Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sly Mistress September

September slipped in to replace August without much fanfare. What with the start of the new school year, many amongst us would rather turn a blind eye to the fact that Summer is well and truly on her way out. But all is not doom and gloom: there is still hope of a spectacular Indian Summer; and the beautiful Fall colours are a show stopper no one can deny. The markets are readying themselves for a final hurrah as well, and it's now or never if you want to bottle, can or freeze the flavours of summer.


Berries
Crates of strawberries will be hard to come by come September, but punnets of your local harvest, both small and large, should be available for a while still. 
Blackberries come into their own in September. If you are lucky enough to have a patch of wild brambles, have a look, you may be in for a surprise. I managed to pick about 500g in about an hour, and the flavour is amazing! I had intended on making jam with them, but they are too tasty to cook. What with the dry, sunny weather we've been having, the blackberries are sweet and full-flavoured, with only the odd unripe one packing a wallop of tartness.
Cranberries should be wending their way to the market as I write. There always are a few bushels available in September, just in time to jump into a batch of apple sauce, but the bulk of the harvest will obviously get kept for Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

Apples
Despite apple season actually beginning in August, September is the month most associated with this fruit. Especially since images of school are often paired up with apples. The cool nights and warm days of late summer contribute greatly to the flavour and texture of apples, so it is only normal that late season apples tend to be more popular than summer apples.
Of course, one must not forget the humble crab apple. Although these little nuggets are much too sour for most palates, they make great jellies, and will help to set any jam. So if you have crab apples growing in the vicinity, or happen to find some at the farmers' market (they practically give them away!), throw a good handful (peel, pips, and all) into a simmering pot of jam, and you can forget about having to add the pectin.

Corn
If August is all about the peaches and cream corn, then September is for the old school yellow sweet corn. Yellow corn takes a slightly longer time to come into its own, and this is the month to enjoy it. It isn't as tooth-achingly-sweet as the two-toned corn, but it can still pass off as dessert.


Honey and Bees
This time of the year is when the bees will be abuzz trying to make provisions for the winter. So if you haven't stocked up on local honey, now is the time. After the glut of summer, bee keepers hold off on harvesting any more liquid gold, in order to give their bees all the chances to survive the winter. 
That honey bee pictured above kept coming back to my garden today, and was particularly enamoured with my new passionflower. She buzzed about from eight in the morning to nearly sunset. I was quite happy to see her, as I hadn't yet seen any honey bees this summer. There had been lots of bumblebees, hover flies, solitary bees, and a few wasps, but the honey bees had not returned since Spring, so it was a relief to see her and a few of her friends flitting about the garden.

Pumpkins and Squashes
Autumn is indeed around the corner, and how could I not mention squashes? It is still early days for the bulk of the squash harvest, but the pumpkins should be starting to crowd market stalls. Although pumpkins are part of the winter squash family, they do not keep as well as its brethren, and is best eaten within a week of purchase. If you, like me, find that canned pumpkin are fit only for the compost heap, then you should stock up on pumpkins for Thanksgiving and any other autumnal celebrations. Simply cut them into wedges and roast in a 180°C/°F until soft, about 20 minutes. Discard the seeds, scrape off the flesh, and freeze in bags. Use as you would the canned stuff, but the flavour will be heaps better!
Other winter squashes are available in September, but I find their flavour and keeping ability is better with the later harvests, so unless you are in the mood for a squash casserole right now, try to hold off until later in the month to stock up for winter.

Garlic
There is something unimaginably special about the local crop of garlic. I don't know what it is. But whether I am cooking with Isle of Wight garlic in London, or chopping Montreal-grown garlic in Montreal, the aroma seems fresher and more pungent than any other garlic (except maybe my own home-grown bulbs!) Maybe it's all in my head, but garlic is good for you, and the local stuff keeps incredibly well, so stock up on this flu-buster for the upcoming season. The local stuff goes in a flash, and is only available until late October.



Bon app'!



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