Bobby stood up in front of the table after he had finished serving us a breakfast of French toast with raspberry goat cheese and Italian sausage. There was one beautiful, ripe peach placed in the corner of everyone’s plate. This was fruit that held greater meaning: “I was given a peach and it was perfect. I bit into it and the juice ran down my chin. There was nothing better and I knew I had to move to the Okanagan where this wonderful fruit was grown. I needed to go there to learn more about food and be closer to where it is produced.” The peach was Bobby’s Madeleine. It had brought him to this fertile valley between dessert and mountain to elaborate his ideas of terroir in the company of Cam and Dana at Joy Road Catering.
I ate my delicious breakfast and saved my peach for last. Closing my eyes, I brought the peach close to my upper lip. I could feel its softness as I breathed in its ripe scent. As I bit into my peach the juice ran down my chin and a grin spread across my face. I got it.
Peaches were now on my mind. British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley had indeed once been famous for its fruit and in particular peaches. Everywhere I looked along the lush Naramata Bench there were orchards being displaced making way for vineyards. I can see the challenge of farming fruit and the advantages of making wine. On one hand, fruit does not command much of a price in these days of global markets. It is also difficult to find cheap manual labour to harvest the fruit, not to mention the tricky business of delivering these perishable goods to market in pristine condition. Fruit is difficult business. Wine, on the other hand, is made from grapes that are generally processed on site and made into alcohol. It keeps for a goodly length of time and the fruit has value added to it as it is turned into a prestigious form of alcohol. How could wine but win out in this practical economic argument. I guess my main fear is about biodiversity: I have seen so many wine regions that had turned their sunbaked hills into one monotonous sea of vines. Where any monoculture exists there are the obvious problems of pest control, soil depletion and water. As the demand for local fruits and vegetable increases in Western Canada, I hope that local farmers will be able to keep up with demand and earn a decent living.
There has been a great deal of talk about eating local in Canada over the last few years. With rising fuel prices, food security issues and a desire to cultivate a sustainable way of life, I think we will move further in this direction in the future. In this vein, I recently came across a newspaper article on canning. I don’t know many people that preserve fruits and vegetable for the winter. My mother and I always make jam but we have never done much canning or freezing. Times seem to be changing. I must say I was surprised when the other day my friend Grant told me he had plans to do some canning. What has brought on this renewed interest in an old domestic practice?
When my parents purchased the old farmhouse where I spent most of my childhood, I recall there was a rickety pump house that had shelves stocked with jars (the contents were of a dubious age and origin). This was the most terrifying place on the entire property and I was sometimes called upon to run out there to reset the pump when the tank ran dry–a task to be dreaded. I would carefully enter, avoiding the cobwebs, and get the job done but I could never help but gaze at those lines of jars and wonder what mysterious concoctions they held. Now my adult mind thinks back to the pump house with slightly less imagination and a much more critical eye.
All of those old fermenting preserves remind me now that there was a time when people thought ahead to the winter when you could not just go to the supermarket to pick up some cherries shipped in from Chile or some organic beans from Mexico. Opening a can of carefully laid away pears was a special treat prepared in the more abundant summer months. It was women who were often in charge of doing the canning and making preserves. Although there is a renewed interest in this type of culinary conservation, many recipes and the know-how have been lost; mother’s no longer spend long sweltering hours in the kitchen working alongside their daughters to assure their family’s winter provisions. The relishes, jams and syrupy peaches no longer break the monotony of the meager months. With all of the abundance that is available to us, have we lost our appreciation for special gastronomic moments and treats?
The lady down the dinner table heard me talking about peaches. She piped up and shared her method for pealing them: cut the fruit in half and pit; then bathe them in warm but not boiling water for a minute. On the way home I bought 10 pounds of peaches. Once back in my kitchen, I followed the woman’s directions. As the peach skins easily fell off like elegant velvet gloves, I thought ahead to the pleasure they would bring me this cold, gloomy winter.