Springtime is in full swing in Tennessee. The dogwoods, irises and tulips are blooming, and last week I was privy to an early edition of my CSA share: parsnips, watercress, chickweed and kale. I’m still trying to decide what to make with the parsnips (besides drying them for soup this fall), but the greens made their way into salads and stir-frys.
I am incredibly spoiled to have a wonderful produce store just a few miles away, with a delectable array of organic fruits and veggies all year long. I always return home with much more produce than we’ll be able to eat, because I can’t resist their visual beauty and fragrances. Having access to so much fresh and organic produce has meant that we put off becoming a CSA member, that is, until a local CSA rep knocked on our door. Her earnest pitch and the sense of joining a larger community encouraged us to try it out.
Like many other CSA members, I have a love/hate relationship with lettuce. Oh it starts off innocent enough — the first tender bunches of arugula in early June herald a summer of fresh green things to come, blissful after a winter of squash and canned tomatoes and covert glances at California produce. Arugula and salad mix give way to the glory of the lettuce family, full heads of bib, romaine, oak leaf. Fractal symmetry amazes, salad possibilities tantalize.
It’s mid-July and farmer’s markets and gardens are brimming with gorgeous produce. You don’t have to look far to find interesting ingredients for a summer meal — some of them are already a part of your everyday veggies. Instead of throwing away veggie leaves or discarding what are typically thought of as weeds (like dandelions and purslane), a slight change in perspective will reveal an even wider array of summer produce right in front of your eyes.
Last fall, as my CSA was winding down, one of the farmers, Mark, gave me a LOT of garlic cloves from his planting stash. They were 2 inch cloves, huge by any standard, and I was loathe to relegate them to the dirt for replanting, when all I wanted to do was devour them.
I wasn’t introduced to artichokes until I was ten and I’m not sure how I survived those ten years without them. Scary looking on the outside, but delicate, meaty, and a fun appetizer activity on the inside. Artichoke quickly became a staple at our family Shabbat dinner table, kids scrambling to drag the leaves through their teeth and reach the flavorful heart.
“¿Que es eso, el blanco?” (What is this, the white [thing]?) I asked, jabbing with my fork at the white, slimy thing on my plate. The waitress looked at me and laughed. I had been in Spain all of 5 hours and I was tired, hungry, confused by the language and the food, and missing home terribly. Apparently whatever was on my plate was so commonplace that even to ask was seen as nothing short of idiotic. I asked again, trying to sound like I had something of a Spanish accent, instead of my Midwestern drawl, “¿Que es eso?” (What is this?) The waitress came back, and rattled off a sentence so fast that I must have looked like I had gotten hit with a truck. I sat there blinking for a few seconds and she said one word, slowly, so my jet-lagged brain could process, “espárrago.” (Asparagus)
True, it’s just the end of January. But farmers are already planning their crops for 2012, and you want them to plan with you in mind!
As the Jewish holiday season progresses from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur toward Sukkot, each holiday has a special relationship to food that builds on the preceding holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time of feasting: succulent apples and honey and round raisin challah, a table of sweetened abundance. Yom Kippur, in contrast, is a day of fasting, and even though we are only hungry for a day, the holiday encourages empathy for those who face hunger every day, including 1.4 million New York City residents (according to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger) and millions of people world-wide. Finally, during the harvest festival of Sukkot, we combine feasting with our obligation to feed the hungry.
We know that farmers “make hay while the sun shines,” but what do they do when it rains…and rains…and rains…? The devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee that followed on its heels, highlight the precariousness of farming and the painful, tragic effects of extreme weather events. In the wake of these storms, farmers across the Northeast are assessing damages and picking up pieces. For many, waterlogged fields have caused total crop failures; incessantly wet weather is causing storage crops to rot rather than cure; and what should have been three more months of salable produce can now only be plowed under. No matter how skilled the farmers are, the tragedy is that it’s not their fault; they did nothing wrong — it’s just what happens.