Most people assume that I’m a city girl when we first meet. But while I consider myself one now, I’ve only lived in Toronto for three years. Toronto’s a fun and vibrant city in the summer (a little less so in the winter) and I love it but I’m not from here. Okay, it’s not the first city I’ve lived in. I spent two years living in Seoul – which is one of my favourite places on Earth… so much to do, so busy, so vibrant – along with a few other smaller cities over the years. And technically, I was born in Toronto but my family moved away before my first birthday so it really doesn’t count.
I grew up a country girl in a very small town with a full-time population of less than 2,000 people (yep, two thousand). I say “full-time population” because it is smack dab in the middle of the Kawarthas – cottage country – so the population explodes in the summer with cottagers, people vacationing and tourists.
But it’s not all cottages and lakes, it’s also prime farming land so I grew up buying a lot of my fruit and veggies directly from the farm – often picking it ourselves – during the summer and fall months. So while I’m a city girl now and would be bored silly living in a small town or the countryside… I still view food like a country girl. I love picking my own fruit and veggies, I love knowing they are fresh and who grew them.
And I was taught to cook… to really cook not just make something from a box. Without sounding like I’m bragging, there isn’t much I can’t cook. Oh, there are lots of recipes and dishes I’m not familiar with of course, but because my mom taught both my brother and I the basics – from making my own beef broth and tomato sauce to baking a cake from scratch – so I’m extremely comfortable in the kitchen. Does it help that my mom trained to be a chef even if she never really worked as one… of course! But I think the fact that she taught us both the basics AND to cook both with & without a recipe had more of an impact. Neither my brother nor I are afraid to experiment and try new food combinations… sometimes it works really well… sometimes not so much… but it’s always fun to try. Plus it means my friends get to eat well once in a while because I absolutely LOVE cooking for them!
Cook like a country girl, does this mean you cook everything from scratch?
Of course not! Who has the time? But I do a lot of canning and freezing in the summer and fall because I love knowing exactly what’s in my food (and what’s not – no preservatives). I make my own tomato sauce and salsa every year in the late summer (around Labour Day weekend) when tomatoes and peppers are in season. It’s super fun to throw a dinner party for friends and watch the cute boy that I have a crush on eat my food! Plus my salsa rocks!
I pick tons of rhubarb in the spring, strawberries in the early summer, and buy corn from my fav corn farm in the late summer to freeze for the winter. Frozen the day they are picked they retain so much of their flavour and nutrients. So I have yummy fruit to eat, add to desserts or make soup with (yes, I make fruit soup in the winter… it makes a yummy breakfast) and veggies for stir-fries or soups.
And every other year, I make jams and jellies. I don’t can my own fruit (although I know how to) as I always get a case from my mom for Christmas. But it’s more than just canning and the ability to pick my own fruit and veggies that makes me cook like a country girl.
I grow my own veggies as much as I possibly can as an apartment dweller. There is absolutely nothing like picking a sun-ripened (and still warm) tomato and eating it! Tomatoes and hot peppers are my specialties but I also grow lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach, basil and a few other things. I keep trying to grow peas but it’s one plant that doesn’t want to grow for me. If I ever buy a house the first thing I’m going to do (well, as long as it’s not winter) is put in a garden.
But of course, I can’t grow everything I need and going to my hometown for my daily/weekly groceries is very impractical so farmer’s markets are my friend. Funnily enough because Toronto’s farmer’s markets are all over the place – one in every neighbourhood almost – I still prefer the big one in Peterborough (my university city and very close to my hometown). That being said, there are still some great farmer’s markets in Toronto and the fruit & veggies are so much fresher there.
I’m a city girl now, and very happy to be one, but I’ll always cook like a country girl. Quality, fresh ingredients make so much of a difference. How about you, how do you cook?