From the Ground Up

Gardening, books, and other interests

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Just because you can get strawberries in February, should you?

Today is Sunday, and my husband and I are about to toddle off, hand-in-hand, to our local farmer’s market, which is our Sunday routine. But here is the question I want to pose to you: Rob & I have a fundamental difference in philosophy over whether or not to buy the out-of-season produce. He wants to buy the strawberries and tomatoes (He needs to have strawberries with his cereal and sliced tomatoes on his sandwich) — even if said tomatoes and strawberries taste like pale, drab ghosts of their real selves. Whereas I prefer to do without the summer fruits for a few months, in order to sharpen my taste buds for when they come back into full flavor.  I’m convinced it’s the deprivation of not having peaches for 9 months a year that focuses and intensifies the pleasure of biting into a perfectly ripe one…the kind that you can smell from four feet away…the kind that has a beautiful name…like Elegant Lady or August Pride. If it isn’t going to come close to that juice-dripping-down-your-chin kind of experience, why bother?

Then there’s the other dirty little secret, which is this: when else will you appreciate the subtle flavor of a good head of broccoli, a peppery arugula salad, or a sweet crunchy carrot except during the winter months, when there really is nothing else to enjoy?

Fruits and vegetables have their season. Take persimmons and pomegranates. They arrive in the fall, for a few brief weeks, I gorge myself on them, and then poof–they’re gone. It’s sad, really. I miss them when they’re not here, but that’s just the way it is. Fact of life.  But certain fruits and vegetables are ubiquitous year-round, piled up in shiny heaps in the grocery store. Like apples. I have no idea why anyone would want to eat one from December to August, but there you are.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every winter I get an intense craving for citrus fruit. Those fat Oro Blanco grapefruits, fragrant Meyer lemons, and sweet little Honey Mandarin tangerines–they speak to me. Not that you can’t find all kinds of citrus year-round, but winter is their time– it’s when they’re on. Oranges in July? To what purpose? Bananas in a dish of summer fruit? It feels wrong somehow. But how good does a banana taste in January? Real good.

A friend of mine has been posting photos of the broccoli she’s  been growing in her community vegetable garden. It looks so beautiful, mouth-watering even.  I know that sounds weird, but just look at it. Doesn’t it look scrumptious? makes me want to strip its leaves off and plunge it into a hot steaming pot of water right now.

broccoli (photo by Judi Gerber)

There’s probably a scientific reason behind this– some actual biochemical changes occurring in the taste buds. I don’t know.

So I’ll keep buying the cardboard strawberries for my husband. I suppose it helps the farmers to stay in business. But personally, I’ll hold off on eating them myself until May or even June, when they’ll taste like sweet, juicy sunshine.