Agrotourism: Madame La Courge
When fall comes to Montreal, apple lovers and friends can usually be found stuck in traffic as they escape to the Rougemont or Laurentians orchards for a basketful of fresh air and an orgy of apple nibbling, picking and tractor a-ridin’.
Since Junior’s daycare had already planned such an outing, our little family chose the road less traveled and made its way to Saint-Joseph-du-Lac for an afternoon of fun and exploration in the fields of Centre d’interprétation de la courge, the squash farm which won Quebec’s 2002 Regional Tourism Grand Prize.
The Mommy-approved, Daddy-following plan? A nice walk in the multicoloured fields punctuated by hundreds of squash from more than a dozen misshapen varieties; a bit of nibbling in the outdoor snackbar serving up Butternut fries; and a short visit in Les Vents d’Ange vineyard gracing the hillside (unfortunately stripped of its grapes which, I am told, can be picked straight from the vine earlier in the season).
For those who prefer shopping to do-it-yourself, a giant outdoor stand lets you “pick” your gourd-on-the-go: pumpkin, acorn squash, spaghetti, butternut, crookneck, turban, etc. The two most popular because of their delicious taste are the blue Hubbard and the Pink Banana.
Admission is free, wheel barrows are recommended and you pay whatever bounty you picked when exiting. Your afternoon in the sun left you hungry for more? A bakery on site offers squash-y treats, a bistro welcomes you with a surprisingly diverse menu and there’s even a taste bar inside the winery for the sommelier slumbering in you.
Kiddo would have loved to play in the nifty tree house and hang from the giant tires, but next time: the Oka L’Artisan cheese bought earlier during a food spree at the Oka Abbey Store a stone’s throw away was starting to smell the worse for wear…
Stored in a cool, dark place, winter squash should keep up to a year if the skin is intact. But since I was sending you squash picking, I figured a few recipes to enjoy the fruit of your labour may come in handy. Plus, I wanted to take advantage of Junior’s fascination with the monstrous squash he proudly brought home. Yes, for this four-year-old, vegetables remain the enemy.
Creamy squash and apple soup with curry and maple
When a guest recommends you keep your recipe secret and can you protect it with a copyright do you think, you get the feeling this is a definite winner. Squash, apple, maple syrup, curry: no doubt about it, this is a surprising blend of ingredients. But it works. It may even be the best vegetable soup I have ever — ever — tasted. So here is squash recipe #1. Do tell me if you enjoyed it.
• 1 large squash or 2 small ones of your choosing (butternut, Hubbard, acorn squash, etc., I used a butternut and an acorn)
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) butter
• 1 diced large onion
• 2 apples, peeled, seeds and cores removed, cut into chunks
• 1 L (4 cups) chicken broth
• 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) curry powder
• 60 ml (1/4 cup) real maple syrup
• pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
• 15% or 35% cream, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
2. Cut squash in two and remove seeds. Pour on some oil and season. Place on a cooking sheet, cut side down, then bake 45 to 60 minutes until tender and slightly roasted.*
2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook the onion in butter until transparent and set aside.
3. Once squash is cooked, remove flesh with a spoon and add to pot, along with apple and broth. You want the broth to cover vegetables by at least 2.5 cm (1 inch).
4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add maple syrup and curry powder, and adjust seasoning.
5. Blend using an immersion blender or a standard one. Strain to achieve a smooth consistency (I know, this step can be a pain, but the results are worth it, plus kids hate lumps.) Serve with a few drops of cream, if desired.
* Squash can be roasted 1-2 days ahead of time, just spoon out flesh and keep in an airtight container.