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The stars of summer

The stars of summer

Now that the novelty of all the sprouts, greens and flowers of spring and early summer has worn off, now that interesting salads are commonplace, and now that I’ve done such wild edibles as cattail to death (in broth, in soup, as a side, in batters, doughs both savoury and sweet), there is a whole new set of foodstuffs, those that mark summer’s peak, that have come in to steal the show..

This dish just about sums it up: Sea spinach, corn, scallops, with tomato crinkleroot sauce  

As does this one: Corn and wild mushroom chowder with sea spinach

Or this one: Wild berry butter cakes with vanillagrass semi-freddo

Yes, my heroes of summer are:

Sea spinach and co.

The star of late summer is the grand arrival of the Marine plants: sea spinach, sea asparagus, sea rocket, marine plantain..

 Baby sea spinach, sea asparagus and marine plantain


The first tender sprouts I tend to use raw, even though I really prefer it all cooked, if ever so slightly. Sea asparagus is best in a crunchy ‘seaweed like’ salad; sea rocket is piquant and mustardy, so more of a condiment- I keep that raw and throw a leaf here and there for bite, or make salsa verde.. Marine plantain is fun blanched then tossed with spaghetti or in a veg julienne.. My all time fave is the sea spinach, which although great raw, is even more amazing wilted with some garlic and chilli, as well as in soups and stuffings (anywhere you would use spinach) – basically, this is just super-duper spinach, nutty, salty, peppery, so green, so tasty.  

Mature sea spinach at its best

Mustn't forget about the Wild berries, an infallible high point of summer, and it has been a phenomenonal season so far to the delight of many pie makers and jammers (the little old ladies on the side of the road), and me. There’s nothing like sitting in a big patch with your favourite kid(s) and stuffing your face.


It was an excellent wild strawberry season, if you have the patience to pick more than you can eat (not me), or are willing to pay the big bucks for someone else to (no choice).

Also a very good black raspberry season, although the cultivated raspberries seem to be having trouble.. In some parts of the province, the strawberries, raspberries and blueberry seasons have oddly overlapped; here they came in rapid succession and abundantly; now, its the saskatoon berries and little wild blueberries.

Of course, my desserts have been all about the berries all summer, with some flower scents here and there, the occasional hit of chocolate..  Since I am not the biggest sweet tooth, Berry centric 'light' desserts are my favourite kind, and with wild berries, gorgeous on their own, you don't need to pull out many fancy pastry chef moves to make a killer dessert.  

Frozen berry soufflé, elderberry pannacotta, berry rose petal granite, vanilla-grass berry compote stuffed butter cakes, berry lemon curd tartlets with Labrador tea, berry pots de crème, and a 'wild' tiramisu to name a few of my summer sweets.. Berries everywhere, and always with something chilled and zingy on the side, of course.. For a refreshing dip into some cool talk about ice, chilling and the science of cold, read the master Harold McGee’s article  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/06/dining/06curious.html?partner=rssyahoo&emc=rss..


And Mushrooms bien sur!

We are now officially rolling on that oh so familiar, exciting rollercoaster that is the wild mushroom season, a quickly accelerating course of foraging hits and misses, of guesswork and grunt work and high fives, as François and co. scout his spots province wide, tracking what’s going on where, betting on the next score.. I never know if he will show up with 1lb or 50lb for me to process. And I’m having to fight for my share, as the shrooms fly off the counter at the market. The summer varieties are just starting to boom around here, but in some parts of the province, there has been too much humidity, making it hard to find a pristine patch.. My François des bois has not had much trouble though, keeping me busy with the steady influx of his pickings: chanterelles of all kinds (girolles, flocons, en tube, black trumpet), yellow and red foot boletes, clavaire, polypore, lactarius, Amanite des césars (very rare), even the first puffballs (very early!). Thanks to fellow mushroom freak friends around (and new ones at the market), we have rediscovered some less noble shrooms we hadn’t been using, but that upon retesting, have agreed that they are quite tasty (Boletus American and bolet veiné for example). Sorry, for my lazy lack of English terms.

All to say it’s looking really good – leaps and bounds over last summer to be sure (not hard to beat). Fresh mushrooms of all sorts dot my menus and I’m slowly starting to dry, pulverize, infuse, sauté, pickle and etc, to put up stores for our infamous quickly approaching mushroom event. Now, if only the rain would let up abit, just a bit.. All this rain has been good for the greenery and forests, but enough is enough.

Some brown plates (mushroom dishes): Venison with chanterelles, peas and curry leaf, Wild mushroom stoganoff..

Even I know there is more to life than mushrooms.. 

Hand in hand with the offerings from the wild, come the colors and tastes from the farmer’s fields, from the markets and roadside stands, where even if they are struggling a little more, EVERYTHING is in season. Well, just about everything is out.. Starting with the Lettuces, Peas, garlic and onions, Green beans, Carrots, new potatoes, Kohlrabi, celery, cabbage to the short-lived Fava beans..

 Beatiful peas!

You know it's summer when your MEP board is a still-life..

Grelots picked in our backyard.

François coming in the door with an armful.

Corn on the side of the road

So exciting (the favas), but then you shuck a sack or two or three, and well, that’s enough, time to move on to other beans.. I served them in a fricassee with lobster, corn and sea spinach, in a salad with corn, purselane and smoked duck, and in soup with homemade bacon and sea parsley, keeping a few for later.. My peas won’t last though, like corn, I can’t hold back from using them all over when I have them.

Alongside the green beans (Jade, extra-fine) and yellow flat beans out now, there is the king of summer, early corn, always so sweet, can’t get enough. But it remains to be seen if it will really be a good season...

With summer squash and eggplant out, I am getting into caponata, ratatouille and vegetable gratin mode.. A fun part of zucchini season is frying the blossoms, stuffed or not. I’ve ditched the tempura for an old-fashioned fish and chips style fritter batter (but using cattail flour) and panko, and quite like the results. Not as light, but very crisp and chewy, very satisfying, and a better bet in this humidity.

Zucchini gratin with bee balm ricotta and sea spinach, fried blossom (with cattail flour)

Being the tomato lover that I am, there is still that little something missing for a totally and utterly complete summer orgasm – tomato greatness.. Despite all the good little greenhouse tomatoes all summer, as the first field tomatoes appear, it’s impossible to not get excited about the ripest of the field tomatoes and heritage breeds around the corner, weehoo.. Summer isn’t over yet.

But I bet my little dehydrator wishes it was..

All summer long: Operation dehydration

This little baby is going 24/7, poor thing, drying everything from rose petals to day lily pistils to nettle and elderberry flower, making for a room deodorizer that reflects the seasons.. Now that the mushrooms are taking over the electric device and the ovens too, the ambient scent has changed from floral to well, mushroomy, possibly peculiar to the uninitiated. I wonder what the customers think. They say it’s charming and cool, but..

To dehydrate all the stuff we need, we have no choice but to resort to more natural, old-fashioned methods as well, using any hot dry space we can find.. We have door frame size screens filled with powdered bulrush, various leaves and flowers stacked in an airy hot box with holes, as well as nets of stuff in our attic.. Now, again, if only it would stop raining..

With a dry finish (fingers crossed), this might ring in as a very fruitful season. All I can say is that as wonderful as summer is, I can’t keep up. For the first time in ages, like one might dream of summer in winter, I can’t help but have my moments when I think wistfully of winter, when I’m not in this mad dash and dance with nature, when everything is done, there is no fresh harvest, and a day off isn’t so difficult to come by. Not that I’m complaining really, because cooking has never been this much fun, truly. I think I say that every year at this time (what cook doesn’t?).

But if anyone knows of a good cook for hire, a dishwasher, forager, salesperson, secretary or masseuse, please let me know - I could use them all, and now.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 01:17PM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton in , | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

How are you? Tiff found you after noticing your name in a Globe article... arguing for putting mushrooms in everything, or something like that. Anyway, I don't know if you check this, but do send me a note if you have a chance.
August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBen Shaw

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