Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sacrificing with the Seasons


I spend a fair amount of time writing about the upside of simple living: how I get great exercise on my bike, quiet time at my clothesline and find peace working in the garden. But there is a darker side to the lighter lifestyle, and it has to do with our food.

Eating locally means eating with the seasons. That means that apples are not in season year round. Neither are grapes. Truthfully. Even here in Northern California, fruit actually has a season.

Before I decided to reduce my food miles and eat within a 100-200 mile radius, my family's meals were simple. Our fruit consisted of bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries and, occasionally, a mango or blueberries. We ate those fruits day in and day out and never needed to wonder about winter, spring or fall. Vegetables were equally consistent - potatoes, corn, broccoli, bagged salad, and, every now and then, something leafy and green. Life was uncomplicated, "simple." A year later, our kitchen is decidedly more complex.

My peas no longer come out of a white plastic freezer bag, flavorless, cold and, once thawed, squishy. Now they are eaten straight out of the pod. The little green jacket unzipped to expose six or seven pearl sized peas, lined up like clothes in a closet, waiting to be nibbled.

Supermarket blackberries and raspberries no longer languish in the back of the refrigerator, growing yellower by the day. In fact, they don't usually make it the fridge at all. In a year of eating locally, we've yet to have them survive a day in the Green Bean household.

In my previous life, I thought persimmon was a color of paint, warm and rich, autumnal - perfect for the dining room. Who knew it is not only a fall fruit but one that, when peeled, frozen and covered with just a tad of cream, tastes like "ice cream" without the calories?

Last night was another discovery. We sit at the edge of spring, poised over the warm earth days of summer. Apples and kiwis are decidedly gone. The boys devoured every last berry in the house. All that was left were the scarlet stems lurking in the refrigerator's vegetable drawer. Resembling chard stems but thicker and stockier, like celery, my friend and farmer, Sapphira, talked me into these last week. Rhubarb.

My dad mentioned his grandmother making rhubarb pie when he was young. I chalked it up to the Depression Era, a time when hungry people put vegetable stalks in a crust and called it dessert. A march through my collection of cookbooks, though, revealed that people actually eat rhubarb, even today. I opted for the Rustic Rhubarb Scone Cake from my elegant San Francisco Ferry Plaza's Farmers' Market Cookbook. If any cookbook could transform stems into something delectable, it was this one.

After chopping up the red stalks, I stirred in organic, fair trade sugar and zest from the last orange loitering on our backyard tree. Mixing locally milled flour, sugar, and homemade butter into a crumbly dough, I lined in along the bottom of a pie tin. I then slipped the red, sugary mass on top and covered it with the rest of the dough. An hour later, my vegetable stalk cake emerged from the oven - luscious, beautiful and tasting like spring.

Perhaps eating seasonally isn't such a sacrifice after all. Eating apples and grapes only during their own season opens up room on the plate for new fruits and vegetables, ones forgotten in our mad rush toward standardized food. Perhaps that lost produce is the reward for people like us who venture out to farmers' markets on a foggy morning, who pick up something unidentifiable and ask a farmer what to do with it, who think outside the big box store.

29 comments:

Wild Orchids for Trotsky said...

Lovely post, and a delicious sounding and looking dessert. I've been thinking about rhubarb too lately; it is one of my favorites and something often grown in gardens back home in upstate NY.

I almost have a review of Symbiotic Planet ready; my operations were delayed by forced apartment-hunting (our building is being sold). Now we have a new place so I am back at the keyboard. :-)

Burbanmom said...

mmmmmmm. The only, and I mean only thing my grandmother ever baked (or cooked for that matter) was strawberry rhubarb pie.

And it is the best pie on the planet, I swear!

Also? if you're a jam eater? Make strawberry-rhubarb jam. Doesn't get any better than that!

Heather @ SGF said...

Yum! I've never tried rhubarb either. Always seemed a little foreign, but my family loves pies and jellies too. In fact, I have some strawberry/rhubarb jelly in my cabinet (from the farmers market that my grandma bought me) all ready to dig into!

I was a little worried when I expanded my local eating to only local fruits as well. I'm a complete banana-holic and I hadn't NOT eaten a banana a day for probably years. Now I haven't had once since the end of March. Sure, sometimes I want a banana, but with those berries and watermelon in the fridge, I don't think about it much. And when I do finally have a banana (probably on vacation someday), I can only imagine how wonderful it will taste having abstained.

Anonymous said...

My mom often made rhubarb pie so when I happened upon some rhubarb this year I took it home and whipped up rhurbarb crumble, simpler than pie but just as delicious! Try it!
CLM

eco 'burban mom said...

That sounds wonderful! I tried a rhubarb muffin recipe the other day, total disaster!! I bought the rhubarb, it was literally the ONLY fresh vegetable of any sort at the farmer's market, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Big mistake. Huge. Gooey, sicking to the muffin paper, flat as a board mistake.

This recipe sounds better, so if that's all I can find this week, I might consider rhubarb againg. With a side of ice cream, of course!

Hit Pay Dirt said...

Let it be known that rhubarb should NEVER be considered a sacrifice. :)

I race at this time of year to chop and freeze enough of it to last us through the rest of the year - rhubarb bars, rhubarb pie, rhubarb upside-down cake, rhubarb vodka, stewed rhubarb, rhubarb crisp...

Who needs apples and kiwis when you've got rhubarb in the freezer?!?

spelled with a K said...

rhubarb pie takes me back, my mother who now lives in my grandparents house still has the rhubarb patch my grandfather put in long before I was born. I ought to bring my pruning knife next time I visit. Thanks for the delicious reminder.

Crunchy Chicken said...

What about freezing or otherwise storing (canning, drying, etc.) foods that are in season so that you can enjoy them year round?

The corn I froze last fall, hours after it was picked was quite appreciated in January...

Verde said...

I have fond memorier of Grandparents and Rhubarb. My grandmother was an aweful cook and she had kids right before the depression so she was formed by that experience. Perhaps it produced Rhubarb, compote, pie, and jam, but those things lived on as positives.

Debbie said...

Reading these posts is making me hungry. There is NOTHING quite like a warm piece of strawberry rhubarb pie. I also used to make a rhubarb fluff (pudding). Having said all that...I am trying not to hyperventilate. I have just planted a veggie garden - after years of not doing so and so far I am enjoying the process. I also took on the Eat Local Challenge -YIKES! I think my family is going to be very hungry when I serve them I don't know what. Our farmer's market doesn't open for another two weeks, my CSA (which is my back-up plan in case the garden flops) starts on the 14th of June so...I am trying to eat locally but right now it is VERY stressful. I have nothing saved from last year since this is a new beginning for our family. Imagine my horror when I looked out the window at my garden and saw a baby moose standing there - observing, not eating at this point. This might prove to be more effective than weight watchers! Breath, Debbie, breath.

Wendy said...

I had rhubarb for the very first time a couple of weekends ago ;). I made rhubarb bread, and jam. I also put a bunch in the freezer. Now that I've discovered this "vegetable", though, I realize that I don't have enough ;). Isn't that always the way?

katecontinued said...

I love, love, love rhubarb pie. Next to lemon meringue, my favorite. My grandmother had a patch and she planted one at my childhood home too. Last year on my long-deceased grandmother's May birthday, I couldn't get rhubarb out of my mind's taste memory. I went and bought and overpriced stalk at the high end market and made a tiny pie. Yum.

This year I bought my one and only dessert item at the Farmer's Market, rhubarb meringue. It was dreadful.

Love this post. It is a very good point. I have complained my whole life about how dismally limited the grocery offerings were in my Midwest 50's childhood. Now I see that the solution is as Crunchy says, canned and frozen variations from seasons past.

~Mad said...

I can remember cutting rhubarb stalks - red celery, I thought at age 6 years and up - in my Grammy's garden in Iowa - years ago.

I can appreciate the use for strawberry and rhubarb pie or just sauce.

Thanks for the memory!
~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

Carla said...

This looks like a great recipe, GB - I'll have to give it a try. I LUV anything rhubarb, and have decided that it's just as versatile as apples. I have some rhubarb sauce (aka stewed rhubarb) that I made on Sunday with me for lunch today - yum!
I have a link to The Rhubarb Compendium on my blog, too - everything you ever wanted to know about rhubarb, plus recipes.
Happy eating!
Carla in Idaho

Di Hickman said...

oh we love rhubarb! Dh especially! Its actually pretty popular all over europe still.
Our favorite is rhubarb crumble
not our exact recipe but the best I could find online: http://www.recipezaar.com/227063

Enjoy!

kale for sale said...

I hit the rhubarb too and last week made a rhubarb strawberry cobbler. Suffice it to say there's more rhubarb in the fridge this week.

Too funny on the persimmon as only a paint color. But I never ate one until a couple of years ago and nobody I knew ate them either. Thanks for the frozen cream tip. I can't wait to try it.

arduous said...

I'm not sure I've had rhubarb before though I DID know about the deliciousness of persimmons (we have a persimmon tree at my parents' house so every fall was a whirlwind of making persimmon cookies, bread, anything to use up the persimmons.)

Heather at SGF also suggested putting berries in the freezer so you can have strawberries year round. Sounds quite nice!

organicneedle said...

Perfect timing. Yesterday my monkeys and I picked up the first CSA shipment. Lots of lettuce and radishes...easy eating. But then we discovered the pink celery, as my boys identified it, and wondered what on earth we would do with it. I am going to try your recipe. Thanks!

Joyce said...

My dad always asks for rhubarb pie instead of cake for his May birthday. Yum!
Love the persimmon idea! I've used them in pie at Thanksgiving, but this looks easier and better.

lauren said...

Speaking of food, I made your famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They were a hit with family, coworkers and my 6th grade students! I have lots of requests for more.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me that I have 2 cookie sheets full of cut rhubarb in my freezer that needs to be bagged up. In total I believe ther are 4 gallon bags of rhubarb in the freezer. Can't wait to try this cake, it looks delicious!

diana

Melissa said...

I love that you call it veggie stalk pie :) I also LOVE rhubarb. I have a very sad looking container plant of it right now...I think it has a total of five skinny floppy little stems going right now. I'm hoping he perks up. And I'm not sure I've ever had persimmon, but anything that's like ice cream is good in my book, so I'll keep my eyes peeled.

pink dogwood said...

Yes there is something to be said about eating what is in season. That is how I grew up in India. Then we came to US and didn't have to worry about season - we could have anything anytime we wanted, all we had to do was drive to the super market. But all the fruits and vegetables didn't have the flavor they had in India. Occasionally, we would find some produce that actually had a lot of flavor and we would exclaim 'tastes just like India' - now I am thinking those must be the occasions when the supermarket carried seasonal locally grown stuff.

I have never tried Rhubarb, but will definitely give it a try.

Robj98168 said...

Love rhubarb pie. Never get it. Guess I could learn to make it. I do have a good recipe for rhubarb dump cake I got off the internet.

Theresa said...

My mom always made rhubarb like she made applesauce - just simmer with a little bit of water and a reasonable amount of sugar to taste, and there you go - rhubarb sauce! Tart and sweet at the same time, freezes well forever and a day, you just can't beat it! It grows prolifically around here - we always had way too much and a lot just sat on the ground and rotted. Or maybe it was fertilizing itself because that plant lived for decades. That's it, I'm going to have to get some again and plant it in my own yard!

Melanie J. said...

Thanks for this post...I've never tried rhubarb yet in my life, and thus it's one of those plants that scares me, because of my lack of knowledge in preparing it. This recipe looks scrumptious, and I haven't a clue what it would taste like, but it gives me that nudge toward trying something new.

P.S. I'm getting such a lift from the little improvements I'm making in my life to live simpler and greener, and your blog is partly the culprit. Thank you for your informative and down-to-earth posts.

Green Bean said...

Thank you for the all the rhubarb stories, recipes and admissions!

Melanie: comments like that make my week! Thank you!

organicneedle said...

I made this recipe with the CSA rhubarb this morning. I literally had to lock myself out of the kitchen to keep from eating the entire tart.

Green Bean said...

Yup, pretty much the case here, Needle. My husband is very careful to not eat too much (wish I had that will power). I made it a second time for his birthday and he ate three pieces in one sitting. Pretty darn delicious!

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