Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's Cookin' Good Lookin?

It occurs to me that some of you, not having the benefit of daily contact with veggies, may be curious as to what exactly is in season here in Georgia. Most folks could probably match pumpkins with October or tomatoes with July, but what about the rest of the supermarket's bounty? In the grand tradition of 24 hour one-stop shopping and all-you-can-eat, the average grocery offers all "staple" crops and a gracious plenty of the fancier stuff year 'round. Often, the only clue as to seasonality comes from the price--the more expensive it is, the less likely it is to be in season. But even this can be misleading. With countries like Chile and Argentina operating on the Southern hemisphere's upside down seasons, this week's special might be a fruit no one outside of California could actually be growing.

Why would you want to eat with the seasons? The reasons are myriad, and if you've read this far you probably have at least an inkling. Flavor is perhaps the most straightforward reason; I won't even touch a peach (my all time favorite food) outside of peach season as the mealy, flavorless rocks that populate the grocery the other 10 months of the year are altogether useless, except perhaps as projectiles. The degree to which season and freshness affect taste varies from species to species, but it is not a stretch to say that produce always tastes better in its natural ripeness time after minimal transport.

As I put the trays of transplants in the bed of our truck to drive them out to the field for planting, I tell them to enjoy the feel of the wind in their leaves, as the 5 minute ride will be their first and last fossil-fueled journey. If you are the environmentalist type, the carbon footprint of a food increases exponentially as you eat it out of season. If it can be grown here, why not eat it when it is?

On a more philosophical level, anticipation breeds appreciation. After waiting all year long for those luscious peaches to ripen, I want to write hymns of praise to the first juicy orb that crosses my plate. I never do, though, as my mouth is always too full. Barbara Kingsolver says it best in her recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:
The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint--virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of the nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: browbeating our teenagers with the message that they shoud wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait, to experience intercourse under the ideal circumstances (the story goes), will they know its true value. "Blah, blah, blah," hears the teenager: words issuing from a mouth that can't even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now. We're raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indescriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires.
Though I could go on, I'll get to my point. I'll try to do this semi-regularly, both to keep y'all apprised of what we're pulling from our fields and (I hope!) to facilitate your developing a locavore's palate. If, on your next foray to the grocery, you decide to give this whole seasonal thing and shot, here is what to look for:
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Turnips (I'll eat Hakureis like apples; I'm not even kidding)
  • Swiss chard
  • Beets
  • Asparagus
  • Arugula
  • Spring onions, aka scallions
  • Lots of cool Asian greens for salads or stir fry: bok choy, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, and mispoona
  • Mushrooms
Or better yet, hit up a farmer's market this Saturday and see what treasures some local whiz-farmer has managed to coax from the soil!

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