Tuesday, October 03, 2006


It was rumored that we might have one nice day this past weekend, so on Saturday morning, Cyd and I took off for an autumnal day trip to Quebec. We didn't even get out of Hemmingford, our tiny border crossing, before acquiring some of the biggest Wolf River apples I'd ever seen, two dozen fresh eggs, and four heads of local garlic along the Circuit de Paysan (the "peasant's route" or in English, I guess we'd say the scenic route). But our goal was to visit Notre-Dame-de-l'Île-Perrot, a lovely island about 30 minutes southwest of Montreal, near both the St. Lawrence River and Lac Saint-Louis. I had read about a very special organic farm located on the island called Windmill Point Farm, and I have been trying to get over there to check it out since the beginning of the harvest season, but it just hadn't worked out until now. So we thought we'd be there by noon, and then maybe we'd hit the Jean-Talon Market later that day. Little did we know that, due to either construction or that horrible overpass collapse in Laval or both, the traffic heading to the Mercier Bridge was backed up for hours and miles. After waiting for over an hour just to get to the beginning of the detour, we bailed and backtracked to Montreal to pick up Interstate 20 from the other direction. FOUR HOURS after we left home, we finally arrived at the beautiful Windmill Point Farm (it should have taken an hour and a half!). We were very lucky to find the farmer, M. Taylor, in residence, and he gave us a quick tour of the grounds, passionately professing his theories and methods of sustainable agriculture along the way. He strongly believes that Quebec should not be importing their food from as far away as Florida and California (losing most of their nutrients en route) when many things can be grown in the province with the continued cultivation of hardy varieties. Indeed, M. Taylor seems to take fiendish delight in growing things that people think can't be grown this far north. For example, he is growing a type of smooth-skinned kiwi that he was proud to show me. A kiwi! In Quebec! Can you imagine? He also specializes in several kinds of table grapes, and one of them which he refers to jokingly as "bubble gum grapes" were so tasty, that Cyd declared them well worth the four-hour drive! As for me, I was enchanted with his pears. He had one variety that is almost 300 years old called Ritson, and another one named North Brite that Cyd could not stop eating. When we got home, we did a blind taste test against some lovely Starkrimson (a red Bartlett, basically) that I picked up at the supermarket, and there was NO CONTEST! The two heirloom, organic varieties won the taste test by leaps and bounds. The Ritson has a wonderfully musky perfume, and the North Brite is so juicy and buttery and sweet that Cyd wouldn't even let me cook any of them, claiming them for fresh eating and nothing else! But I'm getting ahead of my story. We also managed to relieve M. Taylor of some chubby golden carrots, an enormous head of cabbage (both of which were promptly fashioned into cole slaw upon our return home), and some gorgeous beans that looked like Scarlet Runners, but were snap beans, not for shelling (he developed this kind of bean himself, of course). And lastly, we bought a bag of a kind of Japanese walnut called a "heart nut" because of its distinctive shape. I believe I am looking forward to trying these most of all. I am in a very walnutty place lately--I want them in or on everything!

After leaving Windmill Point Farm, we passed an orchard nearby called Le Verger Labonté. It was a chaotic scene of fall fun, teeming with children visiting their petting zoo, taking hay rides, exploring the corn maze, and picking their own apples. As for me, I fought my way into the crowded shop to try and buy some Spartan apples, great for baking and just in season now. But Cyd wouldn't let me, as I already have at least four varieties of apples in the back fridge which has now just become an apple cooler (the dysfunctional oven is creating quite a baking backlog!). But we did buy a cute little take-and-bake apple pie, although they had just sold out of their "legendary muffins." Oh well. Next time. Or if my oven is ever back online, I'm make my own damn muffins! By this point in our adventure, it was already past five o'clock, so we decided to just grab some dinner (a Chinese buffet near Dorval that was unremarkable, except for the inexplicable Tahitian-style bamboo decor) and head back to the Etats-Unis. The return trip was pleasantly uneventful and mostly traffic-free.

The next morning, I made some fabulous breakfast burritos with cheese, bacon and sausage, scrambled eggs, garden tomatoes, green onions, homemade tomatillo salsa, and sour cream. Then I got on with the big project of the day--pear butter. I used the Starkrimsons, the Ritsons, and a handful of the North Brites that were already starting to turn. I didn't get the yield that I was hoping for, but what I did produce was just heavenly...the very essence of autumn. I urge you to give it a try. After all, 'tis the season to be standing around a huge cauldron of spiced fruit when there's a nip in the air! I hope you all are enjoying this gorgeous fall season. It never lasts long enough, so drink it in (or taste it if you can)!

Maple Vanilla Pear Butter
(Source: adapted from Ball Blue Book)

7-8 pounds pears, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar (taste it!)
1/4 to 1/2 cup maple sugar (ditto)
1/4 to 1/2 cup maple syrup (ditto)
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch salt

Add about a half cup of water to the chunked pears (just to keep them from sticking to the bottom) and cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a food mill or food processor, and process until fairly smooth, but not completely liquified. Add the puree back to the pot, and add the sugars, syrup, vanilla, and salt. Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until thick enough to round up on a spoon. Fill sterilized jars and process for ten minutes in a water bath canner. The original recipe said the yield would be four pints, but I got just over half that. Perhaps I like my butter thicker than some folks?

1 comment:

Randi said...

You're lucky you live so close to QC and all that great produce. I went to Toronto today and had a taste of big city life. Fun stuff.