Have you taken the $10 challenge yet? Lyn Ogryzlo, creator of the website, The Ontario Table, (www.ontariotable.com), points out that if every household in the province spent just $10 per week on local produce, the impact on the provincial economy would $2.4 billion. That’s billion, not million!
It’s so easy to comply at this time of the year with so much beautiful fruit in the farmer’s markets around the province. Toronto has a dozen or so, easily accessible and running different days of the week (for a list, visit Ontario Farmer’s Markets’ website). In the supermarket, look for the Ontario Foodland label and buy local. By doing so, you’re helping to keep Ontario farmers on the farm and your family will be enjoying fresher, tastier food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to reach you.
Unfortunately, Ontario winters leave us with fewer local options like apples, potatoes and rhubarb, and it’s tempting to pick up the imports. But if you want to enjoy Ontario’s bounty year around, why not capture it now, while it’s readily available. Canning has been a traditional method of preserving fruits in season, and there’s always freezing.
But here’s another alternative – dehydrating. It’s a method native people have used for centuries.
Kids love fruit rolls – sometimes called fruit leathers. These can be pricey in the store and often contain additives. But you can make them yourself for a fraction of the cost.
I used to start with peaches that I simmered slowly on the stove to thicken the puree, but I’ve discovered that fresh peaches work equally well. Not only is the peach taste much stronger, but it’s a lot less work!
Just wash well, then puree your favourite fruits – blueberries, peaches, raspberries, apples, apricots. Blends like raspberry and blueberry, or peach and apricot work very well. When they are completely smooth (don’t worry about the raspberry seeds), taste the puree.
If the fruit is a little tart, you can add some sweetener – sugar, honey, agave syrup or maple syrup. Just add just a tiny amount; remember that the sugars in the fruit will concentrate as it dries.
Or you can simply dehydrate whole berries or slices of fruit. It’s easy if you have a food dehydrator. My Ronco dehydrator takes a lot of the guesswork out. Just pile the fruit in the layers, plug it in and move the trays regularly for spectacular results.
You can also prepare fruit leather in the Ronco, simply line the perforated trays with plastic wrap.
You can do it in the oven too, especially if you have a digital oven and can effectively bring the temperature down to 140F. For fruit leathers, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper then spread it a layer of fruit puree. It will take anywhere from 12-36 hours depending on the juiciness of the fruit. One small basket of peaches will produce three cookie sheets of fruit rolls.
I also tried preparing a selection of whole and sliced fruits – strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, apples in the dehydrator. The results are delicious. According to my guinea pigs, the blueberries, apples and strawberries came up trumps. But the tomatoes really came up trumps.
They were very similar to sun dried tomatoes, which can be very pricey. Indeed, many chefs prepare oven dried tomatoes themselves. I tried several different tomato varieties – a field variety, romas and small camparis. The camparis won hands down, not surprising as they start out with a huge flavour advantage.
Some recipes call for sprinkling them with sugar and herbs (Martha Stewart) or olive oil (Michael Smith) but frankly, I don’t think they need anything beyond their own flavour. When they are completely dry (there should be no wet places in the fruit), just toss in a plastic bag or pack them in olive oil and store. Add them to your pasta sauce or stews for a rich tomato flavour year round.
This Fall, as you delight in Ontario’s bounty, try preserving some of that beautiful fresh taste to enjoy this winter.