Monday, August 5, 2013

Puttering About

Where has the time gone? I cannot believe it is August already! Time really does fly when one is busy... And I've been particularly tied up with a new job, and a sudden surge of personal time: why is it that the more time one has for me-time, the busier one gets? In any case, August is certainly not the time to lets one's guard down, as it is exactly when gardens and fields step it up a notch. If July felt like the month of plenty, then August is most definitely the month of overflow.


Berries
Strawberries are far from being over. Gone are the days when the heart-shaped berries were at their best only in June and July. Ever-bearing varieties are productive well into October (and beyond if there are no killer frosts). However, these strawberries are not as abundant as earlies, and prices will creep up as the season advances. If you have not put up your pots of jam or frozen a few trays for winter, now is the time to do so.
Strawberries are not alone on market shelves in August: the wild blueberry (bilberry in the UK) should be at its best this time of the year, and their tart flavour makes for better preserves and pies than its overgrown cousin the cultivated blueberry.
August raspberries tend to be sweeter and somewhat less dear than in July (because they are more abundant), but they won't be sticking around for much longer, so do enjoy them while you can.
Blackberries and mulberries are also coming into season. Both fruits look similar and can confound eaters, though mulberries do tend to have smaller seeds and to be sweeter than tart. However, at shops and markets you are more likely to find blackberries.

Corn
Come August,  what I wish for most is to be back in Montreal. Not that I get particularly home-sick at this time of the year, no, it is the sweet corn that I miss most. There is nothing like just-picked-a-few-hours-ago corn on the cob, simply boiled and doused in butter (with a splash of soy sauce!) Cheese and wine may well be cheaper in Europe, but corn on the cob is a misunderstood delicacy on this side of the pond: would you believe that corn is available throughout most of the year, and is usually sold shucked! I cringe whenever I walk past the plastic-wrapped packs of corn pre-skewered and ready for the barbecue. Like fresh peas, half the fun of eating corn is the shucking, and there is no better packaging to preserve its flavour than its own natural clothing.

Squash
Zukes, and cukes become the bane of vegetable gardeners and all their neighbours at this time of the year: while zucchini (courgette) and cucumber plants may have spent much of July looking like they were up to not much, come August they jump into hyper-production, and most gardeners find themselves swamped. In desperation, some gardeners may resort to dumping loads of squash on their neighbours' doorsteps.
There are less anti-social ways to make the bumper crop disappear: zucchini are great mixed into into a banana loaf - I'm sure that most neighbours would prefer this option if given a choice...- but they can also be chopped up and frozen for soups and stews later in the year. 
Cucumbers are a little more fiddly, as they do not freeze well at all. However, if you are tired of cucumber salads, cold soups, and industrial vats of tzatziki or raita, they can be cooked. Yes, you read right: cucumbers sautéd in some butter, seasoned generously with pepper and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice is a forgotten classic of French cooking. Give it a try!

Grapes
Grapes are now such an ubiquitous and permanent fixture on supermarket shelves, that we've forgotten that they actually have a season. While I have yet to find a wild, fruit-bearing vine in London, I know of a few spots in Montreal that are well-favoured by home-brewers. Wild grapes are most often tart and tannic (that mouth-drying feeling you get from an overly robust red wine) so they may be better suited to vinegar than wine-making, but they do make lovely jellies and may be coaxed into a nice tart as well. Of course, you may luck out and find a wild grape that is actually delicious straight up...


Tomatoes and their ilk
Last but not least, is the tomato family! In August -weather permitting- tomato, eggplant (aubergine) and pepper crops go into overdrive, and become cheap as chips. Now is definitely the time to be putting away jars of tomato sauce, roasting aubergines for babaghanouj, canning some grilled peppers, or stocking up on some homemade romesco sauce.



Bon app'!




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