It's finally beginning to look like summer is just around the corner. Early spring has been quite positively horrendous: cold, overly wet, and windy. The grass and spring flowers don't seem to mind, but the honey bees have been holed up in their hives straight across the country; wild bees having a little more temerity could be seen buzzing about in between showers, but just barely. Expect fruits to be delayed or just plain absent; the price of local honey will likely hit the roof. Southern Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are still under water, but are thankfully beginning to dry up. Meanwhile, the northern reaches of British Colombia and Alberta, and southern Yukon are under a pall of smoke. That's just what is happening in Canada, I can even begin to enumerate the chaos in the United States.
This year will definitely be remembered for its extreme weather (frost warnings! In June!), and disastrous crops: all those flooded lands are in prime farm country. Fields of corn and wheat that are as of yet unsown, and might not even get seeded this year. Experts had predicted another hike in food prices, but I'm sure that no one foresaw a food shortage. While the effects are little more than annoyances in Western countries, they can be devastating in poorer countries where grains and other farm crops are not covered by government subsidies. One cannot help but think how immediate the effects of climate change can be, and how important it is for us to think seriously about feeding ourselves and protecting our resources.
And yet, the shelves in our supermarket are still overflowing with food. Let's re-think how and what we eat.
The asparagus season is stretching out a bit due to the cool, wet weather. However, in the case of Quebec spears, there are obvious signs that things are not as they should be: although the prices are sensibly the same as last year, the bunches are much smaller, and fewer farmers are displaying them this year. Do encourage local growers, and gorge on asparagus while they are still available.
A membre of the thistle family, artichokes are the immature flower buds of a tender perennial. They are currently coming in from southern reaches, but they will shortly be in season in the warmer Canadian micro-climates.
In Quebec, and other cool provinces and states, artichokes are grown as annuals, and will not begin to flower until late August.
Baby beets will be a little late coming in. While beetroots are tough and easy-going plants, they do require sunlight -something we've been a little short on- to trigger the swelling of their roots. Also, beets seem to recoil from wet soil, so it's been a little hard going for this lovely root vegetable. However, beet leaves are already showing up in salad mixes: highly nutritious, they are milder than their twin sibling, swiss chard, and to my taste buds, much more enjoyable to eat.
It might not quite feel like it, but it is strawberry season!! The berries in my my garden are plumping up, but those in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and other states in zone 6 or warmer are already ripening. Break out the pots of cream and jam making equipment!
We no longer have a true sense of the seasons (something I am hoping to change...), but there was a time when fresh, unripened cheeses were only available from late spring to the end of summer. The cheeses are made from milk left-over after the spring's youngs are weaned from their mothers, and are consumed unripened. Some of these cheeses are ripened and are transformed into aged cheeses, but generally, they are in a class of their own. Commonly known examples are ricotta, cottage, and Quark cheeses. Unripened goat cheeses are growing in popularity in North America, so larger dairies have resorted to using frozen stocks of goat's milk.
European law requires that all artisan, unripened cheeses be made only during spring and summer from fresh milk, but there are no such laws in North America. However, there are a few artisans who work on this seasonal principle. Enjoy these cheeses while you can, because come winter, they will no longer be around.
Figs are lovely trees. If you are lucky enough to live in a fig-friendly region, you are blessed with two (yes! two!) fig seasons. Where winters are mild and short, fig trees will carry over unripe fruits into spring, and give a first flush sometime in June, before getting ready for its main crop later in the summer.
For you lucky folks, may I suggest tree-ripened figs slathered with unripened goat cheese? My taste buds are jealous.
Salad Greens, and Other Leaves
Leaf lettuces of all shades, roquette, baby spinach, radish leaves... and that's just what I have on my balcony garden. The market stalls are filled with a lot more. So there are no more excuses for boring salads!
Herbs and Flowers
Chives, sage, lavender, thyme are all sturdy perennial herbs that will withstand Canadian winters, and still give a pretty show of edible flowers. The chopped herbs should be liberally sprinkled over every -and any- thing to awaken your senses after our long winter slumber. The flowers are also very tasty, and make beautiful garnishes for salads and other sundries.
There were no fresh North-Atlantic shrimps to be had this year, but the lobsters are plentiful. The prices are pretty much the same as last year's, which is great for consumers, but not so good for the fishermen. However, every penny counts: each lobster you eat will support an Atlantic fisherman.
I can feel it in my bones! The pea wave is moving up the coast: pretty soon, Montreal will be awash with local peas. Super fresh peas can be eaten raw, straight out of the pod, just like candy -even kids can't resist them.
New potatoes have arrived! I still haven't puzzled out how potato growers in Southern Quebec manage to eek out tubers this early in the season -my potato plants are just barely poking out of the ground- but I don't question it, I just eat them! Come June, most of us have grown weary of the winter standard, starchy potato, so new potatoes are a welcome change. Waxy and crisp they are delightful simply boiled and smothered in butter or olive oil with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, but are also lovely roasted or pan fried.
Local radishes have been available for the past two weeks, and they are simply crunchy goodness! The cool and wet weather has resulted in mild roots, perfect for those who are still on the fence about these potential fire bombs. However, if you prefer your radishes peppery-hot, then you need to start wishing for heat and dry weather!
Everyone knows about those ho-hum slices of radishes in salads, and the occasional appearance on a platter of veggies and dip, but if you want real radish revolution, you need to try them cooked. Cooked radishes are not actually a new idea. I've mentioned them last year in a few recipes, and I try to foist the concept on just about everyone I meet, but if ever you needed convincing, here is the endorsement I was looking for. If you are just getting your head around the idea of eating radishes -in any form- you need to try them cooked. It's not a far-fetched idea: the Japanese have been eating cooked daikon (a long, white radish) for centuries. I am thinking of making 2011 the year of the radish, so keep your eyes peeled for other radish-y ideas!