Although there is no doubt that we’re still riding peak season at Les Jardins Sauvages, I guess it’s time to admit that the 'summer of summers' is now officially over..
The season change notably creeps in before we’re ready, and the calendar date passes while we’re still in summer mode. It only feels real a week or two later.. When my soups get heartier and a hot app naturally replaces a salad on my menu. When bread making becomes more manageable and my chef jacket is a welcome layer on top of my camisole. When fresh wild flowers become hard to find for the table tops.. When there is more brown than green hitting my pantry. When my favourite spot outside the kitchen moves from the river (or terrasse) to next to fireside. Yup, time to shift modes, bundle up and focus on the mushrooms, maybe chop some wood.
I do adore the seasons. I’m nonetheless always sorry to see one close, simultaneously feeling excited about the next one moving in, with all its novel spendour and contrasts, familiar comforts and certain surprises in store.
Looking back, summer 2012 was indeed beautiful, but! For sure, the lamest for wild edibles I’ve seen since I embarked on this adventure with François. No problem if you have all day/week and are foraging for your family dinner alone.. It was a struggle for anything green, not much better for the tasty toadstools. Only the tomatoes and peaches seemed to flourish. The non-wild revelation of the summer: these micro tomatoes François planted in our garden! (one of the original heirloom varieties from Mexico)
Thankfully, in certain regions like the Gaspesie and further north, there was enough rain and alternate sunny weather for decent wild harvests. It's a good thing that François has built a network of pickers across the province over the years, people he met on his travels and trained, or others - knowledgable kindred spirits he formed a partnership with.. To think back to the day when he had to be everywhere or miss out, living out of his truck and tent, picking everything himself!
In his primary foraging/family territory - the Outaouis and here in the Lanaudière, the blackberries dried before ripening, blueberries, and raspberries the same; the mushrooms were sparse. This was definitely not a chanterelle year, for instance. Normally, I cross the bridge and see mushrooms everywhere, not this year. We had to hunt far and wide. And when found, they were often piqué (worm infested) before anyone could get to them in numbers. The BC and foreign suppliers certainly did well on the Quebec market this year. Those seeking out local mushrooms were all over François and his team at Marché Jean Talon; we couldn’t keep up. Which also means I hardly got my fair share of summer varieties at the resto/workshop.
So, a thousand pounds in maybe, not counting what François sold at market. Last year, I had processed over a ton by now, 2 tons by Oct - be it cleaned and dehydrated, with a first cooking and sous-vide, or pickled, put up somehow. I’ve had an easy summer, hence the tan. Only working 50-60hr weeks on average, mother nature didn’t make as many of her extraordinary demands with regular relentless abundance in short spurts, less cross over. I got to deal with a couple of weeds/berries/greens at a time, usually keeping up despite my meagre staffing. We nailed all our basics from the pickled buds, cattails in all forms, sea parsely pesto and sousvide sea spinach, all the flowers/greens for the tisane and sirops, just enough berries for my jams/coulis/vinaigrettes etc. I managed to do quite a bit of preserves with the cultivated stuff too (peas, corn, tomatoes in many forms - ketchup, hot sauce, ratatouille..)
Not quite the mushroom nirvana I’ve grown accustomed to thanks to my forager of foragers, I couldn’t help but spend the last leg of the summer worrying.. Would I have enough for our monster mushroom festival and for all our products year-round? A constant juggling game, I would certainly have to regroup and make do with what I have, reconfigure our products, ditch label inventory $$, oh the joys of the wild life in business..
Then there was the most welcome surprise - a formidable harvest of Amanite des Césars, the king of mushrooms and a rarity here. Even in France, where it is prized above all varieties, it is a rare treat to see more than a pound, especially like these.. François definitely impressed some mushroom snobs this year in a bad mushroom year no less.. For our tenth anniversary, we will have this noble shroom on our mushroom menu for the first time.
And there is hope yet across the board - this past week was fantastic, the best of the year yet. Cepes & Lactaires Délicieux are sprouting in the backyard. The shrooms are coming in from all our pickers at a faster pace by the day and I’m managing to cover with less staff than in prior years. We processed 200lb this weekend alone and there is a major line up for the dehydrator and my time. Gorgeous yellowfoot chanterelles and hedgehogs! Came across a good amount of a variety of small hedgehog (pied de mouton ombeliqué) that is a fun novelty. A pretty stellar year for that rare maple scented Lactarius too, probably not enough to sell but sufficient for my restaurant needs. A trickle of armilaires and matsutake, hoping for more.. Lactaires Delicieux, Puffballs and autumn cepes, slippery jacks and Larch boletes showing up on schedule here, weehoo. Some beefsteak polypore a bonus! The autumn oysters, smooth lepiota and shaggy mane will be next, fingers crossed.
She just might catch up that tricky dame nature. And I will have no choice but to follow.. Which is fine; I am now used to responding to her whims, and it so happens that cooks looking for work appear to be coming out of the woodwork as they magically do in fall. Forever grateful even if I have to scramble and go into overdrive this autumn season. Let a new set of games begin! Countdown to our mushroom festival Oct 12-28!