I bought a nectarine in Juneau a couple of weeks ago. It looked large and rosy and promising.
The flesh was firm and yet it gave slightly under the pressure of my fingertips and I thought, “Wow, a real nectarine.”
But when I cut into the fruit, the flesh was mealy and dry, lacking even a suggestion of juice, and the flavour was vintage wool mitten.
It’s such a familiar tale of woe in these times of long-distance transport and fruit “ripening” in trucks enroute to its destination. The nectarine was not in any kind of season. It was a fake nectarine.
Contrast that with the ripe BC peaches that are showing up in the Yukon now; with the fat raspberries and blueberries we’ve been picking since the end of July; with the plentiful and already crimson cranberries in all the favourite haunts, promising a great season; and with the small, yellow, juicy peaches of my native land, southern Ontario, where I happen to be visiting, in prime peach season.
I’m at the family cabin near Collingwood. If you turn left out of the driveway and drive for five minutes there’s a family-run roadside shop selling corn, field tomatoes and peaches; if you turn right and drive for three minutes there’s a farm that sells peas, beans and raspberries on tables set up under awnings. In spring they have asparagus and strawberries; in fall they’ll have apples.
In our kitchen there’s a basket of tomatoes and one of peaches on the sideboard. We buy the corn fresh every two days. For supper we eat corn, we eat tomatoes. We eat peaches for breakfast and peach Betty for dessert.
The bounty of the north is wild and hard-won, and I love it. But I love this summertime bounty of the place I grew up, where you can see the Milky Way at night and the lakes are warm and the breeze is still warm when you sit out on the porch in the evening and there are so many peaches you just naturally have to mix up a big jug of white wine and peach Sangria. With some raspberries or blueberries thrown in, because the blueberries are just coming into season here, too.
Southern Ontario is in the middle of a heat wave and summer will continue long after our Yukon fall has started — the leaves were already turning when I left on August 5th.
But I’m hoping that when I get back home there will still be some blue-sky days and some real BC peaches and I’ll haul out the blueberries I picked in Fraser before I left and the raspberries from my friend’s garden in Riverdale and mix up a big jug of Sangria to drink on my porch one night with friends to celebrate the bounty and the waning summer and the return of the stars to the northern sky.
Peach, Berry and Riesling Sangria
1 lb (454 grams) ripe yellow peaches — about 5 small or 3 large
750 mL dry Riesling
¾ cup (180 mL) bourbon
¼ cup (60 mL) cinnamon simple syrup
2 Tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
1 cup (250 mL) blueberries or raspberries
750 mL sparkling water
6 dashes orange bitters
Wash the peaches and slice them, skin and all, and place in a large bowl. Pour over the wine, bourbon, cinnamon simple syrup and lemon juice. Stir, cover and chill for four hours. When you’re ready to serve, split the ingredients between two pitchers. To each pitcher, add half the berries, sparkling water and bitters, and top up with ice. Serve in wine glasses, spooning a bit of fruit into each one.
Makes two 750 ml pitchers of Sangria.
Cinnamon Simple Syrup
1 cup (250 mL) water
2 cinnamon sticks
¾ (185 mL) cup sugar
In a small saucepan bring water and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks, add sugar and stir over medium-high heat until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature and pour into a sterilized glass jar. Refrigerate and use within 30 days.