It has started – and I’m so glad.
All winter long, we are stuck with imported, shrink-wrapped vegetables that are picked green and then injected with who-knows-what to ripen them up. I’ll admit I don’t completely dislike the fact that I can get out-of-season produce out of season, but spring brings back a renewed eating experience that I love more than the variety of California grown produce available in New York in January.And it all begins with rhubarb.
The first local vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask and where you live) available in the area of Upstate New York where I live is rhubarb, closely followed by asparagus. My husband does plant a large garden, but rhubarb is not something we’ve planted, mostly because I just don’t have many ideas on how to cook it except as deserts, and deserts are not my forte, I like to cook FOOD. But our neighbor gave us some rhubarb from his garden, and last night I made Rhubarb Sauce to go over pancakes. I am crafty in the kitchen, but I also love trying new recipes from cookbooks, and this recipe I happened to glean from Simply In Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, which has been my spring/summer/autumn bible for the past 3 years.
Three years ago, we joined our first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) when our daughter was 1 ½ and her love for fresh fruits and vegetables was really defined over that summer. She would munch on green beans or some other car-appropriate food on the ride home from picking up our share, and I spent the summer trying out both new recipes from my new cookbook, and trying veggies I had never cooked with before. I think back on that summer fondly because of the variety of flavors we explored, and the adventure of trying to cook all that in-season produce (and it was a lot). Some of my favorite recipes from Simply In Season were: Sweet and Sour Swiss Chard, Grape Pie, Strawberry Bread, and Asparagus Soup (on the menu for tomorrow!).
The following summer, we tried a different CSA that was certified organic. My adventure continued because this one offered a different selection of items, some of which included: edamame, lots of delicate types of lettuces, and a huge variety of heirloom tomatoes. I had a harder time keeping up that year though because I was pregnant with my second child and sooooo tired. Last year, we didn’t purchase a share, but were able to plant our own large garden as we had moved onto a property that has lots of woods and about one acre of cleared land. To not spend too much money the first year, we started with a plot approximately 30X20 feet, and planted the basics like tomatoes, beans and peppers. This year we are expanding and have potatoes started, lots of carrot seedlings, and even asparagus ready to be planted out.
Since I have to care for our busy kids, my husband is in charge of planting and tending the garden, though I usually do most of the harvesting as I pick what I need for meals. For me, much of the excitement of the garden is planning/making new and favorite recipes, especially from my seasonal cookbook. It is a challenge that is rewarding to eat in-season. Part of the nostalgia of it is having a vegetable in hand that I did not plan a menu around and finding a recipe to fit it, rather than shopping for produce to fit into a menu, kind of like the whole ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ thing. This kind of cooking takes me back to my Peace Corps days when I would go to the market once a week (a 2 ½ hour bus ride at 5:30 am), and then cook meals based around what produce I had on hand. It was and still is a creative, exploratory past time that keeps meals and life interesting. It also helps me feel connected to the land and my community. I would encourage anyone to try an ‘Eating Locally’ challenge, or even just adding one meal to their weekly menus using produce and/or meat from within twenty-five, fifty or one-hundred miles of their home. Doing so makes you feel healthy, feel connected, and adds an element of dimension to your cooking.
So, I pour over my cookbooks, making lists and planning menus and daydreaming about what else is to come: Spotlight Salad, Italian Zucchini Pie, Nutty Pumpkin Bread… It is a little bit of excitement at home to brighten up life, and runs from May to October, rhubarb to winter squash.
I found this page with some rhubarb information and recipes, http://www.rhubarbinfo.com, but i would love to hear from you if you have an idea on how to cook savory rhubarb. Anecdotes are also welcomed!