Pickle Asparagus for your Cocktails
Start the 2015 harvest season off right with a workshop on pickling Asparagus, and learn spice combinations that are best suited for pickles used in cocktails.
This precious and regal vegetable makes a perfect pickled accompaniment to a Caesar or Bloody Mary – the long and slender spear goes well in most glassware.
Join Natalie from East Van Jam & Homesteading Mamas as she takes you through the basics of canning, while you also get to produce your own jar of these venerable pickles to take home. Recipe card for the best ever Caesar is included!
Thursday April 23rd 6-9pm
Studio 126 / 126 E Pender
Registration: email email@example.com to book your spot!
All supplies included; bring an apron if you please.
Follow Natalie on Instagram: @eastvanjam
Asked to contribute to a wonderful art show collaboration between Studio 126 and Joey Armstrong called “The Nostalgia of Food”, I took a slightly different approach than most other submissions. I am the first to point out that I am not an artist, but enjoyed the process of discovering what “Nostalgia of Food” meant to me.
Pictured here are photos taken by Joey Armstrong of the installation I submitted. It is a gathering of tools to visually demonstrate the learning sessions with each of my grandmothers that I understook in my youth. More importantly, its the stories that were forced out of me by agreeing to submit this peice. I learned both as a young woman and now that it is not about the end result, its about the journey.
I strongly recommend a visit to the warm, inviting and beautifully curated shop at 126 Pender in Chinatown to see the show. It will surprise you in all sorts of ways.
But here, is the stories I wrote by hand onto recipe cards for the show.
Gertrude (Desjardins) Jones
Born 12th to a Roman Catholic, French Canadian family of 16, a 4’-10” firecracker, her chosen introduction was: “The name is Gertrude, but call me Gertie and cut the Rude”. Raised in North Bay, Ontario with her many siblings, privacy was a luxury and leisure time a rare surprise. Her father ran a local grocery store in which all members of the family participated. Sleeping 4 to a single bed, their family was a tightly woven fabric of laughter, friendships and compromise. With her 3 closest sisters, she ventured south to find adventure and employment in the big city of Toronto. At the age of 18 she lost her four front teeth playing hockey with friends and by 21 was married to Richard Jones, a Toronto boy by birth and an English boy by heritage. Once my grandfather returned from the war – a visibly changed man – they went on to make a life for themselves; they had 4 children, of which my mother was the eldest.
Always on the look-out for laughter, during sleep-overs at her house, my grandma would play around at bedtime pretending to be a witch by taking out her falsies. One of my fondest memories was during visits to the very modest family cottage. We’d play ‘war’ with my 3 sisters and Gertie using red ‘poison berries’. Once settled into the cottage for dinner and bedtime, we discovered her secret cache of berries for use as ammunition – in her bra! She was the epitome of feisty, the picture of health and a vibrant lover of life. Her expressions of love came in many forms not least of which was through food. She and my grandfather were serious gardeners committed to putting up their harvests for the winter by canning and freezing. In the summer, I’d arrive on their small farm a short distance from Toronto and in short order, Gran would hand me a big, curled English cucumber to savour all to myself. We’d all shuck peas and corn together on the veranda to prep for dinner. Her idea of convenience food and a sweet treat was pulling a stalk of rhubarb from the ground and dipping it one bite at a time into a bowl of sugar. Although I decided at a young age to refrain from eating meat, I have positive memories of how she cared for her chickens. She’d give them kitchen scraps for nutrient-rich food and lovingly collect their eggs but neither she nor they were too precious to prevent her from wringing their necks herself when the time came to eat them. She and my grandpa practised an honest food-cycle.
Gertie and I share the same birth month, and as luck would have it that month is July – when raspberries are at their peak. And so it goes my most favourite treat was when she’d agree to make me a raspberry pie. I didn’t like any other such as pumpkin or apple – all I wanted was a raspberry pie! She’d send me and my sisters off to the neighbouring farm to pick berries from the wild and unruly canes that were gradually over-taking the tiny homestead cabin that stood there, once home to the Walker family. Black raspberries and red alike, we picked away through the morning of a warm summer day. Shaded by the mature trees surrounding the homestead, we’d fill our buckets to overflowing knowing full-well the extra berries would be turned into jam to take home with us to the city. We were willing participants in the production of amazing food.
As I matured into a young woman – now taller than my Gran in spite of my protests and promises while growing up that I would never get taller than her – I wanted dearly to learn her secret tips and tricks for making the perfect pie. She agreed to have a pie-making session with me with the understanding that I would be the one wielding the rolling pin. But, as we began to roll out the crust, like a professional hockey player, my wee grandma hip-checked me out of her way and declared “You’re doing it all wrong!” Not wanting to witness the destruction of perfectly good pie dough, she couldn’t stand by and let me ruin the stuff. And so, with my feelings a little hurt, I became the observer acquiescing to her need to control and turn-out a good pie – even though it was meant to be my turn.
So what did I learn? That a practiced hand makes for a successful result. That no amount of note-taking can stand-in for establishing the memory your hands can create. That patience and perseverance are the best kind of tools to have in the kitchen. I didn’t attempt to make a pie for a long time after that, and when I did, the first dozen or so sucked. But in the kitchen, as in life – there is always room for improvement and the great critics within a family make for a perfect jury to use as guinea pigs. Although the pie-making session was anything but poetic, it certainly was memorable and left me with a deep impression that you can really only achieve pie-greatness once you’ve made pies for as many years as it takes to be a grandma (excluding the professionals of course). And that no matter how small a frame or physical countenance she had, personality and charm made her largest in the room. She gave heart and vivacity to those around her through food and easy laughter. It’s a great honour when folks in my family have likened me to her – I like to think her legacy lives on.
Aida (Fugaccia) Ferrari (pronounced “Eye-ee-da”)
First born to a Roman Catholic Italian family of 8, my Nona was a creature of the old country. Her upbringing in a small northern Italian village was spare and often a struggle. Ida learned to collect chestnuts in the hills surrounding her village as a young girl, using the nut meats to make flour – a major winter staple in their home. Sent to England at around age 12 to care for her father – and keep him in line – while he worked to send funds back to the family in Italy, she quickly became accustomed to domestic life. And while her job may appear to have been hard or unfair for such a young girl, the opportunity afforded her a view of the world others from her village wouldn’t see until war took them from their familiar surroundings. Taken under wing by a friendly woman who ran a restaurant in London, my Nona learned the food trade at a very young age.
Aida and Cesare arrived in Canada when my father, Franco, was just 5 years old. Sponsored by her brother already living in Scarborough, ON, she could already manage in English very well on account of her years spent in London, England (also where my father was born). With their soon-to-be brood of 4 kids, they lived in a very modest duplex home built in the post-World War II era – as cookie cutter as they come. It was the one and only house they ever owned here in Canada. Once settled, they stayed put. They grew whatever they could in the small backyard space available to them – enough soil to grow a grape vine and just enough more for beans, tomato and basil plants. Fresh tomatoes were so well-loved that there was always a salt shaker kept on the fence post in the summer months. Nonno made wine, Nona made sauce.
Being from Northern Italy, the local cuisine consisted more of rice dishes such as risotto, torta de rizo and ‘bomba’ rather than the better known Italian offerings like pasta or pizza. The few pastas that were a main feature of my Nona’s repertoire, are less-known than a classic spaghetti and sauce. In fact, the province of Emilia-Romangna – her province of birth – is known to be the capital of filled pasta. Bomba – as it was called in our family – was a mixture of rice, tomato sauce, egg and ground meat that was baked in a bunt pan and sliced like a meat loaf. Rice pie (or torta de rizo) was something else altogether and I will get to that a little later.
Our time spent at their home as kids, was less about food and more about exploring the nearby ravine. It wasn’t until the major holidays came around each year that food reigned supreme. In the more prosperous years, there was ham AND turkey but I will talk little of the meat since that hasn’t been to my liking since age 11. The food preparation was lengthy and involved many hands – all under the strict direction of the matriarch. Nona was a task-master knowing when and where each and every detail needed to be done. She was never flustered. She never seemed to break a sweat – she could have been a contender.
Enter stage left: the Torta de Rizo – or Rice Pie as we called it (we were a very Anglicized bunch). This was a ‘dish’ that was made well in advance of the rest and was nearly all devoured by the time the first course was served. Rice pie consists of a thin, elastic layer of pasta rolled out and stretched across a large baking sheet. It was then topped with a stiff layer of cooked Arborio rice mixed with spinach, ricotta and various other ingredients, then topped with a second layer of the pasta. Baked then cooled and sliced in a diagonal pattern, it was piled high on a platter – its height diminishing very promptly. It is this dish I requested to be taught by my Nona.
Once we all filled-up on the torta, we were then served the 1st course. This consisted of hand-made chicken-stuffed annuligne (mini ravioli) in homemade broth – 4-5 pieces per bowl. Next came the mushy peas and mashed potatoes (an influence from her years in England), then the Bomba as described, along with the meat. A long and drawn-out meal, we savoured each others’ company gabbing and bantering down our long table crammed into the meagre space of the ‘dining room’. I can’t even recall desserts – we were so over-stuffed by then I think the best we could manage was a small corner of terrone.
The day my Nona agreed to teach me to make her torta de rizo, it turned out to be a clean-out-the-fridge day. I soon learned her recipes were not based on what the dish called for so much as what the fridge offered up as needing to be used. Like many others of her generation, food was not wasted and anything seen flagging and limp in the fridge translated into that night’s meal. Further still, not one of us in the family who chose to learn her ‘recipe’ before her passing wrote down the same details – every one of us has a different list of ingredients with varying quantities of each item. And whenever we have the opportunity to eat each others’ version, we are delighted in the differences and chat about the details of how they flavoured the dish. It brings us together in a more surprising way than I think it would if we were reading from the exact same page. The lesson I learned? Cooking does not need to be formulaic nor strict. Perfection is overrated and when necessity guides, the result can be surprisingly satisfying and delicious. A rough written guideline is as good as memory with some practice and love interwoven. And what’s more, I’m pretty sure this was our Matriarch’s way of planning ways to keep us closely knit as a family even beyond her inevitable demise. Tricky Nona, RIP.
OCT 7th, 2015
I was honoured and excited (and nervous) to join Keri Adams on CTV Morning Live today Oct 7th to expound the virtues of home-canning. And lucky me, the camera operator got in nice and tight on the EAST VAN JAM I had on display there. Things are looking up!
http://bc.ctvnews.ca/ctv-morning-live (“home canning made easy)
To start-off the season right, I went in search of rhubarb. Having lucked-out, I got to pick my own and filled the back of my car with it! For this years’ rhubarb jam, I’ve also been lucky to receive gifts of organically grown rhubarb within town – in East Van! It seems rhubarb is more of a burden than a delight to some gardeners!
Pictured here are a couple shots taken of the fun had with rhubarb this season…the last of which shows the carpet I made of the leaves on the kitchen floor for my boys to find at breakfast…