by Alyssa Joynt
As the lake begins to freeze over and the soft glittering blanket of snow descends over the rooves of the cottages, icing the trees and turning Viamede into a scene out of a mythical Christmas town, it can be hard to remember that just a few short months ago there were people playing on the water trampoline and fresh fruit on the tables. The bright and loud colours of summer can get lost in the wintery quiet, but Viamede has a secret for keeping the flavour of summer alive.
You may have noticed jars on the mantle in 1885 and Mount Julian and passed them off for decoration. All of those jars, however, are preserves, made right here at Viamede to help bring the memories of summer to the table throughout the year. This past July, I got to watch Chef preserve strawberries!
All of the berries come from nearby McLean Berry Farm. It doesn’t get more local then this! Before talking to Chef, I always thought of preserves in the form of jams and jellies. Chef, however, chooses to preserve the berries whole. When asked why, his answer was simple. Whole berries are much more versatile, and “in the dead of winter, when you have these freshly preserved strawberries, it’s just lovely”. As Chef explained, “Strawberries are such an Ontario ingredient… strawberries remind me of Ontario summer more than any other food”, and bringing the delicious flavour of local Ontario berries into a mid-January meal is the perfect way to harken back to the highlights of summer. These strawberry preserves will mostly be used for desserts, because the sugar used as a preservative adds a lot of sweetness, but they can also be used as an accompanying sauce on a cheese plate or in a salad dressing.
So how do the berries get preserved, exactly? The process can take a few days, and involves mixing the berries with sugar to really pull out the flavour, as well as cycles of heating and cooling until the berries are tender and can be strained out of the liquid. The liquid is brought to a hot temperature by itself and any foam is skimmed off, and then the berries are poured into sterilized jars with the hot syrup ladled overtop. The jars are then boiled to seal them and keep out any contamination- if the jars are properly sealed, the preserves can last for a year or more!
Strawberries aren’t the only thing that Chef preserves, though. As he noted, “the more local produce we preserve, the happier we’ll be!”. Viamede’s focus on local ingredients lends well to preserving the landscape around us, so it is always the goal to preserve aspects of each season. Some of the highlights of early summer include garlic, strawberries, raspberries, and cattails, and of course the wild blueberries that are such an iconic ingredient in the Kawarthas. Later summer features tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and the fall harvest focuses in on squash, apples, and potatoes. By preserving aspects of each season, every meal can remain centered around the local theme throughout the year, while also painting a picture of the seasons and the culinary landscape of the Kawarthas.