Sunday, June 7, 2009

Harvest Envy

Article and image courtesy of Amanda

For weeks, I've had harvest envy--reading blogs based in more "hospitable" climates like California, British Columbia, France and the UK have showcased the first berries, veg and garden parties of spring. Meanwhile, Ontario remains icy at night and slightly warm during the day. Blossoms have come and gone, which at least casts a spell of hopefulness over the province--we have neither strawberries nor heat, but if we close our eyes and spin around three times and wish very, very hard, when we open our eyes again, it'll be summer. Maybe.

Consulting Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries for delicious dinner suggestions, I flip to roughly that day's date then sigh--"first dinner in the garden!" he declares, while I huddle beneath three quilts. "Enjoyed the season's early shoots and sprouts!" he boasts, while my local weather forecast advises against putting seedlings in the ground and cautions that overnight, it might be wise to wrap flowers and shrubs against the frost.

I suppose it all evens out, at some point. Perhaps we have a more intense summer, a more bountiful autumn, a more languid September or less rainy October. Or, perhaps the payoff for the pokey Ontario growing season lies not in the warmth of summer or flashy autumn harvest, but in the incredible relief we experience when winter's deep freeze finally thaws, or the desperate clamour to wring every last drop of goodness from summertime, before we slip under the ice again. If Ontario were more moderate, would the blueberries be as juicy, the corn as buttery, the pollen as cloudy or the beans as snappy? Probably not.

Canadians are notorious weather-bitchers--we complain about the cold, the early nightfall, the wind and chills and rain and so on. We declare the sunshine and heat so fleeting, and groan about how grueling a particular season was to endure.

Since the birth of Open Pantry, I've been trying to think more critically and microscopically about the things that make my location delicious and special--France has its wine, cheese, boudins, and so on. California is the land of fruit and greens and coastal fish. Quebec, although snuggled against my own province, is stingy about its culture, keeping all that excellent beer, cheese, syrup and pastry to itself. And so, what makes Ontario so Ontario-ish? Historically, I'd framed it as the place where I lived because I liked it better than Vancouver and it came without the language hurdles of Montréal. But what of its pantries?

Big change is afoot, particularly in the little regions surrounding Toronto. Artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, rare wheats for fantastic breads, granny methods of curing, preserving and brewing...heirloom seeds and rare breeds of livestock...all these things are gaining not only ground but broader acceptance. Things are more affordable, and this sort of quality and diversity is becoming expected, rather than remaining buried in the domain of the monied and arrogant foodie.

So, while most of the things I love about living and eating here are perishable--the fleeting wild blueberries, my friend Mario's hand-cured speck, the sparkling rosé bottled at a Niagara Falls winery, the ginger cakes baked down the block from my house--I think the thing that singles out Ontario food culture most for me would be the weather. Winter is so desperately cold; summer weather starts mid-July and is gone by early September if not sooner. Autumn means it's dark by 5 p.m., and it rains pretty much straight through from March till late June. The languid portion of the year is so compressed, seasonal eating and garden dinners and picking fruit and relaxing with a drink on a crowded patio, settling in with a picnic to people-watch in the park. These are things I can't cram in a box and mail to you, as my Open Pantry partner, but perhaps the blog posts I present here will give you an idea of Ontario eating, moreso than the things I drop into the post.


  1. Patience, Amanda. Patience. I certainly understand your spring envy as noted in several comments on the blog, but I also share your attitude of relishing every gift of the season when it decides to present itself.

    Fiddleheads have been fantastic lately, and true to your Quebec analysis, I came across a crazy delicious Tome de Chevre cheese trucked in from La Beauce at the market last week.

    I intend on buying it all so that you Ontarians can't get your hands on it.

  2. I remember when living in Winnipeg that I saw Ontario as such a green paradise to be able to have orchards and grapevines...

  3. So true Ms. J! And, unlike Manitoba, we don't burn the fields at the end of the harvest...OMG even 25 years later, I can still smell that stink, can't you?