Friday, October 29, 2010

November Creeps in on a Chill Wind...


Is it just me or is autumn bone-chilling cold this year? This year's late Indian Summer was very much welcome indeed, and I was finally be able to get all my last minute yard work done. Technically, I have until the first snowfall to rake up the leaves, get my compost piles ready for winter and to clean up the garden, but I might be away all of November, so I have get everything done now. I'm feeling a little harassed, strung-out and sleep deprived...

But before I even think about packing my bags, I have to write about November's seasonal treats. Unfortunately, we are fast approaching the gray and dreary dead season: the fields are close to bare all across the country, except for the few brave souls who have planted fall/winter crops. So there isn't very much to add to last month's lists of produce, but since I forgot a few, here is what you should be on the lookout for in November:

Cranberries
I am sure that you noticed their return when you prepared your family's turkey dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving, so this isn't really news. But did you know that the cranberry's increasing popularity has encouraged farmers across Canada to grow more crans? It used to be that local berries just barely provided for all the turkey dinners in October, the rest being supplemented by American productions. However, ever since it became known that atoka (the Iroquois word for cranberry) were native super-foods, the demand has skyrocketed, and growers in Eastern Canada has jumped onto the bandwagon. Locally produced cranberries are now available until the winter holiday season, and sometimes even past it. You can also find locally produced dried cranberries year-round.

Quince
In Europe, quinces practically symbolize autumn: these gnarly, fuzzy, crosses between pears and apples can be harvested from September to late November, but cannot be eaten out of hand (unless you want to lose a few teeth and rasp your tongue at the same time.) However, they are beguilingly fragrant cooked, and make a most beautiful jam or compote; just cooking quinces will fill your kitchen (or entire apartment, if you live in a mouse hole like me) with the most wonderful aromas of citrus, apples, pears, and... peaches and plums! This yellow-skinned, white-fleshed fruit turns into the most vibrantly hued, jewel-tone compote. If you are a fan of Spanish foods and tapas, you might have already delected yourself with some quince paste and Manchego cheese (membrillo con queso).

I've seen productive quince trees growing in Montreal, and in some orchard among apple and pear trees, so I know that they can grow in most areas across Canada, however, I have yet to see any Canadian quinces for sale at the market (most come from Europe, with a few Americans from time to time.) Perhaps those of you living on the West Coast will have better luck finding local quinces. If you do find some, do try them. For compotes, peel, quarter and core the fruits before chopping them into small chunks, and cook in a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar); do be careful when cutting into quinces: they can be surprisingly hard fruits, and are quite resistant to being chopped up. An easier -and less hazardous way - to prepare quinces is to hack at them with a cleaver, and cooking them in a simple syrup, skin, pips and all. When the flesh begins to fall apart, remove from heat, and pass through a sieve once cool enough to handle. Return the strained purée to the heat, and continue cooking. The sauce is ready when the quince has turned to a beautiful red wine colour. If, for some reason, you prefer a pale-straw coloured compote, lemon juice will slow the reddening process, but why you would want a white paste is beyond me!


Leafy Greens of all Kinds
Kales of all colours; chard; arugula; spinach, and company: I mentioned these guys last month, but I have to insist on them, because they still get a bad rap despite being extremely healthful and super tasty. Greens and mashed potatoes is an easy way to join the choir. This bean and Parmesan soup does not really need any more vegetables, but ribbons of kale or chard, quartered and sautéed Brussels sprouts, or a bunch of arugula or spinach added at the last minute will turn it into a complete meal. And if you want to make an impression at dinner tonight, why not make a soufflé?

Most of these leafy greens are hale and hardy vegetables, they are packed with nutrients and will resist snow cover, so local greens can be available until the snow melts.

Game
It's hunting season. Frozen farmed game is often available year-round, but not always. For the greatest variety, fans of game meat must wait until autumn. Wild game is hard to come by in North-America, even at the best butcher shop, but they can sometimes be ordered, so ask around. The easiest way to get your hands on wild game is to hunt it yourself, or to befriend an avid hunter. Neither of which I am ready to do, however, farmed game is an acceptable alternative for those of you who find wild meats a bit too flavourful. Some of the larger supermarkets stock packaged game meat, but if you want to have a closer look at your meat, a good butcher a fine person to know. 

Although I written little about meat this year, I will admit that it is times like these (gray, foggy, and damp chill) that make me wish I weren't a die-hard vegetarian. A nice venison stew would be perfect just now. Brrr!

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Romanesco
These members of the cabbage family are not the most cold-resistant crops, however, they are still hanging on in Quebec fields and will be around until a hard frost gets to them. Fall crops tend to be smaller than summer ones, but they are also more tender and much 'sweeter'.

The Romanescos and cauliflowers are especially pretty, and might convince picky eaters to give them a try. Farmers have been doubling their efforts to make the latter even more popular by growing coloured varieties: the markets stands were filled with orange, yellow and purple cauliflowers. And don't look at them crooked: the colourful cauls are not GMO crops, some are actually heirlooms, and others are just crossed with close cousins.

Leeks, and other Alliums
Leeks should become your best friends. In fact, you should become best friends with the entire allium family: onions, garlic, shallots and leeks are full of healthful benefits, and bring so much flavour to any food. If we all ate alliums on a daily basis, we would never worry about our breaths nor our health.

Leeks are especially wonderful members of the onion family, because they are actually considered like a full-fledged vegetable, and not just a flavour component in a recipe. Add them to a stir-fry, or to a roasting pan of anything (vegetables, chicken, pork...). Always put leeks in a soup, even if you already have onions and garlic in there, you can never have too much.

By the way, the cold weather has settled in, but farmers' markets in Montreal, and most large cities are not closed for the winter. Many will have moved to smaller, indoor quarters, and the variety on offer will not be as grand, but many markets are open during the colder seasons, so don't forget to swing by for local produce.

Bon app'!




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