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Cooking Seasonally in a Northern City

One could say Quebec is a city of extremes: we have both very hot and humid summers (like the 30°C / 70% humidity average we’ve had since the end of June) and snowy and really cold winters (it can easily drop to -30°C in January). Two winters ago, we beat all records by getting more than 500 cm of snow in one winter – that’s 16.5 ft! E and I were able to walk to the roof of our house without using a ladder…! Although this is exceptional, we still average around 350 cm every winter. We are far from being the northern city in the province of Quebec, but experts say we are “perfectly positioned” to get the greatest accumulations. If it was any warmer, we’d get more rain (like in Montreal), if it was colder, we’d get less snow.

Recently, I was given a beautiful book about seasonal cooking. I was enthusiastic: I thought a book allowing you to pick and choose recipes according to the season was a great tool. I opened the book and the more I turned pages, the more frustrated I grew: Orange and Beet Salad in Winter? Raspberry Pancakes in early spring? We just got raspberries at the market and it’s late July. I quickly flipped over to the author bio to confirm what I suspected: she’s from San Francisco. I thought, isn’t it easy to cook seasonally when you live in a warm climate all year round? I started to wonder how the whole “local food movement” could translate in a Northern province like Quebec. I really want to cook sustainable food, encourage our local economy and make environmentally friendly choice, but is it really possible to have a diversified and colorful diet if you don’t have access to fresh local produce 6 months a year? I like beets, beans, carrots, apples and berries but I can’t let go of avocados, citrus fruits, melons and cherries.

Figuring I wasn’t willing to go back to my grandparents’ winter diet of beef, potatoes, carrot and cabbage stews, I thought I should at least figure out what’s local and seasonal here in Quebec City during the summer months (from late May to October). Right in that period of deep soul-searching (will I have to move to California or what?!), my sister-in-law told me about a farm not too far out of the city that sells subscriptions to “summer baskets”. Every week, you get 25$ worth of fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables. I loved the idea: I had heard about these delivered organic baskets in Montreal and Paris but not yet in Quebec City. I decided to visit the farm to figure out if this could be a good option for me.

Turns out I was charmed. The great thing about Quebec (aside from its -30°C and 500 cm of snow winters, ahem) is that you don’t have to drive far out to get to the countryside. Sure enough, a short 30 minutes ride later, I was in the middle of vegetable crops, the smell of ripe strawberries floating through the air. So I decided to challenge myself to learn to cook seasonally by subscribing to the summer baskets, which would start at the beginning of July (nothing’s really ready before that) and end in October.

The great thing about this farm (which is called “Ferme Rochon” – Rochon being the name of the family operating it) is that they don’t deliver door to door. For some, it may be a disadvantage but I thought it made sense. If I’m going to choose an environmentally friendly cooking lifestyle, I don’t want the farm to burn hundreds of liters of gasoline driving all over the city to deliver their baskets. They have two pickup counters, one right in the city, the other directly at the farm where clients like me go pick up their fruits and veggies at a precisely given time every week. I just picked up my third summer basket week and I love it. It forces me to be a lot more imaginative and – most importantly – eat a lot more vegetables than I usually do. Here’s what I got the first week:

  • Snow peas
  • Yellow beans
  • Yellow and green zucchinis
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Green onions
  • Garlic Flower
  • Basil
  • Strawberries
  • A dozen fresh farm eggs

Not bad eh? I have many great recipes to share from my first experiences of seasonal cooking. Maybe one day I’ll publish the Northern answer to the beautiful book I got as a gift, how about that?

2 Responses to Cooking Seasonally in a Northern City

  1. Sonia says:

    We have the same «family farmer» as we say here !!! It is our third year and we are so very happy about this experience… friends and neighbours are now following us !

    I also like the fact that our kids ask us to come to the farm and choose the products with us. I am proud about this ! My kids know where their food comes from, and they appreciate it so much more. Every week, the basket is a surprise we expect with febrility !

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