Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Little Things

August. It's that time of the year again. When you start getting the feeling that Summer, though it seemed endless up until now, is heading towards its finale. You suddenly notice that the days are getting shorter; that the sunlight has taken a different slant; that the evenings are edged with a definite chill; that time is slipping by.

Summer has only just begun in London. Just in time for the big show. And yet... Gardens are groaning under the weight of heavy harvests, a clear sign that Nature is readying herself for the end. Farmers' markets are a boon at this time of the year. Not only are the produce at their freshest, they can be had dirt cheap, and in industrial quantities. Although I usually frown upon the mass-purchase of perishables, August is the ideal time to be squirrelling away food for the winter months.

Ah yes, winter: who wants to be thinking about cold and chill, when the sun is shining, and the weather is pleasant? No one, I'm sure, yet this month is perfect for a little forethought. If you have access to a real farmers' market, then now is the time to get the canning jars out, and to make room in the freezer. Bushels of sun-ripened tomatoes can be turned into jars of tomato sauce, or can be dispatched straight into deep freeze; peppers can be roasted on the barbecue, and preserved in oil or in freezer bags; the ripest berries can be turned into jam perfect for gift-giving or frozen for smoothies and desserts later in the year...

What isn't in season in August? A few tropical fruits might be harder to find, but just about everything grown in the Northern hemisphere is at its peak in August, and one would be hard pressed not to find local produce during this month.

August is also excellent for foragers, as everything under the sun that is edible seems to pop up at this time of the year. There are wild plums, blackberries and crab apples to be picked -if you can wrest them away from the squirrels and the birds; nuts are beginning to ripen; wild mushrooms are pushing their way out of the ground; and so much more.

If you are more into picking foods off of shelves and stalls, there are cultivated plums to be had, as well as blueberries, summer apples, and cranberries. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are flourishing: farmers' markets will have a glut of the so-called Mediterranean vegetables, but the real star in August must be corn on the cob. Europeans do not really understand North American's infatuation with this vegetable-grain. While sweetcorn on the cob is available almost all year long in British supermarkets, unshucked ears of corn are only ever available from late-July to mid-September in North America. 

It's funny how North Americans have so wholeheartedly embraced the rock-hard, travel-weary, imported from across the globe, yet available at any time of the year supermarket tomato, but hold fast to in-season only corn on the cob. Despite corn and its by-products being so ubiquitous these days, fresh corn has very little to do with mass-produced foods. Taste-wise. As sweet ans mouth-watering corn on the cob can be, it tastes nothing like high-fructose corn syrup. Day-old corn tends to get a little starchy, but ask any corn-lover, and they will flat out tell you that cornstarch and xanthan gum are completely different beasts from an ear of corn.

Corn on the cob is a real treat when shucked, boiled and smothered in butter, but it is divine grilled on the barbecue and topped with sour cream, chile flakes and lime juice like they do in Mexico.



Bon app'!




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