Gourmets in Toronto await the arrival of summer with baited breath, contemplating the culinary delights of the season.
Freshly picked Ontario strawberries marinated in Cointreau or Grand Marnier enriched with real whipped cream is a
delight few can resist. It is true that California strawberries are at least twice or thrice the size of locally grown specimens,
but they taste like cotton.
American scientists and researchers bred giant strawberries as the public has the unexplainable belief that bigger is better, but more importantly, picking large strawberries incurs low labour cost and in order for the fragile fruit to arrive in Toronto in acceptable form, all picked unripe.
The same is true for tomatoes. Soon local beefsteak tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes will appear in our markets. If you just slice a field-ripened beefsteak tomato and drizzle extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper, a few leaves of julienne-cut basil and a drop of two of white wine vinegar, you will have a feast.
Niagara peaches are absolutely delicious and succulent, and beyond compare with those imported from as far away as Chile. Of course in Ontario, the season of fresh produce and fruit is short, creating a surfeit of impeccable food. In times past, people with time on their hands and little money in their pockets bought fresh fruit and preserved them. There are still plenty of rural families in the prairies who preserve, judging from sales of jars.
Torontonians are lucky. They can drive for 30 minutes and start picking raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, apples and pears in one of the many pick-you-own farms. Many do, including my wife and myself with a penchant for raspberries. There is a thrill in picking your own fruit right off the tree or wine. You commune with nature; you start appreciating what is involved in growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping highly perishable produce.
It takes at least a few days for commercial produce to hit retail shelves, but if you pick it yourself, you can enjoy freshness. Moreover, there is a no comparison between fruit that travelled thousands of kilometres, to those that are tree-ripened.
Recently on a trip to Armenia, I experienced first hand how farmers there market their produce and could observe the frame of mind of the population. They are conditioned to buying and enjoying seasonal produce. No one thinks of tomatoes in October. Imported fruit is readily available, but by local standards, very expensive.
There farmers pick the produce the morning and drive to the market. When the load is sold, they return home. There is no drive or ambition to pick more than they think they can sell in a day. I wanted my hosts to taste celery. All our efforts were in vain. They told me that celery is available only in September and October.
Apricots, indigenous to Armenia, were in season. In addition, compared to what we get here from California and even Niagara, is simply superb. Armenian apricots are certainly smaller and uneven in size, but they taste absolutely unsurpassed!
Unfortunately, the fruit is too perishable for long distance shipping. Of course, scientists could breed an apricot with thicker skin to withstand the trauma of transportation, but the population does not even entertain the thought. They simply enjoy seasonal foods and look forward to them.
The Macedonian farmer who grows and personally sells organic apples, pears, celery and cabbage does brisk business for two months of the year and then enjoys the fruits of his labour. The taste of his cabbage is far superior to the industrial version bought in stores. True, he charges more, but you are satisfied with a smaller quantity of his produce than those store bought.
Maybe herein lies the problem of obesity in North America.