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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Eat the Seasons


It's a constant refrain, isn't it?  "Seasonal, sustainable, and local" is echoed everywhere, in books, on TV, in magazines, and throughout the food blogs until it's become so much background noise.  Or not noise exactly, more like a New Year's resolution, fervently believed but never quite acted upon.  I say it all the time myself, and as I read Michael Pollan or Alice Waters, I nod my head sagely and silently repeat it like mantra. 

And I smugly pat myself mentally on the back when I do buy locally produced food (I consider food from most of the state of Virginia as local to me) and I check to see if it's been grown/raised organically (and here I mean in the spirit of organics, not necessarily the letter of the law) but I haven't given too much thought to the word "seasonal. " If the food isn't in the store, I assume it isn't in season. I've had vague notions that winter squash is best in winter, asparagus and artichokes are springtime vegetables, and tomatoes usually show up around July.  But when are green beans in season?* I buy those all the time. And lettuce?  I know that it comes from California when I don't buy it from the 17th Street Farmers' Market, and that's not open until April.  And if the farmers' market here in town isn't open, what are farmers growing and where does it go?

I clicked on a link on Gastrokid the other day and found the answer to all (well, most) of my questions.  Eat the Seasons is a blog, updated weekly, that lets you know exactly what's in season now, this minute, and provides articles and recipe ideas to help you eat according to what's available for this part of the world.  Did  you know rabbit is in season?  Neither did I, but prior to World War II and the advent of modern feedlots, meat was also seasonal to a certain extent, just as produce is.  Cows and pigs would be slaughtered when their meat was at it's fattiest (and most succulent), consumed, and then the rest would be salted and saved for the rest of the year. So around about now, most people would be pretty sick and tired of ham or corned beef, and the little bunnies would start to look very appetizing.

There's a UK version of the site as well, and when you click onto that one, thing's get even more interesting.  Nick, the editor/author of the site, is based in England and there are some features I'd love to see over on the North American side.  There's a weekly UK newsletter but even more useful are a series of guides to popular British cookbooks like Nigella Lawson's  How to Eat and Nigel Slater's  The Kitchen Diaries.  These cookbook companions are available for download for a nominal fee (just under $3.00) through PayPal, and Nick's organized the recipes, with page numbers, arranged by the type of dish (sides, salads, mains, etc.) and which ingredients are in season according to month.  Genius!  Unfortunately, tragically, the page numbers don't match up with the American editions, but we all know how to use an index, don't we? And there's always Amazon.co.uk, as well, although the pound is smacking the dollar down hard these days.

Snapshot_2 I decided to try out one of cookbook companions with my one and only British-bought cookbook, the underutilized  River Cafe Cook Book. Checking my guide for February, I decided upon a menu consisting of Pork Cooked in Milk (p.223), Chickpeas with Swiss Chard (p. 172), and Braised Field and Wild Mushrooms (p. 181).  At the end of dinner, bragging to my family about our unparalleled seasonality, it suddenly occurred to me that we were eating according to the seasons in England, NOT the US. That wasn't particularly impressive. 

However, when I checked the site, I realized that our cross-Atlantic seasons are more or less in sync, and if you're discounting the whole state of California which apparently has everything all the time, it's still worth downloading the guides.  And, at the risk of repeating myself, we want to try harder to eat seasonally, don't we?  Eat the Seasons is the perfect site to facilitate in making that resolution into a reality.

River Cafe Pork Cooked in Milk

(very slightly modified--like for instance, the title: wouldn't "Pork Simmered in Milk" or "Milk-Braised Pork," sound a lot better? Or maybe even dropping that jarring word "milk" in favor of something like "Slow-Cooked Pork with Lemon?")

1-4 or 5 lb. boneless pork loin, trimmed (organic, humanely raised . . . )
2 Tb. olive oil
coarse salt and fresh pepper
4 Tb. butter (I actually used only 1 tablespoon because that's all I had and it was fine)
small handful of fresh sage leaves OR one large, generous pinch of dried sage (again, I didn't have any fresh)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
5 c. whole milk
zest of 2 lemons (do this with a vegetable peeler, not a grater, because you want the zest in a few large pieces)

Generously season the pork on all sides.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (yes!) and brown the meat well on all sides.  Transfer pork to a plate and pour the fat out of the pan. Heat the milk until simmering in another pan. Melt the butter in the Dutch oven, add the garlic and sage and, before the garlic begins to color (I mean colour), return the pork to the pan.  Add enough hot milk to come three-quarters of the way up the pork.  Bring to a boil, add the lemon peel and reduce the heat.  Place the lid on the pan, slightly askew, and very slowly simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Resist the temptation to disturb the meat.

When the pork is cooked, the milk will have curdled (not the greatest choice of words, but descriptive nonetheless)  into brown nuggets.  Carefully move the meat (it will be stuck to the bottom of your pan and the pieces that tear out are the best part), slice quickly, and spoon over the sauce.

Serves 6 hungry people

*Actually, I'm being a little bit disingenous here; I know green beans are a summer crop, having gardened in the past.  But where do the ones I buy come from and what would be in season in February in Virginia?

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So rabbit is in season eh? I'll pop over to The Fresh Market this afternoon and pick one up.

How about helping us novice rabbit cookers out though with a couple of easy recipes though.

And what wine should we serve? Pinot, Priorat, or maybe a nice Bairrada from Potugal?

Ha! I don't generally eat the animals that actually live in my house. I'm not that hungry yet.

I recently relocated back to the east coast from California (14 yrs). There was so much vegetal abundance there year round. Being in NH it is quite sobering to see how much is brought in, especially the winter months. If I think about eating seasonally or locally, I'll have to start going after the red squirrels and snow! Seriously, I wonder how the farmers survive here and a friend/in-with-the-farmers told me that CSA's really struggle here.

I did a post recently on the many sources for fresh food in Virginia including rabbit, goat and bison. You'd be surprised what we have right here in our backyard (an hour or so away). Thanks for your resources to help us eat the seasons- and if you have enough room (an extra freezer) you can freeze the seasons for later too! If your readers have some I haven't found, I hope they'll let me know.

I have some friends who try to eat only from their food storage for two weeks every winter -- food they have canned, dried, or stored in a root cellar along with grains and other dried goods that they have stocked as well. I found it fascinating! And I was glad to grab some fresh greens on the way home ...

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