Summer highlights and snapshots à la table des Jardins Sauvages
It’s been an amazing summer so far - fun, fun, fun.
The frequent rain has definitely been good for the greens, while giving us hope for a bountiful mushroom season!
The challenge was that everything went soo fast, it was a major race to pick and put up - from the spring fiddleheads, sprouts and roots to the wild summer vegetables and flowers that we are processing now, each season stressfully short. For instance, we managed to pickle 20 cs of daisy buds, but missed out on the motherload due to logistics and sick pickers (When it’s time, you have to be there and organised to seize the window, otherwise say goodbye for a year, boohoo).
The strawberries were awesome at Cormier here but apparently, the weather seems to be tougher on the berries at this point, however the wild ones will no doubt fare better than those cultivated.. There are raspberries along the riverside here and in our backyard, so delicious. François brought home succulent wild blueberries from Lac St-Jean, the Ontario peaches are my favourite truly seasonal import, local corn is really good now, the celery with huge branches, green onions as tall as me. All round, between the wild, our local producers and the Marché Jean Talon, the eating is damn fine these days. The wild mushrooms are starting in earnest, with decent chanterelle harvests, some Lobsters and boletes showing up. So far François has gone far and wide for a few black trumpets. With a warm dry spell, it will all pop.
One lowpoint of the summer for me was suffering through a good dose of poison ivy, a severe frontal burn (big pot blanching with a bad back) and wasp bites (who knew that there was a wasp nest in my smoker!?).. Many years in, I thought I was immune to such country blips, but no. Paranoid of the ever-lurking poison ivy, I am now hyper alert to the natural antidote ‘Impatiente du cap’ which is everywhere (it not being edible, I hitherto paid little attention..). And for the record, it really helps.. Of course, now you all know that as soon as you’re exposed you need to wash well, scrubbing the poisonous oil away with soap and water. But if you didn’t do that and you find yourself with a rash of crazy itchy bites, you make a paste of this plant and spread it all over, nature’s calamine lotion.. I also found that a mix of baking soda and aloes helped when I didn’t want to be covered in green.
Sumacade came to the rescue on hot days for refreshment; afterall, you can’t hang out in the walk-in fridge all day! I have last year’s fruit on hand, this year’s crop is not ripe yet, very green and astringent but getting more drinkable by the day. Especially with some wild mint and other flowers and herbs thrown in. Melisse (lemonbalm) from my garden is a favourite addition.
The preserving checklist is an ongoing work in progress, and the bulk of my work alongside our dinners. There are more marine greens and a TON of mushrooms in my future, but much of the rest of our staples are checked off for the year.. We sure got a lot done with a small crew.. Check it out!
Fiddleheads: 800lb put up at la table – pickled or blanched, frozen sous-vide in 1kg packs for me and 150g for customers off season, plus the seasoned ones for tastings (and customers who don’t want to cook).
Crinkleroot: pickled, paste and dried
Wild ginger: pickled, paste and dried
Garlic Mustard, Lovage, Daisy, Crinkleroot leaf, herbs and etc: .. Many little harvests off and on – Dried, pesto.
Stinging nettle 50lb blanched, sous-vide and dried
Lamb’s quarters (Pigweed) 60lb, blanched sous-vide
Cattails and pollen: Cooked spears, Dried and pulverized flower - enough to be sneezing yellow for a week
Various Flowers dried for tisane and infused for Syrups: Linden, Milkweed, elderflower, sweet clover flower, pineappleweed.. I just love Matricaire (pineapple weed is a good name, we English have it sometimes). We went easy on the milkweed this year , although we have plenty around here, we figured we best leave more for the butterflies, taking just enough for our aromates and my pink sorbet for July menu.
Pickled daisy buds 15 cs + a few mason jars for moi
Pickled day lily buds 40cs
Milkweed brocoli - 20lb cooked sousvide, a few pickles
Sea spinach 300lb – For Joe La Croute’s Popeye bread, lb packs of cooked, seasoned spinach sousvide, 150g packets for customers in winter, and then some for my freezer.. Plus for my menus.. Sea spinach was key in François’ winning my heart 15 years ago and remains my favourite of all wild greens.. But every year is new, I am getting over the spiciness and appreciating sea rocket more and more, although it needs to be chopped up and mixed with other greens or used in a punchy salse verde.
Sea rocket pesto my new favourite condiment
Sea parsley pesto, plus dried for our herb salt. There will be more but it’s being left alone for now while it goes to seed.
Bee balm – picking petals every week.. For our butter and aromates. At the beginning and end of the season, we harvest the leaves which are a tasty herb, dried very Earl-Grey like.
Day lilies from our field – a rotation of projects with this delectable edible, from a few sprouts, to the buds (vegetable or pickled), and finally the petals & pistils and buds for our tisane, butter, coffee and aromates.. Weeks of picking and processing right there.
The list goes on..
And throughout, keeping up with our line of products that we make periodically all year: vinaigrettes, oils, mustards, spice mixes and salts, teas.. Our soups, sauces, vacuum packed ready to eat/pret à manger dishes..
Winecaps/Stophaires à Anneaux Rugueux - Not new really, but a little-known plentiful mushroom in early summer that I have gotten to know and adore. It's an easy to like mushroom not so different from a Portabella say, so just sautéed, in an omelette, risotto or pasta dish, yum.. It was our star until the chanterelles came around.
Day-old Day lilies were a revelation - I like the fresh petals of the day for salads, but I had read that the closed day lilies were used in Chinese cuisine and François finds them sweet if a bit mushy, so I made a point of playing around this year. Stewed with pork (as in the Chinese recipe) seems a stretch, but fried in tempura, they are tops!
Carotte sauvage, Queen Anne’s Lace: One of those wild edibles that has been on our todo list forever. The delicate umbrella white flowers are so aromatic, with a sweet carrot scent and notes of green, celery, cedar, menthol.. Nice as a subtle infusion (sauce) or ground up as a finishing spice, I’m exploring the possibilities still. On my menu now in a carrot kolrabi slaw with lamb’s quarters, wild mustard long pepper and duck.
My wild coffee: A mix I’m working on, ever evolving.. Kind of like a cereal coffee, but not. Featuring roasted dehydrated apios (ground potato), dandelion root, chaga (that famous cure-all wild mushroom that grows on birch), wild carrot root, amaranthe, among other various ingredients.. for a wild & local coffee replacement (alongside our house tisane and mushroom tea!). A bonus for Food Day Canada, that I might keep on the menu for our more avid wild diners. I don’t see how I could market this; like so much of the stuff we do, so expensive/plant heavy/labour intensive. No caffeine, but I think it’s pretty interesting. It tastes like coffee, but local and medicinal, another kind of boost!
Wild Cocktail kit: I let my creativity go concocting various ingredients for cocktails, such as a sarsaparilla sugar, spruce/mint sugar, sumac salt, some syrups and shrubs (sweet/fruity vinegars) building on what we already have like our wild grape ‘balsamic’ or milkweed flower, elderberry/elderflower syrups.. Wild cherry with highbush cranberry, mixing in juniper and spices, Labrador tea, Wintergreen.. I already have many infused spirit, syrups, herbal vinegars and building blocks for bitters. But the thing is, we don’t drink cocktails (preferring wine), we don’t have a liquor licence, so what’s the point, I lost steam when more pressing jobs came onto the agenda. Most of it got transformed into dessert or are sitting there until the next time I want to pick up that thread.
Flower bouquets This used to be a waitress chore that has slowly become mine over the years. I pick the flowers for starters, so why not follow through. I have found that I love making the bouquets, first of all since I didn't find there was enough love going into it, and the truth is, I simply enjoy it. It's a zen part of my day. I always remember Anne (L'Eau à la Bouche) fretting over the flowers and at the time, wondering why she wasn't delegating and doing something else more important in the kitchen, or talking to her stressed out chef de cuisine, ha!? I never stop learning from her.
Menu hits: At la table des Jardins Sauvages
Venison carpaccio with sea rocket and wild garlic mustard, crinkleroot aioli, Menestrel cheese, pickled buds and sprouts – the quality of the meat (ours!) helps, but here it was the spiciness of the sea-rocket rounded out with the aioli and the cheese, and a good olive oil (sorry, I’m so local but have not found an equal for this, besides Highwood Crossing Canola oil maybe). Coup de Coeur à François.
Crisp veg salad with wild greens, wild chimichurri, pickled egg, petals and duck cracklings – I made this in several versions this summer without the duck or egg which takes it to the next level, but just a bunch of veg sliced thin and marinated with a vinaigrette that I punched up with a pesto of wild herbs under a mound of different wild greens seasoned with a good oil and our herb salt.
Halibut with sea greens and smoked tomato With fresh fish, can’t go wrong here.. I used my wild salted herbs for an easy sauce with a wine reduction, touch of cream. Instead of a latke or one of my usual potato crinkleroot bases, I made a Leffe, a Norwegian pancake thingie, neat. Like wet gnocchi dough kneaded, rolled out and cooked like crepes.
Wild flower sorbet: The dominant flavour was the milkweed flower, also giving it it’s pretty colour, but the elderflower, acacia provided good background. Paired with a sweetclover cheesecake or pavlova and sweetgrass , it stole the show.
What the hell is going on at Marché jean Talon? Such a beautiful place to be in summer, so much top notch produce, it’s so busy, yet it’s dead. It’s become a tourist destination, which should be great, but it’s packed with people soaking up the scenery and eating sausage on a stick, no one with a bag in hand. The actual shoppers have been scared away. For sure, there are public markets sprouting up everywhere, so why leave your village or neighborhood, not to mention supermarkets are doing a somewhat better job with fresh and local.. But still, but nothing beats MJT at this time of year, people seem to have forgotten. You need to know where to go for the best of the best be it corn or tomatoes or herbs, but François is there for that! And there is parking underground.
Anecdote/Theme of the summer:
Carpe diem with Family & Friends. Life is short. No matter how fabulous or insane life can be, the most important thing is staying true and taking care of ourselves, finding time to be with family and friends. Our business is our baby and forever a labour of love - the momentum is easy, we love what we do, but it is never really all that easy. We have to do what we have to do, which does mean working our asses off in season, weekends devoted to work, but we’ve decided it’s ok to slack off here and there for family events too.. As well as making a point of jumping in the river as often as possible. Our river is a blessing, a wonderful refreshment, offering up a killer back massage or a bath, a moment to wind down solo and breathe in the country air, gaze in awe at the massive trees and herons circling above, also the perfect setting for a romantic apero or crazy bonfire party. Cheers big ears!