Fresh Ontario Strawberries

First Fruits of Spring

Fresh Ontario strawberries are taking centre stage in several of Toronto's best restaurants this month. The First Fruits of Spring festival is happening this month, with weekend strawberry-focused events and the restaurant program kicking in next week, June 23-29.

"Anticipation is a beautiful thing," says chef Jamie Kennedy, "When you eat strawberries in late June, courtesy of our local growers, you are rewarded with a perfume and sweetness that defines the season."

Although I may not have said it like Chef JK, I eagerly anticipate Ontario strawberry season each year and love it when I can make it out to a farm to pick my own.

Several events have already passed, but plenty more strawberry events are coming up, plus the restaurant features.

Start Saturday right with strawberry tea at the Brick Works Farmers' Market, thanks to a Slow Food Kids cooking demonstration. The common pairing of Madeleines and tea will be on hand, jazzed up with strawberries.

The sweet juicy fruit is paired with stinky dry cheese Saturday afternoon, at the Culinarium's free tasting. Should be a great afternoon sampling strawberries and cheese (who needs cream?) with fun-loving foodies.

For the fruit wine lovers, the Culinarium's Thursday (June 26) fruit wine tasting will be sweet. The strawberries come from Whitty Farms in St. Catharines, and although I don't know where the wine comes from, if it's like those of Sunnybrook Farm Winery that I sampled recently, it will be well worth the $35.

Get a little dirty and go home with as many strawberries as you can carry next weekend with a day-long program starting at the Brick Works Farmers Market. A shuttle will take you out to Barrie to pick strawberries, and included in the $40 price is one basket of strawberries, a bag lunch and a farm tour. I hope they let you buy more baskets, and of course sample a few berries along the way (hey, you gotta know if what you're picking is good, right?).

For the winery enthusiasts, instead of heading to the farm, wend your way to St. Catharines and Henry of Pelham. Find out if the free tasting of strawberries paired with black pepper and Baco Noir was worth the drive. (Hint: It will be).

And on the 29th, as if the parking wasn't hard enough, head to Cheese Boutique for a tasting of Moore's Farm strawberries, coming in from Ayr. If you didn't like the Culinarium's cheese pairings, it's safe to say that this is the place to right that wrong.

Perhaps most mouth watering of all is the impressive list of restaurants (pdf) prominently featuring Ontario strawberries on their menus next week. The list includes some of the city's top restaurants, such as Canoe, as well as neighbourhood joints with a focus on local food, such as Joy Bistro.

I also know that I can't pass by a fruit market these days without checking for some Ontario strawberries. There may not be another food all year that is as good.

Photo by Julep67

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