Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tis the Season...

When you live and work on a farm, it's easy to eat locally and seasonally, right? Well...sort of. I certainly know what is in season on our farm: spinach, radishes, turnips, beets, and lots of lovely greens). But one of those pitfalls of being a self-professed foodie is that you quite often stumble across recipes that are willfully anachronistic: summer berry cobblers that you discover in the depths of February's doldrums, or the most divine-sounding curried sweet potato soup which you, of course, learn of in May. Then there are the fruits and veggies that appear at the store without any clue as to their proper season or provenance, kumquats for example, or mangoes. I've had an exotic produce fetish since elementary school, when my mother finally caved to my wheedling and bought me a star fruit (how a star fruit found its way into a Kroger in the early 90's I'll never know). So despite my best intentions to live simply, eat locally, and tune in to the seasons, the dual temptations of Epicurious and the Dekalb Farmer's Market have co-opted me on more than one occasion. For example, this weekend.

Lately, strawberries seem to be everywhere. I walk into the grocery store and am met by an enormous rack of them, on special. I visit The Hil, and the cake du jour is strawberry with strawberry ice cream. Or I open the latest issue of Edible Atlanta to discover not one but two recipes for strawberry shortcake in one 25-page magazine. Then there's the fact that Jack, Paige, and I have been weeding last year's strawberry bed off and on for about two weeks now--the strawberry plants had all sent out runners and merged into an enormous green mat on which weeds of every shape and size have flourished. While the weeding extravaganza seems to have put Jack off of strawberries for the foreseeable future, I found that bonding with the berries had only heightened my anticipation for the season. Alas, all that we have for now is an attractive carpet of white flowers which will not yield fruit for another several weeks, at least.

So after a bit of brainstorming, I found my justification for indulging my urge. Since Christmas, I have been eying a recipe for a strawberry, rhubarb, and caramelized onion preserves in Homegrown Pure and Simple, and I told myself that if I ever planned to produce this delightful concoction for sale (did I mention that I aspire to master canning, jamming, and pickling this year, along with farming, climbing, slacklining, and maybe guitar? I dream big) I ought to practice it several times before the season kicks off. Standing before the strawberry display at the Dekalb Farmer's Market, I had my second moment of truth: organic or conventional. The merits of organic strawberries are substantial--not only are organic growing methods better for soil health, but conventional strawberries get sprayed with a cocktail of 36 pesticides, which thin strawberry skins absorb like toddlers with swear words. I debated. I'm not particularly loaded (those organic babies would run me a good $2 more), and this was preserve-making session was after all only a trial run, and the Farmer's Market only accepts cash, on which I was running low... But I bought the organic strawberries, shipped all the way from Cali (as were the conventional), and told myself that I was at least trying to be a responsible consumer.

Finally, Friday arrived and I began prepping my
ingredients. The onions of course reduced me to tears within seconds; juicing lemons with my poor, battered farmer hands turned the onion-tears into a flood. But I really felt like crying when I started slicing strawberries. They had no scent! There was this lovely little box of firm, red berries, and not a whiff of the redolent strawberry aroma. I decided to take a taste. Even worse! While they looked like strawberries and had the texture of strawberries, I have tasted wild strawberries from my front yard with a more potent punch than those bland berries. I stared at my bowl. Looked out the window where thunder was rolling and lightening massing in the distance. Signed and reached for my keys. So I spent my Friday night sniffing my way through boxes of Publix strawberries in search of taste.

Once home again I continued with my recipe and, I am happy to report, successfully canned the resulting preserves. The recipe still needs tweaking, however, so until I have consulted with my uber-elite tasting squad and incorporated their feedback into batch two (or three, or four), I will resist tempting you, gentle reader, with an unseasonable recipe. In the meantime, grab yourself some Florida kumquats, as I just learned that their season ends this month!

1 comment:

Kate said...

First of all, that's a concoction I'm certainly anxious to try. Maybe I can persuade you to send me a jar of the properly tweaked version (in exchange for a canning lesson? I'm a master!).

Secondly, I commiserate with your unseasonable lusting. I handle it two ways - when the lust is produce-induced (i.e., seeing those gorgeous berries in the market), I do what you did and make a mindful choice that includes factors like, will I be able to get these locally later? How far did they travel to be here? Will they really satisfy me? And, how many times have I succumbed to sultry produce this month? This method usually permits me the occasional Christmastime bag of mandarin oranges (oh, heaven!), but dissuades me from purchasing those unseasonable cantaloupes for my chilled melon soup.

If the food-lust is recipe-induced, however, and the ingredients are items I would be able to attain locally at some point, I have a strict in-season-only policy. (There's this Guatemalan sweet corn custard I have been aching to make since last November... ooohhh... fall! hurry up!) In an era where people can have whatever we want, whenever we want, we're responsible for imposing our own strictures to recreate the value of rarity. And how much better is that corn going to taste??!!

All that said, i just got finished baking a hummingbird cake with bananas and pineapples in it. So I'll dismount my high horse now. Sigh.

Missing you!