Paw-paws, a fruit of the Carolinian forest

I’d heard of paw-paws. The first place I heard of them was at Sears & Switzer’s acting workshop, where I had been assigned a scene from Crimes of the Heart. Couldn’t find much information about them at that time (this is pre-world.wide.web and yahoo and google).

Heard next about them when Lorraine Johnson was giving a talk at the Brick Works about local foods, native plants, things that we could be doing. Learned that Paw-paws were native to this area, but that you’ve got to have three of them to ensure germination (I thought that strange at the time, but have since learned that some apples have the same requirements). They’re an understory tree, which means they don’t grow to great heights, and they’ll do well in light shade.

The fruit didn’t travel well, and in days prior to refrigeration, tended to spoil quickly.  We’ve been able to overcome these problems, but it’s still not a well-known fruit.

I ran across it last week, as the banner image on the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance website. Aha! Finally, I know what it looks like! Greenish things. Oval. Bruise easily.

Today, at the Leslieville Farmers Market, I went over (as usual) to the Forbes table (I like to taunt them that they haven’t had spruce tips since the spring: I know this makes sense, but I just like to bug them about that). They had a whole bunch of — paw-paws! OK, have run across it enough times now that I must try it.

Bought two, have brought them home. Got them at different stages of ripeness — one getting yellow, some spots. The other is quite green. Apparently you want to eat them yellow with lots of dark spots — like with bananas, that indicates when the fruit is really ripe.

So I need to wait a bit. Maybe tomorrow the first one will be ripe: if so, I’ll photograph it. I’ve heard that the way to eat it is to cut it open and scoop the flesh out with a spoon.

It smells really good — and I’m not a fruit lover. It smells like a cross between a pineapple and a kiwi and a banana — got those acid things going on, and that deep banana thing, too.

Stay tuned!

State of the garden on the last weekend of July

Went again this morning to water and harvest.

Still nothing happening with the eggplants: my dream of growing my own ratatouille this year may not materialize: I haven’t had any more zucchini, either.

But things are happening.

Slowly, my paste tomatoes are moving from green to yellow — and one of them is orange, on its way to red.

Ripening paste tomato

The sweet red pepper continues to get larger, but isn’t showing any signs of color change yet.

Sweet red pepper

Similarly, there’s still just one hot pepper, and it’s green.

hot pepper growing

There were a couple of flowers on the zucchini (both males) but no signs of any baby zucchinis.

zucchini blossom

Early girl tomatoes are still almost white.

Pale early girls

I did pick a couple of sweet millions, though!

Sweet millions ripening

I also harvested some of my mesclun mix, and all of 3 swiss chard leaves. A few more yellow beans.


Anyone want some dill weed? One of the things about not weeding constantly is that I’m finding I’ve got some useful things growing… like some mint (very difficult to eradicate) and dill, which is good for butterflies if no-one wants it.

Dill flower

In search of the most beautiful Caprese Salad

A Caprese Salad is a simple thing: tomato, boccancini, basil, olive oil, and some say balsamic vinegar (some say no).

When it’s fresh, ripe, perfect ingredients, it’s the essence of summer sun and warmth.


Probably the best tasting one I’ve had in Toronto lately was at Lil Baci, which uses imported cheese, and it’s very creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, pairs with tomato in an awesome way delicious.


Because it has so few ingredients, it’s an amazingly graphic, sometimes architectural, salad. I want to capture it as pure art. I’m not there yet.


Here’s a salad that Sandy had when we were in Italy in 2005:


 Here’s one I photographed a couple of months ago:

Caprese Salad

Here’s my photograph from last week:

Caprese redux

 I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. Need more precision in my salad building, either get the whole plate or no background, editing details, clarity, clarity, clarity.

Then I saw a really interesting salad at a restaurant Sandy was eating at in Italy last night.

Hmm. Vertical stack. Hmm. different types of tomatoes.

I think I will continue to work on this.

Lack of measurable rain

Last evening on Twitter, it seemed that half of the people I follow in Toronto were talking about the ’86d competition for Toronto’s Hottest Chef, and the other half were focussed on the sky: would we get rain, or would we be bypassed yet again? I took a quick panorama using my iPod of the sky: we had overlapping layers moving at different speeds:

Clouds but not rain

Alas, a friend sent me a link to the WeatherUnderground map that showed rain pretty much everywhere but the old city.

I could no longer put it off. I had to go water my veggie garden this morning. Good thing I went. Lack of rain does not mean lack of weeds: they’re highly drought-tolerant. I did not photograph my shame of weeds! The zucchini, shoshi, and bolting mesclun mix were almost lost among them. I spent a good hour weeding, and could spend a couple more. I think I’m going to get some straw to lay down as a mulch where I’m not growing things to impede the growth of more weeds. As I weed an area, I’ll lay down mulch.

Here’s how some things looked today. I only took pictures of things that looked significantly different from last post. That means no pictures of zucchini, chard, plum tomatoes, or eggplants: they look like they’re in stasis.

First, my cherry tomatoes — Sweet Millions are beginning to ripen. Ripening will progress down the bunch, so it will be a matter of picking before the top one is too ripe and the bottom one isn’t ripe enough. Or just picking the ripe ones off instead of grabbing the whole bunch.

Sweet Millions getting sweeter

The sweet red pepper is definitely getting larger. I’m not seeing signs of any siblings for it yet.

Sweet red pepper

The Portuguese hot pepper is getting twistier and longer!

Portuguese hot pepper

I did manage to harvest a few things: some basil (it needed the tops lopped off, and I needed some fresh basil for today’s Caprese salad for lunch). And a handful of yellow beans that I’ll eat for dinner. I have a variety of squash that I got at the Leslieville farmers market on Sunday, so I may sautée up a mass of squash & beans and put them together with some pasta for dinner.


About 4 of the yellow beans had been munched from the bottom to about halfway up. I suspect it may have been the bunnies I’ve seen down there. I broke them off the vine, and scattered them around the plant. Maybe they’ll come back for them, now that they’re at ground level.

How’s your garden growing?

What’s growin’?

It’s been an interesting summer to get back into vegetable growing. I got my allotment garden planted by the end of May. Since then, it’s been a matter of weeding and watering. I could have been doing more of both.

It’s been very dry. Until Sunday, our rainfall for the month of July was 3mm. I was watering twice a week, but decided that with our heat and lack of rain, I really needed to increase that to every second day. I water for about an hour — listen to some tunes on my iPod, make sure there’s enough water to go deep into the ground.

Today I noticed some flowers on my Caspian pink tomato for the first time. It’s an heirloom variety, and hasn’t been doing much in the garden. I got it a couple of weeks later than everything else — it came from Urban Harvest, at the Leslieville Farmers Market.

I’ve had one zucchini — I harvested it young, about 5-6 inches long, cut it into spears and barbecued it one night along with some corn on the cob and a steak. That made for a tasty dinner. I haven’t had any others at all: I’ve had flowers, but no resulting fruit.

Here are some pictures of my garden from this morning’s trip.

These are San Marzano type paste tomatoes. An heirloom variety, true Italians would get riled and say that they can’t be True San Marzanos because they’re not being grown in San Marzano, and everyone knows that it is the terroir that makes it what it is. They’re right. But these were sold as San Marzanos, so I don’t know what else to call them. They’re not Romas, which I’m also growing.

Paste tomatoes

This will be a sweet red pepper. It’s quite small — about an inch across — but you can get the sense of it being a pepper already.

Sweet red pepper

This will be interesting. This is a Hot Portuguese. How hot is hot? To be determined!

Hot Portuguese Pepper

Here are some eating tomatoes. Sandy’s bugging me about when I’ll be serving Caprese salad! Based on the color and size of these, it will be a while, yet. These are called Sweet Millions.

Sweet Millions

This is a medium-sized eating tomato — between heirloom beefsteaky size and cherry tomatoes. Just right for salad. Actually, these are the ones that I want to use in a Caprese salad (if I use cherry tomatoes, I’ll want to use those little pearl-sized bocconcini) . It’s very pale at this point. Name? Early Girl. Let’s see how early she is.

Early Girl

Here’s my Swiss Chard. Still only about 6″ high, so I’ve been reluctant to start harvesting it. Only a couple of holes munched in it — it has fared better than my mesclun mix, definitely.


One of my neighbours down at the allotment garden gave me some yellow beans to plant. I’ve almost got some ready to harvest! I think. How do you know when yellow beans are ready to eat?

Yellow beans

This one’s not for eating. This is one of my two birdhouse gourd plants. I’m hoping I’ll get some gourds that I can dry and drill holes into, and turn either into appropriately-sized bird houses for cavity nesters, or some cute little bird feeders to hang from the lilac, sand cherry, and elderberry (because one can never have too many bird feeders). The leaves on the vine are quite beautiful.

Birdhouse gourd

I’ll post more pictures as things ripen. I saw a little bunny today. I hope it doesn’t eat too much of my stuff.

Leslieville Tree Festival this weekend

In the Leslie Grove Park, corner of Jones and Queen St. East. Sunday, June 24th, from noon until 4pm.

There will be food, there will be entertainers, there will be vendors, and I’ll be sitting with the folks from LEAF, talking about the trees, fruit and flowering plants that George Leslie used to sell at his nurseries here in Leslieville (yes, the area’s named after him).

I spent a lot of time this past winter researching the two catalogues of his in the Toronto Metro Reference Library: transcribing, then compiling, then researching modern names, and finally, I pulled together an eBook, which I called Pioneer Gardening in Toronto: the trees, plants & lore of George Leslie. It’s available for sale at KoboDiesel, and iTunes.

I’ll have a hardcopy of the book with me on Sunday, and I’ll be giving a couple of ten-minute talks about trees and plants at 2:20pm and 3:15pm.

Hope to see you there!

Rant: that’s NOT cream, Sealtest & Nielson!

Hot weather’s here.

When it’s hot, I love to have a mug of cold vichyssoise and a salad for lunch or dinner.

I scored some lovely fresh garlic scapes at the Leslieville Farmers’ Market on the weekend (my recipe is on Natalie MacLean’s site).

Today I went to Loblaws to get some cream (I use chicken broth to make the soup, and a little cream to finish it off). Alas, that Loblaw’s at Leslie and Lakeshore being what it is, they had absolutely no Organic Meadow cream, only industrial milk company products. The same at Price Chopper, across the street.

Why don’t I like buying cream from Sealtest or Nielsen? Because I don’t like the ingredient list.

Sealtest’s light cream (5% milk fat) contains: milk, cream, modified milk ingredients, maltodextrin, disodium phosphate, sodium citrate, guar gum, carrageenan.

Their half-and-half contains: milk, cream, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, carrageenan.

Whipping cream? cream, milk, carrageenan, mono and dyglycerides, carboxymethyl cellulose, polysorbate 80.

Lists were similar for Nielson (unfortunately, since they’ve been acquired by Saputo, their website is down, and Saputo doesn’t seem to provide this detail on their site).

When I want to add cream to soup, I want to add cream. I don’t want to be adding cellulose and thickeners, corn sugars and other stuff.  Why are you adding this to your cream?

Just give me the real food. Thank you, Organic Meadow, for having an ingredient list that reads: cream.


Initial planting done.

Planted on Sunday morning. Went down there about 8 am: not many people about, just me and the birds. Lots of birds in the birdhouses scattered around the place — diving, insect hunting, calling to each other in kind of a drippy tap sound (but not the same as cowbirds). Cornell’s bird ID guide tells me I’ve got tree swallows, which adapt well to boxes, but the sound’s not quite the same (hey, do birds have regional dialects?).

Raked things up, put the pots where they seemed to make sense, then planted, then watered again.

So I’ve got:

  • 4 Sweet millions (red cherry tomato)
  • 4 heart-shaped sweet red peppers
  • 4 Roma (paste) tomatoes
  • 4 early girl round slicing tomatoes
  • 4 San Marzano (paste) tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • 2 pots of basil
  • 4 black magic eggplants
  • 4 green Zucchini
  • 4 hot Portugal peppers

Plus seeds that I’ve kept in my ‘fridge for a few years:

  • Birdhouse gourds: I want to make birdhouses and birdfeeders of them. Planted 2 seeds each in 4 spots. I suppose I could get tree branches and stick them in the earth to give a structure they can climb. Was thinking I’d just let them wander all over the soil, but they might be safer from rodents chomping them if up in the air. When I planted soybeans, the local bunnies chowed down on all the fresh new shoots.
  • Mesclun mix: oooh, my own salad greens, guaranteed not to be watered with water downstream of a CAFO. Planted two rows, about 6 feet long each. Sowed the seed pretty thick, because I’m figuring the germination rate will be lower than when the seed was fresh, even though it was in a ziplock bag in the dark fridge 🙂 We’ll see if I get any to harvest.
  • Cleome: red. common name: spider lily. It grows about 4-6 feet tall, so I put it along the edge of the fence on the west side. The neighbour has lupins behind it, so it won’t interfere with them.
  • Lavatera: white. common name: mallow. It’s a pretty flower, a simple, clear, uncomplicated. Planted it in front of the cleome.


Here’s a picture of one bed: this contains the paste tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.


I’m hoping to pick up a few more things for ratatouille (I want to *grow* it!) at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market this Sunday morning: Urban Harvest had some awesome heirloom varieties of vegetables last year.