The hours of my surgery clerkship have my internal clock a little out of whack, but don’t worry, I’m not 7 months out of step. Actually, I’m all-abuzz about the arrival of spring, and all the great things that this season brings! (I’m also all-abuzz because I have a full weekend off for the first time in 3 weeks… Hazzah!).
I don’t think there’s a place I’ve been where spring doesn’t bring a certain sense of joy and optimism- there’s something about the change in temperature, the awakening of plants, and the enthusiasm of spring mating games (human and otherwise) that makes this a very special time of year. While I haven’t been able to enjoy as much of the spring weather, spring sun, and spring scenery as I would like (not to mention the spring mating games), I am enjoying taking advantage of one of the benefits of spring- the food!
To me, the start of spring is signified by the start of the asparagus season. While I’ve had limited success growing it myself (probably a combined issue of a poor planting location and an inability to let the first couple years of spears grow unmolested (you shouldn’t pick the spears for the first few years so the crowns can grow to be big and strong… I suppose patience (at least for asparagus) is not one of my redeeming characteristics)), there is a farm ½ a mile down the road that produces it by the bucket load. As soon as the roadside stand comes out, you can be guaranteed to find asparagus in my fridge. This asparagus is fresh, with no need to *snap* the bottoms off and with excellent texture and flavor. For a month or so, asparagus is a staple of my diet, and there are days when I’ll have it at every meal of the day (honestly- asparagus, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce- it works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!). Outside of this brief season, I’ll never buy asparagus (you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment), and if I happen to be served asparagus at other times of the year I’m puzzled by the physical resemblance but gustatory dissimilarity between the tender and tasty spring spears I’m accustomed to and the tasteless stringy curiosities I’ve been served mid-winter.
My mention of poached eggs, asparagus, and Hollandaise sauce was no accident. Not only is this one of my favorite meals, but it’s also (at least to me) an excellent seasonal meal. While my hens produce eggs year-round, they outdo themselves in the spring. Production is up, and as they feast on new grass and fresh bugs, the quality (and flavor!) of their yolks increases. Similarly, butter from cows grazing on spring grass is brilliantly yellow with a decadent taste. Combined (with a squeeze of a not-so-local lemon) these ingredients come together to form a culinary delight that complements asparagus and poached eggs perfectly (as well as a number of other delicious things).
In my book, asparagus is the ultimate ‘spring-tiding’, yet there are other signs of spring (along with the orange yolks of my chickens’ eggs) that I look forward to every year. Spring brings the first fresh greens (arugula being my favorite), and fresh fruit-like-substance to the table. Rhubarb, a stem that is transformed by stewing and sweetening into a dessert, is another tiding of spring. My father reasons (and he might well be right), that the only reason anyone ever ate rhubarb is that it is one of the earliest spring products. If this curious, tart, stem came to maturity during the summer, between waves of berries and stone fruit, it seems unlikely that it would be paid much attention, but as one of the earliest edibles of the year, it finds it’s way to our table.
There are a number of great books that explore the difficulties and pleasures of seasonal and local eating. I read “The Dirty Life” last year, and recently enjoyed “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. “The Dirty Life” documents the life of a young couple that work a farm that provides a complete pantry (from maple syrup and flour to vegetables and meat) CSA style, while “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” follows the year long adventure of a family that aims to ‘eat local’ for a year. The task in both books is daunting and the process is time consuming (and at times limiting) yet the benefits, and the connection such a commitment brings to the environment and your food are vast. I highly recommend both books, especially to those that enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of farming and eating local. (By no means are either book “Paleo”, as both authors embrace grains, yet the tenets of ‘eat local, eat seasonal’ are ones that I think all should embrace.)
I am not a puritan. I enjoy non-local, non-seasonal fruits and vegetables, and some of my dietary staples are things that never have been and never will be local or seasonal to my environment (Oh, to live in a place where avocados, cacao, coffee or coconuts are local or seasonal!). Yet every winter I await the coming of spring and the bounties that the ensuing seasons will bring. The pungent reminder of asparagus recently consumed harkens the arrival of a bounty of crops that the following months will bring!