Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April is a slow and cruel month....

Hey... It's been a couple of days...
Today's post has a bit of a misleading title, yet it is so true. The weather has been impeccably beautiful in Montreal: I think it's the first time a LOOOOOOONG time that we've had such a lovely and gentle spring over here. I usually watch the news and envy the weather in Toronto, but not this year!

The weather is perfect, so why am I so blah? Well, actually, it's been a little too perfect... too sunny and bright, and not enough rain. Springtime should be about rain; about the washing away of winter's leftover muck and grime;about giving all those dormant roots a kick in the backside so they'd wake up already! Some spots in my garden are bone dry, and it's such a hassle to water them because I don't have outdoor access to water, except for my rain barrel and that went dry last week. So the seeds I sowed early are suffering a little, and my rhubarb has stopped growing (well, it's grown a little since this picture was taken, ever so little).

And to add insult to injury, people in Manitoba whose houses have been flooded have to worry about rain!!!! Why can't the rain come over here? A good and proper rain to make up for the strong winds that dried out the seedlings I left out on the balcony today.

Anyway, enough griping. I suppose my problems are trifles compared to most... April has been a slow month though. I forget how the growing season is so late here... I keep thinking that the asparagus will be up any minute now... but they're not. Not in Quebec anyway. Asparagus are up in Mexico and California. And Belgium, England and France.

Imported asparagus are available in supermarkets right now, but if you are a true fan of green asparagus, you will wait until your local spears are in: asparagus, like corn on the cob and green peas, are very perishable vegetables. Their natural sugars turn into starch the instant they are cut from their roots, and within hours their succulent flavours dissipate. There is a maniacal chef in upstate New York (I forget his name) who is so fanatical about asparagus that he grows them in a garden behind his restaurant, and the asparagus are cut to order. You read correctly: each time a customer orders a plate of asparagus, a commis (bottom rung cook) runs out to the asparagus bed to cut a portion and runs back to the kitchen to throw them in the pot of boiling water!

Well, asparagus are not yet in season in Quebec (perhaps they are in BC?), so I will mention them later when they spring up here. But I will say this: the only asparagus I would concede to buying as an imported produce are the white asparagus, because there are too few producers in Quebec, and they are not much affected by storage or transportation. However, I don't like them enough to justify paying such a premium on a bitter vegetable.

There is a wild spring treat that is up over here: Petasites japonicus. Also known as fuki if you are familiar with japanese cookery. The floral buds have broken ground under the snow and are ready to eat before the flowers are fully open. Fuki flower buds are rather fragile, so few Asian markets actually stock them. Your best bet would be to go traipsing in the woods. Petasites, or Japanese butterbur, have gone native in Canada, but they also have close relatives that are indigen and edible. They grow in wet undergrowth, but I have seen them on the side of train tracks and roads.

You can always grow them, since most plant nurseries have them in stock. They are are often sold as shade plants for their lovely leaves, but they will tolerate part-sun, and even full sun if they are kept wet.

If you do see these cute yellow flower buds, break them off at ground level, and run home! A quick wash to rid the buds of dirt or any early pests is all the prep needed. They are sublime in a tempura batter, or a more simple recipe would be to roughly chop the flowers and mix them with a white miso paste. This condiment is often eaten just with rice in Japan, but it is also a nice dip for broccoli.

Bon app'!

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