Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Joy of Seasonal Eating

Alright, I will admit it…at one time in my life, I bought strawberries out of season, and Chilean grapes in the dead of winter. We even drove to C’ville in hopes that a salad with a tomato in February (or March) would actually taste like those items should. Wrong!

The out of season food purchases of long ago only served to make us more committed to learning about seasonal eating, to put up what we could, and be much more creative with our food choices.

Here in the Valley of the Shenandoah, we just can’t have some food items year ‘round. For that matter, there are some food items that we just cannot produce. This is not a problem unless you are completely committed to “LOCAL”. If that’s the case, you are going to have serious eating issues! Personally, I have some “issues” with this “issue”, so you can be certain I will revisit “LOCAL” at some point in time.

The rhythm of the seasons is marked by the availability of different crops. The anticipation of these crops grow as the crops mature. It is always exciting to see the first tiny vegetables forming on the plants. Once the craving for this crop is satisfied, it is time for the next in the cycle. Early asparagus gives way to broccoli which in turn gives way to green beans, and then dark leafy greens before broccoli makes a return appearance in the fall.

While we put up a good deal of our own food for winter eating, and now offer it for sale to our “winter sales group”, nothing matches the taste sensation of the first meal of any one vegetable crop. The same can be said for fruits, although their goodness is more sporadic through the year.

The first strawberry, stolen from the patch while mowing, (yes, I did see that, TOM!)

is so tantalizingly sweet and tart…it calls us back for another and another. By then end of the short berry season, we have eaten our fill, put up loads for winter, and are actually glad to see the end of the ruby red berries.

Presently, we are just beginning to harvest the squash.
We have an annual debate as to what is better, yellow squash, green beans, or sliced tomatoes. We have never been able to declare one vegetable as the clear winner. Each one has its distinct appeal.

While a lot of folks find that the zucchini overtake the garden, the refrigerator, and possibly their lives, we just love it!

We can’t supply enough for our Market customers at times. The golden zucchini is particularly popular.

A sidenote: if a zucchini can be hollowed out to use for a canoe…it is TOO large for human consumption! As with most vegetables, it is best on the small side. Then it can be sautéed, boiled, fried, put in sauce, salad, soup, breads, muffins, cookies, pancakes. There is SO much you can do with it. I really hate to see it go in the fall.

It will still be a while before the tomatoes are ready for harvest.

There is no way to re-create biting into a juicy tomato fresh off the vine on a hot summer day. Tomatoes that make it to the grocery store must travel incredibly long distances, and they are bred for durability, not taste. You are better off to wait until summer, even though the time from tomato harvest to tomato harvest does seem interminable in the midst of the winter.

I guess what I am trying to say here is…enjoy what is in season at the moment, make the most of it, and savor it! The anticipation of the upcoming crop is part of what adds to the enjoyment of it. …and there is ALWAYS something delicious to look forward to!

Did I hear someone mention GREEN BEANS?

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