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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If you live somewhere where there are actually things growing out of the ground already, lucky you. Here in Calgary, there are still small glaciers on most streets and in yards, but this weekend the temperature finally crept up past zero. Way up past ten, even! Hello, barbecue. It’s been awhile. Last week I had lunch with a local rancher (one who supplies our Calgary Co-op stores with beef that’s born and bred in Alberta), and was given a gorgeous T-bone steak to take home, which we used as an excuse to fire up the grill (which since October has been subbing as an outdoor freezer). When you get a taste of spring, even when there’s still snow on the ground, you gotta jump on it.

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I made mincemeat from scratch last night. And again this morning. What took me so long? I mean to do it every year, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t managed to for at least a decade. (I’d remember. And I won’t make that mistake again.) I adore mincemeat, applied liberally by spoon or by tart. And yes, it likely has a lot to do with the season during which they’re eaten – I can’t think of another food so exclusive to Christmas as the mince tart – but what’s not to love about a dark jammy mix of dried fruit, citrus, apples and spices? And of course most things are their best selves when they’ve been homemade vs. mass-produced. I started with grated apples and chopped pears, along with raisins (two kinds) and currants, the zest and juice of a lemon and orange, some brown sugar and spices. Nevermind the suet – I used a bit of butter instead, which when you think about itContinue reading

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THIS. Baked brie with Christmas preserves: it’s what’s for dinner. And breakfast, probably. I’ve embraced this season of chocolates, cookies and leftover party food as in place of our regular meals, or at least as supplements. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten more baked brie in the last few weeks as I have all year – and I’m counting on more tonight. About twenty years ago, I was in my early twenties visiting a friend in Saskatoon – she lived in a corner bungalow that back then cost so little these days I could probably put it on my credit card – and she had two small kids, a work and soccer schedule, and the whole scenario seemed so grown-up, especially when we decided one day to make a big pot of preserves to divvy into jars and hand out as Christmas gifts. We came up with this mishmash of holiday flavours – citrus, cranberries, nuts and spice – and made a special run to theContinue reading

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This is a rerun from Day 16 of this blog. Day 16! I can hardly remember it being a demanding newborn. But really, this is a recipe I’ve been making since I was about 16, and before that my mom made it, and my grandma, and great aunts, and regular aunts, and I’m pretty sure it was/is in the Art Gallery of Windsor Cookbook, circa 1970something. (My relatives on that side were/are from Windsor, and so a handful of our family recipes can be found in or came from that book.) Everyone has a few things that taste like Christmas to them – or Hannukah, or Festivus – and this is one of those edibles that can’t not be made in December. It’s so ingrained in our holiday psyches that I can’t really tell if it’s something I’d eat or not if I was introduced to it now (the ingredient list may make me shudder), but every year we make an enormous potful.

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