Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh the heat!

It's killing me! I shouldn't complain since this summer has been a bust so far, and my tomatoes really do need the warmth if I don't want to be eating fried green tomatoes all winter long... But the sweltering heat has finally arrived, and I don't like it!!!!!

The constant rain and cool temps so far had kept the mosquitoes at bay, and it was quite pleasant to go trudging about the garden under the gentle drizzle before the downpour, but now the skeeters are out full force, and I am a walking lump of itchy flesh. Yeah, I know, not a pretty image, but I am literally covered in mosquito bites. And do not go and blame my rain barrels! They have been immunised against skeets with granular Bt (available in plant nurseries and some hardware stores), so I don't know where they are breeding, but it's not in my backyard!

Anyhoo, aside from becoming completely inanimate in this heat, I have been recovering from a cold, which is why I haven't been posting with my usual manic regularity. But I am back, and I am catching up with the season.....

Despite the meteorological insanity, this summer has produced some fine vegetables, and the market stalls are filled to the brim with beautiful, local produce:

-Zucchinis and other summer squashes
All the rain we've been having in the Northeast means that zucchs are swelling like balloons, so even larger squashes are quite tender and mild despite being the size of mini-baguettes! Great for stuffing, shredding raw in a salad, stir-frying, frying (slice thinly, toss in flour, and throw into a vat of hot oil: it's delightful!), grilled on the barbecue...
Summer squashes have a delicate skin, so you should wash them when you get them home and keep them in a humid crisper drawer if you do not intend to eat them right away.

-Tomatoes
Greenhouse tomatoes have been on the shelves for a while now, but it was mostly the small cherries and medium sized slicers -at least in Quebec. Larger greenhouse tomatoes are steadily arriving to the markets, as are heirloom varieties like the beefsteaks and other gnarly-shaped fruits. Field tomatoes are a little late this year because of the lack of sun, but they should be here soon. Is there a taste difference? Depends who you ask, but generally speaking, field tomatoes are left on the vine slightly longer than in greenhouses -they're harder to find- so they can be extremely tasty!
And you should try the gnarly ones: they really pack in the flavour! Heirloom tomatoes are not all funny looking, but they were all bred for flavour, whereas most modern varieties are bred for productivity, solidity in transport and longevity on the shelf, so they often lose on the flavour side.
Whichever you choose to eat, do not put your toms in the fridge: the cold just kills the flavour, and brings out all the acidity all the while turning the sugar into starch -and you end up with a mealy tomato. If, like me, you do not have air conditioning, keep your windows open, have flies commuting to your kitchen... invest in a fly net: they're little net cloches that you place over your food, they will keep houseflies and fruit flies away from your lovely produce.

-Cabbage
I was so excited when I saw this baby cabbage in my CSA basket, that I started chopping it for a coleslaw before it even occurred to me that I should photograph it!
So there you go, tender, baby cabbages are here, and it's coleslaw all around!
There are lots of ways to eat cabbage besides slaw, of course! I just can't fathom turning on a burner when it's 30 degrees outside!!! But cabbages are lovely cooked too, as long as you keep the cooking brief, otherwise you get nightmares! Seriously: overcooked cabbage makes you gassy and burpy, and is not conducive to a restful night! And it's gross too: anyone out there like brusselsprouts? I do, but that's because I learnt how to cook them properly. Cabbage should still be crisp, unless you're making cabbage rolls or some other boiled cabbage thing... but you should leave those dishes for the bigger autumn cabs.
In short, summer coles should be eaten crisp, as it suits their freshness.

-Green beans, wax beans and runner beans
Green beans, and all other beans are here!!!!! Green bean salads! Buttered green beans! Stewed runner bean with tomatoes! Wax beans sautéed with shallots! Fresh beans off the vine, raw and crunchy!
I love green beans. And they really are lovely with shallots, whether in a salad or tossed with lotsa buttah....! And I had a cat, -Cicio, bless his sweet, little heart- who had a thing for green beans: he loved to steal them from my neighbours garden and bring them home to us! He was a shoddy hunter, but he did bring back lots of beans! Wouldn't touch the ones we planted in the garden just for him, but he liked the thrill of stealing from the neighbour...
Keep them in a bag or wrapped in a tea towel in the crisper drawer. Most green beans are now stringless, so you only need to chop off the tops before cooking, leaving you with the cute tails as decor!

-Snowpeas and sugar snaps
Since we have been getting cool temperatures, there are still quite a few bushels of shelling peas to be had, but they are getting a little on the big side, and they are no longer sweet enough to eat raw, straight out of the pod. However, snowpeas (or mangetout) and sugar snaps are sweet and crisp, and rawther lurvely!
Both should be just barely cooked, either briefly stir fried or blanched just long enough to turn them bright green. If your sugar snaps are really fresh, they can be eaten raw as is, or with a dab of mayo. But please, do top and tail them, and pull out any strings if present: otherwise they can -and will - be unpleasant.
Keep in the fridge with the beans.

Keep an eye out for stone fruits, though I suspect that the pickings will be grim all around this year given our wacky weather. The West is too dry, so the trees may have trouble keeping the fruits, and the abundant rain in the East may have jeopardised peach and apricot season in Niagara. Anyone out there aware of the situation? Plums may be okay, since they are not as difficult (in needs) as peaches, nectarines and apricots. All I know is that my cherry tree did not set enough fruits for us to make jam this year... oh, it is a sad, sad day that does not start with toast and homemade cherry jam... I've only seen American cherries at the market so far this year.

The abundant rain has been helpful for wild blueberries, and they are forecasting an abundant harvests of little blues... Strawberries are still plentiful and the recent heat and sun should make for sweeter berries. Raspberries are still going strong, and they do not seem to have been affected by the bipolar skies.
I'm affraid that I may have missed the green gooseberries, but is you happen to find some, buy as much as you can afford, and make jam: it will be stupendous! But be aware unripe gooseberries are super tart, and require LOTS of sugar to be edible.

Bon app'!



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