Saturday, August 10, 2013


An online friend tells me I have been negligent in not giving any glimpses or news from the Oxford Symposium on Food of early July. There’s a reason I haven’t written about it I think. It’s a place where people come and meet and give talks and discuss food issues both large and small, famous and obscure. The being-there is the point. And I am not a reporter. So I end up stumped and stopped, unable to find the ease and juice to write interestingly about it.

But that online prompting in turn is making me think about the nature of the communicating that goes on on FB and Twitter. I post a link to an interesting story, thinking others might also find it interesting. That’s a kind of curating or giving access to others. And I also post notes about things I’m thinking about or situations I’ve just been in or even something interesting that I made myself for breakfast. Why do that? It’s hard to say. Is this taking the place of quick phone chats with friends? Is it an unloading of thoughts that would otherwise just run through my head? What purpose is served? 

On the other hand, this networking can be so useful for linking people and their needs. The other day I was at the Farmers’ Market that takes place every Tuesday (8 am to 2 pm) in front of Sick Children’s Hospital a few blocks from my house. The dazed parents and others who find themselves visting a sick child in the hospital can at least get refreshed by stopping by. It’s a reminder of a better happier world than the hospital. And a reminder that there is good food in the world; hospital food is still so disgracefully bad around here.

But the farmers who come in to the various farmers’ markets in Toronto pay a real price. They have the cost of gas and the time it all takes to drive in, or else the cost of paying someone else to drive in and to sell for them. I was talking to the woman who manages the market about whether farmers could share transport chores, take turns doing the drive in, whatever. But they come in from all directions, not from a single community or area. Still, if there were a good on-line bulletin board, so growers/producers could communicate their where and when and what kind of transport they needed, perhaps it could lighten their market burden. So, said the manager, find me someone to design the app who can give us a good price…

We clamour for local food, but many aren’t willing to pay the cost of it, and the farmers are caught in a squeeze. Perhaps modern methods can give this “old-fashioned” market idea new life and increased resilience.

With the peaches and blueberries I bought on Tuesday I made a couple of cakes: my skillet cake standard. I say "standard" but of course each time the cake is different, as I use a variety of flours (this time all Red Fife) and flavourings and toppings. I included a few wild blueberries in the cake batter, and I also cooked peaches briefly in white wine with more blueberries, then spooned them onto the cakes when they were half-cooked. Delicious. I like the unpredictability, the fresh discovery each time I make the skillet cakes, as I vary ingredients and proportions. It’s such a forgiving recipe, the best kind. I leave fine patisserie and over-precision to those who love it. Give me Home baking and a casual approach any day.

And on the subject of fruit, I had a large basket of blueberries to work with, not wild ones, this week. We’ve been eating handfuls of them as a snack at all times of day. But even so there were still a lot left yesterday and I was worried that they would start going off. So I tossed them into a pot with a very little bit of water and some sugar and cooked them a little. The intensification of flavour was fabulous. There definitely is a good argument for cooking some fruit – not raspberries or sweet cherries, but rhubarb, blueberries, sometimes peaches…

And more fruit talk: I have some sour cherries frozen, from a few weeks ago. I want to figure out a moraba (preserved fruit) recipe for them, to try to come close to the fabulous carnelian cherry moraba I tasted in Georgia.

Of course I am kind of rolling a rock uphill here. First, sour cherries and not the same as carnelian cherries, which, in fact, are not “cherries” at all, though they look like brighter red, slightly elongated cherries. (Their Latin name is Cornus mas and they are in the dogwood family; here’s a link
I’ve seen them growing at the agricultural research station in Mount Vernon, in Washington State (where the Kneading Conference West is held each year – this year it’s September 12 to 14, and will be great), and wonder if any of you have worked with them.

Despite the rock-uphill aspect, I think it’s worth a try, this recipe testing/development with sour cherries, for morabas can be eaten as preserved fruits, but also, my favorite thing, their sweetened intensely fruit-tasting syrup can be used as a concentrate to make a delicious drink, essence of summer in the winter. Or you can drizzle the syrup over ice cream or use it to glaze a cake or…!

1 comment:

caroline said...

I'm glad you reminded us of skillet cake, Naomi, because we're having early blackberries here on Denman Is. BC. I felt it was too hot to turn the oven on, so they're sitting in the fridge waiting for me to make up my mind. The skillet will satisfy my craving plus, they too, are better when cooked.