The Niagara region boasts some of the most arable land in North America, with its temperate climate and long growing season, rich soils and terroir perfect for orchards of almost any description. Indeed, the fruit that comes from this region -including the famous vineyards that have really put this area and its wines on the map- is a scant sixty minutes from our doorstep. To not take advantage of this amazing bounty is as egregious an oversight as living in Niagara Falls without ever having seen, well, the Falls.
The beauty for us as consumers, and lovers of good food, is that the fruit that is grown here has different seasons, and when one fruit is gone for the year, another is just coming into its glory. These ephemeral, highly anticipated, beautiful and bountiful seasons are a reason to celebrate. Here is a handy guide to let you know when Ontario fruits and veggies are at their peak, as well as a little chart that will help you plan your fruit adventures.
True, you can always get “fresh” fruit in January, trucked in from the States, Mexico and South America, but you haven’t tasted the real thing if you haven’t had a tree- ripened peach just picked today or yesterday, or Niagara cherries, famous for their gloriously short and sweet season. As the old fruit growers adage goes, “Cherries don’t have a season, they have a moment” and that moment has come and gone for this year. But fret not. Although rhubarb, strawberry and cherry season are done, we are now in the middle of peach season, that glorious time of year to enjoy cling peaches, and in a week or two, freestone peaches, nectarines and plums, perfect for eating fresh, bursting with flavor and juice, and ready to be baked into pies, upside down cakes, and preserved as jams and jellies
Many of the fruit growing farms in an around Niagara encourage folks to pick their own fruit. The term “Cherry Picking” of course refers to the time-honoured tradition of choosing carefully, picking the best and avoiding the rest, and an excursion to one of Niagara’s mostly family run farms allows you to do just that; literally pick and purchase only what you want. Making such and excursion a family event is not only fun and informative, not to mention the benefits of a little exercise and fresh air, it also helps nurture in our youngsters an appreciation for real food, and an appreciation for the farmers that have devoted their lives to this calling. Here is a great list of Niagara orchards and family farms that participate in “Pick your own” activities, complete with the names and locations of the farms and updates of the fruits’ status. What a great way to spend a day or two, and while you’re at it, why not check out some of the vineyards in the Niagara peninsula as well?!
Now, what to do with all those peaches and plums you have just picked? To get your juices flowing, check here for some fantastic recipes for your delicious tree-ripened plums, and one of our favourite all-time pies at this-and only this time of year is the beloved pie developed and made famous by the Kingston, Ontario restaurant, Chez Piggy, Peach Almond Pie.
In reproducing the recipe, we have omitted the recipe for the pie crust, as we know you will want to use your favourite recipe.
Chez Piggy Peach Almond Pie
8-12 ripe peaches
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sour cream
6 tablespoons half-and-half cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9″ pie pan with your favourite pie dough and bake for 12 minutes. Let the pie shell cool.
To make the filling, blanch, peel and slice the peaches. Place them in a bowl.
Combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon and sprinkle over the peaches. Stir in the sour cream and half-and-half. Fill the cooled crust with the mixture.
To make the topping, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Crumble together the brown sugar, butter, 1/4 cup flour and 1 tsp cinnamon.
Mix in the almonds and sprinkle the crumbs over the peach filling.
Bake for 55 minutes.