Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring


Spring has sprung. I know some of you are thinking 'Duh, the first day of spring was over a week ago.' But in most of Canada, spring's arrival is not so obvious -I woke up to flurries and hail just this morning. However, the geese have been steadily flying back for the past two weeks; the snowdrops and crocuses are flowering in Montreal; the cherry blossoms are in full glory in Vancouver; and farmers' markets are getting rid of their winter cover.


It will be a while yet until the farmers move to their outdoor digs at the market, but there are sure signs that the food coffers are slowly opening up: the fish monger at Jean-Talon market is setting up his stand, getting ready for the arrival of the first North Atlantic shrimps and live snow crabs; local greens are increasingly taking up shelf space; and foragers are getting their gear ready for the new season. Although I've been feeling much like a bear just emerging from a long winter sleep, I, too, am getting the spring vibe.

Meat
When I became a vegetarian, I thought I would eventually return to meat once ethically raised would become standard. That was twenty years ago; while I now know that I will probably never eat meat again, I am happy to see that ethical choices are more than ever available to consumers. Maybe some day soon, we will also become more aware of the seasonality of meat. February marked the beginning of calving and lambing season in most of the northern hemisphere, so technically, April is when new season lamb and milk-fed veal starts appearing on the butcher's counter. However, you will have to browse the shelves of real butcher shops in order to find these spring delicacies, since the meat counter at the grocery store is less likely to be stocked with seasonal meats. April also marks the end of all wild game, and for traditionalists, the last link to artisan black pudding. If you are a fan of Schwarzwurz or boudin noir, run, do not walk, to your nearest artisan butcher.

Fish and Seafood
Un-shelled North Atlantic shrimps will soon be making their way to the fishmonger's counters, as are snow crabs. There are a some concerns with harvesting methods of both shrimps and crabs, but eiher are generally considered sustainable when trapped. Your fishmonger should be able to tell you how the shelfish was caught; if that is not the case, slowly back out of the shop and seek another place to do your business.


Spring Greens
In the British Isles, the words 'spring greens' refer to a specific vegetable, the very same vegetable Americans in the South refer to as collards. Both collards and spring greens are actually the generic label applied to any tender green leaves that sprout on cabbages and their ilk. These greens are not very common in Canada since our winters are often too harsh for cabbage stubs to survive into spring, although backyard gardeners sometime manage to get in a harvest or two in late autumn.
However, I am actually refering to any green edible that springs up at this time of the year: while my vegetable garden is still under a 30cm (1') blanket of mouldy snow, there is green stuff to be had this early in the growing season. Vegetable growers who have planned for the early season are already getting ready to reap their first harvest: early salads should be wending their way to the shops, if they aren't there already. These leafy vegetables are actually grown outdoors, under a tunnel, and not in a greenhouse. Lettuces are most common, but arugula and several varieties of chicory are also hardy spring greens.

And I mustn't forget all those wild -and not so wild- treats one can find outdoors, pretty much for free. Some spots in my garden are free from the shackles of snow, and tender green tidbits have begun sprouting, many of which are actual foodstuff. Pictured above is mitsuba, also known as Japanese parsley, it's not a native plant, but it is quite happy in most North American climates, and will provide food as soon as it can poke its head out of the ground. Dandelion greens have not quite shot out from under the leaf cover on my lawn, but if I were to rifle around, I am sure to harvest enough for a meal or three of dandelion crowns (the unfurled greens).
Morels should begin making an appearance in April, though this is generally only true in Europe and on the West Coast; out East, morels do not usually appear before mid-May, unless Spring made an un-seasonably early appearance (not the case this year!) There are lots of wild things to eat out there, more than I can cover in a single blog post, but all you need is a good guide, a sharp knife, and a good pair of wellies!

Maple Syrup
I mention maple syrup whenever I can, because who doesn't love maple syrup? The new season crop has arrived!! And I will be making a few batches of pancakes and other breakfast goodies in the weeks to follow.

Other Spring Goodies
For you lucky readers who live in warmer climes, you are most likely being just about swamped with such lovely things as asparagus and peas... Not so lucky for us northerners... Unless you happen to have a garden, and have already planted your peas for the season, whereby you can reap an early crop of.... pea shoots! Yes, indeed, that very same vegetable that costs an arm at the gourmet shop, and a mint in Chinese restaurants is actually very easy to grow. In fact, you don't even need a garden to enjoy Tao meoh. It is often written in gardening books that peas are only worth planting if one has a lot of space to spare, an unfortunate truth, when one considers how delicious these vegetables are. Planting peas in a container is pretty much a waste of soil, since you will never get much of a crop. BUT, this fact is only true if you intend to harvest the fruits alone! Pea shoots can be harvested as soon as the plant has reached 10cm (3"); will grow happily in a container; and will continue growing and producing as long as you leave a few leaves for the plant to sustain itself. In fact, you can harvest shoots up until the plant starts flowering. Pea flowers are quite lovely, delicate things, and with a little luck and sunshine, you will eventually get a pea or two to munch on (unless you choose to eat the flowers instead!) Pea seeds can be purchased at garden centres, or even in natural food shops -look for them in the seed sprouting aisle.

Bon app!




2 comments:

  1. Thinking about all the fresh food that is just starting to come available to us really makes my mouth water. By the end of the week all our snow should be gone and we are already seeing green things poke their heads out of the ground. Love your updates! Do you know when the fiddleheads will be ready to pick?

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  2. I think they might be up by the end of April, though since you live in Ontario, they might be up earlier than in Quebec. Keep your eyes peeled! I've already started picking wild edibles, so the fiddleheads won't be long!

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