Overall, this is born from the fact that I sell at a farmers market and have goodies left over at the end of the market that I trade with other vendors that have things like meat, produce and bread left at the end of their selling day. It’s a great system, and means that I not only eat what’s local and in season, but I eat what is abundant in the season (packed with nutrients and flavor – woot!)
The problem comes in the spring when nothing is abundant.
Wintered over produce (like onions, garlic, squash and potatoes) have started to rot and sprout. Summer produce, like peppers, beans, broccoli, berries and peas are just a dream of my palate right now. Spring has its glories, like asparagus, ramps, rhubarb, and wild mushrooms, as well as fabulous greens and herbs started in the greenhouse. But all of those, except rhubarb and greens, are sold as fast as they show up at market. And I’ve yet to figure out how to craft a filling dinner meal around rhubarb and greens. So this time of year I struggle.
All winter long I have mostly the same ingredients to work with. We eat a lot of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions (holy moly we eat a lot of onions). Most of our meals are some variation of those ingredients plus the staples that we stock in our house. But in the spring, many of those staples go away and not much takes its place. When I can get my hands on enough herbs, I will make a pesto (basil is pretty rare to see at the end of the market, but I actually prefer cilantro pesto). This problem is double fold for me as a food writer. I gain inspiration from what I’m currently making in my kitchen, but right now I’m making things like pastas, grilled meats and pizzas that might be uber tasty, but aren’t really “recipe worthy” per se. I did fetch some beautiful ramps from my back yard a few weeks ago, but I have to climb down a ravine, up the other side and back again with a 5 gallon bucket in tow, while doused in mosquito repellant. At nearly 35 weeks pregnant, the trek doesn’t hold the appeal that it once did.
They always come later in the season than I expect. I want to see them in late May/early June, but they actually arrive more than a month later than that. Perhaps my daily viewing of my own sugar snap pea plants will help quell my angst this year. While tomatoes start showing up at market in July, they aren’t abundant enough be left at the end of the market until August. But oh, local tomatoes still smelling like the sun are worth the wait. I can easily down 3 large tomatoes with just a little salt before I’ve even finished packing up my car. And peppers. I mean, I go through a lot of chili peppers for my hot sauce business (5000 lbs are on order for this year), but bell peppers and poblanos are my favorite veggie additions to any dish.
Oh my gosh, the berries! I could eat so many berries. First strawberries. I don’t pretend that any of those will last until the end of the market for trade. I just remortgaged my house to pay for all the strawberries that my daughter and I will eat before the market ends. “Thankfully” the season is short. Then comes blueberries. I can usually trade for these in peak season. And I can eat so many.
I’m pretty sure it was because of last summer’s blueberries that my daughter learned the sign for “more.”
Then there are raspberries and black raspberries. We have a raspberry bush on our property and Maia will just stand on the slope below and ask for more and more. I’m looking forward to the day that she can climb in and pick them for herself. And at the very end of the season, we have thimbleberries and blackberries. I used to think that Vermont blackberries weren’t any good, but then I learned that they turn black before they are really ready. So you have to be patient and let them really plump.
Don’t rush the beauty.
I stopped eating blackberries in public parks because no one waits long enough and they’re never good. I’m still learning the art to the right blackberry picking time (I didn’t have this issue growing up in California though, so I don’t know if this is a varietal difference or just a seasonal one). But thimbleberries are awesome because so many people don’t realize that they’re edible. So you can find patches everywhere. They have no commercial viability, as they are so fragile that it’s not worth it to even try to bring them home. Just cop a squat and fill your belly.