Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 20 November 2006.
As we enter the gift-giving season, I would like to extol the virtues of presenting gifts of food. I am not referring to boxed chocolates and imported Christmas cakes in cellophane. I am talking about gifts from our own larders.
I love getting gifts at the best of times, but a gift of food produced by your own hands is the most personal gift of all. No need to buy it, wrap it or return it. Just eat it! Not long ago, my neighbour Andrea popped her head over the fence to give me a container of her crabapple butter. I reciprocated with some wild blueberries I had picked up north. We gave chanterelle mushrooms to Ramesh and Karen and they gave us two bags of their fingerling potatoes. Eva gave us her lingonberry sauce made with wild cranberries. Berni’s dad gave us the most delectable little frozen strawberries in syrup. Gail and Mark gave us ‘biltong’, a South African venison jerky.
My sister-in-law Tallie came begging for a big zucchini to make her favourite chocolate cake. I was happy to oblige.
My list of food-getting and food-giving is long and delicious, and there is nothing I like better to give or receive. I think sharing the produce of our land, and the fruits of our kitchen labour, is the most generous and thoughtful gift we can give from the heart. The only thing that might make it even better is when accompanied by a favourite recipe that makes the most of the gift.
For instance, a reader of this column, Genevieve Salamon, gave me a couple bottles of her homemade vinegars and the technique for making them. One was flavoured with saskatoon berries and the other with herbs from her garden. I was tickled pink. In my quest to celebrate Saskatchewan foods, I have tried to source every staple product, whenever possible, from local sources. So, a couple bottles of flavoured vinegars were much appreciated.
Genevieve says they are easy to make: Purchase pickling vinegar from the grocery store. (She uses pickling vinegar because it has 7% acidity as opposed to 5% in regular vinegar.) Warm the vinegar on the stove or in the microwave. Pour one litre of warm vinegar over 1 cup of saskatoon berries (fresh or frozen), cover and leave at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. After it is well steeped, drain the berries from the vinegar and discard them. Using new berries, fill bottles at a ratio of four parts vinegar to one part berries. Seal and steep another week or two before using.
For herb vinegar, follow the same technique using mixed herbs such as sage, savory, dill, tarragon, coriander seeds, etc.
My mom makes a terrific berry salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. It is her new favourite recipe for family gatherings, and we all love it, too. So, I decided to try it with a vinaigrette made with Genevieve’s saskatoon flavoured vinegar instead. Mom’s salad calls for lettuce, but I substituted wild rice. Instead of dried blueberries and cranberries, I used Saskatchewan sour cherries I had picked and dried myself. And so, in the end, it really wasn’t my mom’s salad anymore, but that is how a new favourite recipe comes to life. I took it to a potluck dinner at our friends, Jo and Kevin’s place, which we had with grilled smoked salmon, pumpkin soup and a bumbleberry pie made by their kids.
I believe it is important and creative to adapt recipes for the foods we have on hand, rather than running out to the grocery store for every little thing. That way, our dinner table is always fresh, in season and if we’re lucky, a real gift of the land.
Not Quite My Mom's
Wild Rice & Dried Cherry Salad
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 cups small broccoli florets
2 cups small cauliflower florets
3 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced almonds
Mix everything together in a serving bowl. Dress with a homemade fruity vinaigrette (I made it with raspberry syryp) or do as my mom does and use a store-bought raspberry vinaigrette.