June 26, 2012 by
In Southern Ontario, like in most of Canada, part of the reason spring and summer are so magical is because of the long, cold winter we endure (okay, that we typically endure - last year's streak of above zero, snow-free days was definitely an anomaly!)
When trying to eat local, savouring the robust, green, juicy flavours of spring and early summer is a positively joyous occasion after spending the last five months eating mainly root vegetables and apples (which I love, just not in endless doses). Fresh strawberries, picked right out of the field and still warm from the sun, are about as transcendent of an experience as you can get. Garlic scapes bring a bright bite to everything from pastas to salads. Herbs are in full swing and get added to almost every dish (and jug of iced tea) I whip up. Asparagus and fiddleheads get eaten by the bushelful because in the back of my mind I know that they are here for a brief time only before the next wave of local summer produce takes it's turn to shine.
How do we keep the memory of all of these delicious flavours long after the trees have lost their blooms and the snow is starting to fly? We preserve it of course! Preserving foods has been an essential technique for good (and inexpensive) eating for centuries, and it's a great way to be sure that you can 'eat local' all year. Food preservation skills are something that we’ve recently begun to lose - and The Culinary Studio gets us re-learning them in their "Preserving the Summer" series that runs the second Thursday of each month from June - September.
June's class had us capturing the quintessential spring flavours of asparagus and strawberries, as well as making an eggplant and cherry tomato relish and preserving some lemons (true, they aren't local, but they are in season, and why not capture their essence while they are at their juiciest and cheapest?). We learned how to pickle some beautiful asparagus from Barrie's Asparagus, and the recipe can be used to pickle other things like garlic scapes. The strawberries were captured two ways - we cooked one batch down in some Gamay Noir for a light jam, and the second batch in some balsamic vinegar, which makes for a strawberry sauce that can be used on everything from brie to ice cream. At the end of our class we shared a delicious light meal of crostini, cheese and strawberry preserve and some chicken and orzo with a creamy preserved lemon sauce, helping to reinforce all the great ways in which the fruits of our labour could be enjoyed.
The Sunday morning following the preserving class I toasted some sourdough from a local bakery, spread on some Monforte Dairy fresh, lemony sheep's milk cheese (I can't get enough of any and all of their cheeses) and topped it with the strawberry preserves and some mint from my garden. It was an extremely satisfying breakfast on all fronts - all local, some bits even made and grown by me, and delicious!
Like any other skill, learning the art of preservation takes time, but once you learn the basics it gets easier. It's a great activity to tackle with a group of friends - as you spend the afternoon working on your preserves, you will find the time flies as you catch up with each other, and it's much easier to do large batches when the tasks are shared. I am heading to the PYO this weekend for some strawberries - some to freeze and some to turn into jam. I am also looking forward to our next class on July 12th where we will learn put together some canned Elmira Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Classic 'Chow Chow', and a Peach-Vanilla Chutney. Visit the Culinary Studio to register and join the fun - your winter self will thank you!
Register for classes at The Culinary Studio at http://theculinarystudio.ca. Find out more about Barrie's Asparagus and Monforte Dairy by checking out http://barriesasparagus.blogspot.ca and http://story.monfortedairy.com
Michelle Sullivan lives in Kitchener and is passionate about all things food related and about sustainable, healthy living.