Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Miss Strawberry Season

A short dialogue from Ishmael by Daniel Quinn:

Ishmael: “The can of yams that you buy in the store – how many of you labored to put that can there for you?”

Narrator: “Oh, hundreds, I suppose. Growers, harvesters, truckers, cleaners at the canning plant, people to run the equipment, people to pack the cans in cases, truckers to distribute the cases, people at the store to unpack them, and so on.”

Ishmael: “Forgive me, but you sound like lunatics, Bwana, to do all this work just to ensure that you can never be disappointed over the matter of a yam. Among my people, when we want a yam, we simply go and dig one up – and if there are none to be found, we find something else just as good, and hundreds of people don’t need to labor to put it into our hands.”

When I was growing up, I remember looking forward to late summer. August was strawberry season. My parents would take me and my brother strawberry-picking. Watermelons were available in July; watermelon, the fruit that signaled the beginning of summer. I would dig into a large slice at summer camp, the sweet juice streaming down my cheeks. The best apples grew in fall. We would spend a day apple-picking in September or October. Pumpkins were ready by October, right in time for Halloween. Dad would take us to a local farm where we could pick a pumpkin, which we would later carve into a Jack O’ Lantern. As we searched for the perfect pumpkin, the chilly autumn air would sting our cheeks and force us to burrow our faces inside our windbreakers. We would warm up with a cup of hot apple cider.

Nowadays you can buy strawberries at the supermarket all year-round. The fruit is bigger than when I was a kid, but the taste isn’t. Strawberries don’t really taste like anything anymore. Every time we visited India, I loved eating salad. I couldn’t get enough. One day I understood why: the tomatoes over there didn’t taste like Styrofoam. The cucumbers were crunchy and the carrots were sweet.

What happened to the fruits of my childhood? What happened to strawberry season? Now you can buy fruits and vegetables all year-round; you don’t have to wait for them to come into season in the U.S. We eat salads in January, not cognizant of the fact that lettuce doesn’t grow in January, at least not along the East Coast. We import out-of-season produce from California and from the Southern Hemisphere, not taking into account the hundreds, even thousands, of miles that food has to travel to reach us. The tons of fuel that must be expended to ship produce around the country or around the world or the gallons of water, pesticides, and fertilizers that are needed to sustain large-scale agriculture mean nothing to us. We produce beautiful-looking fruits and vegetables, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with half the taste and half the nutrients of natural or organic produce.

My diet here is constrained to a large part by the season. During winter and spring, I had more vegetables in my garden than I knew what to do with: lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and parsley. At first, I made salads. Then I grew bored so I started making home-made salad dressings. I still craved more variety so I started experimenting. I made Asian lettuce-leaf wraps, carrots in a sweet sauce, and vegetable pie, to name a few. Because my tomatoes stayed small and green, I made green tomato chutney. During summer here, I get bags of guavas from my neighbors. They don’t want to eat them so they send their kids up into the trees and shake them practically the entire trees’ worth of fruit. I happily collect the yellow, smashed fruits and take them home. I make shakes, I cook them, I eat handfuls of them at a time. I hardly have a chance to grow sick of them before the season is over. Last year, I was drowning in avocados. I made guacamole, I put them in burritos, I even ate them like the Paraguayans with sugar, but there were still more.

The one exception to seasonal produce is the imports from Brazil. The fruits and vegetables from Brazil are always so much bigger and so much more readily-available at the grocery store. Everything is bigger and prettier (In fact, it’s common for the Paraguayans to refer to any bigger variety of fruit as brasileiro and any smaller variety as paraguayo. For example, there are two types of mangos that grow in Paraguay, one of which is more than double the size of the other. Paraguayans predictably call that one Brazilian). It’s hard to ignore the rows of perfect pineapples, bananas, avocados, mangos, etc. Even then, I will buy Paraguayan produce any day over Brazilian produce. Brazil, like the U.S., relies on large-scale, mechanized, input-dependent (fertilizers and pesticides) agriculture. In contrast, the majority of Paraguayan farmers engage in small-scale agriculture with few machines and smaller quantities of chemicals. I say “constrained,” but I shouldn’t. A few weeks ago I caved into the temptation and bought guavas because the guavas in my site weren’t ripe yet. The guavas were pink and perfect, I couldn’t resist. Guess what? They weren’t that sweet. It wasn’t guava season yet. Even the smashed guavas from my neighbors (half of which I have to throw away because of worms) are infinitely sweeter. Why look elsewhere for fruits and vegetables when there are some always available here? Sure, it might not be pumpkin season anymore, but I can make do with a squash instead. There’s always next year’s pumpkins to look forward to.

The tastiest strawberries still only grow in August.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One Meal, One Vote

Great article about how our consumption influences the way products (and our food) are made.

I Would Die in It

My brother once suggested a fairly creative icebreaker for a workshop I was conducting: “If you could die by drowning in the drink of your choice, what would that drink be?” I immediately responded “Sin tô!” Sin tô is a Vietnamese smoothie consisting of three ingredients: fruit of your choice, ice, and condensed milk. It’s incredibly easy to make but I’ve found that when I use fresh, seasonal fruit, it’s the tastiest thing in the whole world! Lately I’ve been making guava sin tô with the plumpest, creamiest guavas I’ve ever eaten in my leaf, which luckily for me happen to be located in my backyard. Try it, any fruit plus condensed milk. Sin to (though) it may be, you’ll love it!

Summer Squash Casserole with Nuts

A super yummy recipe found on http://www.squashrecipes.net/ and perfect as it is summertime and squash season here! (I had to make some changes: I substituted Paraguayan sandwich cheese for cheddar and walnuts that I brought back from the States for pecans)

Summer Squash Casserole With Nuts
Tasty squash casserole. Summer squash mashed and combined with green bell pepper, onion, egg, sugar, cheese, pecans, mayonnaise. Seasoned with salt and pepper. Topped with breadcrumbs and baked until golden. Ingredients - 1 pound Summer Squash, sliced, boiled until tender, drained
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup chopped Green Bell Pepper
1 tablespoon White Sugar
1/2 cup chopped Onion
1 Egg
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup Pecans, chopped
1/2 cup Bread Crumbs Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add squash and butter to a large mixing bowl and mash.
3. Add green bell pepper, chopped onion, egg, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, cheese and nuts to squash mixture.
4. Spoon into large baking casserole dish.
5. Top with breadcrumbs. Dot with butter.
6. Bake 40 minutes.