Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day!

The first of May has long been associated with celebrations of Spring: while the tradition is lost to many, or has taken on new meaning under the guise of International Workers' Day, the month of May is definitely something to celebrate. In the Northern hemisphere, May draws a clear line between Winter and Spring, as most regions see the last of crop killing frosts during the month. May is when old, wisened winter vegetables finally disappear from our store cupboards and make way for young spring crops and the first truly local fruits...

It's still early days, but here are some of the things to look forward to in May:

Radishes
I cannot hide my love of this feisty root: depending on the weather, this little nugget can either be mild and gentle as a spring breeze, or snappish and peppery as a sudden downpour. Crunchy and refreshing, both the root and the leaves should have place of honour in our salads and on our plates.

Baby Lettuce and Other Salad Greens
Young salad greens may be fragile little things in the kitchen, but in the garden they are quite hardy creatures. The seeds will sprout despite chilly conditions, and as long as the temperatures remain above 8°C/ 47°F, the little leaves will hang on for dear life. Tender as they may be under the tooth, young salad leaves are the perfect foil for fiery radishes.

Artichokes
For those lucky enough to live in a region where artichokes can survive the winter, spring is when you get to enjoy the first of the local flower buds. For the rest of us, we'll have to settle for imported artichokes from warmer climes, or hold out for the die-hard local crop.

Asparagus
They are still a bit of a ways away, but last year the first spears in my Montreal garden broke ground in mid-May, so if the weather remains clement (and there is no more snow on the horizon), any asparagus growing in a mild-ish micro-climate may well poke out by the end of the month. In any case, May is when a true blood asparagus fan turns their nose up to long-line travelling spears: because we all know that asparagus should be eaten the day it is harvested.

Strawberries
It seems like a pipe dream, but May is when the first strawberries do indeed begin to make an appearance. Although June is more strongly associated with bowls of strawberries and cream, if snow and sleet hold off, the first strawberries in New Jersey, New York, southern Quebec and Ontario, and along the Mediterranean coast hit the market shelves in May. The first berries are not quite as sweet and juicy as the mid-summer ones, but they still pack a lot of flavour, and nothing beats the first bite into a truly local fruit. If you live and garden in the city, you will probably see your first berries at this time of the year. Just in time to enjoy a bowl of strawberries and rhubarb.


Bon app'!


P.S. May 21 (Victoria Day in Canada) is often used as the benchmark for gardeners in Southern Canada: it generally thought as the official last frost date, and the long week-end holiday is when most garden centres do brisk business. Happy digging!


 

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