Monday, July 27, 2009

Preserving Joy

Last week I went on a berry hunting spree. Truth be told, it did not take much hunting to find the berry treasure because this is their season. Almost any variety you can imagine is available at this time of year in Canada and the US.

Ontario and Toronto grocery stores have a good selection and most stock local in season berries and fruit from Ontario and Canadian growers. You might be surprised to see that many import from the US even at this time of the year. Make sure you read the signs carefully and search for the local produce. You won’t be disappointed with the quality.

A better and even more fun way to shop for berries and other in season, local Ontario fruit is at a farmers market. The Brickworks farmers market and St.Lawrence Market are good bets in the Toronto area. And don’t ignore your local neighbourhood markets as many source locally and if you’re lucky they’re not only local but often organic too.

If you live in Ontario Pick Your Own Crop Harvest Calendar lists the fruits and vegetables available in season throughout the year. A great resource for what’s in season even if you don’t want to pick your own. This site also advises you when to pick, includes recipes, freezing, equipment and much more!

 I also found Ontario sour cherries in my neighbourhood markets last week. An unexpected treat! Though it’s a little late in the season you may still be able to find some this week. The great thing about cherries is that they can be preserved in alcohol. Use brandy for sweet cherries and sour cherries can be macerated in sugar for a little added sweetness prior to preserving in vodka. Some people will drain sour cherries but I prefer to use the juice as well. Later for a real treat, drain some of the cherries for dipping in chocolate!

Another bonus that many city dwellers don’t know about is that sour cherry trees (among other fruit bearing trees) often grow in their own neighbourhoods. Not Far From the Tree became aware of this local bounty and organizes groups of volunteers each season to harvest these fruit trees. One third of the harvest goes to the owner of the tree, another third to volunteers and the remaining third is donated to a food bank.

With a new awareness of the local food movement, safety concerns and the recession is inspiring a renaissance in canning and preserving. While your mother and grandmother probably learned canning and preserving techniques from their mothers and grandmothers, many of us are now doing it for the first time. If this is your first attempt at this “old is new again” trend a safe bet to start with are high-acid foods. The canning process for these is simpler and requires only a basic boiling water canner and mason jars. There are a wide range of other handy tools available to make canning easier: spoons, wide mouthed funnels, air release sticks etc. These tools are available individually or in kits. Try pickling too and preserve those lovely little cukes for crispy crunchy dills or one of my childhood favourites: beets. Low-acid produce like green beans or broccoli require a pressure canner. Pressure canning is not rocket science but is a slightly more complicated piece of equipment requiring extra steps and precautions. Improper canning techniques of low acid content produce can lead to serious problems.

You should be aware that preserving is not something you can dash off in 30 minutes. Methods are guided by tried and tested techniques backed up by food science. Food safety is extremely important when canning and preserving and altering processing times can be a risky business. There are many great preserving guides and books available online and at your local library or book store. Clostridium botulinum can grow in such foods, creating toxins that can cause paralysis and death. The growth of these spores is prevented when filled jars of low acid foods are heat processed at a temperature of 116°C (240°F) for the prescribed time. It’s not difficult, get a good preserving guide and follow the instructions.

Slow down, you'll feel the tradition and don’t be surprised at the sense of accomplishment when all is done. Give canning and preserving a try and you’ll discover one of life’s great little pleasures (apart from eating your preserves) is hearing all those lids pop. That’s the sound of success. You’ll find yourself gazing contentedly, now and months from now, at all those lovely jars of jam, compote and fruit nestled gem like on your pantry shelves. Take them out and show them off as part of your kitchen decor. Friends will look at you with awe!If you can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to can, freezing works quite well for many fruits. Whatever method you choose don’t miss out on summer’s bounty...your winter self will rejoice! This is a list of the berries I found widely available this past week and weekend:
· red raspberries golden raspberries
· gooseberries
· wild blackberries as well as cultivated ones
· white, black & red currents
· 2 types of sweet cherries
· sour cherries
· blueberries



  1. Very timely post. I was wondering what to do with the buckets of blackberries we've been picking off the bushes out back. Thanks for the great instructions!

  2. You're welcome Rachel and It's really quite easy just takes time!