“Would I be interested, as a food blogger, to be matched to one of 2012′s trendiest organic products from Québec?” The invitation came from Expo Manger santé et vivre vert, the annual healthy living tradeshow whose 15th Edition will be held in Montreal from March 16 to 18. Given that I have my own Facebook page (see right, in French only) dedicated to local products, my enthusiastic answer was kind of a given.
One week later, a mysterious box landed on my kitchen counter, its contents enough to take one’s breath away: a veritable cornucopia of shiitake and oyster mushrooms met my eyes, in hues I had never suspected existed, pink, grey, brown, blue… They instantly filled the house with their woodsy aroma. The thrilling fungi had been delivered directly to my house by Monsieur Basilic located in nearby Saint-Placide, in Québec’s Lower Laurentians.
The next Saturday, with kiddo in tow, I headed towards Oka to visit Monsieur Basilic’s greenhouses, and meet with Maryse and Dino, two food adventurers with decidedly green thumbs and unique “raw” talent.
Created in 1994, Monsieur Basilic first specialized in the local culture of greenhouse tomatoes and Lebanese cucumbers. But with their high quality standards, they found it hard to compete with Ontario producers who used Quebec to unload their tomato surpluses at prices well below production costs. So Maryse and Dino decided to turn their home kitchen into an R&D lab of sorts where they experimented with new products, one seed at a time. Soon, more greenhouses sprouted on their Saint-Placide lot, initially devoted to the culture of popular basil and arugula. Today, fields of miraculous microgreens, salads and fine herbs occupy most of the company’s seven greenhouses, alongside small refrigerated chambers devoted to their extraordinary mushrooms.
Forget the romance: a farmer’s life, whether they work in the fields or inside a greenhouse, is beyond tough. You need to be immeasurably passionate and on the job 24/7. So how does one stay motivated through the years? “We love R&D,” explains Maryse, ever-smiling and totally oblivious to the mud under her fashionable black boots. “There’s always a new project, a new seed, another challenge. For example, we experimented with several varieties of mushrooms, like Lion’s Mane, but nobody knew them, so there was no demand. We settled on oyster mushrooms and shiitakes as a result…”
So how irresistible are Monsieur Basilic’s products? Let’s say my green-hating 5-year-old may have been spied nibbling on edible nasturtium, far away from prying eyes. Because according to said young’un: “Flowers are good eats but they’re also girly, ‘kay Mom?”
If their famous potted basil can be found in major Quebec food banners, you will have to visit Monsieur Basilic’s website to find a location nearest you for their amazing potted sprouts (or call to see if they have home delivery in your area). Or you could wait for the day when the food-processing kitchen and roadside stand finally open, one of those projects that keep Maryse going.
With more and more of us increasingly wary of industrial products and their lengthy ingredient lists, edible potted plants provide a healthy renewable alternative. Here are 5 tips from Monsieur Basilic to help them thrive for several weeks, if not months, in your home. Good luck!
1 - Place your potted edibles in a well-lighted area.
2 - Notwithstanding #1, do NOT place your pots on a windowsill. They hate temperature variations, especially in winter. (This applies most strongly to basil.)
3 - Always water from the bottom with room-temperature water.
4 - Water once a day, every day.
5 - Only provide enough water to barely cover the bottom of your pot holder, so the roots may draw it slowly. More than that and you will drown your plants.