Sunday, September 9, 2007
I am a harvest diva. I get very excited when a particular fruit or vegetable becaomes available in season, and try to enjoy it while it is at its peak of flavor. I will not eat corn in any form but fresh corn on the cob, and it must be picked within the previous 24 hours or I won't touch it. A corn snob, that's me. But I don't want to be part of some foodie cognoscenti; I seek out fresh produce for the sheer joy of it.
This morning, as I have so many mornings in the last several weeks, I enjoyed a fresh peach. I got it at the farmer's market that happens in our neighborhood every Tuesday. The farm stand has a little old lady who slowly but steadily packs evertone's apples, peaches, plums or other fruits into a bag, while her son arranges them in baskets and her (daughter in law? I'm guessing) basically does very little to help customers and rolls her eyes at how slow the older lady is. Their peaches are great; I tried the white ones but prefer the yellow for better flavor, not so syrupy sweet.
I have been eating them with plain organic yogurt for breakfast, and on their own for snacks. There is nothing better than a fresh peach! They are rarely grown organically, at least not commercially, but I like to think buying from local farms means I am getting peaches with less spray than those that have to travel halfway across the country.
I finished the last peach in the bowl today. There is a mound of farm fresh Bartlett peaches beneath them, and I even had one with the peach, sliced into a bowl. This marks the transition from summer to late summer fruits I suppose...I will miss my peaches. It will be an entire year, after all, until I can eat them again, unless I happen across another market with a later variety (which may indeed be the case when I go back to commuting to Boston this week).
It makes me think about what it really means to enjoy foods that are only available for a short time, at the height of their season of ripening. Sure, I can buy a peach any old day at the supermarket. But that's like eating a pink, mealy supermarket tomato: it bears no resemblance to a fresh one picked a matter of hours before I eat it.
Before people in this country enjoyed produce flown or trucked in from far away, they ate things grown locally. They must ahve really appreciated the fact of a favorite fruit's limited availability. Some foods could be stored in cold cellars, like apples, or root vegetables like potatoes, turnips or carrots. But the sweet, juicy fruits of late summer, the tender greens of early spring, these were celebrated in their time and no doubt gave way to the pervasive small-town strawberry fairs, peach parades and fiddlehead festivals. For what else could give better cause for celebration than the incomparable flavor of these jewels of the orchards and fields?
For me, the farmer's market itself is like a festival. The brightly colored produce arranged in baskets, the fresh-cut flowers, the cheery signs, the waving and smiles of neighbors...well, for the most part, anyway. But it's also true people behave as badly at the market as they do in any other retail situation, which saddens me, since it seems so obvous this is an experience to be savored and appreciated, much like the foods we go there to buy should be.
When did we stop appreciating food's beauty? At what point did the smell of apple blossoms, or watermelons ripening on the vine, or fresh basil growing in the sun, fade from our memories? How could the sight of peaches on the tree, peas on the vine or blackberries on the bush not be one of our most fervent quests, throughout the shifting micro-seasons of harvest?
We have been disenchanted by plastic, tasteless, toxic food. And it has clearly had repercussions far beyond the aesthetic realm. Our health, our economy, our communities, our culture, our history and our future: all are intricatey and irrevocably woven into our relationship with the foods the earth gives us. We need to re-enchant this relationship.