Monday, May 25, 2009

I see June in the horizon!

I'll be off on a much needed two week holiday, but before I go...

It's May 24th today (duh!). Over here in the North East this day marks the official start to the gardening season. While there may still be some freakish chance of a killer frost -there were frost warnings for Montreal up until Friday- the risk is pretty low, and the beautiful weather renders any attempt to resist quite futile.

And without fail, every gardener in Montreal answered the call: I swung by my local plant nursery to pick up some manure, and the place was crowded! I needed some veg , so I went to the market in the afternoon, and the place was an anthill! Now I realise the market is always full of people on the week-end, but just about everyone there today had a plant or two, or twelve, in their arms!

If you haven't been bitten by the gardening bug yet, this might be the year for you! It doesn't really take much really: a pot on the windowsill, some herbs on the balcony... It doesn't get more local than that!

If you're in the mood to go foraging, elderflowers are abloom. The elders on Mount-Royal were covered in buds on Mother's Day, and the warm weather we've been having will have opened the blossoms. The European Elder (Sambucus nigra) flowers a wee bit later over here, and you probably won't find any wild ones in Canada, but they smell (and taste) slightly sweeter. What do you do with elderflowers, you ask? Well, you might have guessed from its Latin name that this plant has something to do with sambuca, and you'd be guessing right. However, sambuca is distilled from the berries, not the flowers, sorry. Elderflowers are lovely, lovely things: they smell divine! If you find some: the flowers can be sprinkled on ice cream, or made into fritters.

They do not have the licorice-y flavour of the berries. In fact, if you've ever taken a wine appreciation class or have heard someone talking about wine, elderflowers are often referred to when a white wine is said to have a "floral" or a "white blossom" note: Alsatian and German Rieslings have a distinctly elderflower-like aroma.

The British and the Swedish make a cordial from the flowers (Ikea sells some cordial, or you can make it yourself) which is delicious with sparkling water or in cocktails... aaaahhh, don't you just love having a nice, tall drink on a hot afternoon? The British also make elderflower wine, but to tell you the truth, I think that dandelion wine tastes nicer!

Another note on foraging: if you want to learn more about wild mushrooms, Ron Mann's latest documentary Know Your Mushrooms is out this summer on DVD. While it won't make an expert mycologist out of you, this doc really brings home the notion that there is a dearth of foraging culture in North America...

This post is getting long, so here's the list for June:

-Lobster
Yes indeed! It's lobster season on both sides of the Atlantic (sorry, West Coasters... you don't have lobsters on your side, but if I'm not mistaken, I believe that wild Pacific salmon are in season.) While lobsters are available throughout the year, now is the best time to eat them. They have grown into their new shells, so not only are they large, they are also filled with flesh. The females may be filled with eggs, which make for a beautiful sight when cooked.
Some may object to eating lobsters for several reasons, not the least of which being that they are cooked alive. But perhaps what is most sad is that it takes close to 13 years for a lobster to reach 2lbs. If you are unable to forgo the delectation of the crustacean, maybe you can at least keep it to the summer months?
The lobster industry is very sustainable, and in most cases, it is a low impact fishery. While populations are not as numerous as they (supposedly) used to be, there is no shortage of lobsters. In fact, all the bottom trawling that nearly wiped out certain species have allowed the lobsters to thrive.

-Strawberries
Ooooooh..... strawberries... Yeah, yeah, I know, American strawberries have already flooded the markets. But no offence to our neighbours down south, I prefer my local berries. As I am sure you do too!
Red ripe berries are so wonderful, they taste like luxury itself! Makes me wonder why anyone would want to forgo the pleasure and settle for anemic imports...

-Peas
I'm sure you've noticed that I am crazy for peas. And I am not ashamed to admit it! Fresh peas are divine. And I thoroughly enjoy spending warm afternoons shelling peas on the porch while watching the world go by. It's meditation incarnated into food!

-Baby beets
If you don't like beets, perhaps you should try baby beets. They're not really different from regular beets, except in size, their flavour can be milder, especially the yellow or white varieties -which are hard to find as full sized veg. However, children may be more inclined to try beets if they are bite sized... Raw, sliced thinly, and drenched in an orange dressing (orange juice, a touch of Dijon, olive oil, salt and pepper), with some slivers of baby carrots if they can be had... mmmmm!

-Mackerels
I'm not sure about the West Coast, but over here, mackerels will be swimming up the coast, and they will be in the northern reaches of Quebec's coast by the end of June. Mackerel is a beautiful fish, resembling a miniature version of the bluefin tuna, of which it is a cousin. Yet, unlike its cousin, the mackerel is not endangered, nor does it seem to have as big a following in North America.
It is a yummy fish, and when absolutely fresh it can be eaten raw, but it is at its best when grilled or pan fried. High in omega fatty acids (3?6? I don't know which, but it's full of it), it is a meaty fish with a fine texture.

Bon app'!

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