Seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, winter. And seasons of life: sister, daughter, aunt, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.
Both arrive and leave before you have chance to notice. You never imagine that all this is going to change soon. Day by day it’s the same, and then you wake and it’s all gone and different and some pieces look familiar, but mostly not.
Last night I became an aunt. My sister a mother. My mom a grandmom. My grandmothers great-grandmothers.
My family is four sisters spread over an eight-year span. I’m the eldest. Sisters are a beautiful, difficult, impossibly rewarding thing, let me say. As we age the changes in our relationships are subtle but apparent. I’ve grown to appreciate more these women who are me slightly rearranged. I try harder to do good by them, knowing they will be with me all my life, friends unconditionally. Like no other, they have known me all my days, they have seen me through every season.
At moments it is so hard, being physically separated from my three sisters, who are together in Windsor. So much of the time I am jealous of them there, me here. I imagine them growing close, sharing days, living perfectly well without me. They live perfectly well without me. But proximity does not make family. Soon, Niki will head to university, Melina too. Less soon, we will each have families – whatever forms these families may take, wherever they may end up – we will gather for births and birthdays and markers of future seasons.
Our labels change and our seasons change.
Fruit trees are harbingers of the fleetingness. Last year, as peaches came and went, and I made peach-ricotta pizza to honour their visit. This year, I walked downstairs to a kitchen perfumed by another summer’s fruit. Knowing I’d soon be in Windsor – to hold a new nephew and to hug a new mother – I preserved them for later, to remember August 7, 2010 as something sweet and new.
(Makes about 4 cups)
I am a lazy preserver. I’d rather bag and freeze seasonal excess than get out bell jars and a pot of water big enough to bathe a newborn. So: I used some of this compote from the pan for a sweet-savoury French toast with herbes de Provence. I let the rest cool and ladled it into freezer bags by the cup, to enjoy later.
1 quart peaches (~20 medium)
3 Tbsp water
aromatics to taste – I used 1/2 a vanilla bean, scraped and a piece of cinnamon bark, but lemon zest, dried fruit, almond extract or nutmeg would be nice, too…
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, cook ingredients over medium heat until they reach a consistency you like. Keep in mind the fruit will thicken slightly as it cools. I cook at a low bubble for about 25 minutes until I have something more than a sauce, but less than a jam. Jar and refrigerate for up to a week, or let cool and freeze in one-cup portions to defrost mid-winter, when peaches are far away.
Peaches. Amongst summer fruits, their season is one of the most fleeting. In and out of the market, it seems, within weeks. So, when I can, I snatch them up. Which is how, at the weekly Sick Kids’ Market, I came to acquire a 3L basket containing 19 beautiful cling-stone specimens.
Peaches are the worst offender on the dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables for pesticide exposure. And it’s near-impossible to find organically grown peaches locally. That said, I’d rather buy delicious Ontario Peaches than organic mealy ones imported from half-way across the world. It’s helpful to ask questions. Most farmers will be honest as to whether they spray their crops and what kinds of pesticides they use. Many small local farms just aren’t certified for reasons of economy and scale, but use near-organic practices. These peaches weren’t organic, but they were grown locally and un-sprayed. That’s good enough for me.
Now: for a family, 19 peaches is small change: they’re eaten up within a few days. One gal can only eat so many peaches out of hand, though, and I knew exactly how I wanted to use some of these – in a peach-ricotta pizza. Sweet from the peaches, salty and creamy from the ricotta, with a chewy crust and lively cilantro topping, it was a perfect summer meal.
Peach-ricotta pizza with cilantro salsa verde
(makes one small rectangular pizza)
2 ripe peaches, thinly sliced
1/4c ricotta cheese
1 ball (approx. 300g) pizza dough*
olive oil to coat
coarse or sea salt & black pepper to taste
*you can make pizza dough from scratch, but on weeknights for simplicity and lack of mess, I pick up a ball from my local pizza place. It’s a couple dollars and makes the whole process much simpler.
Preheat your oven to its hottest setting: most home ovens max out at 550 degrees F. A pizza stone isn’t required, but if you have one, you’ll want to heat it as well. If you’re using a sheet pan, grease it lightly with olive oil.
Stretch the dough out to fit the pan. I make a rectangular pie about 10 inches long and 6 across. It doesn’t have to be perfect – dough is forgiving – keep stretching until the thickness is roughly even. Let the dough rest while you prep your other ingredients.
Stone the peaches and slice them thinly across lengthwise. Arrange them on the pizza dough and scoop blobs of ricotta over the peaches. Sprinkle liberally with salt and ground pepper (if desired).
Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 12 minutes, until the crust is golden and puffy. Slice and serve.
Cilantro salsa verde
(makes one 500mL jar)
This is totally optional – the pizza is great without it – but it really makes the pie summery, as the grassy notes contrast with the sweet peaches. And this is really a bastardized version of a proper salsa verde, just so the purists don’t come after me.
1 small bunch cilantro
3 Tbsp cold water
1/2tsp sea salt
3Tbsp of your best olive oil
In a blender or food processor, pulse the cilantro, salt and water until you have a sauce (the water is there to get the whole lot moving, use less if you can). Pour into a sterile jar and gently mix in the olive oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week. Unused quantities can be frozen in an ice cube tray and defrosted as needed.
Other delicious uses: as a bread dip, sauce for white fish of all types, salad dressing, alongside mellow cheeses, stirred into mashed avocado … and pretty much anywhere else you would use cilantro.
Summer fruit in all her glory: peaches, mango, raspberries, cherries.
And tonight’s dinner: homemade aloo ghobi and naan bread at our ‘kitsch-en’ table (so coined by E and I because of the deliciously ugly “lace” placemats she found the other day …)