Monday, May 28, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 5 - Eat Seasonally

For a lot of us, now is a good time to start seasonal eating - there is a lot of food being produced right now. So commit, this week, to making a couple of seasonal meals, where most or all of the ingredients are things that are locally available.

The thing about eating this way is that it is so much better tasting than regular food, and it makes everything special. When asparagus is in season, we eat it as often as we can, and then we talk about it dreamily occasionally for months...but to have it at another time would diminish the pleasure. The same is true of everything we anticipate - right now there are huge strawberries with very little taste in the stores, but we're holding out for the first flush of ripe berries from our own patch. The children visit the little white berries every day, and we dream of them at night. But none of us wants to rush it with something old and false and not as flavorful.

There's a food to every season for us - from the first dandilions of spring, through rhubarb and asparagus, to the new potatoes, earthy morels and peas, green beans, apricots and sweet cherries of early summer, on to peaches, watermelon, sweet corn, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Then come the grapes and apples, the first cravings for hearty roots, dried beans, stews and squash. We await the late apples, and the first frosts that sweeten the brussels sprouts and kale, and even in the winter there are new flavors - the taste of sugary parsnips dug out of the ground in December and February, the first bok choy flush on the sun porch in January, the old hen in the pot for chicken and dumplings, the apples and squash that taste best after a few months in storage somehow transformed into something transcendent. And then...the dandilions, spinach and chives again and they've never tasted so good because they've been so long absent. We wouldn't eat any other way.

What's locally available right now? It depends on where you are, of course. In some places not too much. In others, all of summer bounty is already out. Where I am, we have lots of greens - lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, fresh herbs, dandilions galore (it doesn't have to come from a farm!), asparagus, rhubarb, eggs, scallions, fiddleheads and radishes. What can you make with that?

Well, I made a salad nicoise the other day. I mixed all the greens with chives and sorrel, hardboiled some eggs, steamed some asparagus and added a can of tuna and some steamed potatoes from last year. We made a dijon vinagrette, and it was absolutely delicious with some home baked bread and white bean spread (cooked white beans, fresh sage and chives, garlic, lemon).

What else could you do with it? A lot of us don't eat a lot of greens, but our family can't get enough of them. Eli, my oldest, will gladly eat an entire plate of spinach sauteed with garlic, and Simon begs me to make asparagus sauteed with (vegetarian - comes from mushrooms) "oyster" sauce. We look forward to fresh spring greens. Instead of putting cucumber and tomato in our salads (since they aren't here yet), we might put chopped apple and dried cranberries (apple stored from last season). If we wanted it to be dinner, some blue cheese or cheddar crumbled in is good, or it could be a side dish to something else.

Maybe a spicy omlet? Most people know how to make an omelt, so just fill it with sauteed mushrooms, fresh greens lightly sauteed, perhaps dried tomatoes and hot pepper relish from last year (if you like that sort of thing), and some garlic, of course. Or you could go simpler - just the greens, some onions, fresh herbs.

Or you could make an asparagus sandwich. I used the last of the white bean spread on the bread, but I've also done this with cheese. I sprinkle some garlic vinegar on some toasted bread, add steamed asparagus and scallions, and melt cheese over the top (I like goat cheese, but you can use anything - lots of milk around this time of year).

Want dessert? We make rhubarb compote a lot in the spring - nothing too it, just chop up the rhubarb in the pot, add water (a little makes it thick, a lot makes it thin), sugar (or honey, or maple syrup), and we like a drop or two of almond extract.

Or how about bread pudding? Sooner or later, we all end up with stale bread, and there's milk and eggs galore now. Take your stale bread (if you don't have enough, you can stick it in the freezer until it accumulates), lay it in a pan, mix up a bunch of eggs and milk (an 8 inch pan might take 3 eggs and 2 cups of milk to soak it all - skim milk is fine, or whatever you have, cream will make it scarily rich, but really good), some sweetener (depending on how much you want), some vanilla or almond extract, cinnamon and any fruit you have lying around - overripe bananas aren't seasonal, but sometimes they are cheap and the store throws them out, so we take them. Or whatever berries are ripe (nothing here yet), some leftover rhubarb compote, applesauce, or perhaps you've got something else you'd like to put in - fresh mint, or lemon verbena or a rose geranium leaf or two. Just shove the bread in to the pan, pour the milk mixture over it, add fruit or flavorings and bake for 45 minutes. I shouldn't tell you how good this is with whipped cream, but it really is.

Happy Eating!!!



Jana said...

We have had several salads this spring and the peas are just getting ready. Radishes are plentiful, but I planted too many and they are not a favorite. They are just so easy to grow I hate not to. That is about all that is being harvested right now in out little plot.

jewishfarmer said...

Hi Jana -

Have you tried cooking the radishes? If you don't like them raw, you might like them steamed, or mashed. They have a nice flavor, and the bite gets to be less that way.

Germans eat radishes sliced very thinly on bread with lots of butter. I've had that - it was pretty good.


RAS said...

It's all ready getting hot here, so all the greens but lettuce are going away. The last of my spinach has bolted. :( I might try to eat it anyway! There's herbs galore, and fresh strawberries. Usually there's lots of early peaches but most of them got wiped out by the late frost. The potatoes are up and growing, the first tomatoes will be in in a month, and in the meantime there's some root vegetables, plenty of salad greens, and early squash. I'm making a stew tonight with local potatoes (from storage), some squash, and a turnip from the freezer, and maybe some other things. Yum.

Chile said...

Radishes are also good in a vegetable stirfry. Just slice thinly or grate them, and toss them in about halfway through the cooking time. As Sharon says, cooking really mellows the flavor.

At our CSA, we often discuss how eating seasonally requires a shift in thinking, from a recipe-driven menu to an ingredients-driven menu. We have had a great beet season and it's interesting to find out how people are dealing with all the bounty. I think we're all looking foreward to summer corn and watermelons!

Anonymous said...

You can also use the tasty radish greens, slicing them fine and putting them in with mixed greens, or use in a stir-fry.

Lynnet in Colorado

anna in canada said...

I love the recipe ideas--particularly since I just had a . . . "discussion" . . . with someone who is doing the 100-mile diet, is shopping at the local farmer's market here on Vancouver Island, and got some "local" cucumbers and tomatoes. Well, there's no way that they're actually seasonal! They're hothouse. I'm curious as to whether there's a way to do hothouse growing sustainable--but I have my doubts. Besides, nowhere do these products even suggest that they are "organic," which means they're not! Which means a water problem, an electricity issue, and so on.

What I really appreciate about coming to this blog is the air of adventure it presents. Although the news is not always good, the solutions are *there*. News is never bad--even if it's "bad" news. Information is never a bad thing to have. Paralysis due to panic is BAD, but here I'm really finding a pioneer spirit instead!

By the way--for those who are looking for an alternative to lemons as a seasoning--here where there are no lemon trees--there's a species of sumac tree (not the "poison sumac", obviously!) the seeds of which taste lemony. Apparently, it's used like salt and pepper on tables in the middle east . . .

Anonymous said...

We had the first perslain (sp?) from the garden on Sat -- we can weed and eat at the same time.

And the first CSA share arrives next Sat. Lots of greens.


Anonymous said...

IMO, hothouse on a very small scale, as long as you aren't putting huge amounts of energy into it, can't be bad. If you have a unheated greenhouse in place or a cold frame or whatever, why not grow one or two out of season treats for yourself and perhaps a few friends.

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