, on squidgy white bread, with butter. It’s apparently a thing. I now know this thing, and although I didn’t grow up eating them, I can start now, and I’ve learned to make coriander chutney the likes of which I’ve never tasted before from someone who knows.

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If any of you are anything like me, you have a glut of Mandarin oranges in some corner of the kitchen, most likely because you, like me, keep buying them on sale and then running out of gumption to eat your way through that entire box. It turns out they’re delicious in smoothies, or pureed whole with vanilla ice cream to make a sort of orange creamsicle milkshake, but if you have a couple pounds to go through, it also makes a deliciously mild orange jam – not quite marmalade as the heft of it is juicy flesh rather than finely chopped peel – and if you stir a bit of vanilla in, it too tastes like an orange creamsicle.

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I’ve been oddly addicted to dill pickles lately – as in, I’ve been eating my way through jars and jars of them, ice cold, straight from the fridge. Recycling last week was scary. And so I did not procrastinate this time when I came across bags of knobbly thumb-sized pickling cukes at the market – I bought the biggest bag I could ($22 worth-I may have overdid it) and W and I turned them into pickles the other night, after coming home from his cousin’s birthday dinner, before going to bed. Even when you have that much to work with, making pickles isn’t an all-day endeavor – it really isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. Start with the snappiest cukes possible – a bendy cucumber means a bendy pickle. Tuck a couple peeled garlic cloves and a big sprig of fresh dill into each clean jar (I like to run them through the dishwasher first), then pack in as many cucumbers as youContinue reading

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It’s time. The bushes are heavy with ripe Nanking cherries, and the birds haven’t managed to get at them all – Nankings are those small, brilliant red cherries that grow up against their branches, rather than dangle on stems like a Bing or Evans. A kind neighbour took pity on me picking cherries out by the road and brought me a bag she had picked from her back yard. This is what I call being neighbourly. (And yes, she got the biggest jar on her step this morning.) Nanking cherries are perhaps my favourite foraged fruit – and yet there’s not a lot you can do with them. They’re juicy but pit-heavy; I’ve heard of people pitting theirs to make pies, but can’t imagine what you’d be left with. I’m not sure I’m up to the task. It’s much easier to dump all you can manage to pick into a big pot, add a bit of water, and coax them to release their juice onContinue reading

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I’m a sucker for jam – making it and eating it – and I always dig for the wee jar of cherry jam on restaurant brunch tables. BC cherries aren’t quite ready yet, but I happened to have a bag of frozen ones in the freezer – already pitted, even – and so tonight in an attempt to kickstart summer I made a small pot. Four jars’ worth – just enough to disgrace myself with buttered toast, and share a few with those I know will do the same. I can hardly keep up with the influx of beautiful new cookbooks these days, but my pal Amy in Victoria has been working on hers for years, and I’ve been particularly looking forward to it – not only because Amy is awesome, but because I have a fondness for books on the subject of preserves. Also – a fondness for Amy. She’s sweet and lovely and kind and funny, and showed up at my launch forContinue reading

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Winter, meet spring. I recently discovered two large freezer bags full of chopped pink rhubarb in my deep freeze, and decided I should get rid of them to make room for a new haul, which considering the weather we’ve been having, is imminent. I haven’t been without a bag of Meyer lemons in my fridge since they became available earlier in the winter, and so was happy to find a recipe for marmalade combining the two in Marisa’s latest book, Preserving by the Pint. You take your lemons and slice off the nubbly ends, cut them in sixths, then cut the pointy edge off the wedges, bringing the seeds along with them – these go into a tea ball or cheesecloth to simmer along with the fruit and provide pectin. My candy thermometer was lost to dishwater eons ago, but the marmalade still turned out perfectly-sweet and citrusy, not too acidic, with a slightly floral undertone.

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There is a common misconception that crabapples aren’t good for much, merely because their size prohibits easy peeling and coring. And their name characterizes them unfairly. (W used to call them “crap apples”.) But in reality, having all the flavour and tartness of a full apple packed into such a condensed space is a good thing; and the fact that they are ripe and ready right at harvest time can’t be a coincidence. Loaded with flavour and pectin (especially the cores, so you don’t want to core them anyway), crabapples are delicious insurance that your jams and jellies will set, without buying and upending a packet of powdered stuff into your pot. Apple is delicious with berries, plums, or any other fruits you want to toss in – but there’s nothing wrong with straight-up crabapple, either. I happened to be gifted with a bucket of equally tart and tiny plums – crabplums – which were equally impossible to pit. And so they joined the partyContinue reading

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Just when I thought straight-up cherries by the handful couldn’t be improved upon. Applying heat to just about anything – but particularly juicy fruit – makes it better. You can roast cherries, of course. They get along well with balsamic vinegar, and a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, and a good grinding of black pepper. And the heat of the oven until the slump over and into each other, and give up their juices, which then caramelize on the parchment papered-pan.

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