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Eating well off-season

Ok, enough with my seasonal rant about eating local and fresh, enjoying the seasons in time, blablaba..

The reality is it is still winter, everyone is fed up, what to do? No choice but to suck it up, get out when the sun is shining, cook up a storm at home with imports or whatever will make you happy in the moment. Chez Nino helps.. The snow crab and nordic shrimp have begun; Another key address at Marché Jean Talon is Ferme René Lussier for great local tomatoes! 

But! Of course, I have to say something about eating well off season too, and that comes down to putting up. No one talks about it past Sept/October, but this is the time to convince any gourmand that it’s a good tool to have in your box, FTR utterly essential in my world for year round happiness. Now is the time to dream ahead and start planning for next year.

Eating seasonal food out of season is very cool too.  Local, fresh, put up at its peak. It’s our way at La Table des Jardins Sauvages, and we've been trying to convince people of this for years with our line of local & wild vegetables and mushrooms that are frozen sous-vide. It's beginning to catch on in winter, one customer at a time, from the market clientele to chefs.

At the restaurant, we have our roots stored for the winter, greens blanched and vaccum packed or dried, mushrooms, pickles, frozen berries, coulis, tomatoes, peas, corn, game, you name it ..  We have a fully stocked pantry and ten freezers. It’s a parallel approach - taking full advantage of the season, gorging on fresh while preserving the bounty for later.. It becomes normal to eat ramps, fiddleheads, corn and sea spinach in winter as if the seasons don't matter, but it means we have local and wild all year, our trademark. Like in the old days, it just makes sense, and its delicious..  So basically, we’re following the seasons, except for in winter when you eat the other seasons from the gardemanger.

Trust me, you will be less grouchy in winter when you have a freezer full of goodies and canned goods in the pantry.. The thing is, with a whack of preserves, no matter how brutal the weather, you don’t need much to be content, maybe a touch of green crunch and tomatoes from local greenhouses or a bunch of romaine from the store ..  Not to mention that if  there is a major catastrophe, you’re covered for a while (I’m waiting for the next ice storm, we will be wining and dining, weehah!).

So keep that in mind before the growing season starts! Think like a cook, MEP (prep) for the year.. Enjoy the moment first, but don’t forget that at the same time, you could also be preparing for next winter without too much effort. Clean or cook a bigger batch when making dinner, pop a few containers into the freezer. Take a few hours a week, or a day a month in summer/fall, make a party of it, and put up! A foodie stay-cation?! Canning is a good idea for tomato sauce and pickles, but most things are fine, even best just frozen, often blanched/cooked first as with vegetables. Of course, a sous-vide machine to vacuum pack is ideal but I find that most things for the home are fine in Tupperware style containers.  I do our soups and sauces that way and they keep well for months so you shouldn’t be afraid to freeze if you don’t have a sousvide machine.. A dehydrator is great for an array of things, from herbs to fruit to onions and mushrooms.  

These are my lifesavers, some ideas to get you psyched and ready..

Quebec Garlic/Ramps/Scapes:  With the bulb or root, mince and pasteurize by cooking slowly in oil (no colour). Freeze in small containers or sousvide. Pull one out every month for the fridge and every day cooking. Leaves can be transformed into raw pesto (frozen) as with scapes and used the same way. A knife tip/scant teaspoon goes into my salad daily. (Our ramps our picked sustainably on our own property for home use only).

Stinging nettle: Great dried (for tisane, soups, to grind as an herb/seasoning/food additive) or blanched and frozen for soup.. Or made into soup right away..

Most salad greens are best eaten fresh in season and that’s it. Sturdier ones like spinach/lamb’s quarters can be blanched and frozen. Which means you can’t make salad with them afterwards, but they make a nice veg accompaniement or added to soup, pasta, omelets, smoothies etc..

Herbs: Dried or Pesto. I dry some except the most delicate, and make pure pestos, say with sea parsley, sea rocket, crinkleroot leaf (minced with oil, salt) and freeze in small containers to use in cooking. For the market/home, I make a finished pesto (sea spinach, sea parsley, garlic, cheese..) which is ready for pasta, pizza or whatever.

Salted Herbs: I love this old-fashioned recipe which consists of mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) minced with a ton of chopped herbs and summer greens (a dozen plus) and salt.  I use this magic potion to boost stews and soups, for quick sauces and marinades. I use less salt than a traditional recipe so I freeze it, but it could keep in the fridge for months)..

Tomatoes  - Sauce is the easiest. Whole tomatoes are nice to have too. I can both in mason jars, but it’s easier to freeze, less trouble and you don’t need to worry about ph (acidity). If you jar, make sure you know what you’re doing, add some lemon and boil the jars for 10min+.

Wild and cultivated vegetables, buds, corn, fava beans, peas.. Clean, blanch a few minutes and freeze sousvide or in ziplocs. Some vegetables are best roasted (say squash) before freezing. I pickle some buds and fiddleheads, but keep most natural for later use. For some, it’s a one time seasonal soup and that’s it (served fresh at the restaurant, or packaged and frozen). Forget about putting up asparagus, say.

Mushrooms: I put up 30+ varieties in a myriad of ways, it depends on the mushroom (Dried/Frozen/Pickled/Candied..). Some are best dried (those with a soft texture or with aromas that only develop upon dehydration as with boletes); some firm varieties can be frozen as is but not many as they often develop a bitterness, on top of a mushy texture; many I have found can be frozen well after a first cooking. We have a frozen, local ‘Melange Forestier’ (with first cooking) that we introduced last year, just starting to take off as customers/chefs realize that it’s a good deal, local quality variety that you just can’t get here in winter and if you buy fresh, imported and cook them up (losing half in water), it ends up costing you twice as much. Forget about wild mushrooms in winter otherwise beyond the dried for soup/sauce/stuffings.

Stew/Braised meat:  In hunting season, I make big batches of stew from moose, duck, partridge etc and freeze for the winter. When we slaughter whole deer, I keep all the tender muscles for roasting, make sausage and braise the rest, making stock with the bones – all gets frozen for future use.  I highly reccomend meat sharing (a carcass from a local farm, butchered in pieces, shared among 2-4 families) if you don't have a good butcher like Prince Noir nearby.

Fish/Seafood is best fresh, but still when you come across whole fish freshly caught, filet it up and freeze (this is best sousvide or if not cooked within a couple of months). Nordic shrimp and scallops IQF if fresh.

Berries, fruit: I make jams for the shelf and coulis (both canned, as well as some less sweet for the freezer); I like to freeze most berries whole (and rhubarb diced) IQF to cook with them year round.

Pickles:  Ok, pickles remain a condiment, not a main course to drown the winter blues, but how nice to have on hand to punch up a salad or accompany a charcuterie plate with sparkle, color and crunch. Besides the classic JS fiddleheads and mushrooms, I pickle a shitload of things, have a few traditions like hot sauce and ratatouille that aren’t wild at all, but necessary in my pantry, like my natural green bean pickle and peppers.

There are so many more possibilities on all fronts, from the cooked to the pickled, or natural fermentation (more tricky), to wines and alcohols, extracts.. I steep herbs in alcohol (thé des bois, foin d’odeur, juniper berries, elderberry) too.

Certain precious things should be kept seasonal, because they are best that way. But who’s to judge. Almost anything you love can be put up in some form or another. I like to eat ramps and sea spinach year round (a relatively new luxury habit of mine being with François des bois), which in fact only makes me more excited when the season starts, so I can stock up..

I hope I have you revved up for the growing season, and eating well off season too.. Don't despair, the greens are around the corner!

Happy Spring!

PS and BTW, many of these preserves, we sell at our kiosque Marché Jean Talon if you don't feel like doing it yourself..


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