Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Last Dance

What a week-end! While I was contemplating cutting short my stay-cation and joining the throngs in besieged Toronto, I almost missed out on a beautiful opportunity. You see, while I had my eyes riveted onto the telly looking at the chaos that was Toronto, the raspberries in my yard were ripening, as were the blackberries in the woods. Luckily, I decided to stick to my short vacation, and joined the weekly crowd on Île Ste-Hélène, where there is a most beautiful stand of blackberry brambles. If you live in Montreal, run, don't walk to Parc Jean Drapeau for an all-out forage for blackberries.

Wild blackberries are nothing like the oversized fruits sold in plastic clamshells: they are tiny, somewhat seedy, but very sweet and juicy, much like wild raspberries. They are sometimes found at farmers' markets in Canada, and northern US states, since those big berries (also known as loganberries, which look more like mulberries) are not as hardy in our climes. In any case, it is definitely bramble berry season: raspberries and blackberries, and cloudberries if you are lucky.

July is coming up, and even though I've been taking some time off, the season marches on, and I'm having a hard time keeping up with what is in! I've had an eye on all manners of currants, and they are just about ready to be picked; you might be even lucky enough to get your hands on some unripe gooseberries (looks like a currant, but three times bigger): they are not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for eating fresh. The whole interest of unripe gooseberries (or currants) is in making jams or jellies. Beneath the mouth puckering tartness of these pale-green berries belies a wealth of pectin so important for a perfectly gelled jam. If you are lucky enough to get truly unripe berries, you will be rewarded with a gorgeous, golden chartreuse jam or jelly replete with elderflower aromas and a nice bite (slightly less unripe berries will turn the jam a nice burgundy hue: and will have a more fruity than flowery nose): perfect for morning toasts, or with a roast pork or grilled lamb.

California cherries have been tempting my lips, but I am holding out for Niagara bings. Sweet cherries from British Colombia rarely make it to Montreal because of silly trade laws in Canada, but they should be reaching market shelves very soon, much to the delight of Granville Island patrons. There are still some sour cherries to be had, though you probably have to go pick them yourself, as I have rarely seen them at the market (I only know of one farmer who sells them at Jean-Talon Market). I know that some Quebec orchards have healthy stands of Montmorrency cherries, and they make the best cherry jam. 

The Montmorrency cherry that I planted in my mum's garden appears to be on its last legs. It hardly gave any fruits last year, and this year, it seems to be having the hardest time putting on its usually lush foliage. I did manage to make a few jars of jam, though I am afraid they might be the last ones this tree will ever provide.

Keep your eyes open for other stone fruits: peaches, nectarines and apricots from either Niagara or the Okanagan will be making an appearance later in July, but local plums should reach market stalls by mid-month. 

On the vegetable side, all manner of greens are in abundance: lettuce; baby spinach; bok choi; mizuna, and other Asian greens; roquette; chicory... with such a cornucopia one no longer has an excuse for not eating five portions of vegetables a day. 

Baby roots are a multi-coloured bunch, and they are all on display at the market: beet; turnips; radishes; and miniature carrots. All will add refreshing crunch to a salad, but will also make a pretty platter of roast vegetables. If you are wary of turning your oven on in the summer heat, throw these baby roots on the grill: they will be divine!

In warmer climes, artichokes should be tumbling over shelves, although the local crop will be a while yet in Quebec. The first field tomatoes might show themselves by the end of July, however, coldhouse (unheated greenhouses) and covered crops are already reaching market stalls.

While southern states will have seen their peas come and go, Northerners will be just about ready for their local harvest of peas. I must confess that I broke down and bought a basket of peas from North Carolina. While they were a nice treat, they were nowhere near as delicious as they should have been had they not travelled so far... Anyhoo,  let that be a lesson for me! Peas, snow peas, sugar snaps and beans will be showing their pretty faces really soon. As will new garlic and garlic scapes (garlic flowers); new onions and baby leeks; new potatoes, and... so much more!

Bon app'!


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