Valley Cherries

my cherry pie

Recently, we all went cherry picking at Dempsey’s Corner orchard in Aylesford, Nova Scotia. They had 12 varieties to choose from!

If you have the good fortune of living in the Annapolis Valley (or passing through) this place is worth the visit. Besides many varieties of fruit, they have an array of adorable farm animals roaming about.

The cherries were so pretty they served as my muse for making a miniature scene.

my cherry stems

cherry orchard

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: NOT Grandma’s Blueberry Grunt

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Blueberry Grunt has a funny name and a long history here in Nova Scotia.

It’s several generations old and one of the simplest desserts to make. The “grunt” in its title, is believed to come from the sound produced while the sauce bubbles and the dumplings give off an almost..um… rude noise.  They may have called it Blueberry Toot. But Blueberry Grunt it is.

When we were kids, on summer weekends we’d head to the family cottage in Blue Mountain, named for it’s blueberry fields. Here in the Annapolis Valley, we get high bush blueberries. But my favorite will always be the wild field blueberries that grew in back of our cottage.

I have very fond memories of my dad making homemade tin rakes and taking us kids out to the fields to rake the blueberries. We would come back looking like smurfs and it would take days to get the berry stain out from under our nails. We ate them by the handfuls. We ate them on cereal. We ate them with cream. And we ate them stewed with dumplings, better known as grunt.

My favorite picture from childhood is one with the whole gang of us, back from the field, with buckets and buckets of berries. I was about 8 years old and wearing a Donny and Marie Osmond hoodie (that might give away my age). My baby sister who was supposed to be saying “cheese” for the camera couldn’t stand the temptation. Just as the shutter clicked, she was caught, buried up to her elbows, with a big blue-stained-teeth grin.

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My blueberry grunt follows the traditional recipe with the exception of adding cinnamon and custard to the mix. You don’t need either, they are not a requirement. But I find the custard gives the sauce a velvety texture and helps cut a bit of the acidity in the berries. The cinnamon just adds a subtle spice flavour.

Some would rather stick to the bare-berry recipe. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. As far as simple dessert recipes go, this is my favorite.

Adding the blueberries to the water and custard mixture.

Adding the blueberries to the water and custard mixture.

Sauce is bubbling and dumplings are cooking

Sauce is bubbling and dumplings are cooking

Sauce Ingredients:

2 pints blueberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp custard powder

Dumpling Ingredients:

2 ½  cups flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp sugar

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp cold butter

About ½ cup milk (or enough to achieve a soft dough)

Method:

Make dough for dumplings: sift flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Slowly add milk and mix in just until a soft dough forms. Don’t over work it. Set aside.

Make sauce: In a large pot, whisk custard with water over medium heat until powder dissolves. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and berries and continue to stir frequently until it just starts to bubble. With a spoon, drop in big clumps of dough all around the pot and in the center. Turn heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes until dumplings look cooked.

Serve warm by placing a piece of dumpling on plate. Spoon on the sauce. Eat just like this or, as I would suggest, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Or, you could serve on top of a dollop of warm custard and top with ice cream (my personal favorite).

A word of caution… My dad loved to tell about the time a relative (whom I will not name) came to visit. My mom made a huge pot of blueberry grunt. My mystery relative had a few helpings before they proceeded on their long trip home. Let’s just say they had to make several stops!

I would suggest that copious amounts of berries and long road trips don’t go well together. My dad always laughed when he told that story and ended it “…and that’s why they (really) call it blueberry grunt”.

I can still hear my dad’s laugh. Good times.

: A Beautiful Salad

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As I have stated before, we are blessed to have such great produce in the Annapolis Valley.

It’s abundant, and it’s cheap. AND our growing season starts earlier than the rest of Atlantic Canada.

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Grocers offer some of the  local produce but the best places to get is at one of the many farmer’s markets here. Our favorite is the Wolfville’s Farmers Market. It’s packed full of farmers and artisans selling their wares. Ethnic foods are becoming more available, which is exciting to see. Already there are stalls representing Indian, Japanese, Turkish, and Moroccan foods.

And the vendors are so friendly! If you are ever passing through Wolfville, consider checking it out…

farm market

photo credit to Wolfville Farmer’s Market webpage.

While we were there, we found a pretty bag of delicate lettuces. Much like a spring mix. But there was also nasturtiums  and pansies inside. I crossed my fingers all the way home that this masterpiece of produce wouldn’t wilt.

It was the most beautiful salad I had ever thrown together! I won’t tell you how many photos I took of it, because it’s embarrassing.

When you have a ‘showy’ salad like this, consider keeping the dressing simple. Here is one that I like to use:

1/4 tsp garlic puree

2 tsp creamy dijon mustard

2 tsp liquid honey

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

100 ml virgin olive oil

pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together. Add one at a time, from thick to thin consistency (start with garlic puree).

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: autumn hospitality

The honour system in use at Wheaton's farm.

The honour system in use at Wheaton’s farm.

Thanksgiving weekend we all jumped in the car to take in the Fall beauty. And to avoid cleaning the house. You couldn’t have asked for a better day. The sky was blue. The weather called for just a light sweater. And the colours, while not yet at their peak, had left their mark on nearly every tree.

First we headed over to Wheaton’s in Berwick – the original location as well as their homestead. During our last time shopping there we had noticed they had pumpkins in the parking lot  for $1, along with a lock box to drop your money. It’s refreshing to see the honour system still being used.

Even though it was Thanksgiving and their stores were closed, the pumpkins were still there, greeting us with their cheery orangeness. As was the lock box, so I made my purchase.

As we left, I imagined the Wheaton family somewhere inside their farm, enjoying their holiday. It’s a testament to the kind of family business when people can drop by during a holiday and not get turned away or met with suspicion.

All over Berwick we notice a real spirit of sharing this time of year. My fridge is full of apples right now because prices are so low during the harvest. They are practically given away. In fact, ‘giving away’ of one’s bounty is something witnessed regularly here. Whether it’s for corn boils, Halloween parties, or bins of free apples outside a workplace, neighbours share what they harvest.

berwick pumpkins

wheatons

beautiful October colours

berwick horses

: maritime fish cakes

fish-cakes

Long ago our early settlers were over the moon to find out the Atlantic was teaming with cod. One of their favorite things to do with it was to make fried fish cakes. It’s still a comfort food found all around our coasts. It’s no fuss, no muss kind of dish.

fish cake ingreds

gather ingredients

first you mash your fish and potato

first you mash your fish and potato

But it all starts with salted cod. This fish has enough salt on it to make a lemon pucker. It’s enough salt for dooms-day preppers to store it indefinitely. You will need to soak this overnight to remove most of the salt. You will never remove all of the salt, so I advise you do not add any to your cakes.

You should drain the water after the first hour or 2 of soaking. Then fill your bowl back up with fresh water. When you are ready to make the cakes, give the fish a thorough rinse and drain well.

Fish cakes taste really good the next day, so left overs can easily be packed in tomorrow’s lunch. Stick ‘em in a snack container along with a container of tarter sauce for dipping, some celery sticks, and you have yourself a nutritious school lunch. They also make a great breakfast.

Ingredients

4 large potatoes, peeled, and boiled.

1 lb. salt cod, soaked overnight and drained.

1 tbsp minced red onion

2 tbsp fresh minced chives

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill

1 tsp old bay seasoning

½ tsp ground black pepper

2 eggs whisked with 1 tsp milk

½ cup bread crumbs

Dill and chives for garnish.

Method

After cooking the potatoes and cod, let them come to room temperature. Then flake/mash these together with a fork. (Some people pulse these in a food processor but I find mixing by hand makes a nicer texture).

Add in the spices, dill, onions, and chives and mix well. Form into small balls and flatten each to aprox 3” in diameter and aprox 1“ thick.  Gently place in a shallow bowl which holds the whisked egg, turn and coat the other side. In a shallow pan, holding the bread crumbs, gently flip to coat the patty in crumbs. Take care not to coat thickly with crumbs, you just want a thin, even coat. Place patties on a lined baking sheet and place in fridge for ½ hour to get cool- this will make them firm so they will not crumble during cooking.

In the meantime, prepare a large platter with paper towel to absorb the oil from the fried cakes. Fill a medium skillet to about ½ “ of vegetable oil and heat over med-high heat. Take the patties out of the fridge and begin frying them 4 or 5 at a time in the skillet. After a few minutes, flip to brown the other side. It takes about 3 minutes on each side, until it’s nice and golden.

Remove with a thin spatula or tongs onto the paper towel. This makes about 2 dozen cakes and feeds my family of 6, with a few left over for next days lunch.

lovely left-overs

lovely left-overs