The Season of Bounty

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It’s that time of the year when a quick evening browse around the garden with a cocktail yields a colorful basket of produce.  For a little while this early summer, I could get away with gathering into my upturned shirt, but with the warmer days and rainy afternoons, the harvest has begun in earnest, and I try to remember to bring out a basket along with my drink.  Garlic and green onions, early tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, carrots, early beets, peas and peppers are all coming in by the handful.  I always try to balance my desire for fresh produce with the realization that if I leave it a while longer, it will grow bigger, but there is nothing like the taste of sweet baby carrots and tender beets steamed with a bat of butter on a steamy summer evening.  My favorite dish of the early summer is, of course, a simple salad of fresh newly picked veggies.  The thinly sliced Peruvian white habanero adds a super kick to this tasty dinner.Image

I am surprised to see the blueberries ripen so early this year, as I usually think of late July as blueberry season, but I predicted this to be the year of the berry, and it seems I have called it right.  Even the tangy and delectable wild black raspberries in the hedgerow are beginning to ripen early, and I got a sticky purple handful this morning for my trouble.  Unfortunately, as they grown amongst the nettles, I also got a prickly wrist.

On another note, for those of you who read “the Doctor is in”  I’m happy to report that my pepper plants are all thriving.  Many of them lost all their dark green foliage to the cold snap we had in May, but the smaller, lighter green leaves are beginning to thicken out the plants, and on many there are the first blooms.  Some did better than others and are already fruiting, hence the spicy salad, but most peppers like the heat, and will produce best from late July into early September.  During this pepper heyday, you will find me in the kitchen, gloves on, chopping peppers for hot sauces and salsas as fast as I can.

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Local, Sustainable, Healthful and Clean

Whenever I consider eating something, I try to stick to some basic rules.  Each one is not hard and fast, and I do tend to make some exceptions, but I try to stick to them most of the time to ensure that my diet stays at least relatively healthful, wholesome and environmentally sound.  My rules are that the majority of what I bring into the kitchen and eat should be from local sources, sustainable, healthful and clean, and by doing this each time I shop or prepare, I know I’m making good choices for myself and my family.

Questions to ask yourself.

Did I grow/harvest/collect/hunt or fish this?

If it came from my garden, or I got it in some other way and know its source, I know it is good for us. Ideally you should be able to answer yes to this question most of the time.

 Could I have grown this?

Maybe I didn’t grow it, but it is something that I could have grown if I had the time/space/energy.  This is a dangerous one because lots of things might have been grown locally, but were in fact planted with genetically modified seed, sprayed with toxins, picked before their prime by exploited workers, packed in non-renewable packaging, and trucked from 1000 miles away, like most veggies we find in the store.  If it passes the “I could have grown it” question, see below.  Anything from a farmers market should answer yes to this question.

 Did it come from my area?

Is it something that has been eaten in season by people from your area for eons? If it’s a kiwi in December, and you don’t live in the tropics, you might want to put it back.

 Did someone I know make this?

This is a good test, and an easy one.  It is a pleasure to answer yes to when you have something special, like a gift of honey, or fish.  If you know who got it and where, it’s probably safe.

 Is it fresh/clean/organic?

Has it been polluted in any way? Is it rotten?  Poisonous?  Has it been cleaned properly? This question rules out lots of stuff in the supermarket.  Most produce items have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.  Organic is a good choice, but not always enough.   This question also pertains to things you might hunt, fish or gather for yourself, like mushrooms, squid, or rabbit.  I will emphasize that all gatherers should have knowledge about what they are seeking and how to collect and clean it properly.  That is one benefit of technology today.  All the information we need is at our fingertips.

 Is it seasonal?

Most fresh foods should be in season before you decide to put them on your menu.  While there are a multitude of ways to store fresh produce and staples for later times, if you will be eating it fresh, you want to make sure it is in season.  It is one way to insure that it doesn’t come with too high of a carbon price. 

Exceptions

Olive oil is a must in our house, and we try to choose extra virgin organic oil.  For important information on olive oils, check out http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/ The book Extra Virginity has some shocking information.  A must read for olive oil lovers. 

Nuts are another staple.  Almonds, especially, are very beneficial to health, so we usually keep a supply of them in the house.  Good, fairly inexpensive nuts can be found at Trader Joe’s.  

Salt and spices.  Every kitchen need a good supply of fine herbs and spices, and I only grow herbs.  For salt I always use Norton’s coarse kosher salt or natural sea salt, never table salt.  Here is a photo of Trout baked in Salt.  Coated entirely, the salt makes a crust that can be cracked off.  For the recipe, see here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/whole-fish-baked-in-salt-crust-recipe/index.htmlImage

Today I am out to hunt the abundant cattail root.  A delicacy in spring, and a staple for the summer, cattails grow wild in any swampy area throughout New England.  The roots are mild and can be eaten raw, while the new shoots, paired down to reveal the white inner parts, are similar to leeks.  Sauteed with butter and salt, they make an excellent side dish. 

Happy Eating!