Niagara the Fruitiful

niagara produce



It’s one of the seven deadly sins – yes?

If that’s so, then I’m destined to fry in the proverbial fiery furnace, all thanks to fruit season in Niagara. From the first strawberries in the spring to the last pears and apples of the fall, I gorge daily and unashamedly. Yes, I’m a fruit pig – the lady who’s juggling so many baskets of berries, she can barely stagger to her car.

I didn’t start out this way. Raised in eastern Ontario, I always liked fruit, but thought peaches were highly overrated (small, hard and mealy) and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about plums and grapes. Weren’t they always dark blue and sour? Apricots, as far as I knew, were found only in sugary syrup in a can and raspberries were rationed, berry by berry, because they were so expensive.

Then I moved to Niagara and learned what a fruit-loving life could be like.

My first trip to the market was a revelation. Who knew there were so many different kinds of peaches?! And, more importantly, who knew they’d be the size of softballs – nothing like the bocce balls of my deprived youth? And who’d have expected that when you bit into one, the juice would explode all over your t shirt? At 23, I was reborn and haven’t looked back since.

from May until the first frost
Niagarans live in fruit heaven

Like a religious zealot, I’ve been preaching the gospel of Niagara fruit ever since and have developed into a renowned produce snob. Because my travel journalist work takes me all over the world, I have lots of opportunities to be underwhelmed by the measly fruit in other countries and have to struggle not to sneer when I see it.  Sometimes I staple my mouth shut before I go to the fruit buffet at a swanky hotel, lest I forget my manners.

“You call those little mothballs cherries?!”

Sometimes I just blame it on Tourette’s.

Leaving others to languish in their ignorance is beyond me…particularly when I’m in the produce department. One day at the Superstore, I accosted a man who was innocently loading a container of California-grown strawberries into his cart.

“You don’t want those,” I said.

“What?” he replied, getting that ‘omg-why-do-the-crazies-always-find-me’ look on his face.

“Those berries have already been driven across a whole continent – they’ll taste like cardboard. Put them back and drive to a fruit stand. Whitty Farms is five minutes from here.”

“But,” he spluttered, clinging to his putrid, pale pink produce, “these are right here.”

“Put them down,” I said, prying his fingers from the plastic, “and go get some real fruit. Buy something your neighbours grew. Give your taste buds a thrill and eat something that’s actually good for you.”

He staggered off in the general direction of Whitty’s and I can only hope he did what he was told.  (I do so love men who do what they’re told…but that’s a whole different blog topic!)

What is it about Niagara fruit that makes it better than any I’ve ever tasted anywhere else?  It might be the ‘terroir’ (the combination of geography, climate, geology and plant genetics) or it might be the knowledge and dedication of Niagara’s growers. Maybe it’s simply the fact that the berry in your basket was sunning itself in the field just a few hours before you bought it. Perhaps it’s the generations of development that have led to the creation of the biggest, best, juiciest and most delectable berries, plums, peaches, cherries…. Stop me! I’m salivating on my keyboard.

Whatever the fabulous combination of causes, the end result is that from May until the first frost Niagarans live in fruit heaven. Road stands overflowing with baskets of fresh fruit, are staffed by grandmotherly ladies selling jars of fruit jam and home-baked pies bursting with local berries. You’re always invited to taste before you buy – some places have whole baskets of samples, free for the nibbling.  And some stands don’t even have sales people – the honour system is still firmly in place in Niagara. Just take your basket of fruit and put your money in the coffee can.  Farmers tell me they always have more money than they should at the end of the day because no one wants to be seen taking change out of the cans.

I think that’s almost as sweet as our Niagara fruit itself.

Is a travel writer with weekly columns in the Toronto Star, various other newspapers and She's a thrilled to be a blog contributor, and is inspired by the people she's met through White Oaks.