A Prune by Any Other Name is still a Plum

At this time of year, we are so frequently asked to define the difference between a plum and a prune. It’s a confusing subject so don’t feel bad if you’re not sure what the difference really is!  See, all prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes!  Does that help?  Probably not.  🙂

Meanwhile, our prune plums are at the height of their season right now.  The trees are loaded with fruit that looks so delicious!

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Aren’t they spectacular?  My Dad and I took a trip through the orchard to enjoy the plums. He loves to see the farm doing so well and was imagining how delighted his own father would have been to see such a bountiful crop on the farm. I told him he looked like he was surrounded with a bower of blue.

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But getting back to our question, what is the difference between prunes and plums?  Part of the confusion is that prunes can refer to two different things.  The word prune can be used to describe a dried plum, but it can also be used to describe the type of plum that is suitable for drying.  So you can have dried prunes and fresh prunes.  And to add to the confusion, there are a number of different types of prune plums.  Most people are familiar with Italian, German, and Stanley Prunes, These three varieties are readily available right now.  They are delicious eaten fresh but also absolutely wonderful in baking, in preserves, and can be dehydrated to make dried prunes.  Plums that are not prunes are not generally suitable for drying.  Prune plums are high in fibre and therefore easier to dry.  They also have a pungent flavour that is enhanced by drying, stewing or baking, whereas other types of plums are higher in water content and are usually only eaten fresh.

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Over the years, we have received innumerable recipes for prune cakes, tarts, jams, etc.  It seems that every country has their own version of a special dessert made with prunes.  We’d love to hear some of your recipes!  And if you’re looking for prunes, we have a wide variety and selection of delicious fresh prunes available at our Fruit Stand in Beamsville (Niagara), and our market stands at St. Jacobs Farmers Market in Waterloo, Cambridge Farmers Market in Cambridge, and Mississauga Central Lions Club Farmers Market at both Mississauga locations.

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“Baby! I need your lovin’!” – Why Baby Gold peaches are the Stars of September

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They’re bringing them in by the trailer full from the orchards right now – Baby Gold peaches in all of their glory!  And yes, they are glorious to behold!  Right now we are picking Baby Gold 5’s and soon it will be Baby Gold 7’s – two varieties that are known for their sweet juiciness and golden firm flesh.  How can you help but fall in love with these babies?  🙂

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But what makes them prized by so many people, especially by those who like to can, preserve, and bake with peaches?  The flavour of Baby Golds is outstanding but really, if you tasted many varieties of freestone peaches, you would say the same thing – delicious!  So how do Baby Golds compare?  Well, they are considered a premium peach for preserving because their firm texture does not break down in the canning process at all and because their rich golden flesh maintains that amazing colour in the bottle.  In the dead of winter, when you pull out a jar of homemade peach goodness for your family, it will be like pouring out a bowl full of sunshine.  The flavour of canned Baby Gold peaches is incomparable and the texture is perfect, making them a peach that is well worth the effort required.

To the uninitiated, they may seem like a lot of work – after all they are not freestone and the peel doesn’t slip right off after a boiling water bath.  But actually, working with Baby Gold peaches could not be simpler!

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I start by cutting the peach in half and giving it a good hard twist and it pops right open! For the side where the pit is attached, I use a knife to quarter it and the pit is easily removed. Then I use a vegetable peeler to strip off the peels.

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You can easily slice them or quarter them for canning now, whichever you prefer, knowing that they will maintain their shape absolutely perfectly throughout the hot water bath.  When you are done, you will be so proud of your accomplishment!

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Baby Gold peaches are available right now and through out the months of September at our home Farm Fruit Stand in Niagara and at our Farmers Market Stands at St. Jacobs Farmers Market (Waterloo) on Thursdays and Saturdays, Cambridge Farmers Market (Cambridge) on Saturdays, and the MIssissauga Central Lions Club Market two Mississauga locations, on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Peaches & Lavender

Almost sounds like poetry, doesn’t it?  And actually peaches and lavender are such a wonderful flavour combination that they could easily inspire poetry!  The delicate taste of lavender combines beautifully with the sweet taste of peaches.

Several years ago, I tasted lavender peach jam for the first time and fell in love!  I was determined to recreate this awesome flavour for myself and delighted to find that it is really very simple to achieve.

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Lavender is in bloom right now in my flower beds. It’s the one time of year I don’t mind weeding because the fragrance when I brush up against the flowers is so beautiful!

 

 

 

While I do have lavender in my own flowerbeds, it’s not nearly enough to use for cooking purposes so I was very happy to discover recently that there is a lavender farm near by!

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If you are visiting the Niagara Region, Terra Lavanda is a lovely place to visit complete with a gazebo overlooking fields of lavender planted in glorious purple rows!  Once you’ve had time to absorb the visual feast, close your eyes and you will be surrounded by the calming scent and the quiet of the farm, with the sound of buzzing bees as your only music.  Better than any spa retreat you can imagine!  To enjoy their amazing photos and learn a little bit about their business, you must visit their website: http://terralavanda.com  The onsite shop offers an array of lavender products including the culinary lavender I needed for my recipes. Their products are also available online at their website.

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So with a container full of culinary lavender and a basket of peaches, I headed into the kitchen with renewed purpose: the creation of a batch of Lavender Peach Jam.  And as I tasted the jam, I became inspired to try something else: Lavender Pork Schnitzel with Caramelized Peaches!  The dish turned out absolutely scrumptious so I’m sharing that with you today as well.

But first the jam.  I followed the basic Bernardin peach jam recipe from the pectin box with one simple addition:  a tisane made with culinary lavender.

We started by brewing a tisane of 1 Tbsp of lavender with 3/4 cup of boiling water.  I didn’t want to add too much water to the jam recipe for fear it would not set properly but I wanted a nice lavender taste so I let the lavender steep for 20 minutes in the boiling water until it was quite strong.  The fragrance was idyllic!

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We peeled and sliced our peaches, mixed them with the pectin and lemon juice as the recipe suggested, and added the strained lavender tea at this point.

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For the remainder of the recipe, we followed it exactly. For more details, you can find it in the Bernardin pectin box, but the basic recipe is:

4 cups finely chopped peaches, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 package pectin, 5 cups of sugar. And of course, we added 3/4 cup of steeped lavender tea.

And lots of stirring!

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The end result?  Peach Lavender bliss!  The whole house smelled amazing and the jam tastes simply phenomenal!  And it is so easy to make!  It was the first time the girls had made jam and they are so proud of how it turned out.  An immediate request was made to their mother for jam-filled palacinke!  (Thanks Irena! They were delicious – I would have taken a picture but we were too busy inhaling them!) Palacinke are Slovenian crepes and very tasty filled with jam.

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Once the jam was bottled, we were on to our next recipe of the day:  Lavender Pork Schnitzel with Caramelized Peaches.  Lavender is a wonderful compliment to both chicken and pork as the mild-tasting white meat does not compete with the delicate flavour of the lavender. Combine that with sweet peaches, and your meat dishes become extraordinary!

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The first step is to make the schnitzels.  You can choose to use boneless chicken breast if you prefer to have chicken schnitzels, but for this recipe, I opted to use pork.  I pound the pork cutlets out with a rolling pin, between two sheets of saran wrap to make cleanup simpler.

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Next, they get dusted with seasoned flour and then dipped in beaten egg.

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Finally, they are covered in the breadcrumb/lavender mixture.  I find it simplest to put the breadcrumbs and lavender in a ziploc bag, mix it all together, and then drop the cutlets into the bag, give them a good shake, and take them out ready to go in the frying pan along with some olive oil.

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The schnitzels should be well-browned on either side until cooked through.  I then pop them in a 300 degree oven to keep hot while making the peach topping.

Peel and slice the peaches and onions.  Add the onions first to a medium hot frying pan with some olive oil.  As the onions begin to soften, add the peaches and butter.  Cook until the peaches and onions begin to caramelize.  The onions should be soft, transparent and both the peaches and onions should change colour to a very light golden brown.  The flavours should be melded together with the sweetness of the peaches taking on the savoury taste of the onions.

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Remove the schnitzel from the oven and top with the caramelized peaches. The crisp outer coating of the pork is a wonderful contrast to the juicy fruit topping and once again, the lavender and peach flavours compliment each other beautifully!

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Peaches are in season right now!  We have lots to choose from at our Fruit Stand here in Beamsville, as well as our market booths at St. Jacobs Farmers Market, Mississauga Central Lions Club Market, and Cambridge Farmers Market.  Don’t miss out on this wonderful season of fresh Ontario fruit! 

Drunken Peaches: Everybody Must Get Stoned!

I’ll be honest, I’m not a big Bob Dylan fan, but there is something about a lazy, humid summer day that matches the languid monotone of Dylan’s style, like he’s lying under a peach tree and just too hot to make the effort required to actually sing the words.  And since we’re talking about peaches on a hot August day, let me mention that as fruit farmers one of the most frequently asked questions we hear is: What is the difference between freestone and clingstone? So, yeah Dylan, even peaches have to get stoned!

Before I get all technical and explain the differences, here’s a hint about the recipe to come in today’s blog.  Trust me, it’s worth sticking around for!

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But before we get to our recipe for Drunken Peaches, let’s talk about freestone vs. clingstone. Freestone peaches are the ones where the pit comes cleanly away from the flesh of the peach with little to no effort. In contrast, a clingstone peach is one where the flesh adheres strongly to the pit and must be cut away with a knife.

However, there are further important distinctions to make about these classifications that relate to fruit texture. There are two basic types of peach textures: melting and non-melting. A peach with a melting texture is juicy and almost butter-soft. A peach with non-melting texture is much more solid and does not dissolve in your mouth. If you think of a traditional Red Haven peach which most people in Niagara are familiar with, then you will recognize the perfect example of a melting flesh peach. When ripe, the fruit of a Red Haven peach almost falls apart when slicing it because it is so juicy and melting in texture. In comparison, a non-melting peach (like a Baby Gold peach), is very firm in texture and even at its ripest, it will maintain its shape perfectly when sliced.

It’s important for you to know as a consumer that there are two different types of clingstone peaches: those with melting flesh and those non-melting flesh.  Melting flesh clingstone peaches are usually the very first peaches in Niagara to ripen. They taste like a traditional juicy peach, have that melting texture that is similar to a Red Haven, but they are not easy to remove from the pit.  Non-melting clingstone peaches ripen later and they are the prize choice for many people who like a firmer-fleshed peach for eating.  They are especially desirable for canning and baking. They take more time to work with but they maintain their shape perfectly when preserved.  If you have eaten peaches out of a tin and noticed the perfect roundness of each half-peach, it is because commercial canning factories exclusively use non-melting clingstone peaches.

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In the pictures above, the peaches on the left side of the plate are freestone. The pit pops out with absolute ease and the peels are very easily removed.  On the right side of the plate is an example of a clingstone peach. The pit had to be cut out of the peach and the peel removed with a knife. You can compare the two pits side-by-side to see the difference.

This particular clingstone peach has a non-melting texture. You will see in the recipe in a moment how it maintains its shape perfectly during the cooking process. I chose to use some melting flesh freestone and some non-melting flesh clingstone so you could see how they differ.

So which should you buy?  Well, everyone has their own preference, but here is a summary to help you decide.


 

Clingstone Melting Peaches:

Juicy, butter-soft flesh. Usually ripen earliest.  Must be cut from the pit and cut to peel.

Freestone Melting Peaches:

Juicy, butter-soft flesh.  Mid to late harvest. Very easy to remove from the pit and to peel.

Clingstone Non-Melting Peaches:

Firm-textured sweet flesh. Mid to late harvest. Must be cut from the pit and cut to peel. Maintain shape perfectly when canned and preserved.


 

So now that we’ve got our peaches stoned, it’s time to get them drunk!  🙂  The recipe I’m making today is Drunken Honey-Roasted Peaches.  I drew heavily from this recipe that I found online so I want to give them credit, but I made a few changes that I think improved on the original.

Original Recipe: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/bobby-flay/honey-roasted-peaches-with-cinnamon-mascarpone.html

Here’s the recipe for my own version:

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The first step was to visit one of our local wineries.  We are so fortunate to be located in the heart of wine-country Niagara! One of our neighbouring wineries, Rosewood Estates Winery is exceptionally unique in that it combines generations of beekeeping skills with viticulture.  You can find out all about them here: http://www.rosewoodwine.com but for now, here are some pictures of my visit this morning.

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They offer a wonderful selection of wines, honey and mead!  Mead is an interesting drink made with honey and is a perfect accompaniment for dishes featuring our local Niagara peaches!  Please note, if you are unable to find mead in your area, you can substitute any white wine of your choice in this recipe. It will have a slightly different flavour but will still be delicious.

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After a lovely visit to the winery, I headed back to the kitchen to bake. What a great way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning and get me in the mood for baking! This recipe is so simple to pull together, it doesn’t take long to produce a delicious gourmet dessert. I love the rich flavour of mascarpone cheese, but you can substitute sour cream, creme fraiche, or Greek yoghurt. In a matter of moments, the cheese mixture was blended and in the fridge.

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When preparing the peaches, I chose to use both melting flesh freestone and firm flesh clingstone so I could show you some of the differences.

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The firm flesh clingstone had to be peeled with a knife.  The freestone peach, on the other hand, could literally be peeled by pulling the skin away from the flesh with my fingers. Before popping them in the oven, I added some sliced peaches in the centre of the baking dish to use for a garnish on the finished dessert plates.

PeachesReadyforOvenWhen the peaches were ready for the oven, the row on the bottom, which were firm fleshed clingstone, were holding their shape perfectly.  The top row, which were freestone, were already starting to look a little less put-together.  I had to be very careful when turning them over halfway through the baking time so they wouldn’t fall apart.

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After baking for 20 minutes, add the coconut butter honey mixture to the pan.  I chose to use coconut butter in this recipe because I love the flavour with peaches, but you can easily substitute regular butter if you prefer.  The one drawback of using coconut butter is that the peaches do not brown as easily during the broiling step as they do when dairy butter is used.

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The firm fleshed clingstone peaches maintained their shape perfectly. The freestone melting flesh peaches were a little bit mushy and required careful handling to plate the dessert. As for the flavour? Well, they both turned out absolutely delicious and there was no significant difference to flavour.

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Whatever variety of peaches you select, this is a great way to enjoy our sweet Ontario peaches! They might even make you think you’re “knocking on heaven’s door!” 🙂 

Ballet in the Kitchen

I love to spend time with my nieces in the kitchen. Teaching children how to cook and have fun preparing food is a real joy for me. When a dear friend dropped off a couple of flats of fresh eggs from her farm, I immediately thought: Pavlova!  What a perfect dessert to showcase the beauty of our fresh Ontario fruit in the summer!

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Pavlova is a fairly simple dessert to make so it’s an easy one to teach children and it has a great WOW factor that impresses both adults and children alike. Throw in the fact that legend suggests it was invented for famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, as a dessert to mimic her sweet, delicate dance style, and you’re guaranteed to get the attention of most little girls!

Here is the basic recipe but we will go through it step-by-step together.

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Preheat your oven to 300F. Separate eggs being very careful not to get any yolk in the whites. The secret to a good pavlova is to ensure that your egg whites are really super fluffy so I’ll make note of a couple of tips. When beating egg whites it’s important that there is not the slightest trace of grease in your bowl so lightly rinsing your clean bowl with a splash of lemon juice is not a bad idea. Also make sure that your eggs and even your bowl are nicely chilled before starting. These simple tips can really make a difference.

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Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, gradually adding in the sugar as you are beating. Gently fold in the remaining ingredients being careful not to over stir.

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Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a cookie sheet. Using a 9 inch pie plate as a guide, draw a circle in pencil on the parchment paper. If your parchment paper keeps rolling up, dab a few spots of the meringue on the cookie sheet first to temporarily glue down the paper.

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Spread the meringue over the 9 inch circle and use dollops from a spoon around the outer edge to create a wall.

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Bake in a 300F oven for one hour. When it’s done, allow it to cool on a rack before topping with filling and fruit.

You can use any type of filling like whipped cream, custard, etc. but I love the zingy taste of lemon pie filling so while the pavlova was baking in the oven, we made a packaged pie filling on top of the stove. Simple things like teaching children how to read directions on a package are great teaching moments. Practising to sound out words which are not familiar to them and understanding the application of fractions are all part of reviewing recipes. The kitchen is a perfect place to help kids realize that what they are learning in school has real life applications.

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Once the pavlova has cooled, you can spread the topping and fruit. Don’t worry if your pavlova has cracks – that seems to be fairly normal!  The goal is to have a pavlova that is lightly crusty on the outside and gooey and fluffy, almost like a marshmallow, on the inside.

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Since Pavlova was invented in New Zealand (although Aussies lay claim to it as well!), it is traditionally topped with sliced kiwi fruit but there are endless possibilities, so our next stop was to our very own Fruit Stand to decide what fruit we would use.

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Both girls had fun assembling the fruit and designing the tops of their pavlovas.

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When the fruit was all laid out on top, I spooned a simple glaze of red currant jelly over the top to keep the fruit shiny and fresh.  It’s made easily by heating red currant jelly in the microwave until it is runny.  Chefs traditionally make fruit glazes out of either apricot jam or red currant jelly.  They are a great item to have on hand if you like to decorate desserts with fresh fruit.

We made three pavlovas. The girls let me decorate the third one so I could present it to my friend Marlene who gave me the eggs with which it was made!

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Regardless of whether or not you make it with children or by yourself, as a gift, a special occasion dessert, or simply as a tasty treat to end a family dinner, Pavlova is a wonderful way of combining Ontario fresh fruit into a dance of perfection!

Note:  Our farm Fruit Stand is open 8-6 every day during the summer months. We are conveniently located below the Beamsville Belt in the heart of wine country Niagara.

We also sell our fruit at Cambridge Farmers Market on Saturdays, at St. Jacobs Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and at Mississauga Central Lions Club Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Romagnoli Fruit Stand: 4605 Thirty Road, Beamsville (Town of Lincoln), Ontario. Corner of Greenlane Road and Thirty Road.

 

 

From Russia With Love!

It’s apricot season here in Niagara!  When you grow up surrounded by an abundance of fresh fruit of all flavours, colours, and size, it’s hard to commit yourself to one favourite kind, but I have to confess I am rather partial to apricots.  Juicy, sweet, exploding with flavour, a sun-ripened apricot is a beautiful thing!

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I was walking through the orchard earlier this week, watching the crew pick Early Golden Plums and slipped over to a block of young apricot trees that Jack had suggested I visit.  Only two years old and these trees are flourishing!

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These apricot trees are grafted onto a special root stock that was developed in Russia called Krymsk 86.  They are much more hardy in cold winter conditions than other apricot trees. They are also more tolerant of heavier, wetter soil and somewhat resistant to verticillium wilt, a disease that causes yellowing of leaves, leaf drop, and in extreme cases can result in the death of an otherwise healthy young tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verticillium_wilt).

Krymsk 86 root stock shows great promise for sturdy trees, well-adapted to our micro-climate.  They are now being introduced as root stock for a number of apricot, peach and nectarine varieties here in Niagara.  You can find more information at this link: (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/hort/news/tenderfr/tf1803a1.htm)

Another significant feature of this root stock is that it produces trees which bear earlier. Usually we have to wait 4-5 years for apricots trees to begin to bear fruit.  Our apricot trees grafted onto Krymsk 86 root stocks are producing as early as the second year of planting.

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You can see that this second-year tree has already produced a significant number of apricots! The branches are strong, the leaves are well established, and the fruit is not over-tasking this young tree.  Trees that can produce much more quickly are far more profitable to us and a worth-while investment whenever replanting is necessary. These trees will be pedestrian-height when full-grown, making them easy to prune and pick.  With a promise of a good yield of disease-resistant fruit, we look forward to seeing how these trees hold up in years to come.

There are many varieties of apricots currently growing in our orchards. Apricots are delicious to eat as hand fruit, they make wonderful desserts and jams, and as many of our customers over the years have told us, they do have a way of transforming alcohol!  Check out this recipe for a refreshing and unique apricot liqueur! (http://www.storyofakitchen.com/drink-recipes/apricot-liqueur/)

If Russia provides the root stock and the vodka, the least we can do is add some sweet Ontario apricots to the mix!

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