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April – that tease – is the cruelest month, and I love her

April, 2011

Aahh Spring! April is the cruelest month, wrote Eliot, doling out lilacs. If he were in Montreal, he would be talking not just about one month, but about spring, which rarely lasts as long as April.

My wife, Celina, born in Poland, once said that I, born and raised in Montreal, never knew spring and she was right. Our spring is a fortnight crammed between winter and summer, between slush and mud. When we were In Poland in the spring, I noticed that things moved more slowly, the days were warm, and nights were cool. Europe has four seasons, each about three months long. I find such steadfastness amazing. For me, that is the essential difference between Europe, with its traditions, history and respect for the past, and North America, where time is money and we never have time for anything, not even Spring.

In Krakow, I moved between coat and jacket, sweater and shirt. Layers came off comfortably. Here they are thrown off in desperation. My inner town crier shouts: “Hear Ye! Get that spring while it is still here.”

The day before the equinox, I wore sandals. To hell with it, I muttered, spring is about to be here. I was determined to embrace her as, briefly, the sun was shining; and then, of course it was minus-3 Celsius that night.

April is the cruelest month because it is a tease. How else could we make maple syrup were it not for those teasing warmish days and coolish nights? We are teased into spring with a promise of budding pussy willows and a crocus poking through the snow.

I shovel the snow from my balcony, urgently promising to reward myself with that first spring barbecue. Inevitably, after I toss the last shovelful onto the yard, a weather warning announces a snowfall. I contemplate removing snow tires from my bike and car and won’t dare do either until at least the middle of the month.

April is a horrible month. I love it so. It breaks the back of winter even as March promised to do so and failed.

For the Flavourguy, April is a problem. We have not yet cooked all the winter dishes that I had planned. All, the foods that I had laid down for a cold season of eating. Bigos—that wonderful Polish hunter’s stew, will not get made again this year. The salt cod might suffer freezer burn if it does not get used soon. The double portions of cassoulet are almost finished (beans again?).

Now we anticipate early local asparagus. I go to the Jean-Talon market eager to see whether Alain Darsigny has stopped importing vegetables from the southern U.S.A. and Mexico and is filling his bins with local produce. Already, by mid-March, the first season’s canning of maple syrup was at the market.

Passover has its own demands and the order of the service dictates the bitter and the sweet. The haroset—that masonry confection made from dried fruits, nuts and wine—is the last remnant of winter for me. Winter is the time of eating what was preserved. Spring awakens the senses and Passover promises greenery and flowers and the first season’s taste of fresh local vegetables. Passover comes at the full moon, bridging one month to another and the winter past to the spring of hope.

April is the cruelest month, the tenderest month and far too short.

In preparation for spring, I suggest the simplest of pleasures: Quebec asparagus, steamed just beyond toothsome but not too limp, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and kosher salt and drizzled with lemon. Place a small knob of fresh, sweet butter on top and let it slowly melt. Eat it with the fingers as the Gods of spring, and Emily Post, intended.



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