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September, 2011:

Hawthorn Jelly

Earlier this week I wrote a post about finding haws, the fruit of the hawthorn tree. The obvious next question is: Who eats these things?

Well, for one, native residents of Manitoulin Island do. As this post on Bill Casselman’s site and the wikipedia entry describe they are colloquially known as haweaters.¬† Folklore holds that the island’s early residents avoided scurvy by eating the vitamin C rich fruit.

In chattering about them on Twitter I had a bunch of people tell me that haws are available as a delicious candy in China.

They also make an excellent jelly. If you are careful to choose haws whose texture is firm, not mushy, they should have enough natural pectin to set without adding any extra.

I’ve never made jelly before, let alone from wild fruit, so I’m going to spread my impressions between this post and another on the grape-apple jelly I made. (more…)

Hunting Haws

If I knew where to find wild blueberries I don’t think I’d tell you. Choice wild mushrooms like morels or chanterelles? Definitely not. But haws? Haws are every where, my friends.

They grow abundantly in Asia, Europe, and here in North America. Sometimes planted as a windbreak for fields or as an ornamental for their showy flowers in the spring and bright red fruit in the fall. The fruit of the hawthorn, called haws, can have a strong flavour and they’re not very suited for eating out of hand but with their abundant natural pectin make an excellent jelly.

Now I know no one really reads disclaimers. I know this because I don’t read disclaimers. So, I’m throwing this one in the middle of the post here in hopes that you’ll actually be jarred into reading it. Don’t go around eating red berries off random bushes. Best-ish case scenario: You’ll spend a lot of time on the porcelain throne. You fill in the blank for the worst case. Get yourself a proper field guide to edible plants and take it with you. (more…)

Two if by Hand Mill

For the second year running my cousin Alex and I took a stab at mass-producing tomato sauce. We changed two things this year: we upped the ante to two and a half bushels and called my grandmother’s grinder-style tomato mill into service.

Last year I remember the two rotary food mills we used to separate the tomato juice and pulp being the choke points that pushed the event well into overtime despite all the helping hands we had. (Alex remembers differently.)

This year, even with a bunch of greatly-appreciated help from friends and family (including an indefatigable seven-year old) the grinding still took at least four hours. I also don’t think our yield–twelve litres per bushel–was very good. (more…)

Peach Prices

Peaches are my favourite seasonal Ontario fruit. Lifetime, I’ve probably downed about 500 Ontario peaches for every one I’ve had from elsewhere. Luckily, the season lasts a relatively long six weeks between mid-August and the last days of summer in September.

I can understand not paying much attention to the price of a basket of peaches if you buy a few of them a couple weeks apart. This year, I bought a bushel and a half  of peaches for a group of us who canned them, so my radar for a good peach deal is, I think, more finely tuned than usual.

A flat of peaches from Longo's.

A flat of peaches from Longo's.

But let’s deal with quantities before we talk prices. The most recognisable container for peaches is the 3 L basket. At one time they were all made of cardboard and had the green handles with the Foodland Ontario logo but now also come in an annoying clear plastic version. Depending on a bunch of variables the peaches in each 3 L basket have a total weight between 3 lbs 8 oz and 4 lbs 8 oz, so we’ll call it an even four pounds. Major grocery stores like to pretend that it is a special, sale price but $4 a basket seems standard at Metro, Loblaws, and Longo’s. That’s $1 per pound. (more…)