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peach, butter, jam,

My parents emigrated to Canada from Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution; the citizens revolted against the Russian takeover. After about 12 days of Revolution, the Russian army mounted and squashed Hungary once and for all. At 20 years old, my Mom left just prior to the Russian’s ending the revolution to escort her sister to Vienna but ended up continuing her journey on to Canada; she celebrated her 21st birthday alone in Halifax. My Dad was relatively active against the Russians and decided to leave to protect himself (my uncle and aunt were expecting their first child so they were not able to leave). My Dad’s family lost everything to the Russians (the Puppet theatre(Báb Szinház) in the Liget, their family home…E V E R Y T H I N G). My Mom’s family had already lost everything to the Germans during the WWII (they had a small store that sold coffee, flour etc.). The Russian hostility toward Hungary surprised the world and both my parents were able to immigrate to Canada as Refugees of War.

My parents did not know one another in Hungary so they made their way to the New World on their own. My Mom (13 years younger than Dad) talked about her journey but Dad sadly did not. I only know that Dad came through Gibraltar and an Ocean Liner. Mom also arrived by boat but I can’t remember how or where from. You know the movies that show people trying to escape oppression, desperately crawling on their bellies across vast lands under the cloak of darkness? That was my Mom’s story. She and her sister came across the farmlands of Hungary, all the way to the Austrian border near Vienna. The Austrians were very sympathetic to the plight of the Hungarians and they helped make their way to a better life.

I’m not sure either of the parents had a “plan” as such but I know my Mom already had some relatives in Canada (an Aunt and her husband, children and their spouses). My Mom’s sister’s husband had already arrived in Toronto and was instrumental in making arrangements for my Aunt to meet him there, sadly Mom was not in that equation due to the economic circumstances of my Aunt and Uncle so she had to find her own way to Toronto. Did you ever read Angela’s Ashes? I remember reading the bit about Angela only having enough money for one egg and it resonated with me…there were many times my dear Mom only had enough money for one egg during the first months in Canada. It’s difficult to understand that this happened only 59 years ago. Mom landed in Halifax and stayed for a few months. All Canadian immigrants were given $5 (around $45 today) upon arrival and were told to have a good life. Mom found a sympathetic Swiss woman who owned a beauty shop and she worked various odd jobs at her shop and rented a room in the woman’s home. Neither of my parents spoke a word of English, so they learned from listening to the radio.

My Dad found his way to Toronto and worked in restaurants to make a living, at first waiting tables and then later as a Maî·tre d’hô·tel (Maître-D) at a very prestigious hotel near the airport. Mom’s sister introduced Mom and Dad  in 1957; they dated on and off and then lived together in 1958 (yes, that was very risqué back then!). My Mom was the hold-out, she didn’t want to marry a ‘pretty boy’ as she called him. It’s true, Dad was quite the looker and the ladies loved him. Dad taught Mom puppetry and they travelled together working on the Chrysler Canada Tour in the late 50’s. He finally wore her down and they married in 1960. They eventually settled in Toronto and began having a family.

I remember my dear Mom making most of our pantry items, just like her mother did and my Dad’s mother. Jam was always a treat and as I mentioned before, Mom’s strawberry jam was one of my favourites. I bought some peaches for a photoshoot and it turned out we didn’t need them so I decided to make peach butter out of it. Mom would bottle several mason jars of jam, but since it’s only JT and I, I only made a small amount. Now that we’ve already gone through the first jar, I wish I had made more.

Jam, peaches, preserves,

A delicious, smooth peach butter or jam made without pectin.

Peach Butter

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 400 mL

Ingredients:

  • 650 g peaches, I had about 6  peaches (measure with peel and stone)
  • 100 mL water
  • 160 g white sugar
  • 30 mL lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Peel peaches and remove stone (see notes for tip on peeling). Cut into eighths and set into a heavy bottom pan. Add water and set over medium heat and cook until peaches are softened.
  2. Add sugar and lemon juice and purée with an immersion blender or run through your food mill.
  3. Return peach purée to pan and cook for 30-40 minutes until thickened, testing often with the freezer method.
  4. Once the butter has thickened, pour into mason jars and follow canning best practice instructions.

Notes:

  • An easy way to peel peaches is to score the skin into quarters, pour boiling hot water over them to cover and allow to sit for a minute. Take a sharp knife and begin by sliding the knife between the skin and flesh and peel away. Repeat for all of the peaches.
  • If you have a food mill, you need not peel the peaches (I have one but felt like peeling them anyway), the mill will capture all of the skin.

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If you’ve been following along, you will know by now that we have very good friends, Paul and T, who live in Illinois with whom we visit, travel, laugh (and laugh and laugh), eat and drink and recently, they kindly paid us a long overdue visit. It’s always a challenge to come up with things to do since we’ve been hanging out with each other for around 20 years — we’ve done most things in the GTA that had to be done. Now, I know it’s not always necessary to plan a weekend with such good friends, but it’s nice to do a little something special, particularly since it’s the only time JT and I get to be tourists in our own city.

We decided to visit Casa Loma, a real castle in the heart of Toronto. Built by Sir Henry Pellatt and Lady Mary Pellatt for $3.5 million dollars around 1911. Now that is a lot of money even now, can you imagine how much that was in 1911? Sadly, the Pellatt’s only lived in the Castle for 10 years, when their financial empire crumbled and they were forced to auction off the castle and belongings. In 1924 they moved to their farm in King township, and shortly after Lady Mary passed away of heart problems (likely caused by anxiety and stress of their financial downfall). The castle was fitted with the most modern conveniences, like indoor toilets, electricity and telephones; when the entire city of Toronto had 3,000 telephones, the Pallett’s castle had 50! Even the servants quarters were grandly equipped (by the standards of the day) with heated rooms, electricity and indoor washrooms (it reminded me of Downton Abbey). It took 300 men three years to build it. Quite the property.

In 1925 they tried to convert it to a luxury hotel, but even that didn’t pan out; the rooms were never completed, only the common areas had been re-purposed where they held many high-end social events and dances. In 1937 the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto took over the building and began the tedious task of renovating and refurnishing the rooms as Sir and Lady Pallett would have had it furnished. Today, only some of the furnishings are from the Pallett’s estate, many of them are just ‘of the time’. You can book your wedding or special event at the castle, but 27 years ago, the waiting list was three years long, so plan ahead!

Casa Loma is situated in Forest Hill, an exclusive neighbourhood in Toronto, even today. The area is also quite lovely to experience and I strongly suggest that you check it out if you are visiting Toronto.

A few practical notes and we’ll get to the good stuff:

  • With the self-guided audio tour, it will take you about 2-3 hours to go through the castle, we had a moderate pace and completed the tour, even the garages, stables and potting shed in a little over 2 hours.
  • There is an elevator but it must be operated by staff, the stairs are so much more practical, and they will allow your tour to flow better (not having to back-track on yourself to get to the lift).
  • It’s not heated well, so you’ll need your jacket in the winter (I wore boots and my toes were chilled). I walked around with my jacket buttoned up (and I usually start sweating as soon as I think about going inside — Eastern European and all!).
  • Little one’s are not discouraged, but there is little for them to be amused with. Unless you are going for a specific kids program, they will be bored.
  • There is a cafeteria on site, but Yorkville is very close by with so many better options.
  • Ladies, take a purse that can be hung on your shoulder, your hands will be occupied with the listening device, the map and perhaps a camera (and for me, a tissue for my sniffling nose, yes, I still have it! Grrr!).
  • Not a cheap experience, adult entry is around $20; check on line, you may be able to find discount coupons. If you plan on doing more than one attraction a Toronto Attractions City Pass may be the way to go.

The Good Stuff (you’ll see that I didn’t take many photos (I kept my gloves on) so you’ll have to visit to see it all):

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The main entrance. As you can see we have another dreary grey day in Toronto

The Great Hall just after the entrance.

The Great Hall just after the entrance. The giant organ is that shadow in the photo.

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The Great Hall another view; you can see the scale of this room by the chairs. The gorgeous window in the previous photo is just on the right of this photo. This room also had an enormous organ (which sat in the large window in the second photo), the enormous pipes are behind me taking the shot.

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Sir Henry’s drawing room

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The Drawing Room; the sofa in the foreground is facing the fireplace from the previous photo.

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Incredible views from one of the towers. This shot reminds me of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe looking toward La Défence

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OK, maybe it’s just La Défence that reminds me of our new condo.

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Great view of our city.

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The towers are accessed only by metal and wood spiral stairs, which can be a bit confining at times. It’s best to do this in low season as there are only one set of stairs so it would get quite congested in high season.

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This is the smoking room, no ladies please

The stables

The stables. What’s cool about the stables, garages and potting shed is that they are accessed by a 500 metre tunnel, 5 metres under ground. Sir Henry fought with the city to have a busy road detoured so that his servants didn’t have to cross to access the outer buildings, and was constantly declined, so he built a tunnel. Obviously a different snack bracket than I.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d'œuvres that evening.

We had very special deviled eggs for our hor d’œuvres that evening.

And that concludes our visit to Casa Loma, I hope you have a chance to see it when you come to Toronto.

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Update May 22, 2012

A colleague from my KPMG days and a loyal blog follower mentioned that you can book private tours with the Toronto Preservation Society for a mere $10 per person. And because they are private, you can customize them! Now that’s a deal if I’ve ever heard one!

The month of April kicked off Heritage Toronto‘s wonderful guided walks in the Big Smoke with historical tours to commemorate the Bicentennial Anniversary of the war of 1812 (just HAD to mention that for my American friends!). JT and I have enjoyed their informative tours over the years and this past Saturday we decided to enjoy yet another through Cabbagetown North (according to the New York Times, Cabbagetown has the largest concentration of Victorian homes in North America. See Footnote #1). The weather was a bit crisp with the occasional gust of chilly wind, but the sun was shining (for the most part. Read proper shoes and coat) and dressed appropriately, it was absolutely lovely.

We started out at the corner of Wellesley Street East and Parliament Street at a corner neighbourhood park; over fifty people had the same idea, but they were very well prepared and divided the group into five troupes, each lead by one of their wonderful and informative guides. We choose Christopher, and boy are we glad we did! Christopher lives in the hood in one of the cutest cottages, but I’ll get to that shortly.

The history of Cabbagetown began in the 1800s during the potato famine in Ireland when hundreds of Irish labourers immigrated to Toronto and set up homes in the North East part as it was quite a way outside the city and rather inexpensive. It became known as Cabbagetown because the immigrant Irish discovered that our growing season was much shorter than what they were used to and had to plant vegetables that would store well in the winter; potatoes were planted close to the house, then turnip and finally cabbages were planted directly by the sidewalk/road (their gardens were at the front of their homes, the backs were commerce). As Toronto’s economy grew, a variety of middle to upper middle-class moved into the area making Cabbagetown a wonderful mix of small cottages, Grand Victorian and Edwardian home (and the odd eye sore built in the 1970’s).

In 1851, during the Great Exhibition (Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London (now known as the World’s Fare) Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) who had a keen interest in affordable housing for the poor held a contest for architects to create a particular housing style that was affordable, easy to build with a relatively small footprint that could be used throughout the Commonwealth. William Hooker won the contest with his plan for the Victorian Cottage (apparently seen throughout the Commonwealth, even today!) (Source #2). The cottages were basically four 3m x 3m rooms (10′ x 10′).

After decades of neglect and various degrees of derelict, the neighbourhood started coming alive with young families began buying up the lots and rennovating (some with more taste than others) and so in 1989 the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA) was born to preserve the architectural integrity and historic character of the Cabbagetown neighbourhood in Toronto. To attain a building permit in this historical area, one must not only get the City to approve the plans, but by law, the Cabbagetown Preservation Association must also approve. The CPA takes this very seriously.

A lesson on skirting the law: This hideous house is an example where the owners received approval from the CPA to build their modern home, with the caveat that they were not permitted to remove the Victorian on the property. So they connivingly built around the Victorian on the outside, and then when they were finished they dismantled the Victorian inside the walls as the CPA has no jurisdiction over the inside of the house. Go figure.

So let’s get to the good stuff.

Our first stop was a grand Victorian built by Thomas Harris in the Queen Ann style. Thomas Harris owned a stone cutting firm and decorated his home with the splendor of his business as a kind of billboard. This used to be a rooming house and was recently painstakingly and with considerable expense renovated back to its glory as a single family home.

#314 Wellesley Street East, Home of Thomas Harris, stone cutter. Grand Queen Ann Style. (Source #1)

Even in those days there were builders buying up plots of land and speculating with residential properties. The row houses on Wellesley Cottage Lane are labourers’ cottages “built in 1886-1887 by William Hooker from the plans that won him the architectural award in 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London” (Source #1). What’s interesting about this street is that it is a private street (one of three in this area, if memory serves), not owned by the City of Toronto, but by the residents of that street. They are responsible for the maintenance and care from sewage backups to snow shoveling services in the winter (I had no idea we had private streets in Toronto, and I’ve lived here all my life).

The labourers’ cottages are in the middle, flanked by the stand alone supervisor cottages.

The cottages have all been significantly renovated, with enormous additions in the back.

This is Christopher’s house. It is 914 square metres (3,000 square feet). The CPA approved this design because you are unable to see its vastness from the front. It backs onto private lanes and backyards so it doesn’t change the overall look and feel of the neighbourhood.

This home used to be two homes, but the owners recently converted it to a single family home. The bay window is not original but was approved by the CPA because it maintained the look and feel of the hood.

Just another pretty face that was recently sold for over a million dollars. It doesn’t even have parking!

Examples of row housing with Christopher’s new addition at the end.

Examples of cooperation between neighbours to maintain the look and feel of the historical context on the street. There were actually four houses that refaced with cedar shakes (can you agree with four neighbours on your street? What if your house was attached to their’s?)

There’s my artsy fartsy side showing up again. Just look away, if it offends you!

Way cool old MG tucked away in a back alley.

Another example of row housing. Please take note of the fountain at the end of the street.

The neighbours built this fountain as a memorial to one of the past neighbours on the street. The land behind the fountain is a cemetery which is actually three metres (10 feet) above this road. The city rebuilt these retaining wall after Huricane Hazel passed through Toronto in 1954 and littered the bones of the cemetery inhabitants throughout these little roads. Talk about GROSS.

Owl House (because of the Owl motif on the side of the house) is situated behind modern built homes from the 1970’s. The modern builds are not offensive to the neighbourhood mainly because they cannot be seen from the Street. Owl House used to be three stories but fell derelict until the present owners scooped it up and lopped off the third floor (too many unwanted tennants – squirrels and racoons!)

Another example of how the new owners of this typical Victorian Cottage renovated but maintained the exceptional style of the neighbourhood. This home plus the two others that you can’t see belonged to the Lepper family for three generations. All three homes have extensive extensions on the back, that are unseen from the front of the house.They were sold in the 1980’s.

These cottages are interesting because a builder bought the land and was going to level them (this happened before the CPA). The neighbourhood stepped in and through much negotiation the builder agreed to remove the facade and preserve them, then build new homes in behind the facades and replace the facade to maintain the street harmony. Nicely done.

Photo Source: http://www.tobuilt.ca/php/tobuildings_more.php?search_fd3=8059
21 Winchester street (1858) was owned by Archdeacon Boddy of the Anglican parish of St. Peter’s. Archdeacon Boddy is important because he attended a conference in Chicago and discovered that most of their streets were paved and that the congregations didn’t mind going to Church on less pleasant days because their clothes stayed clean (remember, these are the horse and buggy days). So he came home and paved all the streets around his Church. His Church had the largest congregation of that time in Toronto.
I’d go if they served martini’s or white wine instead of grape juice ;-)!

I couldn’t end the tour without a picture of this road sign. There was no story behind it, but I’m sure at the time there was lots to be said. Now let’s find a pub and have a pint.

I do hope you enjoyed your tour of North Cabbagetown Toronto. I would encourage you to seek out your own Historical or Heritage Societies within your own cities. Often these tours are free, or simply what you can afford and they are always exceptional (no disgruntled students just hammering out the details in a monotone voice). The guides are often retired school teachers, professors or just people with a real passion for their neighbourhoods.

Now I must ask you, have you ever been on an historical tour of your own city? And if so, what did you enjoy most about it?
Source #1: Heritage Toronto Walks Cabbagetown North pamphlet.
Source #2: Christopher, our Heritage Toronto Walks guide.

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