There was a time when autumn in Montreal was my favourite season – the crisp air and quickened pace, dappled sunlight on red and yellow leaves in Mont-Royal Park, everyone stylish in their new fall-season fashions. Idyllic really. Yet at some point in the past five years, I became a summer person, happiest in its heat, whether urban frenzy or country calm. High summer is also when I discovered that I really like vegetable farming (in small doses), though a visit to any of Montreal’s markets proves that both farming and farm-fresh bounties continue well into September and October…
Autumn brings an array of crops to Jean Talon Market, Atwater Market and farmers’ markets around town, who in turn supply Montreal restaurants specializing in the freshest of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
While winter squash like butternut, acorn, spaghetti and pumpkin (the small round ones make the best pie) might spring to mind as the typical traditional fall harvest crop, brassica greens – kale, broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens, kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga – also love Quebec’s weather this time of year. They’re versatile, high in nutrients and some are spicy enough to skip the hot sauce.
Huge baskets of Roma tomatoes call out to chefs intent on making the best sauce in the city and friends and families who get together for sauce-making parties (I have a jar waiting in my fridge!). Fresh herbs, carrots and beets add colour and flavour to meals, not to mention all the locally produced onions and garlic available right now, perfect for storing well into winter (garlic cloves freeze really well).
Among the lesser-known crops that liven up plates this season are celeriac, daikon and Jerusalem artichokes. Celeriac – one of the most under-appreciated vegetables, according to my farmer friends at Ferme Lève-Tôt – looks like a mini brain, but can be stored for months and adds a mild, creamy celery flavour to soups and other cozy-making dishes. Daikon and other storage radishes add bite to stir-fries, and Jeruselem artichokes are a good starch alternative to rice or potatoes – though potatoes are also a plentiful fall harvest crop.
With such heartiness abounding, I need to stress that sweetness isn’t sacrificed at this time of year – look out for cantaloupes, honeydew and small, sweet watermelons, as well as small purple plums and, of course, apples of all varieties. ’Tis the season to make pie! And eat it.
Finally, perhaps add a dash of history to your harvest season and visit Maison Saint-Gabriel, a 19th-century New France farmhouse and museum in Pointe-Saint-Charles, where the gardens overflow.
Jean Talon Market, 7070 Avenue Henri Julien, (514) 277-1588
Atwater Market, 138 Avenue Atwater, (514) 937-7754
Maison Saint-Gabriel, 2146 Place Dublin, (514) 935-8136