What really amazed me when we would visit Ontario to see our grandmother is that, during the summer, there was such an abundance of fruits and vegetables available. The amazing part was that all these green and white cardboard baskets, bursting with the freshest produce around, all came from Ontario. Growing up in Alberta, in a farming family, the growing zone and climate was drastically different. There were no lush stone fruits and even the corn wasn’t as sweet (we relied on the bounty of B.C.’s Okanogan Valley for this), so, when visiting Ontario, it was always a treat to pull into a roadside stand or even walk through the produce section at the A&P and find a treasure trove of delicious, in-season produce. And the jingle: “Good things grow-oh-oh, in On-ta-ri-Oh” — from the Foodland Ontario commercials — left an indelible mark in my memory, which is why Deirdre Buryk‘s new cookbook, Peak Season: 12 Months of Recipes Celebrating Ontario’s Freshest Ingredients, has such a special place in my heart.
While seasonal cooking isn’t a new concept, I really appreciate how Buryk looks past the four seasons to focus on how each month has its own unique offering. Peak Season has four main sections — Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter — with the recipes organized into the months which fall under each season. Interestingly, there is no talk of “shoulder seasons” because Buryk gives equal importance to each month. So that in March she guides the home cook through tapping trees and making maple syrup, in April the recipes showcase wild leeks and fiddleheads, and then in May the greens become abundant with the warmer weather, the recipes are fresher and brighter. Her approach is patient as she takes the time to celebrate each season from start to finish. In addition to the recipes, she provides a section on A Monthly Guide to Ontario’s Peak Produce (the peak produce of each month is beautifully illustrated by Candice Silver) and, a small section focusing On Ingredients, which provides home cooks with a solid guide to the ingredients Buryk uses (for those wondering, there is a variety of recipes from plant-based to more omnivorous directed).
Being from Alberta, maple syrup was not a thing for me growing up. There was honey to sweeten (Alberta produces the most honey in Canada) or, if you were enjoying breakfast at my family’s table, you’d be pouring Bee Hive corn syrup over your pancakes. Moving to Eastern Canada in my early 20s meant that I got to learn about and appreciate the wonderful early spring activity of going to the “sugarbush” (visiting the maple sugar farms and sitting down for a pancake meal doused in freshly made maple syrup). Not only does Buryk offer a beautiful recipe to mark this seasonal milestone with her Brioche French Toast, as I mentioned earlier, she provides home cooks with a how-to on tapping maple trees and making the syrup. I was very liberal when pouring the maple syrup and, I even got to grate some solid maple sugar onto the dish from a maple sugar loaf I purchased from Kanel (This was a special offering in March during maple syrup season).
Another delicious spring-inspired recipe I tried was the Jammy Onion Brown Butter Cornbread — which was so delicious that I made it twice in one week (I even took her suggestion of making extra so that I could freeze it for later enjoyment). This cornbread has such a lovely texture! It’s moist and sweet with hints of the brown butter nuttiness and the rich flavour of the caramelized slices of onion. Just the thing to serve with a hearty stew or soup or, if you’re like me, a slice tastes great when served alongside a salad or as part of a breakfast plate. The possibilities are endless!
Buryk has forever changed the way I make pizza. Previously, I would preheat my oven and get the baking steel piping hot before baking the pizzas. And, inevitably, there would be incidents where a small corner of dough would stick to the peel just as I would be trying to transfer it into the oven only to be left with my pizza ending up face side down on the steel. Maybe you’re thinking — “there’s a reason why you dust the peel with cornmeal!” — but, even doing this, I would end up with a mess. With Buryk’s How to: Make a Garlic Bianca Pizza, I learned that I can quickly par-bake the dough before adding any toppings. This is extremely helpful because once it’s been baked for a couple of minutes, there is nothing left to stick to the peel! Genius! Ever since trying this strategy last month, I’ve had weeks of delicious, problem-free, no-mess pizza baking!
A recipe that my family really loved was for making the Green Tacos with Zucchini Spears — she gives instructions on how to make your own salsa verde and corn tortillas and once the zucchini spears are grilled, you can assemble the tacos. Each taco is full of watercress, salsa verde, pickled red onion (the recipe is also given), pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and lime. The grilled zucchini is perfect for this recipe because it’s firm, yet meaty texture makes for a satisfying vegetarian meal!
Now that spring is giving way to summer, I decided to try making the Strawberry Shortcake Scones. Even though I live in Nova Scotia now and Buryk’s book focuses on Ontario, there is enough overlap with available produce that I’m finding ways to enjoy the bounty here! Nova Scotian strawberries are just starting to be available at the markets — sweet and juicy — they’re perfect as they are or delicious when accompanied by a flakey scone and voluminous clouds of whipped cream. These shortcake scones are versatile, and I can see myself baking them to enjoy all summer long with all the beautiful berries and stone fruits from the market.
There is a joy in the way Buryk approaches ingredients and the way she writes her recipes, and I relish letting her recipes guide me through the seasons. Peak Season is a beautifully photographed book that showcases the abundance and variety of Ontario’s agriculture belt. And while the book gives an adoring look at Ontario, I appreciated how Buryk inspired me to take a closer look at the seasonal produce that Nova Scotia has to offer. Buryk demonstrates to home cooks how cooking with local ingredients is a way to become connected to the community through the kitchen.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
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