As predicted, I have managed to make myself pretty busy of late, but one of the things I am up to is 20 hours of French classes a week. My trip to class takes me through the beautiful Parc La Fontaine every morning and back again at lunchtime. I amuse myself with the squirrels' antics on the walk through the park, and I was quite amazed when I first saw the elusive champagne-coloured ones that live there. This morning as I wandered through, I realised that apart from a couple of days in Adelaide in May 2009, I haven't experienced an autumn for over a decade. A decade! Quel surprise! Maybe it's the novelty of it all, but I am finding this autumn in Montréal especially spectacular.
Last week, Amy, one of my oldest friends from my hometown, came to visit for five days. On her first day I took her for a walk up the Mont-Royal. It was yet another gloriously sunny day, and tiny yellow leaves were gently raining down through the sun's golden rays onto the wide, wide path. Oh, just stop it, you! We were both seriously impressed.
One of the great pleasures of a Northern autumn is harvest season, and the boys and I have been solid in our appreciation of that. The weekend before last we went apple picking at Vergers Philion, near Hemmingford, down by the U.S. border. Philion is an organic orchard and the air was filled with lady birds. I spent a busy five minutes trying to stop one or two from risking drowning in the port-a-loos on first arrival, only to realise there were 50 more banging on the door trying to get in. I just had to leave Mother Nature to deal with it in the end.
We picked about 7.5kg of apples and pears, and my great excitement of the day was Russet apples. I had never heard of them before: tough skinned, sweet and very firm in texture, they were once known as leatherjackets, and were hugely popular in Victorian times, though now fallen somewhat out of favour for anything other than cider production. What I was most fascinated to see were the 'cracked' ones on the first few trees we encountered. Cracking is technically a fault, caused by inconsistent water supply during the formation of the fruit, but it appealed to my Ugly can be beautiful too philosophy, and I picked a cheery armful, much to Lolo's bemusement. They were superb with cheese and bubbles the next day when we had visitors.
The other produce we couldn't help but see on our little road trip was pumpkin: totally ubiquitous around here at the moment! Strangely, though, Canadians don't eat that much pumpkin, certainly nothing like Australia's obsessive consumption from weaning to old folks' home. I'm having contraband thoughts of sneaking some seeds of my beloved Jap variety in from the Old Country to blow the minds of a few folks I know who think of them as only for making pie and as decorations. We've been busy eating pumpkin and peanut dip, pumpkin risotto, roast pumpkin, pumpkin in tagine, and roasted pumpkin seeds, peasants that we are! Interestingly, I encountered an article this week by a Paris-based writer, David Lebovitz, who noted that, despite the Légumes Oubliés movement in France, pumpkins still have too much of an association with war-time deprivation there to be commonly found in the markets. I also recall relatives of my former Italian bosses dismissing them as "pigs' food".
Autumn, pumpkins, Russets: forgotten, ignored or neglected all. When combined with a five-day visit from a beloved friend of over 20 years, it has been quite a pleasant couple of weeks of appreciating the Forgotten.
P.S. I've read no more of Proust than his infamous homage to the madeleine, but having been eating said cakelet for breakfast a bit lately, I can quite appreciate what all his fuss was about!
Cracked Golden Russet apples:
hitting every branch on the way down as they fall out of the Ugly Tree!