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Happy-Gourmand

The taste of change

We have been fortunate to have warm days as the calendar page turned to September.

The nights are, however, cool. Everything is different as summer sets on the horizon and autumn rises. 

When Ella and I walk in the orchards, the air is crisp and the aromas in the air are the same. There are a few more peaches still on the trees, but the fruit of fall is plums and pears.

The early morning light, coming a few minutes later every day, peeks through the branches and seems to light the pears from inside like fairy lanterns.

Even the perfume of pears has a magical taste. A fresh pear just ripened has juice that captures the bouquet of summer and keeps it for us to remember.

Poached in red wine or baked into a tart with frangipane, they are a decadent taste of what was with the promise of a cozy winter to come.

Plums offer the spice of autumn, and their earthy colours herald the changing tones of the new season. I always thought they made the perfect lunch box fruit, tough on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Their smaller size means its easier to enjoy a buffet of flavours, too. Italian plums, greengage, red plums… each has its own gift to give our taste buds. 

It seems more people are preserving the flavours of the seasons. When we tried to get more jam jars this week, we found there was not a one to be had in Kelowna.

If you plan to make something for your pantry, be sure you have your jars assembled first before you warm up the jam kettle.

Instead of a recipe for preserving fall flavours over time, I have a couple that you can enjoy right away.

I know everyone is busy with the new schedules of fall, but pears and plums keep a few days in the fridge so they will wait for the weekend. I also offer a way to save them for a later date once prepared if you want.

One good tip I learned from a farmer: pears ripen from the inside out, so buy them before they are ripe for best flavours.

Living in wine country, I enjoy the chance to use wine in my cooking. You don’t need an expensive wine here, so it’s not a huge expense. A bit of fruit for dessert is a lovely delicate way to end a meal, and it’s also gluten free.

You will impress your guests with an elegant red-wine poached pear on a plate and you can salute two of our region’s highlights. 

I love baked items that can be served any time of day:

  • Brunch
  • Teatime
  • Dessert
  • Snack on the road.

This plum torte is a beautiful and tasty way to feature the unique flavours of different plums; it works with any type and is especially attractive if you use more than one type. 

If you’re not much of a kitchen geek, then how about a visit to a farm stand or a U-pick orchard?

You can experience the smells of the fresh bounty at a farm stand or farmers’ market, and picking the fruit gives you the chance to see if you spot any fairies in the trees. You can also be proud of supporting local small businesses.

Thanksgiving may be a ways off yet, but it won’t hurt any of us to practise gratitude as we enjoy the beautiful bounty of our region. You see, gratitude is like smiles – and fairy dust. Once produced, it brushes off on other people and spreads its magic.

Happy munching.



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An heirloom like no other

As a gardener, I look forward to the harvest all summer.

All the watering, weeding, trimming, and encouragement is in hopes of a beautiful bounty this time of year.

For a Prairie kid like me who grew up watching my parents hope desperately for enough warm, sunny days to ripen tomatoes, those are the gems in the garden’s treasure.

Here in the Okanagan, we are blessed with a wonderfully long, hot summer season. I still end up with green tomatoes on the vine in October, but we have enjoyed plenty of ripe fruit by then. 

I love to grow oddball veggies and tomatoes are no exception. This year, I have luscious Yellow Oxhearts and dainty green-striped teardrops named after Michael Pollan.

There are Purple Cherokees and Pink Caspians, smaller but dramatic Indigo Rose, and the straight-up red and prolific Centennial Rocket.

It’s just as exciting as Christmas morning to go into the garden and see what’s there for me to pick.

Tomatoes are an incredibly sensory experience, and I don’t just mean taste. It’s like the plants are making me pay attention to how much they have to offer.

As soon as I reach in to pick a ripe tomato, I can smell the earthy, green aroma from the plant. I can’t describe it any other way – just intensely “green."

Amon wine geeks, tomato leaf is said to be a typical aroma of Sauvignon Blanc or the aptly named vinho verde (green wine) of Portugal. Next time you have a glass, see if you notice it. 

The feel of a ripe tomato is a sensual experience. Although they are considered a soft-flesh fruit, they are best when picked firm. I enjoy the meaty varieties that have more flesh than seeds. 

Some of our beefsteak varieties are big enough that one slice makes a perfect component for a BLT.

My special tip for taking this simple sandwich over the top is to use arugula instead of lettuce and add a swipe of pesto with the mayo.

When I come back in after my gathering and wash my hands, the smell comes back; the sink displays a yellow-green tint as the water washes the aroma down the drain. 

I found that amazing as a kid, that the plants would give off so much colour just from a touch. If you look carefully in the early morning sun, you can see the magic – there is a glistening yellow mist over the leaves.

Tomatoes are the best example of another term I learned in my wine studies: terroir, a French term meaning “a sense of place.” It is talked about when people want to convey the unique flavours indicative in a product from their region. 

This magic created by the environment, the plant’s growing habit and the gardener’s practices are fully showcased by tomatoes.

Growing tomatoes makes me think of working in our family garden in Calgary when I was little, but the taste of my Okanagan harvest is not the same.

The terroir here is nothing like what went into those hard-won specimens, just like two different, equally wonderful bottles of wine.

I could give you some recipe links for tomato dishes, but if you have your own bounty or if you’ve found local gems at a fruit stand or farmer’s market then all you need is perhaps a bit of salt, a wee chiffonade of basil, if it strikes your fancy, or maybe a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. 

Just like the season itself, and all the memories we love to cherish of seasons past, a freshly picked heirloom tomato deserves to be simply enjoyed. It will help you understand the old saying:

“There ain’t nothing better in life than true love, and a home-grown tomato.”



The food of angels

As summer draws to a close, many of us will be racing to grab one more moment in the sun or one more taste of the season.

Here in the Okanagan there are many local summer flavours, but the quintessential flavour of summer across the world for thousands of years has been the watermelon.

Did you know watermelon is one of the oldest fruits in the world? Its origins are in Africa, where it grows wild still today in some places. Seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb. 

The Egyptians cultivated watermelons and worked to improve the taste, but its water content was what made it useful for the Pharaohs to have on their journey to the afterlife.

Since I have given you a few trivia tidbits, here is a bit more to chew on: watermelons started out yellow, and gradually became red as they were bred for a sweeter taste. And just so you can really dazzle the folks at the water cooler, the gene for sweetness is paired with the one for red colour.

The wild ancestor of the watermelon we know today did have a more bitter flavour and a harder rind. They had to be pummelled to release their water content; today a sharp knife will slice into a modern specimen.

The African melons were transported and traded because they were natural water canteens, and they eventually made their way to the Mediterranean around the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Those cultures not only enjoyed the taste of watermelon, they lauded its benefits.

Greek physicians recognized healing properties in this fruit: Hippocrates recommended children with heat stroke have cool, wet watermelon rinds placed on their heads. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder included watermelon as an effective cooling food in his encyclopedia published in the first century.

Nowadays we have recognized many more benefits from consuming watermelon, beyond the sheer joy of biting into a wedge and spitting the seeds into the grass.

Get ready to blow your mind with how many reasons I can give you:

  • Watermelon has more lycopene than any other fruit or veggie. This antioxidant may have positive effects in reducing our risk for cancer and diabetes.
  • It also contains an amino acid, citrulline, which helps blood move through your body and can lower your blood pressure.
  • One medium slice of watermelon gives you 10% of your daily vitamin A dose – good for your eyes, supports your immune system and your bone health.
  • Its high water content (92%) helps us stay hydrated, and the potassium it contains makes it a good choice for a gym snack. Watermelon is a natural electrolyte.
  • Watermelon has a lower calorie count than many snacks, making it a healthy snack. One cup of watermelon has only 45 calories, versus the 300 calories in one cup of ice cream.
  • The soft flesh of watermelon is easy to digest, even for those with many gut issues. 
  • Most watermelons today are seedless, but the seeds do contain nutrients so there is no need to worry if you swallow one.

“When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat,” said Mark Twain.

Obviously, he was talking about the modern version. I don’t know if it was divine intervention that made watermelon such a healthy and delicious food. I do know it makes me stop and smile every time I bite into a slice.

In closing, I will confirm one last fact: contrary to what my Grampa and many other elders have said over the years, swallowed seeds cannot grow in your tummy. Just in case you were wondering. 





Don't steal from farmers

I was going to write about the wonderful abundance of fresh produce in the Okanagan and how to use it.

But I had a conversation that inspired me to change my approach. Besides, I’m sure you have a zucchini loaf recipe already. Bear with me while I give you the background for my message...

I was talking with a worker from a local farm who related an encounter with someone picking fruit from one of their orchards, filling their T-shirt as the worker pulled up to do some work.

“Excuse me, but that fruit isn’t free for the picking,” the worker said.

“Oh, it’s not free?” the person said, while continuing to pick. “No. We have a fruit stand with u-pick trees if you want. You need to stop.”

The person picked a few more pieces and ran to the car. “Thanks so much, you made my vacation!” and drove off. 

I was gobsmacked. That someone could be so disrespectful of something so basic was heartbreaking.

We live on property that borders a local farm and I see how hard the team works to provide all the bounty we enjoy.

It is not an easy living, and it is fraught with many unpredictable elements, most of them related to Mother Nature but now also the character of people. 

Here in the Okanagan we are spoiled with summer bounty, enjoying fresh local fruits and veggies, not to mention the ways they are transformed.

From farm stands and markets to local restaurants and wineries, breweries and cideries, there are plenty of opportunities to partake of it all. 

Just because there is plenty does not mean we can help ourselves. Every morsel of food and drink is cultivated, nurtured, and depended on for someone’s livelihood. The reason we call it a food chain is that many people are involved in getting said food to our tables.

Our communities are a part of that chain.

There are plenty of catch phrases and hash tags being thrown around to encourage people to be a positive part of the community. #supportlocal #loveyourfarmer

These don’t just mean spending money, they mean respecting those businesses and their efforts to succeed, especially in the current crazy times. 

Any small business works hard to succeed against the odds alongside big chain brands and online alternatives. With the limits imposed by a pandemic, it is much harder to make things go around.  

If you want to try the U-pick harvest method for local produce, check in with a farm or fruit stand that offers the service and be sure to ask how to properly pick the fruit. (Improperly picking can damage the trees and reduce the harvest for the following year.)

When you visit local restaurants or wineries, consider that they are trying hard to offer a pleasant experience amidst a whole set of new rules and limitations. Instead of wishing things could be the way they used to be, how about embracing the new version of things?

Remember, they do still want you to buy food and wine.

It is harder for us customers too, in today’s world. You might want things to go back to the old way; I bet workers do, too. We all need to make the best of things. 

If you can’t get into the idea of being empathetic, how about the practicality of having your own good time? This is a lot harder to do if you buck the trend, going against the system.

It is much simpler to go with the flow to get what you want.

I’m not against people who want to protest. The only thing is, protests work better out in the open, not at only one business. 

So please, if you cannot wrap your head around treating people at businesses with respect – which means following the rules they have to follow to make their living – then just stay away.

  • Shop online
  • Go where there are no staff with whom you need to interact.

We will all be happier that way. 

And for those who are making an effort to support local enterprises of all kinds, thank you for your patronage and engagement.

You are helping things come around



More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."

 

E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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