True to our annual summer routine at Les Jardins Sauvage, life is all about trying to keep up with the wild plants as they successively come into season whenever they damn well feel like it.
This year is not so different; many July edibles showed up early making for somewhat of a pile-up in putting up/production, but an extraordinary abundance and variety for those dining at the restaurant or frequenting our market stall.
Once the spring things were out of the way, it was all about pickling the daisy buds and soonafter the day lily buds, then it was cattail time.
Or 'Operation Quenouille' as we call it - For a couple of weeks every year, we are entirely consumed with cattails. There is an unpredictable short window to pick the baby spears you see.. We peel thousands, blanch and sous vide them for the year. Everyone on staff is peeling day in day out, every spare moment. Then it's the pollen, which is dried and ground after harvesting. That is hard picking work given this corresponds with peak mosquito season - those responsible are all glad it only lasts a couple of days. In the kitchen, a fine yellow dust covers everything no matter how carefully we work. Blow your nose at home at the end of the day - yellow! Well worth it though; the spears provide a fun local vegetable that you eat like corncob or pogo, and it tastes like corn, with a touch of mushroom and asparagus. Makes a great umami rich vegetarian broth too. We use the pollen in crepe batter mostly, but it can season and thicken stuffings, go into quick breads and cheese. I like to dust savoury fritters with it.
Bee balm is a favourite of ours. So pretty and punchy, it is more than a colourful garnish; with its thyme like mentholy flavor, it is used more like an herb. To flavour or garnish soups, salads, butter, cheese, sauces, meatballs.. We also dry it and use it in our tisane.
Sea spinach is my absolute favourite, like super duper spinach, a notch up from Chou gras (pigweed/lambs quarters), which is also a great, under-appreciated weed. Terrific in salad, even better barely cooked, just wilted with garlic and olive oil or butter. Arroche was definitely a key wild green in our courtship (when I first met François and he was charming me with all his exotic ingredients). We sell and serve up a lot of this fresh in season, but we also blanch and sous-vide a big batch for the year, and we dry some for our salt.
More sea greens, both very popular at the market. Sea rocket is like sturdy, salty arugula, to be eaten in salad or cooked. Not much needs to be said about sea asparagus which is more widely known, being so lovable, crunchy and salty. Especially ours in peak season, which is picked in the perfect micro-climate, extra special
Yarrow is everywhere and a mildly interesting herb that we add to our mix. We also dry it for tisane. It is known for all its medicinal qualities (cold, wounds..). The flowers are especially medecinal, so kept for that.
Wild rose petals - one of the most pleasant things to pick, dry or cook! So fragrant and fresh smelling/tasting. We dry a load for our tisane, make syrup and use them in infusions for desserts (juices, coulis, granité). Interesting in savoury preparations too. The fruit, however difficult to work with all its seeds, has a characteristic soft flavour and mouthfeel unlike anything else, ultra high in Vitamin C, somewhere between a tomato and an apricot in taste. Claudie (Jardins de la Mer), our marine green girl, makes a fabulous juice combined with elderflower that is my preferred non-alcholic beverage. Not yet readily available yet outside the Lower St-Lawrence, but something to look forward to.
Spergulaire is another marine green that grows amidst the salicorne and arroche - it is sparse, and hard to find/pick efficiently but it is delicious - tasting like beets, but delicate fresh and crunchy. Sea plantain is kind of blah to me, in that it does not have much character, but mild is fine sometimes too. It is good chopped up in the mesclun or cooked as a side vegetable. The best preparation to me is blanched and served up like green spaghetti sans gluten!
Sea parsley, the marine sister to the wild lovage on our property, tastes like floral, slightly salty celery, and is key in my kitchen. We make a pesto with it, we dry it for our salt, make an infused oil, and it is integral to my chimichurri. I use it everywhere year round.
While all the marine greens are peaking and François is on the road alot, our backyard is orange. Fields of day lily yell out for the taking. Once the sprouts and buds (which are a terrific vegetable) are done, it's petal time. They are best freshly picked and raw in salads or as a garnish, but given the quantity we have readily available, we do a lot more. Of course it takes someone to pick them, but it's impossible to not be sustainable.. I've dried a hundred gallon buckets or so of petals for our tisane and put up half that much in pesto. Delicately floral, even more vegetal-fresh tasting, I make butter with it, as well as use it in preparations to accompany fish, poultry or cheese.
Melilot (sweet clover) is a flower I use more like a spice. It is dried and pulverised to be incorporated into pie dough, cookies.. Most other flowers I prefer to use infused and in the fresh state, but not this one. It is potent and due to coumarine content,should be used carefully.
Milkweed flower deserves special mention, because it is so fragrant and particular, quite common and unknown. I love to pair it with wild berries or any fruit - in infusions, so jelly, granité, sorbet etc. What a pretty garnish too! It's hard to believe that they are the next stage in the plant's lifecycle after the milkweed brocoli, which is 100% vegetable. Important to be picked early, well washed and cooked through in lots of water, I typically blanch it for 5min before proceeding with a number of treatments, the most winner being tempura.
Linden is flowering now, and although beyond the leaves in spring, this hasn't been something we've taken the time to exploit; I figure now is the time - the heady accacia like aroma is seductive. Slightly fibrous, I can't imagine using them as is, more likely infused or dried and pulverized..
The sumac ripening shows promise, and our garden of cultivated things is overflowing, which means that the mushrooms are not far off. A few bolets and chanterelles have been spotted, but until this dry weather lets up, there won't be much going on. As we know very well, it can all change in a few days.. Better get as many marine greens in as possible and make sure we have our flowers for the tisane, get going going on the berries. Laitue de mer, check. Because soon enough François will have to let all the rest go and focus on the mushrooms. More madness to follow!
It smells like summer with the heady aroma of acacia blossoms in the air! It’s quite amazing how much olfactory pleasure that one tree in front of my kitchen delivers for one week a year. I feel the need to put them in my new dessert, naturally paired with the beautiful strawberries in season, but damn I already have my spruce tip syrup burning a hole in my fridge for that. I know that summer is here when I have too many beautiful ingredients to possibly cram onto one menu.
I have to say that for once, as I move from my spring menu to summer’s first, I feel completely in sync with mother nature. Right on schedule, in tune with the natural break from one group of wild edibles to the next; my menu and production plan is ready to shift to the call of the summer plants showing up, letting the spring ones fade off. François says it’s already like July out there with respect to certain varieties, but all in all, this year feels relatively ‘normal’ to me, mosquitoes and all..
Regardless of what it looks like outside weather wise - if there is dame’s rocket everywhere or if the nettle is 5ft tall, spring is only really over for me when the fiddlehead rush is done and I’ve put up enough fiddleheads, crinkleroot and ramps for the year.. And by then, the wonderful salad greens of spring are gone without having had proper time to kiss them goodbye.
Once the tree cover is in, the sprouts that make for an abundant spring mesclun disappear. François scurries from one regional micro-climate to another in order to extend the window of spring bounty until it’s absolutely over. The salad bowl takes on a different hue without the spring beauty, trout lily and linden, losing some bite without the dandelion, less garlic mustard leaf and crinkleroot leaf. Out with the violets, in with the dame’s rocket.. Daisy leaves assume a more important role along with the stonecrop that is still good picking in shady spots. The first sea peas and salsify sprouts have arrived to liven up the mix too. Some lady sorrel for lemony surprise. There are baby lambs quarters and soon the marine greens from the Bas du Fleuve will be the green stars. In the wild, spring is salad season; in summer, you have to work harder.
I managed to not miss out on the spruce tips this year (never a priority, but yay), so I candied some and made a delightful bonus syrup, which will go into granite and semi-freddo with the first berries and surely some sweetgrass, alongside a wild ginger chocolate babycake.
Now I’m in the process of drying stinging nettle for tisane, blanching and vacuum packing it for soup and pesto. With 60cases of fiddleheads done, it’s just about time to resume canning - the next big operation will be pickling daisy buds, and following that, day lily buds. Throughout, we will be harvesting the various flowers to make syrup and to dry for our tisane and line of aromates/spices. Then it will be milkweed, cattails, bee balm and day lily petals, the berries and mushrooms. So much to do before the mushroom onslaught..
It’s one thing after another in our race with nature, as our dehydrator starts working round the clock, me and my staff not far behind.. My pots and pans too busy for anything else like protest marches. Meanwhile François’s field crew has a bit of a breather after spring (their hardest season) and before the next big thing, as they work on pulling out bad weeds instead of picking good weeds, planting herbs and other treats for our garden. Yes, gardening is akin to vacation time for the pickers of wild things! We aren’t completely sauvage; we like to have the other stuff too that are indispensible or might like to grow here - say tomatoes, onions and garlic, bee balm, chard, romaine, peppers, crosnes, and pears..
Ok, so this is another non-food related post. I better watch out, I might just lose my following..
The funny thing is that I still spend most of my time cooking up a storm, and I remain just as enamoured with the kitchen and wild edibles, but I guess it’s become just so normal and day to day that as time goes by, I seldom think to take photos or write about it. I was all about doing that five years ago. I will get back to it no doubt – no choice but be all consumed by cooking and putting up the wild stuff as the season takes hold.. But for now, I'm still all about the witch tricks.. And some of you asked for recipes, so here goes. Following up on my last post http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/blog-journalessays/2012/4/14/almost-a-witch.html
Some recipes and tricks from my witch’s den
(g means goutte=drop, not gram)
I apologise in advance for common names as opposed to Latin, not to mention French and English mixed.. It’s my way, how my Quebec mind works, true to the fact that my blog is for fun, not a reference for every other budding witchdoctor out there.. While I am careful (about the true name in one language or another) and honest, I don’t need or want to feel the need to be technical.. If you have questions about a certain term/plant/essential oil, you can do your research and/or contact me.
Cold medicine: I felt cold symptoms coming on and started taking a mild combo of essential oils; it seems that I kept the bug at bay and killed it; I didn’t get sick. I haven’t yet had to pull out the strong ones (oregano, clove etc), just a bit of cinnamon.
- Infusion of wild ginger, tusselage, thé du Labrador, ortie, eglantier, sureau, in cinnamon water or even just water (50ml)
- Honey (30ml)
- Essential oils of best quality (1tsp or 25 drops): 15 g citron, 5g tea tree, 3g peppermint, 2g cannelle vraie
This is taken like cough syrup, a teaspoon 3x a day or when needed.
You can make a diluted version and vaporize (spray to the back of the throat) more often.
I also made a more concentrated version with only the oils diluted in olive oil (20% or 3 drops in 1/2tsp), and this can be taken as medicine (1/2tsp, 3x day with meals). This same mixture can be applied onto neutral orme(elm) tablets (1-2 drops per pastille) and taken that way instead, convenient on the road/not at home say.
On the side, it is optimal to eat lots of garlic and onions (I prefer this to rubbing my feet and thorax with garlic and onion juice or sticking garlic cloves into orifices, although this is said to be quite effective)..
I burned myself badly in the kitchen.. Yes, even after close to 20yrs as a professional cook, it still happens regularly. So, I dunked my hand in ice cold water (as usual), then plunged in a cider vinegar bath a few times before bandaging.. It seems that the cider vinegar worked miracles - no bubbles, no scar, pretty cool. Apparently dipping in egg works well too, which is convenient in the case of a digit, not so much for a whole hand – I wasn’t going to crack open a dozen eggs. Honey is supposed to help heal too.
Last week, a waitress cut herself wiping glasses. We disinfected with cider vinegar (ideally diluted with some distilled water); to stop bleeding, we sprinkled the cut with black pepper or even better cayenne. In season (soon!), smashed up plantain would have been a great help. I made her a cream to help healing/diminish scarring with sauge, lavender aspic, bois de rose, geranium in a mix of calendula oil and argan/jojoba (5%).
Poison Ivy/bug bites/damaged hands/athlete’s foot:
I sent my dishwasher/commis out to pick some flowers and garlic, he came back with poison ivy. In fact, we didn’t know until days later when he had welts all over his body, obviously having spread it by scratching. François went out to pick the neighbouring plant that is a natural antidote (impatiente du cap), which you chop into a paste (or Robot coup is best) and spread all over. I also made him a mix of diluted cider vinegar with Lavender and tea tree. This is a mix I now keep in the kitchen for all burns, wounds – it’s a natural antiseptic, calming agent and proponent for healing. The same mix is good to clean dirty, damaged hands after a day of picking, getting scratched and cut and bitten while covered in dirt . BTW Also perfect for athlete’s foot (on a daily basis), or simply to add to a foot bath or to apply to feet for refreshment or against stinky feet..
My boosters - Tonics for all round better function
No need for vitamins and mineral supplements with these, I figure..
I have made two tisane potions, one for day and one for night. Concentrates that I dilute with water to drink – typically cold during the day and hot at night. Bring water to a boil, turn off, throw in fresh and/or dried greens and herbs. Let steep an hour or two, even overnight; strain and jar. In the day potion, there is stinging nettle, achilee millefeuille, peppermint, elderflower, wild ginger, lovage, thyme, black pepper, juniper, fennel, coriander, basil and more.. I kept the night mix simpler and free of stimulants: heavy on Labrador tea and camomile, with some wintergreen, wild rose, and of course stinging nettle..
I can’t say how much they might help anyone, but I made them taste good, with a pinch of this and that like when cooking. The idea is less formally ‘nutraceutical’ but just a pleasant drink to replace juice, pop or wine that happens to be ultra healthy. Based on what I have learned, they are packed with nutrients and compounds that help all round digestive and immune function, stress and mood too, in my day blend especially.
All fine and well, but I still have to get used to drinking tisane outside sitting down for ‘tea’, I mean at any time of day, naturally craving and reaching for it before any of my other customary liquids. As the weather heats up, I do like a good homemade unsweetened ice tea, so I’ll be ready.
A few of my favourite concoctions that I truly love, perhaps even increasingly addicted to.. That have sold me on Essential oils ie. Aromatherapy.
My sleep aid:
A straight up mix of essential oils: true lavender mostly, some orange, ylang ylang, a few drops of eucalyptus citroné and geranium.
This provides an instant light buzz and calming numbing sensation.. I hear this might knock some people out but I don’t know, nothing knocks me out.. It does however soothe me, quieting much of the action in my head, making me more likely to fall asleep sooner. It works better than anything else I’ve tried and I love the way it smells/feels.
My mouthwash/anti-bacterial mouth spray:
Peppermint (35), Lemon (25), Eucalyptus radié (20), Pamplemousse (15), Thyme (10), Tea tree (10) diluted in water or water with an ounce of alcohol to make 500ml or 5%. I use it as mouthwash before brushing my teeth and like to carry around a spray bottle for times I can't brush or want to freshen my breath. I just love this!
My muscle massage oil:
Basil (30), Eucalytus citroné (20), Wintergreen (20), Lavender(20), peppermint (10); diluted in vegetable oil of choice (at first I used olive because that is what I had, but now I like to play with jojoba, almond and argan oils in the mix); 3-5% depending on how often you use it/localised or over a large area of skin, say 5 drops per 15-30ml of oil is a safe guide. I find it really helps with muscle pain.
My face cream:
Bois de rose(5), Geranium(3), True Lavender(2), Sauge(1), Ylang Ylang (1) in a little argan oil which I blend into a neutral jojoba based lotion that I buy at Noblessence on Laurier: 12 drops per 30ml (4%, but 2% is more common) I truly adore this and it makes my skin feel great.
My bug stuff: A starter cocktail, to be adjusted over the season; I’m ready to make it as varied and strong as I have to.. I started at 5%, and quickly went to 10%. This new dose seems to work; the buggers still swarm, but stop and leave. It seems to last for at least an hour or two, maybe not quite as long as a deet based cream, but not bad. Now, I’m playing with proportions – more or less mint or eucalytus/piney scents..
Eucalytus citroné (30), Lavande(20), Menthe poivré, Menthe verte (20), Pin sylvestre, Camphre, Cedre, Sauge (30)
Digestion – I don’t have digestive issues (probably because I eat lots of fruit and veg and next to no processed/refined/industrial food), but many people I know do, so this interests me..
An essential oil rub can help, but an internal treatment for a couple of weeks might be in order for a chronic problem. Huile de ricin (Castor oil) is supposed to work miracles here both externally and internally (in certain cases); I took a class on it but haven’t experimented.. With the essential oils though, yes..
External:30 basilic, 20 menthe poivrée, 20 Lavande vraie, 20 citron, 10 Eucalytus citroné
Diluted in hazelnut oil or vegetable oil (10% or 5 drops per 10ml) Others essential oils that are good here but not in my recipe only because I had to make a choice, or I don’t have them or they are too expensive/hard to find: Camomille, Orange, Bois de rose, Gingembre, Pin maritime, Fenouil, marjolaine, romarin, noyeaux d’apricot..
Internal: 40 basilic, 30 Citron, 30 Menthe poivrée (Bay or thyme could be added, but only for a short term treatment (10 days)).
Diet is obviously key here, diminishing meat and things that are hard to digest or that cause acidity, monitoring what causes problems for the person in particular with a food diary. One thing is for sure: diminish sugar.
For an adult, a cleanse might be in order: citron, basiilic, carotte sauvage and either bay/thyme/canella or tea tree (I like the last two, milder); 20% or 3 drops diluted in 1/2tsp olive oil 3Xday for 2-3weeks. All while eating well etc..
Again, no personal experience, but I have many loved ones with some kind of exema. From knowing them and from my classes, I understand that there are many different kinds and that everyone is different.. Every specialist has his/her opinions. But no matter who the specialist or what the ‘xxx..apy’ , they all agree that exema is complex – often related to diet, liver and intestine function, and very frequently tied to emotional issues and stress.. So there is a primary need to treat at the source; balms for the skin remain secondary. Sometimes, there is a Mg/Zn deficiency or other. Greens are beneficial and sugar is detrimental always. Caffeine and alcohol are problematic, as are chocolate and spice.. to what degree depends on the person. Gluten and dairy for many too.
Decreasing the acidity diet wise appears to be beneficial (often candida goes along with it), but what causes acidity is counterintuitive (lemon is good, meat is bad).
One thing that stands out to me above all: The best thing my sister (who has had bad excema all her life) ever did was reduce her workload & stress, ditch the rat-race ideology of working and making money above all, add fun hobbies and pay attention to her diet (ie. improve quality of life). Good for her. I made a salve in case she wants it some day and my mom is presently trying it out. I can’t/won’t say it will work miracles for them, but so far, my mom says it helps..
In 15ml huile argan/soucis/jojoba: 2g menthe verte, 2g cedre, 2g lavande aspic, 1g ylang ylang, 1g geranium (would have loved to add camomile but it is soo expensive; but you can always use a compress of strong camomile water or tea intermittently..)
Camomille water is also a terrific cleanser/toner for skin. I was never convinced all the rigamoroll the girly magazines and esteticians recommend was necessary wrt to skincare, but if I think to apply a toner before moisturizing, this is it.
Funny thing with essential oils, they seem so strong scented at first, but the more you become accustomed to them, the less that is true.. They tend to grow on you, and even take hold as they become an integral part of daily routine/life.. For instance, initially I found the smell of Tea tree unbearably aggressive and medicinal, but now I don’t mind it, perhaps even like it – because I now am used to it, have seen it work, believe in it too?? Same with Ylang Ylang – I was never into anything reminiscent of patchouli, but now I love both, probably because I associate them with relaxation or soft skin. Natural aphrodisiacs, maybe there’s something else going on there, who knows? Nor did I think that I was particularly fond of floral notes outside of nature, in cosmetics for instance.. But I guess I am when they are natural as in the form of essential oils. I really no longer have any tolerance for synthetic aromas and I can always pick them out..
Another funny thing about essential oils/aromatherapy is that most people see it as hokey pokey stuff and benign, like I used to and still think many natural remedies are (of the cost effective tablet/tisane variety available at the health food store or pharmacy).. But quality essential oils are concentrates of plants that are high in medicinal compounds – so a football field of a plant distilled into a little jar with all its active molecules, the same molecules that the pharmaceutical companies try to copy/compose with. It’s equivalent medicine, but more natural with less side effects if properly used, and just as toxic if not. Which is why they are not recommended for use with pregnant women and young children for the most part. The English don’t use them internally while the French do, ha (but you need a prescription; while here you don’t despite all the crap out there).. I suspect that both terms (be it essential oils or aromatherapy) do nothing to help them in being taken seriously.
Meanwhile, everyday I hear from people close to me (or with a few degrees of separation) about their various maladies and malaises.. Collegues, their spouses and kids with recurring infections; our parents and their friends; in some instances, severe cases of mysterious symptoms that baffle the doctors. Mothers with kids who are always sick, or with allergies, whatever.. Altogether, all kinds of people not finding answers in the conventional medical system. And then I see the courageous fighters in my classes who have taken things into their own hands, caring for their families with their plants and natural remedies without much need for doctors.
I don’t know enough yet to be coaching people, but I see all the possibilities and feel frustrated in face of all the lost souls looking for answers and relief. Maybe one day, I will be able to help. But one thing is for sure, if it were me who was really sick, I would do everything in my own power outside and/or alongside the traditional treatments, even if it meant clay and castor oil or names of treatments that sounding like aromatherapy.
I think any remedy for anything should start by eating well and spending time in nature.. That, I know about for sure. The rest is bonus, a world to explore - but it will come, I’ will be working on it.
Ok, not food related beyond the pots & pans.. But living in Quebec these days, the massive and persistent ever morphing student revolt has taken over, even in foodie territory.
Personally, I was getting quite tired of the student manifs, but I can’t help but dig all this pot & pan action of late; it’s something else seeing it Quebec wide, tis almost a party.. It would be altogether inspiring and seriously promising if the reasons for the mounting fervour weren’t so jumbled. The powers that be have no choice but to stop and listen, be attentive and bend toward the people, which is positive. But!
If only the students would accept the reasonable tuition price hike after a 20+yr freeze c’mon, ie. agree to pay 17% of their higher education, by maybe getting a part-time job or giving up a vacation or Iphone.. Then people like me (quite silent these days) might cease to see them as entitled babies and be proudly behind them 100% in their fight for change on the bigger issues now in the mix..
There is so much to fix about our system and such a public outcry can do a lot.. Good for them for getting on their feet, and showing us that it is possible. But better it be a shake up against corruption and how our money is spent, exploitation of resources and environment, or laws that favour the 1% - the banks, big business and foreign interest vs youth, local entrepreneurs, etc. etc. Pick one or two, anything except minimal tuition fees. An Occupy style movement with these student leaders might actually be able to do something grand if they could coexist..
Yes, Fight for your rights, ideology, and change! All for it. But no matter what, at some point, you have to accept a few laws for the common good, buckle down and work hard to secure a future. Yes, work, work your ass off. Our system, however flawed, is one of privilege, and even if it could work at its best, it would still cost a lot of money, meaning everyone has to do their part.
To finish on an uplifting note nonetheless: this video circulating is more of a romantic take - no window smashing here or political discourse..
First 2012 morel from our backyard! The hunt is on..
Morels are such a tease - one here and there, never a whole bunch (except for up north in forest fire country perhaps).. At least this one is enough to serve two!
And then these showed up, jackpot! Du jamais vu!
What to do with fiddleheads for once and for all
As the fiddlehead season peaks, the same old questions resurface.. Clients hungry for the first local greens are keen, but at the same time half frightened, wanting to know how to cook them all over again; the MAPAQ is at our door worried about intoxications..
Although there never has been an incident with our fiddleheads, it appears that every spring in recent years, there have been several cases of ‘food poisoning’ Quebec wide– we’re talking stomach pain here, not death by the way. Probably because a few fools ate a whack of unwashed, raw specimens, perhaps even old and/or from a polluted source, if they were even from the correct fern in the first place..
Sadly, many people are scared of fiddleheads for no good reason. It seems that the government campaign warning about a fiddlehead ‘toxin’ has been effective. In a way, maybe that is a good thing because there are customers who show up at our booth and pop raw fiddleheads into their mouths off the counter, or want to pick their own without a clue, not to mention the growing number of raw-foodists who are determined to eat them raw despite our warnings. Nonetheless, I like to think that most people are not them, and a touch wiser.
The thing is we all agree that uncooked fiddleheads are a bad idea. Toxin or not, there is something in there that makes them hard to digest in the raw state, that animals in the wild are aware of too (they don’t eat them), and besides, they simply do not taste delicious as is or aldente anyway.
It is also important to note that ‘we’ in the New World, have been eating cooked fiddleheads for a long time without a problem – tis a natural, local, traditional rite of spring in Quebec (as well as in New Brunswick, Ontario..). François’ family has been picking in the same sites and eating the same crop that supplies our market stand for over 50 years; François has been harvesting them and selling them for 25 years. And I repeat, never an issue.
After a wave of sore stomachs somewhere in Quebec in the spring of 1999 (60 cases), Govt warnings about a toxin became prevalent. All for a toxin that no one, not even the govt agency seems to be able to identify.
I couldn’t help but wonder about this unidentified ‘toxin’, and how it has eluded us and so many others for decades. Was it really proper to the fiddlehead or in the water? Could the few cases of poisoning have been due to a single source, age or improper storage? I needed to know, but no one has ever been able to answer my questions completely to this day.
A couple of years ago, I went really digging, govt. documents, newspaper articles, scientific journals, to find all sources leading in circles. I even stumbled upon a Santé Canada document that stated there was no toxin in fiddleheads, ha.
Upon consultation with plant scientists at the University of Guelph (the reference wrt food science & agriculture), it seemed likely that the fear might be more bacterial than a toxin persay. Which makes sense given that they grow in dirt and water. And that would explain the govt directives to boil for an extended amount of time; in the case of a ‘toxin’ useless. So, as I suspected, the few cases of intoxication were probably due to a contaminated source eaten raw. But of course, that is too complicated to explain, much easier to issue severe warnings until they figure it out. And without the likes of me pressuring them, I’m not even sure they’re working on figuring it out, preferring to enforce fear and a 15-20 min cooking regimen.
A scientist explained to me how they come up with these numbers in the first place given any threat, ie completely theoretical. They are ultra conservative since they use the most resilient enzyme and the least acid vegetable (not even actual fiddleheads say) for their tests. For eg. at 120C (steam), after 3 min, 10% remains; at 5 min, zero. After 5 min even at 100C, there is not much chance of anything, but to be safe, might as well say 10-15 or why not 20 min, just in case there is the worst ever bacteria in given foodstuff.
Which is fine I suppose; I understand that the government has to protect every person (stupid or not, fragile constitution or not) from every bug and fiddlehead out there (quality or not, fresh or not, from any source, polluted or not). But for us, this is very frustrating on principle; especially that it directly affects our business. After all, this is a super nutritious local vegetable with a long tradition, that is readily accessible and not dangerous at all if fresh and properly cooked. Certainly much safer in the big picture than all the sterile non-food crap coming out of the industrial system that clears all the government lights but is slowly making everyone sick and allergic to nature. Don’t forget that a bowl of berries or a plate of asparagus or a spinach salad might give you a belly ache and send you running to the bathroom if you daily feed off processed food and never eat fruit and vegetables, but then perhaps a cleanse was in order, but I digress.
In particular, we know where our fiddleheads come from, taking care of every detail from A to Z – picking only tightly curled, young specimens barely breaking ground, washing them thoroughly, storing them properly, selling fresh quality, offering up cooking instructions and everything. We have a solid record and reputation. Yet, we still have to defend ourselves year after year.
Meanwhile in supermarkets and via big distributors, there are loads of sketchy fiddleheads being dumped at a low price from un traceable sources, often obviously picked at an advanced stage (easier picking, ie cheaper), and old from being kept too long (from picking time through distribution to package).. I imagine this is the source of any sore stomachs, paired with a handful of mis-informed dopes hitting a bad batch, then not washing them and eating them insufficiently cooked.
Go to any restaurant, or to any home that has had fiddleheads on the menu for generations. No one is boiling them for 15 minutes. They turn to mush in 15 minutes. 5 minutes in boiling water is plenty if you have good fiddleheads and wash them first. Most often, they are given a second cooking anyway, be it pickling or stewing or for a sauté.
I know of one good recipe where they are overcooked and still yummy, from the Bas du Fleuve. Simmered in a salt lard onion broth for 20 minutes, there are left to sit overnight and reheated. Pale green and mushy, they are not aesthetically pleasing this way but delicious, reminiscent of slow cooked collard greens..
However, especially in spring when the body craves it, it is nice to be able to retain some small resemblance of green and crunch along with a thorough cooking. For detailed instructions, see below to see how we tell people to cook fiddleheads..
It all comes down to washing them and boiling in lots of salted water until they are cooked through, period. Depending on the quantity, the size of your pot and water, this could be 5-10 min, 5 if your water doesn’t stop boiling. With good fiddleheads properly flushed, your water should be reddish after, not black. I used to stand by a double blanch for less time, but this was with a restaurant setting in mind when you want to optimize color and crunch while ensuring sufficient water flushing and minimal cooking time. But it’s completely unnecessary! It just allows for a touch more texture and colour with equivalent exposure to heat and water. My perfectionism while wanting to cover all bases and please the MAPAQ ended up biting me in the butt because this procedure was propagated and I feel that it ultimately made people even more afraid. I would later hear foodies say, ‘oh don’t you know you need to cook them twice’ and I would inwardly groan; I even heard it from a government official once. Geez, I started it - shut up. I take it all back – just source well, and cook them for a few minutes in lots of water for god’s sake.
They are delicious sautéed with garlic afterwards, with a splash of tamari and lemon, salt and pepper. The oriental treatment with garlic, ginger, chilli, and sesame is winner too. Better yet with bacon, shallots and a touch of cider/sherry vinegar and meat jus. With potatoes and braised meat, in an omelette or with anchovies, pasta and tomato sauce, the options are endless..
The season is in full swing here, about to wind down, but is only getting going in the Outaouais, still weeks away in the Gaspesie.. So there are Quebec fiddleheads to be had for the next month or more for sure..
No need to be afraid. Just don’t be stupid, and Enjoy.
JS Cooking Instructions below..
Wash well and Blanch before adding to a dish: Use lots of salted water, cook for 5 minutes after returning to a boil (10-15 min. total)
*Or Boil twice for less
to optimize colour and texture - Add to boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes. Change the water. Repeat. Refresh in ice water.
and then sauté
or add to any preparation..
To serve hot :
Sweat with butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic or seasonings of choice (tamari, chili pepper, ginger, citrus zest, bacon, herbs, ie. dill, chives..
To serve cold :
Dress with vinaigrette, or to composed salads, pasta or potato salad, greens.
*The important thing is that the fiddleheads are of good quality from a traceable source,
that they are flushed with sufficient waterand fully cooked through.
Les Jardins Sauvages
17 Chemin Martin, St-Roch de l’Achigan
Spring is sprouting, Fiddleheads not far off
After the false start a couple of weeks ago, it looks like spring is springing right on schedule, if not slightly early still. The day lily sprouts and young dandelion are at their best; the trout lily, spring beauty, garlic mustard leaf just beginning, live-forever breaking ground as well along with the nettles.. There is wild ginger for the picking, the crinkleroot not far off. We have the makings of a spring mesclun – fresh, bright flavours, sweet and peppery, green and crunchy! The first local greens are always so exciting, such a rush, and exactly what the body craves at this time of year.
The fiddleheads are about to pop; François has been actively scouting all his patches. At least, the water is less of an obstacle this year; the thaw having come earlier, the rivers are lower. Within a week, we will be swimming in fiddlehead madness, François working around the clock picking, washing, weighing, sorting, coordinating it all. And our Jean Talon stall will be open all week once spring is really rolling. For another week or two, we’re open on the week ends (Fri-Sun).
Hurray! and Ouf, ‘attaché ta tuque’, another season kicks off and our crazy race/dance with nature ensues with all the annual surprises in store..
My path to witchdom via phytotherapy and aromatherapy
Being in the business of serving up wild edibles, there is no doubt that we attract a special sort of clientele – yes, foodies in search of new gastronomic adventures, those embracing the growing trend of local, seasonal, organic and wild, as well as the DIY earth hugging granolas for whom food is medicine and health a religion. The latter always bothered me slightly because I’m more of a hedonist, somewhat of an accidental proponent of healthy food.
Taste has always come first for me. Which has always made me seek out and value quality. The best and freshest naturally means local and seasonal, organic, the least transformed the better. Eco-sense, ethics, community and traceability have increasingly become important to me too. Luckily, wholesomeness follows naturally – bonus!
Up until now, when customers inquired about medicinal properties it kind of got on my nerves.. ‘Just choose to eat good quality, real food, lots of variety, enjoy it! and everything will be fine’ is my mantra. No need to be a strict vegetarian or raw foodist, nor treat food as medicine, follow diets, take supplements or read nutrition labels. I hate the idea of taking the fun out of eating, when it can be such a source of pleasure on a daily basis. Good food and health seem to go hand in hand without too much superfluous worrying. Maybe it’s easy for me to say, because fruit and veg, cheese, nuts, whole grains, rice and moderate amounts of naturally raised meat make me happy - not fast food, big ass feedlot steaks or sweet desserts; wine yes, cola no. It surely helps that I love cooking and have easy access to the best ingredients, not distracted at the stove by screaming fussy kids either.
I stand by this, but now that I’ve got the cooking part pretty much down, I can’t help but be interested in plants as medicine. Just to keep learning, to branch out in parallel, to more fully understand the power of the plants at hand and of our diets and well being in general. And so that my customers don’t get on my nerves.
So I took a few classes at the Jardins Botaniques – on Medicinal Plants, another on Aromatherapy/Essential oils, and oh a perfume atelier just for fun. Wow, another world opened up - utterly fascinating. I remain one who would rather eat my garlic in a dressing or stir-fry rather than oil a clove to be propelled up an orifice (for a cold), but hey, it’s good to know. I now understand the concoctions of smashed greens François slathered onto my bites and burns. I never knew cabbage and parsley leaves could do so much for bobos or nursing mothers, nor how useful clay is. Now I can say that my stinging nettle soup benefits your intestines/liver/digestion and might calm your excited kids right down. I can state with assurance that our house tisane has mega purifying, calming, tonic properties, and pregnant women can drink it in moderation without worries. I’ve learnt about all kinds of new tricks and plants that can heal or at least help most common problems. If I had a baby, I wouldn’t be rushing off to Urgence right away, knowing how to slowly lower the temperature or gauge how serious the trouble is, what to do in the meantime.. I have acquired many more uses for onions, wild greens and many of the things hanging around my kitchen. To think that other budding naturopaths have to go to a health food store and buy powder or pellets.
This is all useful knowledge that will only be reinforced this year as François picks the plants and I cook or put them up; all of a sudden, I will be seeing them in a different light. And I will finally be able to intelligently answer keener granola customer questions with more than anecdotes without wanting to brush them off.
Although less directly connected to our work at Les Jardins Sauvages, I have to say that it is the essential oils that really enthralled me. I am attracted to Aromatherapy because I am a nose person and I love all the natural scents; they just make me happy. Little did I know how much more there was to it though! Being concentrated essences of plants (by distillation), essential oils (not oils persay by the way), they are medicine, natural antibiotics (as well as sedatives, digestive aids, tonics, skin care remedies and everything else..). Of course you have to know how to use them; they have to be administered with knowledge and care because an internal treatment could be like drinking 100 tisanes, an external treatment like putting a ton of petals into your bath or skin cream. (Extra caution is in order when it comes to children and pregnant or nursing mothers). Most commercial shampoos, creams or pharmaceuticals rely on the same active molecules, only from a cheaper source, often synthetic or diluted, pumped up with preservatives and stuff you don’t need, hence the side effects. That’s another thing – I was happy to learn how to distinguish the real thing from all the crap out there. Let’s just say that you cannot trust the chick in the health food store if you’re making your own medicine.
It always annoyed me how unregulated this world was, which made me less inclined to dabble in it or take it seriously. But the great thing about pyhtotherapy/homeopathy and etc in Canada in general is that it’s open – so that if you are well equipped, you are free enough; no need for a prescription or a diploma to buy a plant extract or an essential oil, like in France say. The downside to this is that there is so much fraud & n’importe quoi out there to navigate through, that you can easily hit and miss, give up on a ‘natural’ treatment or even worsen your problem if not well guided.
No, I haven’t started cooking with essential oils – I prefer the plants in their raw state for that. But for the pleasure of a nice scent in the room or on my body; for most minor ailments, colds, aches and pains, skin creams or cosmetics, household products, I’m sold on the merit of essential oils. Even internally for a cleanse or to treat a digestive problem or infection, say urinary or gastro..
For the record, I was never taken by traditional medicine anyway, probably because I don’t like taking pills or foul tasting medicine, but also because I never found that much of it really worked. Luckily, I don’t get sick much, but I’ve become sceptical with respect to doctors who don’t listen and prescribe, prescribe, prescribe. I’d rather deal with my sleep issues than become addicted to pills; I prefer to suffer some pain than feel AFU and sick from pain killers. I dealt with my decapitated nose sans painkillers. Often, over the course of my life, I’ve filled out prescriptions and not taken them, everything turning out fine. I’ve also cooked many fancy dinners for pharmaceutical companies watching them woo the doctors. I’ve lived long enough to believe in the placebo effect, and so if a medication does scarcely better, that’s bogus and not the basis of an industry the way I see it.. Conditions created to justify sketchy products, all the kids on Ritalin - it all makes me queasy. From observing my entourage, I’m also very worried about antibiotics, seeing how often they aren’t effective and what havoc they can wreak on a system. So, if essential oils can do the trick, I’m all for it.
I have yet to personally test a lot of all that I believe to be true, and I’m extremely cautious, starting slowly, reading extensively. Aromatherapy is better documented than you might think. Yet, with what I’ve actually done, I see results and it’s so much more enjoyable than conventional medicine, the aromas! I think François is a little scared. I have a concoction for everything and he is my live-in guinea pig. So as soon as he shows signs of an ache or pain or digestive problem, I’m on top of him. At least he’s getting more massages. He’s right that I was almost disappointed when his cold symptoms didn’t amount to anything one day, all he needed was rest. When he woke up, there were jars of potions waiting for him, not to be tested, sigh.
Here are some simple things that have worked for me (some straight, others diluted in an appropriate oil like almond or noisette, olive or argan) - the tip of the iceberg:
#1 To relax/sleep: True Lavender (also Orange, Ylang Ylang) – on solar plexis, wrists, interior elbows. I’ve been an insomniac all my life – nothing makes me sleep. Melatonin sucks compared to this.
#2 Headache/sluggish morning: Menthe poivrée dabbed precisely on temples, wrists; Epinette noire on back spine (adrenal glands).
#3 Muscle Pain, cramps: Eucalyptus citroné, Basilic, Anis vert, Menthe poivrée, Lavande – massage, works instantly to ease pain/inflammation
#4 Digestion: Basilic, Citron, Menthe Poivrée, Lavande – massaged on stomach. I made this for François but used it one night after a big restaurant meal, felt it all move down, slept well
#5 Psoriasis: Bois de rose, Sauge, Lavande, Tea tree, Menthe verte in Calendula
#6 Mouthwash and spray : Menthe Poivrée, Citron, Thym à thymol, Tea tree, Eucalyptus radié (5% in water, need to shake) – I love this; it keeps your mouth fresh for way longer than normal mouthwash, and a spray bottle in the car makes up for moments when you can’t brush..
#7 Air freshener/sanitizer: Sapin baumier, eucalyptus globulus, lavande, pamplemousse, verveine on and on. I’ve made a few specific deodorizers (bathroom, kitchen) diluted in water and a shot of alcohol. More frequently (every night), I play with the oils I put in the pot on the wood stove like I was cooking up the perfect fragrance for the room & my mood. (I have yet to purchase a diffuseur or nebulisateur).
#8 Kitchen cleaning/cutting board: Citron/pamplemousse
#9 Tea Tree oil: straight onto a new pimple
These are examples of easy external uses, but there are many more possibilities around the household, as well as internally - which I’ve been looking into, with friends and family members in mind. Say for Excema, Flatulences, Constipation, Migraines, Menopause, Sinus issues etc.. Because between FB and me, we don’t have enough bobos to satisfy my hunger to come up with remedies.
Besides formulating my own creams, cough syrup, sanitizer and bugspray, I am very into the theoretical exercise of finding the perfect accessible essential oil treatment for every ailment, also bringing in my plant class and food knowledge, with suggestions for diet, lifestyle and etc, tisanes on the side, and including other old school treatments like the ‘bain de siege’.. So funny, but did you know that sitting your ass down in cold water can do a lot of good things (not just for fever, but circulation, constipation..)
I’d rather eat well and exercise than have to stick a garlic clove up my butt or sleep with crushed onions in my socks and lettuce and/or clay strapped onto my body or sit in icy water, but I guess I’d prefer the above to going to the hospital. With essential oils, I feel like I might be able to keep all that to a minimum when the time comes, no antibiotics or medicine - only rarely some stinky old school witchery.. And as for the pissenlit, ortie, achilée and plantain, bring them on .. All these wild plants seem to be common arsenal – preventative on all levels; ortie our magic plant like ginger for the Chinese. I am now the girl that walks around with a mason jar of some green infusion in hand. I find that it makes me drink more water besides all the other benefits.
Watch out, I may very well be on my way to becoming a witch. However, in my den, there will always be good food and wine and sweet smelling things, not just bitter tisane and painful ointments. At Les Jardins Sauvages, maybe I should make it a tag-line - you get good food, meat and decadence but with a major dose of greens on the side, tisane to finish, phytotherapy!. I could even offer up an essential oil rub or pastille to help digestion for the road, for a supplement of course.
My Phooey List (ie. Baloney)
Food Myths, Trends, Snobbisms and Here-say I don’t believe in
After almost 20yrs of cooking professionally, and 40 plus years of eating mindfully with appetite, I can’t help but have my opinions when it comes to food. On what is important, yummy or not, when it is ok to break the rules.. When some culinary dictum or trend makes no sense to me, I feel like I’ve earned the right to lift my finger high in the air, or more politely say Phooey. (Where did that word come from I don't know, I don't even like it - Baloney is better, or grosse merde, you get my point.)
- Truffles – Honestly over-rated! Yes, an intriguing, rare ingredient that can give a ‘je ne sais quoi’ touch to a dish - if you can afford them as well as have the connections and luck to fall on a good batch of the real thing.. But really, there are so many more interesting mushrooms in our backyard. Same thing with Morels, another snobby mushroom that while delicious and elusive, seem to be revered less for their subtle flavour and typical concentration of dirt, more because the French value them and because they are expensive.
- Blanching rules (For vegetables – salt water & ice water bath) – Ideal in a restaurant kitchen setting, but so unnecessary. The salt does little but help taste-wise; cold tap water works fine for the cool down, if indeed you need to cool your veg down (not usually at home when they would go straight into the sauté pan or plate).
- Aldente – Both pasta and veg are best not over-cooked, but can we please forget about aldente as the ultimate cuisson? Pasta is best barely on this side of done, but most veg are better on the other side, closer to melting if we can forget about bright colour for a second. Same with rice and grains, even meat and fish. Sometimes sushi or carpaccio is perfect given the weather or cut of meat/fish at hand, but more often, both are more delectable and easily digested cooked at least to rare (medium-rare or even yes, medium). With wild meats, better to cook the hell out of them but oh so slowly with lots of TLC. Many wild veg need more than a kiss of heat too, lots of boiling water.
- Raw foods – Sorry but this is just stupid as a diet, to make it a rule not to ingest anything heated beyond 38C or whatever their magic number is. I do know that it's just outside the safety zone.. To try to develop flavour, they warm things up so that it’s teaming with bacteria, not hot enough to kill the precious enzymes (?) or the nasty bacteria either. No wonder so many first timers report sore stomachs. Yes, eat lots of fruit and veg and nuts (the only good thing about this diet), but for the most part, our body more efficiently derives energy and nutrients from cooked food. Cooking is one of our greatest evolutionary steps – why backtrack?
- Nutrition value boxes – the biggest joke of our times. Who needs them? They are misleading and besides the point. Unless you live off processed foods and things in boxes. We could avoid the headaches (and excessive cost for producers) by simply eating real food, or as Michael Pollan said, anything our grandmothers would recognize. We don’t see the need for labels on our carrots do we? As for condiments and treats, if they make up a minor part of our diet, who cares. All we should know beyond the ingredient list is where a foodstuff comes from for traceability, to know where to find further detailed info if necessary. We should be more concerned with all the sketchy imported stuff with false/incomplete labelling.
- Frozen vs Fresh – With sous-vide (vacuum pack), frozen is the new fresh. No longer is the lack of a freezer in your kitchen a sign of haute cuisine – au contraire. Better to have local, frozen produce year-round than readily available 3 week ‘fresh’ from abroad grown in uncertain conditions.. I put up my local peas, favas and corn for the year along with all the local wild greens, berries and veg. We now have local greenhouses for bonus crunch in winter, no pain.
- Gluten bad – Aside from the unfortunate suffering from Celiac disease, I have a hard time believing that Gluten is that bad for everyone all of a sudden. Find some other toxic chemical in our environment to blame. I refuse to change up good local wheat flour for a mix of industrial powders when I want to make good bread or pasta.
- Roux-based sauces (like Bechamel or Velouté)– So uncool for too many years, but they are tasty and definitely hit the spot in winter, especially when suffering from gluten backlash. It’s true that cornstarch slurry is handy and more versatile. A thin natural jus has its place too. But reducing a stock to the point of lip-sticking (when it seems to lose aromas) to build it up with a ton of butter never made much sense to me as an alternative.
- Pectin in jam – Foodies find it hip to look down on pectin for some reason.. Whatever the natural pectin in the fruit, using pectin in jam& jellies allows you to cook the mixture less and maintain more fruit flavour for less sugar/reduction for equivalent gel. I don't recommend using the recipes on a Certo box (more sugar and pectin than fruit), but if you enjoy fresh fruit taste and jelly texture, pectin persay is not to be sniffed at. And what if the added pectin is DIY pectin from early season apples?
- Pork belly – the darling of chefs, but I just think it’s too fatty. I love it to cook with, to make petit salé or bacon, a garnish maybe. But forget about it as a piece of protein on a plate, I’m not in.
- Over-manipulation – like the turned vegetables of yesteryear when half the vegetable went into the stockpot for the sake of cute football shapes, most of the molecular gastronmomy tricks and gimmicks of today similarly amount to a waste of time and diminished freshness/flavour. Presentation is not everything!
- Skimming – I just don’t waste my time skimming. If there is a big bulge of white froth atop my broth or sauce, I remove it, but I’m not standing next to the pot skimming off every little ‘impurity’. It’s just protein. Or flavourful fat. If I want a clear stock, I clarify; for sauces, it doesn’t make much of a difference if you’re controlling heat, then straining, degreasing and thickening/reducing at the end. Again, it’s about aesthetics, not taste.
- Misuse of Labels: Bio, Green, Local, Natural etc.. I hate that these words no longer mean anything due to dishonest/ overuse by chefs and food producers on their menus or in marketing.
-your cuisine is NOT Local/Regional if your garlic comes from China and your 'ative' Jerusalem artichokes come from California, if you order from big suppliers.
-your menu is NOT Seasonal if you have morels and asparagus on it in March and you live in Quebec unless you’re following someone else’s seasons
-your maple syrup is not Artisanal if it comes out of miles of tubing
-you should NEVER be allowed to use any of these words if you are Walmart or McDonalads!
- Nitrites – I’ve come to the conclusion that this scare is equally Phooey along the lines of MSG (caution yes, but not so bad), and that nitrites are simply key in charcuterie. History speaks. If the preservation comes from celery, it’s still nitrite btw. Sel nitrité in minute concentrations helps make your charcuterie safe and lends an agreeable taste; it really doesn’t taste the same without. Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat aged saucisson without it now. Which is why I don’t make that kind of saucisson, too touchy. But I did play around with other charcuterie without it for years, because that was what was considered noble. I only purchased charcuterie without nitrite too, it was important to me at the time. All to eventually say 'screw that' because it wasn't all that good. I now use it for liver and raw cured things and avoid it when I can. I’m talking <<1% here, much, much less than what you see in boucheries/supermarkets. I have no idea how they keep their stuff pink for so long, those doses might be scary. Yet everyone eats it! Hard to convince people to eat brown/green paté, I guess. I don't think we need to be especially afraid of nitrites, like we don't need to be afraid of MSG (as in glutamates) in natural form, hello umami! But we shouldn't be sprinkling the pure stuff all over either, or eating in Chinatown everynight, and we can always choose our charcuterie carefully made, ie. somewhere in between.
- Salt Bad – Just avoid processed foods and junk food, cook at home and you don’t need to be afraid of salt. Food and life would be excruciatingly boring without salt.
- Fat Bad – Fat is good for us. Our body needs it and knows how to deal with it if it is a fat it knows (ie olive oil, animal fat, not trans fat). Again, avoiding processed foods and you hardly have to worry, as long as you eat enough fruit and veg and exercise modestly of course. Julia Child and her dandruff boy come to mind – a funny anecdote I caught on Rewind CBC: he was a vegan, nutritionist or something who criticized her decadent cooking; meanwhile she couldn’t help but notice that he had major dandruff due to a lack of oils/animal fat in his diet.. I also think of the picture of Nigella Lawson vs. Miss Health Guru circulating on the web this year (cheap stuff I know, but still); who would you rather look like/be? http://chainmailbomb.com/?p=51
- Big ass portions – Too many giant portions all over.. Who needs that? And there is no way you can serve quality in big quantities without exorbitant costs to match. Restaurants who serve reasonable portions are quick to be criticized for being stingy or too fancy. Good food should be as accessible as possible. I just wish quality in smaller portions were the new normal.. Although we should probably all eat less, that’s not what I’m saying here - just better smaller dishes, to be able to choose and not waste without having to go to a tapas joint..
- Big ass steaks – Same story. It is official that we should all be eating less meat, only better pastured, natural meat, and in ways that allow restaurants and purveyors to use the whole beast while encouraging local small growers who can only sell whole beasts. So, no big ass steaks. And yes, more variety - more grain, veg based sides.
- Vitamins and Supplements – Except for in special cases, I don’t believe in taking vitamins – the fewer pills that pass my mouth the better. It’s so much easier (and more pleasant) to eat well, not to mention that our bodies assimilate vitamins and minerals better in the natural forms of fruits, vegetables and sunlight anyway.
- Eating late at night makes you fat – The way I feast late night makes this bogus to me.
- Gas vs Electric I need Gas at the restaurant, but at home, electric is fine (and unlike many of my collegues, I cook a lot at home). There is less pressure at home, and you figure out how to maximize and work with what you have. Electric is much less messy. If you want gas in your home, you need an expensive ventilation system and you will have to work harder at keeping your stove looking clean. I’ve seen too many rich catering clients complain about this - torn between having a top of the line commercial kitchen and one that is spic&span out of a design book. They don’t go together if you actually use the kitchen.
- Industrial Cleaning Products – Accepted in a restaurant environment but hardly necessary. Soap & water (with some elbow grease) go a long way. Baking soda, Vinegar.. Pull out the degreaser or Easy Off once a month instead of every night. It’s all about day to day maintenance and actual scrubbing, people have forgotten how to scrub. It would also help if sparkling, white or stainless weren't the epitome of 'clean' - difficult when green..
- Searing meat keeps the juices in and etc. 20 yrs after Harold McGee debunked this (among many traditional cooking myths), I still keep hearing chefs say this. Obviously food science is slow to trickle down to mainstream Quebec. Bottom line, we sear the meat for crust and taste, period. Sous-vide and low temperature cooking work marvels for meat texture, but we can’t seem to do without that savoury Maillard reaction from the searing effect. Which is why a simple pan roast remains the best way to cook meat at home..
- Other cooking myths scientifically debunked - TBC
There is not much I love more than a cold, sunny day on my snowshoes with the woods to myself.. The mishmash of animal tracks remind me I have four-legged company, but they leave me alone, mostly not to be seen or heard. Only the wood peckers are less discreet. Then maybe the odd cry of an owl or coyote calls me back to planet earth from my zoned out state of zen-like peace.. ‘Oh the sun is setting, time to fly home!’ I really do relish my solo time in nature breathing fresh air, but it’s true that much of it is spent in my head, it’s just the way I am. Natural to me, faulty in the eyes of a coureur des bois.
A whole different kind of winter wonderland experience unfolds with François on board; for one, there is no zoning out. His plugged-into-nature way means constant stopping and starting, picking and probing - a slower more attentive trek, peppered with anecdotes and commentary. On the state of the trees, any new signs of wildlife.. I am awakened to phenomena/ unfathomed riches I blindly ploughed by before. He pauses long enough to watch a woodpecker pass out from exhaustion. Maybe the little pecker was playing dead? Funny and intriguing, none the less. François might fiddle around to erect obstacles for skidoos with sticks and stones; if on the river, he studies it meticulously trying to understand this year’s landscape reality, scanning the ice for air-bubbles.. Not a bad idea - if it weren’t for him, I might have taken off with the underflow a few times.
When foraging, the escapade is necessarily less leisurely, ie planned out – charted, flatt(ish) terrain being key without poles, given the bags/pails to lug back, a need for snacks, water and gear.. A mindset more along the lines of ‘Rendre l’utile à l’agréable’..
With Pimbina (aka squashberry or highbush cranberry) on the agenda, one of the few things we can pick in winter, we set out on snowshoes for an afternoon involving more picking than play. January is ideal, but the creeks and rivers have to be frozen for easy access, meaning that we had to wait until February this year. This little berry is equally coveted by the foxes and birds, but there is more than enough to go around if you enjoy snowshoeing.
We love this berry for making coulis, jelly and sauces.. As with cranberries, they need to be cooked with a good dose of sugar to counter the tartness, but once transformed, they make for heady concoctions, equally tasty in savoury or sweet dishes, pairing well with poultry, stellar with cheese and a strikingly delicious foil for chocolate desserts. There is more to pimbina than run of the mill cranberries.
The only thing is that it is a stinky affair – the cooking, that is. We need to plan pimbina production for off days, and even then, the scent lingers.. Like blue cheese, with notes of stinky socks, sweat and vomit. Hard to believe it’s a delicious berry, eh?
But yes. Tasty. Mega umami. And plentiful, Local, harvested in winter.. What’s a bit of stink? Easy to love otherwise..
Never too much duck
We finished up our annual duck festival over a week ago, and I’m now well into my Valentine’s menu with ‘aprhodisiac ingredients’ as the theme, but I still have one last duck dinner to go. This one is for a carpenter friend of ours (who has done much work for us recently) and who thinks he and his wife don’t like duck. François and I hardly believe this is possible, so decided to do them a favour and woo them back from the dark side with an enchanting evening of duck dishes. Better knock wood, but I’m counting on a successful turn-around.
In case you didn’t know, duck is my favourite meat. I mention it often, going on about the benefits of duck fat or plugging my favourite duck (Ferme Morgan) whenever possible. I planned on posting a full-on article about duck in all its guises to kick off our duck themed menu in January but never got around to it. The fact that I’m still enamoured with everything duck as I finish up a month of bathing in duck fat, cooking it daily (and nibbling all the odd bits) is a good sign. I just don’t seem to tire of it.
With three local breeds (Muscovy, Moulard, Peking) and all their respective parts to play with, there are endless possibilities. I change the menu every year but no doubt, there are the tried and true classics that return although never served the same: Smoked duck breast, duck proscuito, duck consommé, duck eggs, roast duck, duck confit, duck chips, duck egg desserts… Although mostly French inspired, I always have to take one course ‘à l’orientale’ duck being a natural with soy, star anise, sesame and co.
Duck is easy to love and versatile, usually good no matter your inspiration, but it always comes down to pumping up the savoury with salt/umami and spices and then balancing the savoury richness and fat with touches of acidity and sweetness. Pungent, earthy and green notes help there too. Here are some no-brainers:
Berries, Grape must/saba, aged balsamic, salsaparilla, juniper
Exotic fruit flavours, pineapple, vanilla, sweetgrass, tonka bean
Earthy – Beans, Wild mushrooms, Root vegetables, Cabbage
Herbs – thyme, rosemary, herbes de provence, or basil, coriander..
Spice – ginger, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, star anise, clove, cinnamon, cumin, coriander.. and all such combinations (curry, 5 spice, quatre épices)..
Tart/Piquant to cut the richness – Citrus, good quality vinegar, sumac; mustard, horseradish, ginger, wild ginger, crinkleroot, garlic, chilli heat
Greens for the same reason - garlicky greens, bitter greens, crunchy lettuce
Each duck has its place in my mind. My favourite to eat as is from the pan, is Muscovy; it has a higher meat to fat ratio, the flavour is more complex, and the meat often less tough, allowing me to cook it closer to medium than rare, 15 min stove top is all you need for a supreme.
As with most game birds, the breast and legs should be cooked separately because the legs require a longer cooking time and do better with moist heat in a braise or confit.
My favourite duck to roast whole is the smaller Peking but I don’t bother trying to do a proper ‘Peking’ duck with all the tedious boiling and drying. (However, I do have fond memories of ordering it in fancy Chinese restaurants with the little crepes). I just marinate it for a day and roast it for an hour and a half or so until it’s just done. After an hour or so, you have to pour some water or broth in the pan. After a rest, I pick it all apart, cut it up and mix it into the degreased juices. This makes a great stuffing for a Momofuku style bun or any sandwich, although this year I served it with mushroom fried rice.
I choose Moulard for charcuterie; Muscovy works fine but is more expensive. My smoked duck is a recipe I concocted years ago which involves curing, then smoking followed by a sear and finish in a low oven. I came up with this method to safely be able to minimize/eliminate nitrites and it turns out that cooking develops more flavour to stand up to the smoke, contrary to drying it raw like most do.
Duck proscuito is a different story, more subtle so simply cured raw and dried. I looked to Paula Wolfert for guidance the first time around, but over the years I’ve tailored my own recipe – I’ve found the seasoning I like and most importantly have discovered the perfect conditions for the 3wk-month drying period. This is the trickiest part of making proscuito – you need a stable, cool, dry, airy dark place to hang your duck for 3 weeks to a month, a fridge is typically too cold and too humid. I make mine once a year in a closet at the restaurant over Christmas when we are closed and the heat is off. Don’t tell the MAPAQ. I don’t have a suitable spot once the mild weather sets in, but that’s ok; I quite like my traditions; the short windows for some wild plants have taught me that some things should only be made once a year.
Duck sausage is a good idea in theory, but to make a traditional sausage succulent as opposed to mealy and dry, you need to add a percentage of fatty pork because duck is naturally too lean and the fat is too soft. I’ve made several successful (and less than stellar) duck sausages, from summer sausage to chorizo to boudin blanc, but this year didn’t want to battle with the fact that pure duck does not easily make good sausage. So I made Mexican chorizo style meat balls. I also made a mousseline style terrine studded with flambéed duck filets and smoked duck, the cream and eggs making up for the lack of fat.
Duck eggs – Twice the size of a chicken egg with a bluish tough shell, the duck egg is truly a special ingredient, rich and deeply flavourful, with more yolk than white, and the white is high in protein, very springy. You can use them in savoury or sweet dishes, anywhere/anyhow you would use a chicken egg, but beware of meringue that will jump out of your mixing bowl and take over the kitchen when whipped. François loves duck eggs year round, simply fried or baked with cream and mushrooms; I like them scrambled, more for dinner than breakfast. I particularly liked a Spanish style tortilla dish from a prior menu. They make good crepes too (pure egg diluted with a bit of water). Dessert wise, this year, I made a frozen wintergreen chocolate soufflé and coconut sweet clover cake, but the sky is the limit; in previous years spectacular floating islands, pavlova, lemon meringue pie and multiple ice cream/parfait variations. I always select a duo of egg-based sweets – one that relies on the yolks and the other the whites.. At home, I would opt to keep it simple because fresh duck eggs are difficult to separate white from yolk, and forget about hard-boiled eggs (unless you let them age), they’re a bitch to peel.
My coup de couer, la salade.. Duck confit salad is not a staple on bistro menus for no reason! There are so many ways to take this theme.. My version consisted of duck gizzards & hearts, bitter greens, duck fat croutons, beets, pickled daisy buds and my wild ‘chimichurri’. It’s the mix of hot & cold, the constrast of luscious savoury dripping confit with bitter greens and a sharp, herbal vinaigrette alongside hits of sweet from the beets and pickles that made this salad a winner. Not only a salad girl like me swoons, but the meat & potato men too, a man’s salad if there ever was.
The confit treatment is really the ideal way to cook gizzards and hearts by the way - painless, a tender result guaranteed. You get the glory of confit (leg) with less time and hassle, no need to cure for days or debone. The longer you leave the gizzards the better, but you need to be careful with the hearts, stopping the cuisson when they are fully cooked but still pinkish (say an hour instead of two)..
Every one associates duck with fattiness, but it is actually a lean meat, you need to keep some of that outside fat for most preparations, which is why it is so good cooked in its own fat.. Don’t forget that duck fat is a good fat!
Speaking of fat..
Foie gras (the liver of a Moulard) – This time around my terrine ‘torchon’ was flavoured with elderberry and juniper, which was nice, but I think I prefer my regular sweetgrass - quatre épice treatment. And the ‘incontournable’ pan-seared foie seduces everyone, regardless the preparation. With caramelised onion, parsnip, porcini, Jerusalem artichoke purée and a cider sweetgrass sauce – I had all those earthy flavours mingling with a touch of sweet and zing in the form of malic acid from the apple. Cooking that much foie gras really smokes the place out and is costly, but customers’ faces tell me it’s worth it, the treat of treats, despite any ethical controversy (happily non-existent in these parts). I’m done with that subject anyway. http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/blog-journalessays/2009/2/3/enough-about-foie-gras.html
Duck fat potatoes – I made latkes with crinkleroot, but any potato duck fat dish is delicious: Roasted potatoes, fries, layered in a gratin/ pave/Anna variation, or tortilla (potato onion omelette), you really can’t go wrong.
Duck skin chips - So scrumptious they are criminal, they make a terrific crispy garnish more than a snack. I once served them in bowls to munch on with the l’apero but customers ploughed through them, not the ideal start to a 3hour meal. Not to mention too labour intensive to see inhaled for free on my end.
I’ve found the best way to make these duck ‘oreille de crisse’ is to slowly render the skin in the oven for hours, patting dry and cutting out strips before a final crisp up in the oven. Removing the skin from cooked confit legs and putting it in a 250F oven between parchment coated sheetpans for a couple of hours does the trick nicely. Or I coat and deep fry them for utter complete decadence. Once a year is enough for that delicacy.
If you want to cook duck at home..
Pan-roasting a magret or supreme is the way to go for starters.
You can purchase good quality Moulard & Muscovy duck as well as foie gras at our favourite butcher shop, Le Prince Noir at Marché Jean Talon. http://www.montrealplus.ca/montreal/venues/boucherie-prince-noir-fr
At the Canard Libéré on St-Laurent, a store devoted to duck, you will find Peking Lac Brome duck, as well as all the duck inspiration you need, a wide array of pre-made dishes if you want. http://www.canardsdulacbrome.com/fr/boutiques/
If you can get a hold of a supreme from Morgan farms, it’s worth it. www.fermemorgan.ca
Marinate it, pan-roast and serve it as is, or deglaze and make a sauce.
For one Duck supreme 600g, serves 4p
Heat a good pan to high. Put room temperature duck into pan skin side down and turn the heat down to medium. Leave for 10 minutes, pouring off accumulating fat regularly. Flip over, cook 2 more minutes then turn off the heat. At this point, it should be rare-medium rare. If it feels softer, leave in pan to finish with the residual heat.. Otherwise, pull it out and let it rest a good five min while you make the sauce with the pan drippings. Pour out the last of the fat, deglaze with a splash of wine, some stock, reduce down. Finish to taste with a good cider, balsamic or sherry vinegar, a swirl of butter, salt and pepper ..
My two favourite marinades (a couple of hours or overnight)
Marinade 1: EVO, drops chilli and sesame oil, drops soy, drops maple syrup, drops Sherry vinegar, pinch curry powder, pinch five spice
Marinade 2: EVO, rosemary oil, drops Aged balsamic, drops soy, drops worchesterchire, steak spice, allspice, pepper, thym
For further duck delights, cravings or discoveries, I encourage you to come to Les Jardins Sauvages. It is the star of the menu in winter, but I do serve it year round and have all my duck charcuterie as well as some prepared sous-vide dishes (confit, filets in wild ginger sauce, cassoulet, soup..) available at the Market as well as at the restaurant..
As we ring in the new year, it is traditionally a time of celebration, but also inevitably one of contemplation - looking back, taking stock, thinking ahead, making wishes and resolutions for the future.
Here are some of my favourite quotes that fit the season to inspire you..
'Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.' Henry David Thoreau
'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
'I'm a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it' Thomas Jefferson
'Everything in moderation, including moderation.'
And last but not least...
May your joys be pure, and all your pain champagne!
Ok, better go check on my moose osso bucco in the oven; it's almost time to crank up the rigodon and crack open the bubbly..
Peace & Love
one of those spontaneous recipes, ie. foie arrancini come to mind
I was running out of ideas of what to do with all my winter squash.. Since the fall, I have been squashing away with roasted and puréed accompaniments, fritters, soup, gratin, pasta, polenta etc; I’ve frozen and roasted off a whack that I put up sous-vide for future soups, gratins, pasta and polenta. Enough already. I still have a ton, what to do?? I'm so busy with everything else, the lingering squash are not on the top of my list. But as I tackle year-end & inventory, I know it’s time I clear out the fridge, and I must empty the pretty baskets and process the impressive specimens decorating our dining room to make way for poinsettas.
With my mega tourtiere and paté production underway, the idea of ketchup dawned on me.. I’ve done a squash mostarda before, and made eglantier ketchup (the fruit of wild rose), the pulp resembling apricot and tomato – full umami, vegetal sweet, mild, in fact very squash like. Natural. And I’m already out of classic ketchup, which customers ask for at this time of year when there are no tomatoes .
With a ton of other things going and many other priorities, I didn’t have much time to fuss, I haphazardly threw a few onions, a red pepper and one of our hot peppers along with some spices into a pot with brown sugar and cider vinegar, then added roasted squash. An hour later, I had my ketchup. Not bad, I have to say. Actually ‘pretty f-ing delicious, and who needs tomatoes?’ was my first thought upon tasting. A bit stringy, but I’m not sure I want to purée it Heinz style so that it looks like baby food. I do like a chunky old fashioned condiment, even though the only time I eat ketchup is with tourtiere at X-mas. Maybe I’ll add a touch of wild in the form of crinkleroot or wild ginger, but then again, maybe not, it’s good as is.
Funny, hey.. Occasionally, the best of recipes come out of thin air, without being thought out at all - from a crazy whim, an accident or out of frugality, necessity.
This reminds me of my now classic foie arrancini. Without an à la carte, I don’t have many classics, I’m always changing my menu and like it that way. When a journalist or customer asks me for a recipe, I’m always stumped. There are certainly recurring themes and favourite ingredients or preparations that I riff on differently, but never exactly the same. And none of them involve foie gras or arrancini. I do plan and put a lot of thought into my menus, I usually know what will be winner, and we have a selection of favourites that we package to sell. But then there are the creations chosen by customers that take on a life of their own, sometimes unexpected – like my Champi-Thai soup, or the foie arrancini.
One day several years ago, I had way too many duck and pintade livers on hand and a few bits of foie gras so I made a shitload of mousse, put it on the menu alongside some charcuterie, packaged some up for sale, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest. It so happened that I had a catering event that week and needed an extra app, so I somehow decided to make risotto and fold in some liver mousse instead of cream/butter/cheese at the end, made little balls, breaded and fried them, and voilà foie arrancini. I served them with a blackberry juniper jelly, which may very well have been a gelified-tarted up version of a coulis I had running on my menu or perhaps drained off juice from berries for a tart, who knows, I can’t remember exactly. But Lo and behold, this appetizer was a mega hit. Not only the client but guests at the party hired me to do subsequent catering events and requested the same foie arrancini with that same jelly. I had to make them again and again, people still ask for them. But when you don’t have the left-overs on hand, it’s a royal pain in the ass. It’s not a dish I would have dreamed up on my own for the sake of it, it came down to the clock and what I had on hand. Any chef knows this story well. I can attest to daily table d’hôtes forcing my creativity back in the day. But the foie arrancini, such a stupid, delicious concoction that is now unconsientously a part of my repertoire, this always makes me laugh.
Now, it's squash ketchup – similarly not thought up and done on the fly, but I really don’t think it’s so stupid. However, I have yet to see if it’s a hit with anyone besides me and my staff and tourtière.
Holiday Cooking feels so good
Yes, I’m officially in X-mas cooking mode, several weeks in actually. My kitchen has taken on a permanent réveillon scent (ie poultry/butter dough/pork&spices), and so have I, which is fine – a nice change from my shroomy perfume of fall.
Besides Saturday night dinners at the table champêtre, the odd corporate party and catering event, I am mostly focused on prepping for the Christmas market. The main event is in L’Assomption (December 1st to 23rd - a magical market that takes over the main street of this historic town with wooden cabins, fire-pits, carollers and a festive, old-fashioned ambiance), where the region’s artisans offer up a wide array of edibles and X-mas gifts. www.marchedenoeldelassomption.ca
Our staff from the Jean Talon market moves to L’Assomption, selling our products, gift bags and a whack of my cooked dishes (frozen, sousvide) - soups, sauces, charcuterie, braised meats, tourtieres and etc. It’s the big spoke in the Jardins Sauvages wheel once the green/ mushroom season comes to an end, and we all have a lot of fun with it. While I cook up comfort food in my steamy kitchen alternating between CBC and X-mas carols, our staff on site have a blast with companion artisans, volunteer workers and joyful customers in the holiday spirit, all while trying to stay warm..
Not being a girl that likes being caught with my pants down, prior experience told me I needed a solid head start this year. I have the classics checked off my list by now: Confit de canard, Smoked duck, Foie gras terrine (with sweetgrass), Mousse de foie (wild ginger), Cassoulet, Braisé de cerf, Pintade aux chanterelles, Lapin farcie (trompettes), Lapin braise.. BBQ Porcelet and Braised lamb, check. I’ve also made a point of stocking up on our clients’ favourite sauces: Champignon, Morilles, Chanterelles, and of course my beloved soups: Champignons classique, Champi-Thai, Ortie-Arroche, among others, adding a few seasonal ones like Squash and Root veg parmentier with crinkleroot. Our regular line of products is in stock, the little girls busy packaging and labelling away.
Paté production is well underway, with 50 or so glistening pies ready, twice that to go. Starting with my tourtiere – a deluxe mix of braised venison, duck confit, pintade and rabbit mixed with some ground pork and veal so that it still resembles tourtiere. I have turkeys coming in this week, with which I will make turkey pot pies and a dynamite soup to be sure. Stuffed birds of all kinds, pot au feu, ragout de pattes and more on the agenda..
I always get caught up and carried away with whatever it is that each season brings. But like with everything in our a-bit-of-this-&-a-bit-of-that business, I know have to be careful, to regularly take a step back and crunch numbers, to balance quality and efficiency, without losing the magic. For instance, the way I make tourtieres makes it a break-even scenario, but it makes customers happy and it makes me happy to mark the season with a tradition and follow through.
I also have a massive private order for these dishes (12/24 portions of each), which is where the ragout de pattes comes in, because this is not something I normally do. But it was a good client who asked for it, someone I supply with a variety of prepared meals for her freezer on a monthly basis. The best kind of customer who understands the work behind, is willing to pay for it, and loves everything I cook. She started ordering from our regular offerings but now I make an oven-full of osso bucco, guinea fowl or hachis-parmentier just for her, a big pot of bisque, whatever she wants. We have several loyal client fans like this, who come stock up regularly on prepared meals. We have another great customer who is a hunter and fisherman who brings me his haul/catch, I cook or smoke it for him and deliver it all in little ready to eat packages for his freezer. When he goes to his hunting camp, I prepare all his three course meals labelled #1, #2, #3 (for each bag and container, app, main, accompaniment, dessert) etc. It’s not like I could make a living doing this, but it’s a fun, winner side that just kind of happened over of the years with restaurant customers. These are pretty much the only people I cater for now too because they are worth the hassle, not because we charge them anything more but because they are a pleasure to cook for.
By the way, the customer with the big X-mas order (among others) find it hard to believe that I have never made a classic ragout de pattes & boulettes. What can I say other than that I’m anglo, it’s not a part of my traditions and somehow it never got incorporated into my own despite the years of being so engulfed in Franco-Quebecois culture. Maybe it’s because I’m not that into big fatty, meat dishes, especially when there is always so much more on the holiday table. Anyhow, I have cooked pork hocks from the top to the bottom, and have made a shitload of meatballs in my lifetime, so I’m quite sure I can nail it, but it just might not taste like her grandmother’s! When it comes to trad Que cuisine, I’m not too worried, it always comes down to sarriette (savory), with a pinch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, ha.
I am just as into my Fancy-Nancy menu running at the restaurant. More elegant fare or not, there is that same thread of soulful, homey X-mas spirit wafting through. The winter season naturally lends a hearty dose of love and a nod to tradition that fits, that makes it such that I am not looking back or missing the abundance of summer. In any case, we still have all our Quebec veg, we aren’t yet sick of squash or root vegetables or apples or pears. Plus we know we can count on all our preserves, mushrooms, peak-season vegetables and fruit put up for the year. And there is always Daignault (Jardiniers du Chef) when I want a crisp green or pretty garnish.
We’re ready for winter, and the holiday season is a nice transition between complete madness and relaxation, with its half-mad but merry feel. I dig it, I can deal with sore hands from rolling dough, especially with Christmas carols playing.. I held off ‘til December, but now they’re cranking (especially when I’m alone!).
We need to stop Big Harry and we don't know how. The prospect of the petrol industry setting up in the Lower St-Lawrence is worrying to say the least. This is a call from people we know, love and work with there to urge us to do whatever we can make people aware, to get more media attention, anything to help.. For sure this is a cause close to our hearts and business given that we work so close to nature, foraging and cooking the greens and fish from that region. But I know our customers would find this scandalous too, eaters and Quebeckers in general, so we have to do what we can to spread the word and wake people to rock some boats. Claudie, the queen of marine greens, says it better than me, but in French:
Appelle d’aide de Claudie du Bas du Fleuve (Jardins de la Mer) – important!
Je transcrit ses mots (une partie d'un long discours) :
‘C'est concernant notre mère la mer, le golfe St-Laurent, qui a besoin qu'on prenne sa défense... tu comprendras que les Jardins de la Mer, les plantes des battures et les sirènes ne peuvent pas composer si bien avec des industries pétrolières en mer.....
Nous devrions tous être préoccupés par ce projet industrieux "Old Harry" compromettant la santé de tout l'est du Québec.
Vite comme ça, la compagnie Corridor Ressources veut forer notre mer en 2012, et ce, selon les conditions actuelles, d'un gouvernement qui est incapable de mettre des limites à l'industrie, et d'une industrie qui se crisse profondément de l'environnement.
Selon l'info, la compagnie a une petite assurance de 30 millions pour tout éventuel désastre!!! On va pas loin avec ça! Qui va payer la gaffe? le peuple encore!
C'est de la privatisation de la ressource et de la socialisation des coûts ....bref tu connais la chanson. Pour en savoir plus, le site de la coalition st-Laurent en dit les grandes lignes: www.coalitionsaintlaurent.com’.
Moi personnellement, je ne sais pas ce que je ferais sans arroche de mer, salicorne, spergulaire et etc – tous ces plantes marines fabuleuses de notre terroir que je cuisine depuis plus d’une dizaine d’années, que François et Claudie ont travailler si fort a faire connaître au plaisir de nos clients. Une vraie richesse, parmi tellement dans ce coin. Et le poisson! L’environnement! La vie de ces gens en région, il y a tellement plus à protéger. Il faut diffuser l’information, sensibiliser le monde, qu’on fasse toute notre petit quelque chose pour faire du bruit - comme chef, gourmand, citoyen, québécois.. De cuisiner du poisson et des plantes de la région et d'en parler, de repeter, repeter.. NH
The race is over.
There is still a small trickle of hedgehogs and yellowfoots coming in from the Gaspesie (where it didn’t snow), and a few Tricolome up here, but the season is pretty much officially done. We just finished up our annual mushroom event, this year with 30 varieties on the menu! It was a wild success I would say, if not for a few too many last minute cancellations and a touch of staffing stress. All in all, so rewarding though and much fun was had. We’re exhausted.
Off the menu, the customers loved the 'fromage frais aux morilles', the smoked polypore pickles, both of which we sold a whack on the side. The puffball lasagne was a favourite, and many were turned onto rabbit which was my coup de coeur. But as usual, it was the series of mushroom sweets that wowed the most - panna cotta, candies, cookies, cake and ice cream. It really is surprising what desserty aromas come naturally from mushrooms, especially in the bolete family.
For more photos, here is a slideshow of Mushroom Festival highlights:
I think we can happily call it a year - and with more than a ton of wild Que mushrooms processed at the restaurant only, that’s enough mushroom for a while thank you. That’s not counting the tons that went to market, only what passed through my hands. A crazy amount of work.
All summer/fall, we wonder what the hell we’re doing amidst the insanity, and every November 1st or so, we pat ourselves on the back and bask in the glory for a few minutes, drink a bunch of mousseux and celebrate a feat accomplished, another year down, with the fresh sweet memories of all the estatic customers..
While it is slowing down at the Jean Talon Market too, we are still there, now only Thurs-Sun. And we remain open on the weekends at La Table for regular business with our equally enticing but more varied 5-7 course menu..
From now on though the winter, apart from Saturdays, we open following the reservations. Which is fine. I have a backlog of orders for products and plats-sousvides, catering gigs, the inventory to do and all other ménage that has been put off, not to mention much less staff from here on in.. Slow down or not, we can’t take it too easy, just a little. François is no longer picking mushrooms - besides some wild mustard greens foraged today, he is mostly busy cutting down trees and chopping wood these days.
But before we get into serious catch-up mode and production for the X-mas markets, we will be taking a day to roast a few pigs on our new spit machine and drink more wine. To close the season, we are hosting a big staff/family party for the market and restaurant team, and all the people who helped us with the house (which is coming along, although still a construction zone, sigh). Mechoui and Oysters and a buffet sans shrooms, Weehoo!.
Apart from that, I’m psyched to be back in my kitchen, cooking up anything and everything, not just mushrooms. Can’t wait to make squash soup, some sausage, experiment with some bread.. Rabbit terrine today.. Soon, it will be tourtiere time!
I love autumn and have my fingers crossed that this isn't the extent of our Indian summer. Dreaming maybe, but I'm ready for winter too. Bring it on, cuz that's when I really play.
The mushroom season has officially been a GREAT one! Not that it’s over. Many summer varieties came late, some didn’t come at all, and certain autumn ones showed up early. Overall, it has been abundant and all at once - we’re in the thick of things now. The last week of August and all of September has been insane. I’ve been processing 400lb a week. Needless to say, one mushroom or another appears in every dish on my menu. In a couple of weeks, it will be 3 per dish. Some poor mushroom hater came to eat last weekend thinking he was safe, opting to visit before the mushroom event. Not an easy case, but I think I turned him around.
No records for big puffballs, but we got more than our share of mid-sized marvels- firm, white and pristine. I love giving them an eggplant treatment, frying slices up in batter or baking with herbs and olive oil. Layered in a lasagne or gratin or frittata, they perfume the whole dish. This week, I made a flan with zucchini, eggplant, sea spinach and peppers with a puffball base, all lightly binded with some egg and a dusting of parmesan that pleased. So rustic and very old school, yet beautiful and tasty. It helped that I served it with a slice of rolled lamb belly, brined, smoked and cooked sous vide then crusted, and some yellow-foot and hedgehog mushroom-tomato ketchup.
I have never seen so many Bolets à Pieds Rouges, a variety I love for desserts but worry about running out of. This year, it may very well make it into our mix, bonus. Same with the Bolets à Pieds Glabrescent. It was an awesome run for Porcini too, but the autumn ones are by far the best; in summer, they are rarely worm-free. I’ve never seen so many perfect little firm bouchons, and tall firm ones too with a long meaty tender stem (the best part when young). It is a lucky year when you can eat cepe tartare for a month straight.
It was a magnificent season for Yellow-foot chanterelles, and I think they are my new ‘coup de coeur’. So delicate, yet flavourful, pretty and delicious fresh or dried. It took me years to ‘get’ this mushroom, and I don’t see why. Initially, I wasn’t taken with the way they went limp, but now I don’t mind that, and they do retain a certain chew. It has always been my go-to to candy, so cute and tasty when raisin like or made crispy, tastes like caramilk. But it is equally dynamite in savoury dishes when you want a little mushroom enhancement without it taking over the dish, say with fish or in a soft salad..
Amanites des Césars, trompettes de la mort – both always rare and hard work, but François was rewarded albeit with much time and mileage. These mushrooms are priceless. The first so buttery soft and unique, just gently sautéed; unfortunately there are never enough to go around. The latter is definitely one of François’ favourites (mine too!); he likes to make black omelettes, quite yummy. I prefer them at dinner and like to put them up to stretch out all year – to use in our mix, to make fresh cheese with, to take a potato dish up a notch. I say who needs truffle when you have trompettes – they have a similar complex earthy, musky aroma, but less stinky, more delicious - notes of cheese, artichoke, licorice, caramel, deep and lingering.
Now, it’s Armillaires and Matsutake, Polypore Hen of the Woods occupying my fridge space and time. More pickling this week! We should have stakes in the mason jar business.
The nasty ones were everywhere - a good season for ALL shrooms!
The first signs of autumn beauties are appearing, the last flight.. Bolets jaunes, cepes des meleize, pleurotes d’automne, coprins, lepiotes, tricolomes... Hoping the fall will live up to the summer!
One more month or so of dirty fingernails, mushroom fumes and dreams..
Mushroom season is in full swing..
The summer mushrooms were late, but now everything is shooting up at once! Every year, a scramble of some sort.. Lots of rain and almost enough sunshine, some wind - ideal conditions in many parts of the province, too wet in others. The pickers really have to time their picking.
Chanterelles, Lobster and Pied de Mouton are coming in by the crate. Yellow-foot chanterelles and various boletes too.
In fact there is a Chanterelle glut in the market now, imagine. This is good for the consumer (take advantage!), but no one else, never sustainable with people dumping their load, at best trying to cover costs. Maybe if the supermarkets sold local mushrooms, there would be enough buyers, fair prices and foragers could count on a paycheck. Every Joe Blow with a chanterelle patch is trying to sell to François, who has his own; I doubt they will be around next year. Longevity requires knowledge, networks, years of loss. That's another story.
The Trompettes have been a struggle as always though. François spent a lot of time and milage on very few. Thankfully, there are the others! Five giant Vesse de loup so far - early (very promising). There has been a constant trickle of pholiottes, boletes (and cepes), but it's tricky to find the pristine ones, to get there at the right time, to work them while they're tops. We were lucky to harvest a good amount of Pied Glabrescent and Pied rouge, compared to other years, both favourites to stock up on for dessert with their butterscotch, nutty, chocolate, fruity aromas.
Many of the Gaspesie mushrooms are big, firm looking and juicy (the picture perfect mushroom but in effect, water-logged), making them ultra perishable, so we're avoiding those for now.. Hopefully, they won't give up because besides François, that gang is our best.
Talk about reduced yield when drying.. I'm looking at 5% yield here for many batches. 10% is the max on average with normal stock, so honestly, I don't know how the imports can be sold for so cheap. The staff must be making 10 cents an hour.
Anyway, it's worth it, our Quebec mushrooms are stellar. I have processed 200 lb so far this week, with a couple of hundred already under the belt. Only a ton to go.. Between the freshly cooked on menus, the pickled, the dried, the derived products. That doesn't count the market. And people wonder what I do when we're not open..
Must take more pictures.. My walk-in is a sight. I'm quite sure none of you have ever seen so many mushrooms.
Now that I'm starting to feel the mushroom mania mode, I will have my mushroom event menu up shortly. I better! The reservations are coming in and I haven't even planned it yet.. I always wait until I'm living it, breathing shroomy aromas day in and day out, holding off to the last minute until I have a very good feeling of how the season will go.. Still forever a guessing game, as many varieties are nowhere near ready..
Where’s the veg?
I’m no vegetarian (actually wary of them), but I eat greens every day. Radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes too. Always another vegetable or two – fennel, salicorne, broccoli, eggplant; there isn’t a vegetable I don’t love.. At this time of year, it’s gorging time, I am way beyond the Canadian food guide. But even year round, this is my minimum. Not because I’m on some diet, purely for gustatory reasons. Because my body craves it. At least Five Veg a day, plus fruit in the morning. People don’t believe me, but it is true – every day.
Luckily I have a steady source for quality produce and a fruit&vegetable loving partner all in one package (once a farmer, now mostly a forager with the best farmer contacts). Not only can he find edibles in the woods, he has a magical green thumb, and he will scour the market for the ripest, healthiest specimens be it tomatoes, herbs or kohlrabi. He can sniff out the best melon, better than any chef.
Every night that we eat together, we start with the same salad – Tomatoes, Radishes, Cucumber, scallions, fresh Cheese, anchovy stuffed green Olives with a generous drizzle of good olive oil and a smaller drizzle of chilli oil (both Pettinicchi), a splash of 12yr balsamic, and a green salad on the side. Sometimes, we add endive, wild greens, a new arrival depending on the season, but the TRCFO backbone is religion. Then we move on to fish, pintade, onglet, moose or some good meat (200g or so for two) and another side or two of cooked veg – asparagus in spring, corn in summer, cauliflower, string beans, sea spinach etc., always cooked simply with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. I make a point of having an accompaniment such as rice, potatoes or polenta too - something to compliment the meat and sop up the sauce. François could do without both but I need my sauce and starch; the protein is like seasoning – essential but bonus. Regardless. In our home, salad and vegetables come first. On the nights after service when I eat solo, it’s the same salad, the same pattern. No matter how late it is, no matter what happened that day, it is my one simple extravagance - a good, balanced meal with a glass of wine; my reward, a comforting ‘period’ at the end of my day.
Living the country life with a small business, I don’t get out all that much, but when I do, I can’t help but notice that I almost always come back from dinner craving a salad. I’ve had many great meals in Montreal fine dining restaurants and bistros (more often these days it’s somewhere in-between) - often super tasty, inspired and enjoyable.. But seriously, amidst the large chunks of protein and fat laden delectable, carb rich sides, I find myself asking, where are the veg? Stellar wines, professional service, neat artwork, spectacular dishes and tricks up the ying-yang, so much thought put into every detail.. But where are the veg? It’s summer! A smear of root purée and a baby carrot, a few micro-greens, that’s it? No salads without beets and goat cheese, poached eggs or pork belly on the menu? If you’re local and seasonal (as everyone claims to be), for god sake, serve up some greens and vegetables in summer beyond a pretty garnish!
Maybe it is just me/us who is weird.. Maybe customers don’t want too much veg - that they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth with the big slab of meat. I can’t help but think of Les Chevres (which I thought was fabulous), but caused a stir back in the day with its veg driven menu.
I can say that I had a couple of refreshing meals recently, at Inferno and at Tuck shop, in that I didn’t rush home to eat a salad immediately. At Inferno, the salads and entrées were lively, loaded with fresh herbs, crisp radishes, zucchini, tomato, greens.. At Tuck shop, there were D’Avignon radishes with my tartare, fresh peas and corn in my Lobster salad, there was a hearty green salad that came with beans and more veg in the mélange. Like in other Montreal hotspots, the main courses are meat hefty; I’ve learnt that if I order enough appetizers, I am more likely to get my veg fix.
I realize that all Chefs should be true to themselves, serving it up however they want, and there is room for all kinds of restaurants, menus and markets. I love Martin Picard for doing his thing, even if I’m not dying to eat there on a regular basis. I also understand that most restaurateurs are going to play it safe and cater to the majority, who apparently are impressed with ridiculous portions in general, with more meat and pasta as opposed to veg. Personally, this is one trend that I hate. That makes me less inclined to go out to eat.
It makes no sense anyway. Everyone should be eating more local, fresh produce and less meat in general. Who needs such a heaping plate of anything. Quality over quantity. If you’re sourcing top quality natural meat, or even little veg from a farmer you know or you’re growing your own, making homemade bread and fries, you can’t/won’t overdo it, you won’t be piling it high without the customer balking at the price. Not to mention that less goes into the garbage in this scenario. Customers might actually wake up and value the good stuff if conscious and paying for it, encouraging restaurateurs to put more emphasis where it counts without them having to cut into their bottom line.. It’s all about relocating.. Everyone is so scared to take the big steak off the menu and buy a carcass to serve up more creative dishes in smaller portions, to spend more on local, fresh veg and serve up more veg. It all comes down to the customer wanting it.
It can’t only be me.
Sometimes, I don't know what to think about our local, sustainable food future despite our rich Quebec terroir, all the artisans, cooks and the swelling number of eaters so eager and excited about all that is happening here. The media promotes and carries the fervour; it all seems so promising. Yet behind the scenes, it isn't so rosy, actually so f-ing difficult on all levels..
When Genevieve came to deliver my lamb this week, I found out that my favourite little local producer (L’Agno et le Lapin in Ste-Julienne) would surely be shutting down soon enough, and my heart sank. I knew they were struggling, but I had hope. What to do.. No matter how passionate and hardworking, they cannot come out on top. They both have full time jobs now by necessity, so work around the clock. Five years in, they thought they would be ok; customers love their product and they sell it all, but every year there is some bad luck, an unexpected expense to eat up the minute profit margin, only constant hurdles always... Because nothing about our current food system favours the small producer who cares about quality, who dares to do something different. I saw Ferme Morgan fight to stay alive too for years whether they had the best organic duck, pintade, sanglichon and etc., or not.
Same with the gentleman farmer raising the venison adjacent to La Table des Jardins Sauvages. It costs him money to keep the operation going, and luckily he has enough to back up his love and determination to see it continue; but he too is just about ready to throw in the towel knowing he will never break even. When he told me there were 15 heads that were prime and ready, given that I can only feasibly take one now and another in a couple of weeks, I figured I’d put the word out and they’d be snapped up. Natural, top notch venison to sell at 5$Lb, what a great deal (no profit), I thought chefs would be all over it. But no - nothing. Hard to believe. This cerf rouge is the best. If you’re used to cerf du Boileau, you would not be disappointed. Ten times better than the beef you’re used to.
But the thing is, it comes by the carcass. Like most natural meat from small producers. It’s the normal way, the way it should be. It is not normal or sustainable to only eat chops and tenderloin. But apparently, this is what the chefs want because that is what the customers want. Restaurants are looking out for their bottom line, the easiest way to put food on the table and come in on budget. A whole carcass is more money upfront, and more labour, but cost efficient if you put the meat to good use. Obviously though, you can’t only have ‘ribssteak’ or 'cheeks' on your menu. Not even tongue (one per animal!). Hence, it requires creativity, passion and talented kitchen staff, which is hard to come by, granted. For most operations, ordering loins or ready to cook steaks they know they will sell is a no brainer, no matter how much they have to pay, regardless of the staff on hand. Most cooks don’t even know how to break down an animal anymore. Not that it’s rocket science, it’s just time.
It seems that everyone has been so out of tune with where their food comes from for so long that even amidst this trend of veering back towards local and sustainable, cooks and eaters have not grasped that this actually entails such inconvenient things as butchering and using the whole beast, or favouring perveyers that do. Not only on a special night out at some ‘nose to tail’ restaurant, but day to day. It comes down to really understanding that good meat should cost more than we’re used to, that it should be valued and perhaps used more sparingly, sourced and cooked carefully, and that a braise is as good as a chop, that you shouldn't have to buy bones for stock.
It’s not just chefs in their fast paced world of constraints who are to blame, it seems that no one wants to deal with a carcass anymore, not even butchers. We’ve come across several that order only cuts like restaurants. What? If butchers aren’t even butchering, our food system is more fucked than we think. It makes me laugh when I think of an article I read in the NYTimes a year or so ago about how ‘hot’ butchers were. Quelle joke, in Quebec anyhow. There certainly remain a handful of hardcores that serve a loyal clientele. But very few of the small guys doing things from scratch can survive, like the farmers. The abbatoirs are miles away now, they fear for their animals and know the quality wont be the same, they have to pass on the excessive costs to consumers who want the convenience of the supermarket. And the butchers want to compete with the supermarkets too.
It comes down to the industrial system winning out because consumers are supporting it. How else can you order a case of tenderloins or strips if it isn’t mass production? Where is the rest going? The only kind of farmer that can do this has to deal in numbers, forget about pasture, no choice but to use antibiotics and fattening feed, none of which makes good meat. To have their own slaughterhouse, their own butcher, it takes a huge enterprise. You can mostly forget about local, once happy, natural, traceable meat in this scenario. I can think of one operation that made it from small to medium-big retaining minimal integrity and other communities of small producers that collaborated in coops; there are solutions.. But these still fall into the small segment that is undervalued and not having an easy time..
Although there may be a handful of foodies starting to worry about how their meat is raised and the hidden truths behind those neat packages, the fact is everyone is so used to cheap meat, clean cuts and convenience now, that change in the marketplace is impossibly slow to non-existent.
I’m just sad. I might lose my best producers shortly. I stuck by them and did what I had to do even if it was not easy to balance the books, even if few customers realized the extra value on their plates they weren’t paying more for. What will I put on the menu now besides the wild plants? I will have to find other courageous, passionate producers who have not yet given up, go a little further afield. Or go back to sourcing the same industrial system as everyone else.
You know what? No. Whatever happens, I refuse. I’ll fold too if it comes to that.
That might make the MAPAQ happy. If it isn't the MAPAQ, it's Revenue Quebec or some other govt agency coming in to put sticks in our wheels (French expression), ie. making survival difficult for small business and artisans. Especially if you don't fit into one of their neat boxes and they don't understand what you're doing. But that's an other can of worms; we have our own set of hurdles that have me worn down. A blog post on the subject specific is bound to be a blog post one day.