A recent birthday included a trip to Stratford, Ontario, Canada home of the notable Shakespeare Festival.
It was also a time of culinary discovery for me. I had no idea that Ontario offered such a wide diversity of agriculture nor the city Stratford such fine eating. My husband and I had been to the same festival many years ago. At that time I am sure that my interests in where food was grown and how it could be prepared was simply undeveloped.
Today, I was drawn to a cookbook heralding Ontario and its produce prepared by the seasons, “The Ontario Seasonal Cookbook” by Ogle, Darcy and Beck (published by Lone Pine Publishing. The cookbook is broken into seasons and each recipe highlights a particular food grown in Ontarion.
Taking Winter as the season of interest I found the story of the McIntosh apple, grown in all the apple producing regions of Canada started in Ontario. Apples came to Canada from French settlers and to the region in the early 1600’s. In 18ll John McIntosh (1777-1845) discovered about 20 apple trees growing in a wooded area of his farm near what is now Prescott, Ontario. He transplanted some of them and one of the transplants produced a fruit he considered superior. His son Allen was instrumental in the apple variety’s spread, though teaching many surrounding farmers how to reproduce the delicious fruit tree using grafting and budding techniques. The original McIntosh apple tree lived for over 90 years and was left standing to commemorate the hard work and dedication of the McIntosh family. The McIntosh apple production represents half of all Canadian apple production. Apples are also Canada’s largest fruit crop.
Make good use of McIntosh apples for this classic fall treat.
Caramel- Dipped Apples
1 lb. dark brown sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 (10-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cu light corn syrup
¼ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup whipping cream
8 apples such as McIntosh or Granny Smith, steam removed, washed and dried
8 wooden sticks such as craft sticks, popsicle sticks or even chopsticks
Combine brown sugar, butter, condensed milk, corn syrup and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat and stir slowly, but continually to dissolve sugar until it reaches a temperature of between 234 degrees and 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, or the soft-ball stage*. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and whipping cream and pour into a clean metal bowl. Cool until caramel is 200 degrees, about 15 minutes.
While caramel is cooling, line a baking sheet with buttered parchment paper and push one stick into the stem end of each apple. Dip apples in caramel and let excess caramel drip off before setting on the greased paper. Cool before eating and chill any uneaten apples, wrapped, up to 1 week.
* The soft-ball stage is a candy test where you drop a little syrup in cold water and as the syrup cools, it forms a soft ball that flattens where it is removed from the water.
Ontario is the largest producer of onions in Canada, mainly from the Holland March region. Here they are caramelized to combine with goat’s cheese for a do-ahead tart that is perfect for nibbler, brunch or even picnic as it is best served at room temperature.
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart
1 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. butter
6 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
Sea salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1 bay leaf
Pinch of nutmeg
¾ lb. package puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with splash of water
8 oz. goat cheese
2 tbsp. chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, sage), optional
Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar, turn the heat to medium how and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring often, until nicely carmelized.
Make Bechamel Sauce: Melt butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Add flour into melted butter and stir over low heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Add bay leaf and nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until smooth and thick, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thick and place on a rectangular baking sheet. Prick all over with a fork. Brush the outside edges, about ½-inch with egg wash.
Combine onions and béchamel sauce in a bowl. Crumble in goal cheese, and fresh herbs, if using, and stir to combine.
Spread onion mixture onto pastry and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden. Let sit 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Molasses was the most common household sweetener in Canada until the late 19th century. The Redpath Sugar Company, a fixture on the Toronto waterfront for 75 years produces molasses. It is also Canada’s oldest continuously used logo for a food company.
Molasses Bran Muffins
1 ¼ cups bran cereal
1 ½ cups buttermilk
¾ cup molasses
½ cup canola or sunflower oil
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
1 ¾ cup flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a 12- unit muffin tin with non-stick spray. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the cereal and buttermilk and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the molasses, oil and egg and stir to combine. Stir in the dates. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Fold the dry into the wet until just combined, then fill each muffin tin almost full with batter.Bake in the preheated oven 12 o 15 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins spring back with light pressure. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan.
Ontario grows so much garlic that at least three communities, including Stratfod, have festivals highlighting the “stinking rose”. One tasty use of garlic is when it is roasted and added to a robust chowder or stew.
Potato and Roasted Garlic Chowder
2 medium onions, dice
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
Vegetable or chicken stock
2 bulbs roasted garlic*
2 cups heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, or mint, chopped)
In a heavy pot sauté the onions in butter and oil until they turn golden. Add the vegetables, bay leaf and add just enough vegetable or chicken stock to cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Squeeze roasted garlic from paper covering and chop roughly. Add cream and simmer 10-15 minutes more or until the potatoes are cooked and the soup is reduced and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped herbs. Serves 4.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice tops of each bulb of garlic to expose the cloves. Lay them cut-side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast 20-30 minutes or until cloves are tender. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. The buttery flesh of the coves will come out of the bulb easily when you squeeze it (throw out the papery skin of the bulb). Roasted garlic may be used as above in the recipe and as a garnish to grilled meats and vegetables.
Root vegetables were common for all early settlers in much of the colder parts of the Americas as they provided vital nourishment during long winters, kept well for extended periods of time and were filling and dense with carbohydrates. Today, they are enjoyed for economical reasons…and flavor when prepared with a slightly sweet and tart marinade.
Balsamic-glazed Root Vegetables
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or melted butter
2 tbsp. honey
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 springs fresh rosemary
1 lb. baby potatoes
2 medium parsnips
1 medium yam
1 small beet
1 large carrot
1 bulb garlic
1 small yellow onion
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey and parsley and set aside.
Wash, halve or quarter potatoes. Peel parsnips and quarter lengthwise; then cut into halves. Cut yam in half, then cut into slices ¼-thick. Wash beet. Cut into quarters with skin on. Peel carrot and cut lengthwise into quarters and then cut into halves. Break garlic into cloves and peel each clove. Leave whole. Peel and quarter onion.
Place vegetables into a large mixing bowl. Pour balsamic vinegar mixture over vegetables, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place in a 9 x 13-inch pan and assemble rosemary and thyme springs on top. Roast, uncovered, turning once or twice, for about 45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and are easily pierced by a fork. Toss with fresh parsley and serve as a side dish.