Monday, February 8, 2010

It's All Happening at the Zoo...

Okay, so it's not exactly the zoo. It's the Montreal Botanical Garden. They've recently set up a new permanent exhibit of tropical food crops. 'What's that got to do with eating seasonal and local?' you ask: well for one, we might as well openly admit that very few of us actually eat local and seasonal 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Some of our foods will be imports, and the new exhibit at the Botanical Garden helps to shed the light on those far away crops. Though I personally would have preferred more encyclopedic signage,  the signs that were posted were informative enough for the average visitor. For everyone else, there is the option to rent an audio guide, or to follow one of the many volunteer-guides present in the greenhouse.

February break is coming up for some, and if you happen to be in Montreal, it could be an interesting way to kill an afternoon.

Unfortunately, the fruits are all off-limits: could you imagine tasting a star fruit like the one to the right? I'd never seen one that colour! Apparently, it's varietal thing, not a question of ripeness, but I can't help to think that an orange carambola would be much tastier than the yellow, waxy things found at the supermarket...


Some of the food plants on exhibit have  already been imprinted in our visual memory, like the coffee plant (the second largest exported food crop - bananas being the first) through television ads about Juan Valdez and the recent media buzz about fair trade coffee. But others, being less photogenic,  are a bit less familiar:
the peppercorn vine

the sugarcane (granted these specimen are much smaller than the giants in sugarcane plantations, but one gets the idea how the sharp-edged blades of grass can cut a picker's hands and face to shreds.)

The cacao trees were an interesting sight: the flowers sprout right out of the trunk, as does the pod that follows. It's hard to believe that such a big fruit can come from such a tiny flower.


The additional information provided on agriculture and post-harvest production really gets one thinking about one's food. Did you know that it takes at least nineteen months of drying and fermentation for a green vanilla bean to turn into the fragrant brown pod some like to denigrate (plain as vanilla my "%?%!@!). You will never hear me grumble about the price of vanilla ever again.

If you do live in Montreal, and have children, you may also be interested to know that the Botanical Garden has a vegetable gardening programme and offers day camp services in the summer. Information can be found on their website.

Here's to educational ways to obsess about food!


2 comments:

  1. I love the Botanical Garden, and have been going frequently since I moved to Montreal. It's great to wander around on a lazy weekend afternoon, and the greenhouses are so nice and warm, they're a welcome respite from winter's cold. I'm always tempted to swipe the ripe fruit, as well ;) but never do.

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  2. I think they should have fruit tastings!

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