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Preserving Know-how/ Summer

A Rosy Summertime!

Rose Petal Jelly

Recently I was treated to a stroll through my friend’s magnificent rose garden. She mentioned that her neighbor came over to harvest petals for jelly. I hadn’t really thought about the culinary uses of roses. I went home and took another look at my wild and domesticated rose bushes. I was struck by the fact that nature provides so much for us to eat and enjoy if we open our eyes to possibilities. As always, I went on a quest to learn more about roses and their uses in in cooking and preserving.

I recalled old fashioned rose water grandmothers spritzed into the air to freshen a room or on themselves as a rose perfume. I remembered candied rose petals used to decorate special cakes. But they are also used chopped in a floral butter, as a tea (tisane), infused in sugar for baking or to flavour honey. They are used in Middle Eastern dishes most notably in Turkish Delight! Rose petals and hips are typically thought of in sweet recipes, like jellies, puddings, panna cotta, syrups and so on, but they also play a role in savoury ones. For example, a tagine spice blend called ras el hanout combines rose petals with savoury spices like cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, and coriander. Rose petal water is sometimes added to Hyderbabadi Biriyani (Great Chefs of Britain). Sweet or savoury, the beautiful rose offers up some mighty delicious possibilities.

For the preserver, petals (or hips) can be dehydrated for teas or to flavour sugar, crystalized for decoration, infused for waters or syrups or transformed in a stunningly lovely jelly. Use fragrant bright coloured rose petals (wild or domesticated), picked in mid-morning, rinsed, and lightly dried with a tea (paper) towel. From the University of Alaska, here is the recipe for Jelly.

The rose petal jelly makes a wonderful gift. It is so beautiful and a reminder of warm, lush summer days. Try it on scones or biscuits, or with goat cheese.

It is indeed a rosy summer to behold!


Rose Petal Jelly

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  • 1 ¾ cups rose petal juice
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice (bottled)
  • 3.5 cups sugar
  • 3 oz liquid pectin (one pouch)



First extract rose juice: Pack cleaned petals tightly into a cup measuring 1.5 cups. Place in a saucepan and add 2 ¼ cups boiling water. Turn off heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth lined sieve or jelly bag.


Measure 1 ¾ cups rose petal juice (freeze extra). Place the juice into a large saucepan and watch what happens when you add lemon juice! The extracted juice will be pale in colour but when the lemon juice is added, BAM!, the colour changes to a deep rosy hue. It’s dramatic and worth doing even once to see this phenomenon.


Add sugar and bring to a full rolling boil. Add in the pectin and bring back to a boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Skim.


Ladle into 3-4 clean, hot Mason jars leaving a ¼ inch headspace. Clean jar rims and attach lids and rings to finger-tip tight. Process in a water-bath or steam canner for 10 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before removing jars.


The rose petal jelly makes a wonderful gift. It is so beautiful and a reminder of warm, lush summer days. Try it on scones or biscuits, or with goat cheese.

Preserving Know-how/ Summer

Peachy Keen

Peachy Keen Jam

Peaches have an incredible history here in Ontario. According to “”, in 1797 peaches were harvested at the mouth of the Niagara. By the mid 1780s, Peter Secord, brother of Laura Secord, was the first Loyalist farmer to accept a grant to grow peaches. Although peaches originated in China and were introduced to Europe 2000 years ago, our history is relatively recent. Today, 81% of peaches are sourced from Niagara and 18% from the Okanagan. This year has been a bang-up year for peaches. And who doesn’t love peaches in everything from fresh salads, baked pies or crisps and the options for preserving are endless!

I confess that I am not as adventurous with peaches as I should be. But I do have some peach favorites. I also have to make and freeze my husband’s favorite peach pie!

In the last two weeks, I’ve made a pure and simple Niagara Peach jam (a few batches) (Canadian Living), a fiery peach salsa and peach-ale mustard (Ball). I have also made peach jam from Test Kitchens of America which uses grated Granny Smith apple as the pectin booster. Reading that recipe changed my approach to peaches entirely!

In the past I would go through the process of blanching and peeling the peaches. It’s a labour-intensive process but I thought it was necessary to create a fine jam or condiment. Well, no longer! It is not necessary to peel peaches for jams or the mustard I made. Anything that has a longer cooking time will allow washed with their skins to dissolve into a wonderfully fine texture that has the benefit of enhanced colour from the skins. The moral of the story is, don’t bother blanching and peeling the peaches. If you have a short cooking time, you can always use your immersion blender to quickly blend the peaches, skins into a smooth and silky texture. But most of the time, this won’t be necessary. It’s amazing how well the skins blend into the flesh, unlike tomatoes.

Compliments of both Canadian Living and Test Kitchens of America, here is the pure and simple Niagara Peach Jam recipe.

This is seriously simple and delicious jam. Enjoying the summer and the bounty from Niagara.

For more about peaches and other preserving topics, see my website:

Niagara Peach Jam

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  • 6 cups peaches washed and thinly sliced. Then mash to measure 4 cups.
  • 1 package light pectin (like Certo or Bernardin)
  • 2 TBSP bottled lemon juice
  • 3.5 cups sugar



Prepare peaches and measure 4 cups crushed.


Mix peaches with pectin and lemon juice in a large Dutch oven pot. Stir to combine.


Bring mixture to a boil stirring often.


Once boiling, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Turn off heat, skim if necessary.


Ladle into 250 jars that have been warmed. Leave a ¼ inch headspace. Clean rims and screw on lids and rings to “finger-tip tight”. Process in a boiling water bath or atmospheric steam canner for 10 minutes. Let rest with the lip off the canner for 5 minutes. Remove the jars and let rest.


Preserving Know-how/ Summer

Be a Savvy Consumer!

It is the time of year when we visit markets and farm-gates in search of local produce and products. I was prompted to write this piece after recently visiting a farm-gate where stewed rhubarb and jam were being sold in Cheese Whiz jars. As a food preserver or a consumer, there are a few things you should keep in mind as a savvy consumer!

In the US, there is an extensive infrastructure to support food preservation research and evidence-based practice. The research is aggregated by the National Centre for Home Food Preservation located at the University of Georgia. The science generated there informs the regulations of the USDA. Equally important is the commitment to disseminate the knowledge throughout the States. This is done though the university cooperative extension programs which offer a Master Food Preserver course. Eighteen universities across the US offer these programs across their respective States. These universities are big-time like UCLA, Cornell, Perdue, the University of Washington etc. The objective is to help people develop knowledge and skills to safely preserve food at home. In some States, like New York and Vermont, a person must have completed the Master Food Preserver program to sell products in a store, market, or farm-gate.

The contrast with Canada is remarkable. We have not one Master Food Preserver program or anything vaguely resembling one. We have no infrastructure to support food preservation at home. We have no regulations about preserved food sales at markets or farm-gates other than no preserved meats or dairy. While I have had to become Public Health approved to sell at a store, and I must have inspections, keep detailed records, comply with labelling requirements and so on, most people simply sell at markets or farm-gates without regulations. In fact, some religious and fraternal organizations are completely exempt from Public Health regulations.

My colleague and I, along with other interested parties, are making an effort to introduce a Master Food Preserver program in Canada. We know there is incredible interest in food preservation and a growing number of people who want to preserve; to know what is in their food, to have a lighter footprint on the planet and to be less dependent on commercial food production. We will continue the effort not only to help people learn, but also to allow consumers to have greater confidence in what is being sold at our markets and farm-gates.

In the meantime, here are some tips for making you a savvy consumer of preserved goods:

Ask vendors how they process their products. All jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, salsas etc must be heat processed using a water bath or atmospheric steam canning process.

Check jars: Mason jars with lids and rings are the only recommended jars for home food preservation. Never buy anything that is in a previously used commercial jar!

Check labels for contents and date of production or best before dates.

Ask about recipes: The vendor should be able to give you a source especially one that is current and reputable (Bernardin, National Centre for Home Food Preservation, Canadian Living). If you hear a response like “we’ve done this for years”, take a pass.

Storing: If you buy something in a Mason jar, when you get home, remove the ring on the jar if you are putting it in your pantry for later use. If anything goes wrong with the contents, the lid will pop. If the ring is off, it will be clearly evident and will indicate the jar should be thrown out.

Enjoy the markets and farm-gates but be a knowledgeable consumer when it comes to home preserved foods. And, please help us advocate for the creation of a Master Food Preserver program in Canada!!!

Preserving Know-how/ Summer

A Word About Wild Pickling

Ramps (wild leeks) and fiddleheads are just two of the great foraged foods to pickle in spring. Whether you use a quick pickle method or pickling for long-tern storage, here are a few tips for wild pickling.

Wild Leeks

The beautiful wild leeks lie at the bottom of the deciduous forests. Both the leaves and bulbs are edible. They are wonderful to use in cooking as a sauté, in a soup, as a pesto or pickled. As wild leeks are being over-harvested in many areas, my policy is to take a minimalist approach – pick sparingly and never take more than a 1/6th of a clump. For pickling, because I generally have a small amount, I will do a quick pickle using only the bulbs. I use the greens to make and freeze a wild leek pesto.

Quick Pickled Wild Leeks (Test Kitchens of America)

Clean and trim wild leeks saving leaves for another purpose. Prepare a brine of 1.5 cups vinegar (any kind as long as it’s 5%), 1.5 cups water, 3 TBLS sugar, 2.5 tsp pickling salt and herbs or aromatics of your choice. Mix and bring to a boil. Put leeks tightly into clean, hot jars. Ladle brine over top. Leave a ¼ inch headspace. Clean rims and let jars cool on the counter. Once cool, put lids and rings on, label and refrigerate. Leeks will last, refrigerated, for 3 to 4 weeks. PS: If you have excess brine, you can pickle other vegetables!


While fiddleheads can be foraged, they are readily available in markets and grocery stores at this time of year. If you forage, check with a reputable foraging site to properly identify the Ostrich fern which is the only edible variety of ferns. Many ferns are toxic so identifying the right ones is critical. Fiddleheads are a bit “fiddley” when it comes to preparation, but the process is important to make them safe for consumption. They should be soaked in water, scrubbed to remove the papery film, and rinsed several times. They should be steamed for 10-12 minutes or boiled for 15minutes. Now they are ready for cooking or pickling. 

Dilly Fiddleheads (University of Maine Extension)

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  • 3 lbs raw, trimmed and cleaned fiddleheads
  • 8 cups cider or white vinegar (5%)
  • ½ cup pickling salt
  • 1 tsp dill seed per jar
  • 1 clove peeled garlic per jar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes per jar (optional)



Clean and prepare fiddleheads as described. Make the brine: Add vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pack fiddleheads in clean, hot jars. Ladle in the brine to ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace again. Clean rims and place lids and rings on to finger-tip tight. Process in a water-bath or atmospheric steam canner for 15 minutes adjusting for altitude. When complete, let rest for 5 minutes before removing from canner.

Preserving Know-how/ Preserving Recipes/ Summer

Chive Blossom Vinegar

The blossoms of chives are bountiful at this time of year. While blossoms can be used to adorn salads, soups, or meats, they can also be used to create a flavourful shelf-stable vinegar to please the pallet the whole year through.

I make many herb vinegars, but I love the chive blossom vinegar for its gorgeous rosy colour and delightful taste. Once it is ready, it will make a super vinaigrette or an addition to a sauce to brighten the taste. Because vinegar is acidic (at least 5%), it is an environment unconducive to most bacteria. It is possible for some yeasts and molds to grow in this environment so if you notice mold or see bubbles indicating yeast fermentation, don’t use it. But overall, herb vinegars are safe. I’ll note that herb infused oils are another story. Oils with herbs and/or garlic create an environment highly conducive to the worst bacterium clostridium botulinum (you got it – the botulism bacteria). It is possible to safely produce herb-garlic infused oils by acidifying the herbs and garlic, but please refer to the National Centre for Home Food Preservation for specific instructions about how to do it safely.

Making chive blossom vinegar, like all herb vinegars, is a two-step process. First, the sanitized herbs are placed in a sterilized Mason jar (warm) and hot vinegar is poured over. The mixture is left to steep for 2 weeks although you can decide to use a shorter time if you wish. At the end of the steeping period, the blossoms or herbs are strained out. I use two steps: First, strain using a sieve reserving the liquid. Second, pour the liquid through a dampened coffee filter to remove small sediment. The second phase of the process involves sterilizing the glass jars you will use to store the vinegar and heating the herb-infused vinegar to just below boiling point. Then de-cant the vinegar into the warm jars or bottles leaving a ½ inch headspace. Cool, put on lids, caps or corks, label and store in a cool, preferably dark location.

The particulars:

For chive blossom vinegar I use white wine vinegar and about ½ cup of blossoms for 500 ml. It’s really a matter of how many blossoms I can get my hands on.

Sanitizing solution: Blossoms or herbs should be knocked gently to remove insects or debris. It is recommended that they be quickly submerged in a solution of ½ tsp household bleach to 3 cups water, then thoroughly rinsed and patted dry.

Jar sterilization: Use the dishwasher cycle if you have it or submerge the jars or bottles in boiling water for 10 minutes. Invert on a towel and fill with the hot vinegar while warm. If you are using bottles with corks, use only new corks and sanitize them by dipping them in boiling water 3 or 4 times.

Getting creative: As the herbs begin to produce, it’s possible to create various infused vinegars. Strong herbs blend well with apple cider vinegar or even white vinegar. Milder herbs like chives, basil, tarragon blend well with white wine or champagne vinegars. Fruits also make super vinegars. You can experiment to determine what you enjoy.

The chive blossoms are here and ready to be used as culinary accents or to be infused into vinegar for a gloriously tinted vinegar with a gentle chive background ready to elevate your vinaigrette to new heights!



Preserving Know-how/ Spring

Ode to Spring: Asparagus on Mother’s Day

When tulips bloom, Mother’s Day approaches, and asparagus pops its head up, we know it’s spring.  Asparagus is the first real ‘crop’ of the season. This vegetable is filled with high levels of Vitamin C and A is high in folacin. In contrast with some European countries, we grow only four acres of white asparagus which is grown underground to prevent chlorophyll from turning it green. No complaints here. I love green asparagus.      

To store fresh asparagus, snip the ends, and place spears in a Mason jar filled with about an inch of water. Loosely cover with a plastic bag. Alternatively, snip the ends, cover ends with a damp towel and wrap in plastic wrap. They will hold for about 4 days.

 Asparagus is a low acid vegetable which means the only way to preserve it is through pressure canning. However, asparagus doesn’t hold up well to high prolonged heat so it is better to preserve by freezing or pickling.

 Freezing asparagus is simple and effective. It requires blanching the vegetable in boiling water or steam for about 3 minutes and then sending the spears into an ice-water bath for 2 minutes. Blanching is critical to the process as it prevents an enzymatic action that is responsible to turning the vegetable brownish and diminishing its flavour and texture.

 Pickled asparagus is a great snack or addition to a salad throughout the year. I pickled in 500 ml wide-mouth Mason-style jars. The spears need to be cut to about 4 inches to fit in the jars. That means there is always a little left. I pickle those little bites as well as is shown in the photo. Waste not, want not as the adage goes!

When it comes to cooking asparagus, it starts with prepping the vegetable. Asparagus produces lignin that causes the woody stem end. When you snap off the woody end, it naturally snaps to the tender part of the vegetable. So, snap the asparagus just before cooking. To retain the green (chlorophyll), texture and taste, cook quickly in a steam basket or boiling water for about 2 – 3 minutes. I often do this in advance of a meal and then give them a quick sauté in butter just before serving. Cold asparagus is also great for a summer meal or buffet.

Since it’s Mother’s Day, why not spoil a mother you know and love with eggs Benedict and steamed asparagus. Make a quick and simple, no-fail Hollandaise sauce in the microwave! Really, it works beautifully. Serve on an English muffin, toast, crumpet, scone or O’Dough’s gluten-free bagel.

Let’s celebrate spring with beautiful asparagus. Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Quickie Hollandaise Sauce

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  • ½ cup butter softened
  • 3 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for a future meringue)
  • 1.5 TBSP fresh lemon juice
  • S&P to taste



In a microwave safe bowl, put softened butter. In a separate bowl mix together lemon juice and egg yolks. Let them rest together for a minute or so. Add to the butter and mix. Put the mixture in the microwave and ‘cook’ on high for 15 second bursts. Stir between bursts. It took 4 bursts of 15 seconds to produce a perfect Hollandaise. Add salt and pepper and fresh garden chives.


Preserving Know-how

Time to Dust Off the Canner!

It’s spring and preservers are chomping at the bit in anticipation of canning season. Here are a few tips and ideas to ready yourself for the task.

Check your Canners:

Whatever canner you use, it needs to be checked over once a year. For water bath canners and atmospheric steam canners, check for rust and ensure they are clean. Pressure canners need to be inspected to ensure the gaskets are still clean and pliable. Remember that dial gauge types need to be pressure tested once a year.

Check Canning Equipment:

Do an inventory check of equipment. A funnel, bubbler, implement to measure headspace, jar lifter, cooling rack, and general kitchen utensils. Assess your jar collection and lids. Only Mason-style jars are recommended for home canning and new lids are required for each batch unless you are using Tattler lids which are reusable. The least expensive canning jars are Country Classics (Home Hardware) and Golden Harvest (sold at Canadian Tire and Walmart). Large volumes of lids can be purchased at Misty Meadows in Conn.

Make a Plan:

I know deciding what to preserve depends on what the gardens provide. Being flexible is important but having a plan doesn’t hurt. Check your pantry. Canned goods are good for 2 years if the seal has remained. Sort through what you have, removing items that are old, moving items to the front that should be soon used. Note what remains and where the gaps are. You might start a journal to record what you make, recipe sources, and dates. Finally check your resources. Use recipes that are developed in test-kitchens. There are many internet sites that should not be relied on for safe recipes. Use Bernardin, Ball, Test Kitchens of America, Canadian Living and digital resources like The National Centre for Home Food Preservation or Healthy Canning. One of the best parts of preserving is reading recipes!

Check Your Altitude:

Altitude is critical to proper, safe canning practice. Altitude affects boiling point. The higher the altitude the lower the boiling point which means it takes longer to properly process your preserves. High quality reference books and online resources will indicate how to adjust processing times based on altitude. I live in Kimberley where the altitude is 843 ft. Most recipes give processing times for altitudes between 0 and 1000 ft. Therefore, I can use the processing time as published. But if you live in the Dundalk Highlands your altitude is 1735ft. At this altitude you would need to increase the processing time by 5 minutes. This applies to pressure canning too where pressure needs to be increased (10 to 15 lbs for example). So, google your altitude or put your address into and consider this part of preparedness for canning this season.

We are all looking forward to dusting off the canners and getting into the kitchen with fruits and vegetables from our gardens. This is the time to take stock of your gear and make a plan to fill your pantry for family and friends!


Preserving Know-how/ Preserving Recipes/ Spring

Spring Greens and Dressing

With the unusually warm weather we’ve had, the greens are peeking up heralding the delights of spring salads, lighter meals, and herb-infused dressings. There’s nothing like the taste of spring greens in a simple dressage. They are bright, fresh, full of taste and texture and make a super meal as the days warm.

If you got a jump-start on planting by starting seeds indoors, you might already have arugula and spinach. If not, you will soon will as the garden grows. Or stop by the Kimberley General Store or Sideroad Farm for fantastic spring greens. Soon asparagus will be out too, according to Farmer Morris in Barrie. And who can say no to ramps, young Dandelion leaves, purslane, colourful violets and the myriad herbs shooting up. We’ve got the makings of a great salad!

So that brings us to the question of vinaigrettes. What dressing suits the beautiful fresh spring salad? Many say, “keep it simple”. The taste is really in the greens so don’t cover it with big bold flavour. According to many chefs, a good vinaigrette is all about balance: acid to oil, sweetness to salt, an emulsifier and seasoning to taste. In general terms, the ratio of acid to oil is one to three. It isn’t essential to add an emulsifier like mustard, but it does help to make a creamier dressing. For sweet balance, go easy: just a dash of honey, maple syrup, a small teaspoon of home-made jam, jelly, or conserve, or even honey-mustard can do the trick. If you want to add minced shallots, or wild leeks, chopped herbs or zest of citrus, go for it.  I make herb vinegars like tarragon or chive blossom which adds a subtle flavour to the vinaigrette, but you can use white wine vinegar, white balsamic, apple cider, red wine, rice wine, balsamic, sherry or champagne vinegar. There are no doubt great recipes around, but here’s mine to go with a young spring salad.

Spring Salad Dressing

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  • 1 TBSP herb vinegar (choose what you have)
  • 3 TBSP cold pressed olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (or use honey-mustard for sweetness)
  • ¼ tsp honey (or switch up the sweet addition – whatever moves you)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.



Sometimes I add more Dijon for a more mustardy dressing like you might find in a French bistro. If you increase mustard, remember it is salty so adjust the S&P at the end just before serving.


Whisk the dressing in the salad bowl for 30 seconds before adding the greens. Gently toss the greens with your hands. Season.


For the greens, collect or purchase young spring greens. Add Dandelion leaves and chopped wild leek leaves if you have them. Colour is important so adding violets (unsprayed of course), Dandelion petals or chive blossoms is a great idea. Make it a meal? Sure, add steamed or grilled asparagus, goat cheese, shaved parmesan, hard boiled eggs quartered, toasted nuts, good quality tuna in oil, or add grilled fish or meat on the side. And voila’, a salad to celebrate Spring.


Preserving Know-how/ Spring

Putting the Maple into Conserves

It is time for the first harvest of the year! Yes, maple syrup is running and folks are busy in their sugar shacks preparing the liquid gold. Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup and production is growing. 2022 was the largest production year in history with 211 million pounds of syrup generating 1.1 billion dollars for the Canadian economy. I guess we should all give thanks to the maple forests and to all the producers, large and small, for adding to our culinary delights as well as our economy.

If you watched the Netflix series called “dirty money” you will have seen an episode on the great Canadian maple syrup heist! Over the course of a few months in 2011-12, 9,571 barrels of maple syrup were stolen from a large Quebec storage facility. The take was estimated to be valued at $18 million dollars. The perpetrators were eventually discovered, fined, put on probation, or jailed.  Not quite the Great Train Robbery of Great Britain, but still a good story for the Canadian history books. It’s certain this caper underscores how valuable maple syrup is.

There are so many wonderful ways to use maple syrup in cooking, it’s difficult to choose one focus. I think of maple syrup as rich in taste and texture. To me, it has a natural affinity with the richness of conserves.

Conserves are jams kicked up a notch or two. They generally have the addition of dried fruit and/or nuts. Sometimes citrus or spices are added. They can be either sweet or savoury. The sweet ones are excellent with scones or cheeses. Savoury ones are good accompaniments to meats or charcuterie.

Recently I’ve made a couple of great conserves with maple syrup. One combined maple syrup and blueberries with walnuts. It was so good my friend said she simply ate it by the spoonful. This week I made a very nice recipe published by Foodland Ontario for Maple Walnut Pear Conserve (slightly adapted below). Winter pears like Anjou, Bartlett or Bosc are available and can sometimes be found at reasonable prices. Bake up some biscuits or scones and enjoy this winter preserve.

Maple syrup on pancakes or ice cream, thrown in the snow to make maple-sicles, added to a recipe in lieu of brown sugar or profiled in a lovely winter conserve, maple syrup can’t be beat as one of nature’s great gifts.

Maple Walnut Pear Conserve

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  • Yield 6 cups
  • 4 cups chopped peeled winter pears
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 package regular pectin crystals
  • 3.5 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts toasted (option: omit nuts and add ½ cup dried cranberries, raisins, or cherries)



In a pot, mix pears with lemon juice. Stir in pectin with ¼ cup of the measured sugar. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar and return to the boil. Boil hard 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in maple syrup and nuts. Ladle into hot 250 ml jars leaving ¼ headspace. Clean rims of the jars and attach lids and rings to “finger-tip” tight. Process in a water bath or atmospheric steam canner for 10 minutes adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in the canner for 5 additional minutes. Remove jars to a heat proof surface and let rest for 24 hours. Check the seal. Label and store.


Preserving Know-how/ Spring

Spring Into Gardening: Plan A Tea Garden

I have been a keen vegetable gardener for years, but during the pandemic I turned my attention to creating a tea garden. My interest has continued because herbal teas (technically called tisanes) are super tasty, have healing powers, are easy to grow and create a sort of Zen feeling when growing, foraging, preserving, and enjoying.

Tea gardens and even “bartenders’ gardens” are currently on-trend. I started my tea garden with some basics but this year I am eager to learn more and expand. I got in touch with my friend and neighbour Ben Caesar who owns Fiddlehead Nursery outside of Kimberley. His expertise is perennial edibles. While talking with Ben I thought about three ways to approach the tea garden: foraging, perennials, and annuals.

Some of Ben’s picks and suggestions: Common perennial herbs enjoyed for tea include Bee Balm (bergamot), lemon balm, angelica, camomile, anise hyssop, sweet and bronze fennel, sweet Sicily, lavender, and the various mint varieties. Ben loves chocolate mint. I also have spearmint and peppermint which I enjoy in combination as a tea or used for mint jelly. Mint is a vigorous spreader as I’m sure you know, so it is best to create barriers to prevent their spread. I used old paper planting pots buried in the garden. Ben uses aluminum flashing buried vertically to 1 inch above the ground which works very well. Other perennials and annuals such as rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon verbena and coriander are also great additions to teas. And let’s not forget flowers! Rugosa roses are used both for petals and hips, echinacea flowers boost the immune system, cooked Elderberry flowers made into syrup are good as a cold tonic, marvelous blue mallow magically changes to pink with the addition of lemon juice.

From the natural environment, there are many easily found herbs and plants that are used for teas. Dandelion leaves, dried roots and flowers are more than a garden weed! Don’t spray! Dandelion is good for you! Stinging nettle is a tasty edible and immune system booster. Common sumac (not poisonous sumac) makes a pretty pink healthy tea. The basswood flower and wild mint (also called corn mint, river mint) are also good for tea. Wild blackberry or raspberry leaves and fruit add sweetness to tea, and many other plants can be foraged using a reputable foraging guide.

Use fresh herbs and plants or dry for later use. Your basic brew is 1 TBSP fresh chopped herbs or 1 tsp dried to 1 cup of boiling water stepped for 10 minutes.

Why not expand your tea garden with annuals, and perennials and add to the harvest some foraged herbs and plants. To find out more check out:  How to create an edible, perennial landscaping Extensive information about medicinal and culinary herbs Ten things to Forage in Ontario: An edible timeline

If you already grow a tea garden, share your top picks with us! If you’re new to gardening, try a tea garden in a pot, on a terrace or in your veggie or flower garden. Plan ahead so when the spirt moves, you can put the kettle on and enjoy a wholesome and tasty brew.

Note: Remember that most herbs have medicinal effects and may have contraindications like avoiding catnip during pregnancy or avoiding specific herbs when taking certain medications. Check with a pharmacist or herbalist.