July 19, 2012 by
The NY Times recently ran an article with the headline: “The Nose – An Emotional Time Machine”. I couldn’t help but think about this article during last Thursday’s preserving class, the second in a 4 part series being offered by the Culinary Studio in Kitchener.
It was a hot summer night, and four us were gathered around the big kitchen island to watch co-owner Jody create a lovely little “amuse-bouche” using one of the preserves we would be creating later on in class. The tables were loaded with baskets of fresh Ontario peaches, local cherry tomatoes, green and yellow beans, and corn. The room smelled amazing, like a childhood summer picnic, and made me feel a flush of warm nostalgia as we nibbled our garam masala spiked smoked chicken crostini, topped with a vanilla-peach chutney and a dollop of tangy yogurt. New flavour profiles mingled with old familiar scents, a happy sensory pairing.
Scientifically speaking (thanks, Wikipedia!), the olfactory cortex is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored. That’s why smells, feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled and why the scent of fresh baked cookies or frying onions can transport you in an instant to your grandma’s kitchen.
For me, nothing quite evokes “summer” as strongly as the scent of fresh peaches and of fresh tomatoes. For our first preserve, we peel and chop a huge, mouthwatering bowl of peaches, our hands covered up to the wrists in the sweet sticky juice. We mix the peaches with some dried fruit, fresh vanilla bean, spices and onion to create a beautiful sweet/savoury chutney that will be as fantastic on a sandwich as it is as a side for chicken or pork.
We move on to preparing some gorgeous cherry tomatoes (from Floralane Farms, just outside of Elmira) for canning. Many hands make for light work as we quickly trim, blanche and peel 2 huge flats of tomatoes. The subtle, green, garden smell coming from the tomatoes is absolutely heavenly. If someone could figure out how to get that garden tomato smell into a bottle, I would wear it as perfume! The peeled whole tomatoes are mixed with bit of tomato puree and some basil, the essence of summer captured in a jar. Cracking that lid mid-winter will be invigorating! January me is thanking July me for being so thoughtful.
We whip up some Chow-Chow, the star of which is some lovely Ontario corn. A Chow-Chow is a classic relish that can be made of any variety of vegetables and is as good as a standalone side dish as it is served condiment-style over burgers, hot dogs, corn bread, pinto beans, or sandwiches. Plus, it looks gorgeous in the jar!
Lastly, we pickle some green and yellow beans, which is so simple I am left wondering how I have lived without doing this up until now. I throw in several heaping teaspoons of chilies to make my beans “extreme”, and daydream about impressing my friends by using them to garnish a round of spicy Caesars at my next party... can I can my own Clamato?
We finish off the evening with a delicious meal that combines pork schnitzel and barley risotto with some of the preserves Jody and her team pre-made. As we eat we talk about our own favourite preserves; everyone’s top choice seems to take them back to a kitchen of their childhood, sitting at Grandma’s or Mom’s table being treated to a family specialty of jam or pickle or sauce. A bit lost in our memories we finish our meals contentedly, pack up our jars that contain new memories and traditions and head home.
To register for the upcoming August and September preserving classes (or any of their other cooking classes) visit the Culinary Studio’s website: http://theculinarystudio.ca/
To find out more about Floralane Farms and their tomatoes, check them out here: http://abittaweb.com/www.floralane/elmirasown.htm
Michelle Sullivan lives in Kitchener and is passionate about all things food related and about sustainable, healthy living.