Sunday, March 29, 2009

Counting down the days to....

It's supposed to be a gloomy day today... If it were a little later in the season it would have been a perfect day for mucking about in the garden. As it stands I can can only think wistfully about the beautiful day we had yesterday in Montreal. It was so warm that my tomato seedlings got to sunbathe for a couple hours out on the balcony.
The inclement weather announced for this week is more than a mere inconvenience: although snow in April in the east cause little damage, out west whole crops of summer fruit can be lost due a late storm. On the West Coast, the flower buds on stone fruit trees are already bulging -the non-fruiting Japanese plums might even be flowering in Vancouver- and sudden cold snaps can cause flower buds to drop. In Quebec and Ontario, the buds tend to crack open later, even in Niagara's micro climate.
So I'm crossing my fingers. Last year's record breaking snowfalls had so delayed the spring thaw that the peaches on offer from Ontario were rather sad looking.

On a brighter note: this year is supposed to be a boon year for maple syrup! The trees are already tapped, and the sap is running. The Urban Sugar Shack in my neighbourhood was officially opened on Thursday. Last year's snow made it very difficult to tap the trees, and syrup stocks are at an all time low. But Mother Nature seems to giving the "acériculteurs" (I don't know the word in English: maple grower?) a break this year.

Bonus! This means that most of the maple syrup that will soon be hitting the shelves will be this year's crop! Don't go rushing out to the supermarket, they probably have some left over from last year, wait for the outdoor stalls at the farmers' market... If you have any leftovers from last year, you should try a taste test. It might be hard to believe, but maple syrup does taste different from year to year.

Some Quebec maple growers are trying to have the syrup grading system changed. Currently maple syrup is graded from A to D: A being lighter in colour, and D being industrial grade. But this classification does not account for the maple's subtleties. It's a little long to explain here, so I'm posting a link to a Radio-Canada show that explains it all. It's in French, but well worth the effort. If you have access to Radio-Canada and are not busy on a Friday evening, Du Coeur au Ventre is a show well worth watching (Friday, 9pm).

The wild crocuses have started flowering... These cute flowers are not edible, but they are a harbinger of spring. Woodland flowers are among the first plants to break ground, and the wild crops are soon to follow!

More things to look forward to in April:

-Maple syrup
Need I say more?

-Wild garlic
You might have to go hunt for it yourself if you live near a wooded area, but Canadian wild garlic is a protected species, so it might be a safer bet to wait for the market stalls to stock their shelves. Pickers have permits allowing them to harvest limited quantities in specific areas, and some sellers grow it themselves.

-Dandelion greens
Dandelions are the bane of the perfect lawn. But green gardeners know that a perfect lawn is an oxymoron, and dandelions are good for you! All dandelion-looking greens are healthful, however that vegetable commonly found on supermarket (and market) shelves is NOT real dandelion, it's a type of chicory. It's delicious in its own right, though it's not the real thing. No farmer would be crazy enough to plant this perennial weed in their fields. So you'll have to wait for warmer weather in April to push the lions out of the ground.

As the days go by, I will delve deeper into these seasonal gems, but dandelions being the special weeds they are, here's more on them.
All dandelions are bitter, which is why few people like them... but they can be wonderful. The trick for wild dandelion is to pick them when they are very young. While supermarket stuff is fine at 30cm (12"), the real stuff should be no more than 10cm (4"). More importantly, it must not have its flower buds out yet. If your lawn is riddled with the weed, keep a close eye on it: pick them no more than a couple of days after it unfurled its leaves. Wash thoroughly, because dandelion can be gritty. Dry them, and put them in your salad bowl. Chop up some bacon, pancetta or some cured pork belly (or any fatty bit of salty meat), and fry until crisp. Pour fat and crispy bits over the dandelion, add a dash of red wine vinegar, and voilà! You've got a beautiful dandelion salad. It will go nicely with a slice of quiche.

For vegetarians, I would dice some lovely sourdough, toss it in a flavourful oil (a nice olive, walnut, hazelnut, or even toasted sesame oil) and salt, toast in the oven. In a pan, heat some more oil, but do not let it smoke. Pour the hot oil over the greens, toss with warm croutons and some vinegar (raspberry would be nice, or brown rice vinegar with the sesame oil). Mmm yum! The hot oil or fat wilts the greens and rounds out the bitter edge.

Enjoy dandelions while the weather is still mild, because when the sweltering heat hits, these greens turn unbearably bitter. When that happens, be ruthless and tear them out of your lawn. Supermarket dandelions can be eaten the same way. A word of warning: dandelion is not called "pissenlit" in French for nothing. True dandelion is a diuretic, though most adults should be able to control their bladder enough not to"piss in bed", if you have kidney problems you should limit your consumption.

Bon app'!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails