August. The sky, the sun, the weather, the garden, everything points to it: it's still summer, and it will be so for a little while yet. But I can't help but feel that it is slipping away all too quickly. The days are getting imperceptibly shorter; evenings are cooler; light sweaters are taken out of drawers to ward off the chill. I know I shouldn't complain, some regions have had no summer whatsoever, others are still struggling to get out of the horror that was spring.
Yet, I can't help but feel a little cheated. It's August, and my tomatoes are only just beginning to produce fruits, whereas this time last year I already had a couple of jars put away. This time last year, it felt like summer would never end; this year, the end of summer is all I think about, that and my big move... Here are a few things to look for in August:
I know that apples are usually associated with autumn, but the harvesting of these fruits actually begins in late July/early August. Many apple growers will thin out their fruits to ensure that the main crop will be lush and healthy. These thinnings are often labelled as 'white apples': the unripe fruits are too tart for eating out of hand, but are ideal for jelly-making or for producing homemade pectin for jams.
There are also a few varieties of apples that ripen in late summer. Summer apples tend to be softer than autumn fruits, so they might be an acquired taste for some.
For those of us living in less clement regions, August marks the beginning of a most wonderful season. Artichokes have been on market shelves since late spring, but now is the time to keep your eyes peeled for the local crop. Artichokes are the flower buds of a close cousin to the thistle, a perennial. However, in zone 6 and colder (i.e. most of Canada), artichokes are grown as annuals, so the buds do not show up until late August and should be available until October.
Green beans, yellow wax beans and runner beans are abundant at this time of the year. But so are fava beans, and fresh shelling beans such as Roma. It is also the time for fresh Canadian chick peas: their availability is spotty, but if you scour the market stalls, you just might be able to grab a bunch. All beans make lovely salads, perfect for fighting off the heat. If you've never tried freshly shelled beans in a salad, you do not know what you're missing: the flavour is fresh and lively, and unlike dried beans, fresh beans are easy to digest.
Cabbage and Cousins
Coleslaw is a classic summer salad, its tang and creaminess is the perfect foil for grilled foods, and is easily the most popular crowd pleaser. New crop cabbages are tender and cause fewer upset stomachs than late-season cabbages, but if you are not partial to coleslaw, you have other options.
Broccoli is, without doubt, the workhorse of the family: high in vitamins A and C, it is also a good source of calcium, iron, and other minerals. Cauliflower is not as hard-working as its cousin broccoli, but it is milder in flavour and more easily digestible, so tends to be more popular. Recent years has seen the apparition of colourful cauliflowers: difficult eaters may be swayed by a purple or orange cauliflower.
Kales of all stripes are showing up at the market. While I love kale, it isn't exactly a summer vegetable, however, it does freeze well once cooked, so you can always stock up on kale for later in the year. In any case, every member of the cabbage family is scrumptiously nutritious, and are believed to have anti-cancer properties.
Despite the cool and wet spring, sweet corn has made it to market. The ears are still on the small side,but boy are they sweet! In Quebec, only the two-coloured varieties are currently available. If you have a preference for old-school yellow corn, you will have to wait until September.
Eggplants, Tomatoes and Peppers
In case you were unaware of the fact, these fruits are close cousins, along with potatoes, and husk cherries. Greenhouse tomatoes, eggplants and peppers have been on market shelves for a while, but the field grown crops are trickling in. The fruits are usually a bit dirty, and a few will be wonky, but their flavour is unbeatable: you can almost taste the sun and the rain with each bite.
Grapes and Other Fruits
When one thinks of locally grown fruits in Canada, the list seems awfully short at first, but we are actually blessed with a surprisingly wide range. Ontario and British Columbia are big producers of table grapes, peaches, and plums, all in season right now. Quebec grows a few varieties of plums, which should be available a little later in the month.
The first local apricots are showing up, as are wild blueberries, black berries and husk cherries. Nectarines shouldn't be far behind.
Squashes and Melons
Zucchinis, patty pan squashes, cucumbers and melons are sure signs of summer. The first spaghetti squashes are also wending their way to the market: you can probably plan an entire menu with nothing but squashes from start to finish!
They are all finally here: beets of all stripes; colourful carrots; new potatoes; and white turnips. The wet spring, followed by scorching heat was really tough on these vegetables, but they are making a comeback. Radishes are still going strong despite the heat we've had in Southern Quebec. In fact, if you are partial to spicy radishes, you will be well served.
While technically not a root vegetable, Swiss chard is the twin sibling of beets: if you like chard -which are also in season now- you must try beet greens. They are, in my humble opinion, the superior green of the two. As a matter of fact, the greens of most root vegetables are absolutely lovely, and can bulk up a salad or replace spinach in a stir-fry.