An Apple A Day

One of the responses that we can all take to the looming peak oil/climate change crisis is to work to make our communities more resilient (for more on this, check out the Transition Town movement).  And one of the ways to build resilience is to increase reliance on locally-sourced food and decrease reliance on food that requires a huge expenditure of fossil fuels to get to your table. In our corner of northwestern Ontario, there are no farms within 150 kilometres, so getting locally-grown food usually means growing it yourself, or depending on a generous neighbour with a green thumb!  There are exceptions, though. I’ve already written about our abundance of wild blueberries and right now,  it is crab apple season and there’s an abundance of crab apple trees in our community.  I’ve been busy picking and preserving a large amount of  crab apples that friends have been kind enough to donate. I’m not a huge fan of jelly, so the few jars that friends give me will last us all year, but I have been remembering my Grandma Penner’s whole crab apples preserved in syrup, and wondering about duplicating her recipe. I don’t have her original one, so I looked through an old standby,  the Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, as well as searching on-line. By tweaking and combining a few recipes I found, I’ve come up with one that is an updated version of her classic that I like. Here it is:

Grandma’s Spicy Crabapples

8 cups crab apples

4 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used fair trade organic)

3 cups water

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

3 – 4 cinnamon sticks

2 Tbsp cloves

2 – 3 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger

Sterilize jars by your favourite method (I put the jars and the lids into a 225 degree F oven for at least 10 minutes, and then leave them in there until I need them)

Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large stainless steel saucepan. Put cloves and ginger into a cheesecloth or tea ball – you can also put the cinnamon sticks into a tea ball but I just let them float during the cooking, and removed them at the end. Bring mixture to a boil and boil for at least 10 minutes, stirring to ensure sugar dissolves completely.

Wash crab apples, leave stems on. Prick with a fork (I used a corn-on-the-cob holder with a sharp metal point) to avoid bursting fruit. Add crab apples to boiling mixture and return to a boil, boiling until tender. The length you will need to boil them will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your apples. I found I just heated them back to boiling and then took them off the element and let them sit for 10 – 15 minutes. This decreased the number of apples that turned into mush. Don’t overcook!

Pack crab apples into a hot jar to within 2 cm of top rim. Add hot vinegar and sugar liquid to within 1 cm of top rim. Wipe jar, centre sterile lid on jar, apply screw band. Boil in canner, with jars covered with water, for 20 minutes. After cooling, ensure jars are sealed, store in your pantry. We used to eat them for a light Sunday supper of cheese, buns, and pickles. Or they would be a good accompaniment to pork or chicken.

Here’s the end result:

Spicy Crabapples, in memory of my Grandma Penner

And here’s what the crabapples looked like when I got started. There’s also a bowl of rosehips in the front, which I’m hoping to turn into jelly.

Aren't they pretty?

I also made some crabapple sauce, thanks to my friend Suzanne who let me borrow her food strainer (along with sharing her crab apples!)

Eating Local Is Delicious With Rhubarb Kuchen

Here in northern Ontario where I live, rhubarb is the first harvest from the garden that we  look forward to.  In anticipation of a meal of homemade pasta and grilled eggplant that’s planned for tonight (thanks to Michael who is willing to share his expertise in Italian cooking gained in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother) I picked some rhubarb from the garden for a very Canadian dessert.  Here’s the result, adapted from a Peach Kuchen recipe from the More With Less cookbook (fyi – I doubled it):

Red Lake Rhubarb Kuchen

Combine in bowl:

1 1/3 cup sifted flour (I used a combination of unbleached white and whole wheat flour)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 T sugar

Then, cut in 1/3 butter (I used half butter and half light olive oil) and then pat mixture over bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan or skillet.


Arrange in pastry:

2 cups fresh diced rhubarb

Then sprinkle rhubarb with:

1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon (I used honey)

Bake 15 minutes.


1 egg, beaten

1 cup sour cream, sour milk, yogurt, or combination

Pour over rhubarb and bake 30 minutes longer.

Rhubarb Kuchen

Okay, now it’s confession time – as I was typing up this recipe, I realized that I had baked the crust without the rhubarb (I have no excuse, I guess I wasn’t as wide awake as I thought)!  Since I realized this, I’ve had a small taste of it, and the rhubarb is slightly under baked but still tasty.  I also decreased the amount of honey by a bit, so it is a little tart.  It will still be dessert for tonight, but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side to balance the tartness.  And next time, the rhubarb definitely will be baked for the right length of time.

Meatless Monday Food For Thought: Eat Real Eat Local

Have you planted a garden yet?  If you have – congratulations!  You are taking the first steps towards food sustainability and security.  If you’re still considering it, this video might make a difference:


And yes, I do recognize the irony that this campaign is sponsored by a large food corporation! 

More links:

Real Food Movement


Climate Change & Hunger

Today is World Food Day. In my home office hangs a poster from Oxfam Canada. It reads:

Climate change is more than an environmental issue. It is about poverty and human rights. More than this, it is about the rights of women. At Oxfam, we work passionately to end global poverty and advance gender equality. But climate change is blocking the way. We have to stop climate change in its tracks and we have to start right now.

The U.N. World Food Program states:

Climate change is already increasing the risk of exposure to hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity among the poorest and most vulnerable people. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intense, land and water are becoming more scarce and difficult to access, and increases in agricultural productivity are becoming more difficult to achieve.

In honour of World Food Day, check out this video on the Beltran Eco-home and Farm. Juan Beltran, left a quadriplegic after a tour of Iraq, says  “sustainability is not being dependent on anyone else”.


And then go to  “1 Billion” to sign a petition calling on our leaders to work to end hunger. And once you’ve done that, how about talking to at least one person today about the link between human-caused climate change and world hunger?

More links:

Climate Change and Hunger

Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Juan Beltran: Quadriplegic Iraq Veteran Builds Sustainable Eco-Friendly Farm Home

Celebrating Summer’s Bounty As Autumn Arrives

Autumn has arrived, and with it the anticipation of new beginnings as well as the bittersweet endings that it symbolizes. No more swimming in the lake, or fresh lettuce from the garden for us. Our rush of summer visitors will slow down to a trickle. This September my husband and I have become empty nesters, as both of our daughters leave for university. Our oldest is a 5 1/2 hour drive away, but the youngest is four provinces away. It is a time to be proud of them as they move on to new life experiences and challenges but also a time to adjust to a house devoid of their laughter, their music-making, and even their arguing.

Being a climate activist doesn’t mean that I don’t take time to enjoy life. It’s the fact that life is so rich and beautiful that spurs me on to work for a world to pass on to my children, and all children, a world that isn’t so tainted by our reckless burning of fossil fuels. I want their world to be as beautiful and amazing as my world has been for me. Part of becoming aware of how humans are impacting the climate for our family has been becoming more aware of how far our food has traveled to get to our plate. We are eating more locally grown and less processed food along with little or no meat.

Part of enjoying summer in our house is gathering, eating, and preserving berries. This summer I got my hands on organic, semi-local strawberries in July, and I picked wild blueberries in August. One day, I made strawberry rhubarb jam and my daughter Kate baked her first loaf of bread. Here are some pictures that preserve our activities that day, as well as a sample of the great northern Ontario blueberries we love. I’ve included the bread recipe that was passed on to Kate by her father. Enjoy!

Mark’s Honey Wheat Bread Recipe:

12 – 13 oz. warm water

1/2 tsp. salt

2 T vegetable oil

2 T honey

2 cups white flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

5 tsp quick-rise yeast

1 tsp lemon juice (don’t forget – this helps it rise)

Dissolve the honey in the warm water. Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and mix together using Kitchen Aid mixer (or equivalent). Mix until dough forms a cohesive ball.

Then, sprinkle flour on the counter. Knead the bread for approximately 5 minutes.

Clean and grease the mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Let rise in a warm place for 45 min – 1 hr.

Once risen, knead down again in a bowl briefly, then shape into a loaf and place in bread pan. Let rise in warm place for 30 minutes. Cook in 350 degree oven for ~30 minutes. Remove and let cool before slicing.

Optional: Mark often adds 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds and  another 1/4 cup of poppy seeds to the bread.

Climate Change-Related Food Shortages Becoming a Reality

This summer has been devastating as China, Pakistan, and Russia reel under extreme weather events. Pakistan in particular is in need of humanitarian  yet “donor fatigue” is cited as one of the reasons for the less generous aid responses so far. Food crops have been affected both in Russia and in Pakistan, with Russia responding by cancelling this year’s grain exports. In Pakistan, the floods have damaged wheat and rice crops as more than 17 million hectares of arable land lies under water. We already live in a world where one billion people go hungry every day. In a world experiencing climate change, food instability will only grow. According to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, more than 75% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and most of these are small-scale farmers. These are the people most at risk of increased hunger from climate change.

Donor fatigue is not an option for those of us in the richest parts of the world who are directly responsible for the increased suffering around the globe. And let’s not stop with aid relief – take time to send a message to your government that it’s time to address climate change NOW, before it’s too late. And join’s 10-10-10 work party and make a difference in your community that will send ripples around the globe.

More links:

Go to The Humanitarian Coalition (Oxfam, CARE, and Save the Children) to donate to Pakistan Flood Relief.

Click here to tell world leaders to begin to address climate change by putting solar on their residences.

If you are Canadian, go to Canadian Foodgrains Bank climate change page to send a postcard to your MP commending the government for setting aside $400 million to help developing countries adapt to and fight climate change, and to ask that it goes to where it is most effective, and is given in the form of grants and not loans.

To get an idea of the stark reality of food shortages that climate change will bring about, view this slide show prepared by Dr. Peter Carter: Hello. This is the map to the end of our world. Goodbye.

credit: Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint And Support Your Local Economy At the Same Time

We all have to eat, but the choices we make on how to do that have a huge impact on the environment. The average piece of food in the US travels over 1000 miles (1600 kilometres) from farm to plate; I’m sure here in Canada it’s about the same. Ways to change this are to grow your own, to go to farmer’s markets, or to buy local as much as you can. There’s a cumulatively huge reduction in pollution and energy as more and more people make these choices. So, join the movement!

Today is Meatless Monday, and for supper my family and I are going to enjoy a salad made from lettuce from our garden and tomatoes from the farmer’s market, as well as corn on the cob and homemade bread. Yum – the taste of summer!


Celebrate Summer and Fresh Strawberries, Even In the Midst Of a Changing Climate

The weather here in northern Ontario has been very un-July-like. Here in Canada, we love our hot, sunny summers after our cold winters,  so it’s disappointing to have a mediocre July. This July hasn’t been as cool and rainy as last year, thank goodness, but it’s still been unusually rainy and even many of the sunny days have been cooler than normal. It’s clear that the weather patterns are changing. But having said that, my husband planted a bed of strawberries last year, despite the less-than-enthusiastic comments from his wife. I pointed out that the small size of the strawberry patch would hardly satisfy our family’s love of fresh strawberries, which usually causes me to drive five hours away into Manitoba where I can U-Pick as much as we need for the year.

Well, my husband is enjoying the accolades his family is heaping on him this year, as his small but prolific berry patch produces enough delicious berries for us to enjoy fresh (although there aren’t enough to freeze for us to enjoy in January, but luckily I stopped by an organic strawberry farm on the way home from Winnipeg last week).  Even he was surprised at the heaping bowlful I picked yesterday morning for breakfast. So, here’s to enjoying summer, whatever the weather, and to fresh strawberries!

It’s Time For A Food Revolution!

Jamie Schler recently blogged on The Huffington Post about the contrast between the mealtimes of her North American childhood, and her experience of European family meals after her marriage to her French husband:

Whatever was brought to the table, good or bad, it was served up like clockwork: 6:00 on the nose every evening, exactly half an hour after dad got home. Mom, like all moms everywhere, would lean out the back door and yell for us kids to come inside. Sue and Andrew on one side of the table facing Michael and I on the other, mom and dad flanking us at either end. Walter Cronkite blaring in the other room so dad could listen all the way through to “And that’s the way it is…” We were all happy eaters, giggling and laughing throughout the meal, trying hard, as hard as kids can, to stay quiet, not a peep, so dad could listen to the news. Games played around the meal: who could eat the most broccoli or spinach and titles would be bestowed: Popeye for the evening or Biggest Tree-Eating Giant. There would be rejoicing all around whenever we saw dad pull out the pancake griddle or fire up the charcoal grill out in front of the house on that rare weekend when he chose to cook. Yet as we grew older, my mother cooked less and less often as we were more and more able to fix our own meals. She just stood up one day and announced “I’m done! I’m not cooking anymore. You are all old enough to fend for yourselves!” And that was that. Mealtimes hurried for whomever was home, the television often our favorite dinner partner.

So this meal at my French in-laws was a revelation. Did people really eat this way every day, cooking and gathering and chatting and enjoying the time and each other’s company? I looked around me during those first few years in France and Italy when our sons were small and saw it all everywhere: families gathered every day around a hot meal. It was simply natural, family tradition, everyone who was living at home sat down and shared the time of a meal together with no distractions. And weekends often found the family at the grandparents, several generations together, cooking, eating, playing music, games or a walk together after lunch, the kids, even the teens, enjoying the company of the adults as much as the older members of the family were delighting in watching the children grow up. And everyone seemed so happy, harmonious, connected.

Click here to read the full story on The Huffington Post.

When American six year olds can’t identify a tomato or potato, it is definitely time for a food revolution!  Thank you Jamie Oliver, for bringing your healthy eating revolution to this side of the Atlantic.


Today is “Meatless Monday”. Click here to go to Jamie Oliver’s website for more information and recipes, and – if you are in the U.S. – watch episodes of  new show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  Remember, reducing meat is good for your health as well as the health of the planet!