Ode to June: peonies and Pimm’s

June is without a doubt my favourite month. It marks the transition between spring and summer. Fresh growth carpets the city; green, and bursting with life. The sun is bright and the days are long and warm; the nights temperate.

But it gets even better: with peonies and Pimm’s.

Peonies appear like clockwork at the beginning of the month, starting with the tree peonies followed, for a glorious few weeks, by herbaceous varieties.

peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

The quintessential, perennial, peonies have it all going on. They’re easy to grow, drought-resistant and hardy to zone 3. They’re outrageously beautiful and sweetly fragrant when in bloom. When not in bloom they sport lush green foliage with handsome glossy leaves. And your peony may well live longer than you do. Some varieties have been known to live for 100 years.

Peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Peonies have inspired many a writer, and literary references abound. My favorite is that of poet John Keats. In his Ode on Melancholy, Keats wrote of the “wealth of glob’d peonies”— peonies in their final stage of development before they burst open—as a moment when anticipation of the beauty to be revealed by the opening of the bud represents the joy in life, even if it is fleeting.

And that’s the thing about peonies. They’re around for a month and then they’re gone. I have peonies in my garden, but never quite enough to harvest them en masse to fill the house for those few precious weeks when they are available. So I buy them.

Pale peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

My absolute favourite source for cut peonies in Montreal is a small family-run flower stand at the Atwater market (across from the fish store). Starting in May, and only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they will sell you what is in their garden beginning with blossoms, lilacs and lily of the valley – and in June, buckets of peonies going for a song.

Peonies at the market

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Even if it’s across town, it’s so well worth the visit if you get excited about the prospect of the early summer’s wealth of fresh local cut flowers!

Welcoming in the summer brings me to the second great pleasure I associate with June: Pimm’s. As soon as the weather warms up, Pimm’s becomes my drink of choice. It’s the perfect summer cocktail, made more perfect by the addition of seasonal strawberries, cucumber and mint.

Pimms bottle papermag 1

(Source: papermag.com)

Pimm’s originated in 1840 in an Oyster Bar owned by James Pimm in the City of London. He created the Pimm’s ‘House Cup’, later called the No 1 Cup, using gin, quinine and a secret mixture of fruit extracts and herbs to aid digestion. It caused quite a storm at the time, and remains as popular as ever. It’s a staple drink at summer events  in the UK,  such as Wimbledon where over 80,000 pints are sold every year.

pimms keep calm (keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

(Source: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

I came of age in the UK and cut my drinking chops on shandies (beer and lemonade) and Pimm’s. When I moved to Quebec in the late 1990s, Pimm’s wasn’t available at the SAQ and so I stocked up each summer in Ontario. But things have changed and it’s now widely available throughout North America, including here in Montreal. I urge you to pick up a bottle this summer and mix up a batch of the Original Pimm’s No 1 for your drinking and entertaining pleasure.

Pimms spoonstosporks

(Source: spoontosporks.com)

Here’s how:

  • Fill a jug with ice.
  • Pour over the ice: 1 part Pimm’s No 1 with 3 parts ‘lemonade’ (in Britain ‘lemonade’ refers to a clear carbonated lemonade soft drink that has nothing to do with a home-made lemonade made with real lemons and sugar. British ‘lemonade’ is only available in specialty UK food stores. Good substitutes are Mountain Dew, 7-Up, Sprite or Ginger Ale).
  • Add mint leaves, thin cucumber slices, orange slices and strawberry (you can play around with the fruit accompaniments, but mint and cucumber are essential).

cut up fruit

(Source: foodcomas.com)

It’s so tasty that you will forget it’s actually alcoholic (25% proof).  You’ve been warned.

Happy June everyone.

– Sarah

Heirloom tomatoes and tarts

It’s time to start planting your garden. If you are like me, you yearn for a sunny vegetable garden, but have to make do with a deck and some planters. Because space is limited, the decision about what to grow becomes important. I prioritize my herb choices, happily giving up parsley for sage, and losing oregano to thyme. And when it comes to tomatoes, I look for heirloom varieties, because if I can only grow a couple of plants I want them to be interesting, packed with flavour and gorgeous.

heirloom gourmet fury

Source (cropped): goumetfury.com

 What are the characteristics of “heirloom” vegetables?

  • Old. There is agreement that heirloom varieties must be old although no agreement on how old. Some say over 100 years, others say over 50 years, and still others other point to 1945 which coincided with the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies.
  • Open-pollinated. Heirloom varieties must be open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanisms and are, by definition, not hybrids.
  • Cultivars. Heirlooms of all types are cultivated varieties (not wild) that have been deliberately selected for specific characteristics, and demonstrate consistent flavour, texture, colour and yields, for example.

Apart from their good looks and their great taste, it is vital to keep a wide range of heirloom vegetables (and flowers, trees, and livestock) growing from year to year to maximize the gene pool for future generations because vegetable varieties can become extinct just like any other living thing.

heirloom gardentherapy

Source: gardentherapy.com

It is thought that in the 20th century alone, around 75% of food crop varieties disappeared due to the spread of industrial agriculture and the movement of farmers towards monoculture – focusing on one crop – in the case of tomatoes, hybridized varieties bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. This alarming rate of genetic erosion places our conventional food supply at risk from plant epidemics and infestations as the line between abundance and potential disaster becomes thinner and thinner.

heirloom tomatoes (npr.com)

Source: npr.com

At Galerie CO we’re promoting heirloom tomatoes for Mother’s Day. On Saturday May 10 and Sunday May 11 we will give away a free heritage tomato seedling with any purchase of $60.00 and over (not including tax). The seedlings are grown organically in the Eastern Townships by Gwynne Basen of Tomatoes Etc. The offer is good until we run out of seedlings with a limit of one seedling per customer.

heirloom Tomato CostolutoGenoveseZ

Source: loghouseplants.com

To get you thinking about the culinary delicacies you could concoct with said tomatoes, I’m going to leave you with a mouth-watering recipe for an heirloom tomato tart from Julia Dawson, a wonderful Montreal food writer. This recipe appeared on the blog “The Main” and was inspired by the fresh heirloom tomatoes grown at Montreal’s Lufa Farms, which we featured recently on the blog.

heirloom tomato tart the main mtl

Source: www.themainmtl.com

Heirloom tomato tart

Serves 6

For the filling and topping:

  • 5 ounces goat’s cheese
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (plus a couple sprigs for garnish)
  • 3-4 small/medium sized tomatoes, cut into ½” slices
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

For the tart crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3to 4 tablespoons ice water

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt together. Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (there should be a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining). Add 2 tablespoons ice water through the feeding tube of the food processor. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Be careful not to over-mix, as it will toughen the dough.

On a floured surface, shape dough lightly into a disk. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days).

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough into a round that is a couple of inches larger than your pie plate. Prick the dough with a fork and wrap it around rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of the baking plate and trim the excess.

Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes (pre-baking a crust like this is called “baking blind” – it will help it from getting soggy from the filling).

Assembly:

In a medium bowl lightly toss to combine shallots, thyme and goat cheese. Spread into the bottom of warm tart shell and using the back of a spoon, spatula, or your fingers to cover bottom of tart.

Arrange tomato slices in a fan pattern with edges slightly overlapping each other. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes and top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly before serving.

heirloom tomato-varieties tomato geeks

Source: tomatogeeks.com

What are your favourite tomato recipes? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter . We love to hear from you!

How sweet it is

Normally in March the maple syrup season is in full swing, but this year’s long and harsh winter has delayed its start. Maple trees need cold nights and warm days to get their sap flowing. Ideal conditions are daytime highs of 5 C and night-time lows of -5 C.

That’s tropical compared to what we’ve been up against this month!

But….it’s all going to change this weekend. Finally! Yay! Warmer temperatures mean the sap will start running and although the maple syrup season may be short it will definitely be sweet.

If you’re feeling inspired, try this apple, walnut and bacon green salad from Québec’s own Ricardo who obviously knows a thing or two about maple syrup. First off, he caramelizes the walnuts in it! And then he adds bacon – the perfect pairing. Genius.

Ricardo salad

Have a great weekend!