Monday, July 23, 2012

How Fragile We Are

Having moved across the pond, I forget how treacherous Spring can be in North-America. While I basked in what felt like the mildest, longest, drawn-out Spring I had in a while, I vaguely registered when my Mum mentioned the sudden April chill in Canada. Only now, in July, has the full implication of those words hit me: frost in Spring can spell disastrous harvests in July

When in Montreal, peaches and apricots from Ontario are some of the many wonderful things I anticipate in July. While there are pockets in Quebec where peach and apricot trees can thrive, Ontario has a climate more conducive to the commercial production of large stone fruits. Those luscious fruits were always a high point of summer. Even more than strawberries and raspberries. I remember days at the cottage when I would gorge on peaches, nothing but peaches, and feel replenished. 

However, as Nature is often wont to show, things don't always happen as expected. This year's harvest is small. Which makes it all the more precious. If you do get your hands on a basket of peaches, I hope you get to enjoy those first bites while basking in the sun.

If you can bear the thought of doing anything other than sit outside, in a bathing suit, while peach juice dribbles down your chin, try grilling them on the barbecue, or caramelising halves in a pan with a bit of butter. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you've got an easy, yet pretty dessert.

If you are vying for something with a bit more wow factor, grate a bit of nutmeg on top, or better yet, find some Tonka and grate that over the grilled peach and vanilla ice cream. Tonka beans were once used as a substitute for vanilla in industrial food productions, but it is a gorgeous spice in its own rights. It has vanilla-y notes, with hints of bitter almonds and nuts. It is perfect with peaches and other stone fruits.

Bon app'!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Isn't She a Thing of Beauty?

Now, if only the sun can come out long enough for its bottom to ripen...

Bon app'!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July and Fireflies

Since moving to the UK, I've been listening religiously to podcasts of some of my favourite CBC Radio shows. I am saddened to learn that one of the best radio documentary shows in the world, Dispatches, has been cancelled due to funding cuts. But I won't go into a rant about how out of touch the current Canadian government is, what with its no show at Rio +20, its omnibus bills, and irrational budgets cuts... I actually wanted to mention a mini-debate that took place on one of my absolute favourite radio shows, Q, on the locavore movement.

My stance on the debate is clear: local whenever possible, and always in season. Why would anyone want to eat a plastic strawberry in January, when they are so wonderfully delicious from June to October in Canada, and are the essence of summer itself? 

I've got it on good authority that the warm weather in Eastern Canada and the American North-East has pushed many produce ahead in season; meanwhile, over here in the UK, things have been severely delayed by the wet, chilly spring, so I may be totally off on what to look for in July. However, you are sure to find the following sometime during the month, if they aren't already at the market.

And how! My strawberry plants have been handing them out by the nibbleful since late-May, and they are still producing berries. The strawberry season is well advanced back home, with mid-season varieties already in production. All I can say is 'Break out the berries and cream, all you tennis fans!' 

While there is no denying that strawberries smothered in whipped cream (with a drizzle of elderflower cordial), or simply drowned in heavy (or light) cream is irresistible, I have a weakness for strawberries crushed in evaporated milk. Yes, the milk in a can that is the weirdest shade of beige and tastes overly boiled. It's a nostalgia thing (and it turns out that it is also a Japanese thing): my mother would always bring a bowl of strawberries to the table, along with the sugar bowl and a tin of evaporated milk. The strawberries get crushed with a spoon, the milk is poured over them, followed by a generous spoonful of sugar. If you ate them quickly enough, you'd get the crunch of sugar crystals and the crack of the seeds resounding in your head!

Come July, most of us may begin to tire of rhubarb... Nah, I know that's not possible: however, we've probably gorged ourselves silly with strawberries by now, and will feel a little less guilty about cooking them, which is perfect since the hot sticky weather in July produces berries that do not keep as well as those that come up in June or in the later months. So you are more likely to score a good deal on a carton of strawberries, which would be scrumptious in a rhubarb and strawberry jam, cobbler, crumble, tart...

Raspberries, and Other Fruity Delights
July is all about fruits: raspberries are just in time to relieve you of the berry fatigue caused by strawberry overload. But peaches, nectarines, and Bing cherries are also close behind. If the weather is really sticky and sweltering, stick a bowl of raspberries and cherries in the freezer for a half hour. The fruits will just barely be icy, but they will be the best frozen treat ever.

Peas and Beans
There's no denying I love peas, and while I was in Montreal I longed to be back in England where the pea season goes on practically forever. Well the jokes on me, because this spring has been overly wet and cool, so the British peas are only just coming to market. Meanwhile, over in North America, the peas have been coming into being up and down the Atlantic Coast since early May. The peas grown in Quebec and Ontario are often of a variety that can withstand soaring temperatures, neverteheless, their appearance at market is fleeting, so do pounce if you see them.

Beans, unlike peas, just adore the heat. They will only sprout if the sun has sufficiently warmed the soil, and their flowers only appear when the calendar has turned to true summer. They are at their finest when the weather is warm and sunny, with a regular sprinkling of rain, which describes summer in North America to a T.

New Season Garlic
I love new garlic.While you may still be able to get your hands on garlic scapes, July is really all about new garlic -which, for some unfathomable reason, is called by the most unappealing name of 'wet garlic' in the UK. New garlic is great raw in salads, or just barely cooked. Scrape it over crunchy toasts for a hint of garlic, or eat it by the truckloads, as it is so mild no one will be bothered by your garlic breath.

It still a little too early for corn on the cob. However, if the heat persists, ears of corn will be descending on farmers markets and roadside stand by the end of the month. For a really decadent treat, barbecue the corn, then slather with some sour cream, chopped garlic, cilantro (coriander), a bit of chilli and a spritz of lime.

Bon app'!

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