Lately I’ve been starting way too many Tweets with “So old I…” as history just keeps echoing, repeating and sequeling. But it was still both surprising and sad to see the latest news on killer cantaloupes. Salmonella, again, 32 long years after I had the great honor of a cartoon by the awesome Seymour Chwast accompanying my little rant about eating local. Clearly, no one listened. It’s cranberry season, FFS. And maybe one day we can have an honest talk about working conditions in the fields warm enough to grow and harvest melons?
So old I’ve decided previous olds collected so many canned pineapple recipes cuz A) the main ingredient seemed so exotic B) it was about the only fruit available year-round before this 24/7/365 all-the-food-all-the-time world.
And I may have to quit the Twitter that ate my life if I keep seeing so many “think positive, lift up others” Tweets. But I finally succumbed to the amazement that was the Tampa Bay Times’s exposé of the farm-to-table myth in that state and have to give a shout-out. Leave aside that the place is led by a Florida Man who felt compelled to attack a constituent who shamed him out of Starbucks, and that it is also a state where, as the story notes, “little people wrestling” is a championship played out in restos. It was an impressive piece of investigative reporting on real issues; it makes a serious case for paying farmers more for all they do. What was most amazing to me, though, was how food-strapped Florida appears to be. I never got around to pushing back against a ridiculous push-back against eating local/seasonal in New York, but a big reason to schlep to the Greenmarkets in dreariest winter is to try to do a tiny part in keeping the Hudson Valley and Long Island and what’s left of New Jersey from being bulldozed for McMansions. Shorter, though: If you see local peaches on a menu in the climate-changed Northeast this summer, close your eyes and think of Georgia truckers.
Blueberries in my neighborhood were $6 a pint on National BB Pancake Day, a day that will live in January. Somehow I suspect the lobbyists who got the commemoration commemorated are not representing American farmers who sell fresh. And I would mull harder on why the hometown paper chose to run a BB recipe the day after the big day, but I worked there. If there are peaches available in the Cafe Regret, peaches are in season, Sulzdamnit.
I can never remember one cappuccino makes your brain larger; another makes it small. And I will never understand how Helen Keller got a job as a photo editor. Also: Never clean your stove before sautéing a duck breast (or, come to think of it: never sauté a duck breast). And I posted on the Centenarian twice without getting to my point: What about making her birthday a national holiday — imagine the food! (Although it would undoubtedly mean fucking beef stew in hottest August.) And, finally: How many times do I have to tell you about lard?
One of my friends-through-Twitter has been back-and-forthing about how soon it will be until we see ramps on menus, and I feel even sadder about being shortchanged of winter. Already green garlic is in Greenmarkets, and it’s way too soon (I only recently finished off the last of Keith’s Farm’s amazing hard-neck cloves). At this rate we’ll be through with pumpkins by June. The cherry blossoms are already in full bloom in Washington, I saw geese for the first time among the ducks over in The Pool in Central Park and all the suddenly-trusted climate experts are warning mosquitos will be rampaging within the month. All of it makes me think humans were smarter in the age of mythology, when the seasons could be rationalized and so were respected. The explanation of winter is my favorite, how the ruler of the underworld spirited away Persephone/Proserpina and made her stay half the year for eating six pomegranate seeds while, as Kate McGarrigle lyrically put it, her mother, the goddess of agriculture, “punished the Earth” and “turned every field into stone.” Millenniums ago people understood the world needed a respite. With all the information available to us, we still think we can eat pomegranates all year and not pay a price. No joke.
Ron Paul is making it clear that anyone in this country can now walk away from responsibility for even the most insane guano published under his name. But I was still (somewhat) surprised to see the Egopedist calling for fresh tomatoes and basil in recipes on the same day the front page of his enabler was dissing organic farmers in Mexico for growing and exporting those very same ingredients out of season. I guess if you moosh up beans and oats as a burger you get right with the Berkeley food gods?
Why the epitaph on my urn will read “Twittered Away”: I posted that we bought a loaf of rye from a new vendor at Union Square and it turned out to be hardtack — $$ hardtack at that. Within minutes followers were Tweeting thoughts on “vintage hardtack” and, even better, “artisanal hardtack.” Through the reaction, I learned why more and more breads are turning up in the Greenmarkets: The future of local food looks “value-added.” Apparently baked goods sell out much faster than fruits and vegetables that need to be converted into dinner. No wonder our every trip to a market yields more sightings of canned squash, peppers as paprika, tomatoes in sauce and any of the above as part of gift boxes. I’m so old I remember attending a meeting of Greenmarket overseers back in the early Nineties when the arguments over rules were long and furious. Keeping it pure was the big goal, when farmers were really struggling to make a go of it all. And I’m open to new vendors — our neighborhood market now has almost everything we need for a full week: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, vegetables, fruit. But the things we don’t buy are the “value-added”: the ice cream, the margarine-tasting cookies, the jams. Aren’t those what the neighboring Whole Foods is for?
I also have to Tweet Longer on the premature exultation that makes this time of year so miserable for a food writer. Bad enough I’m inundated with xmas flackery before we’re even at Gobbler Hysteria Day. But I’m already getting e-releases for VD. Shouldn’t there be a mandated period of candy corn digestion before we have to start going all dark chocolate?
Speaking of pomegranates, though, I’d been wondering why they’re turning up everywhere on menus and online when this is the season to be eating strawberries (almost) and rhubarb. Turns out they’re coming from Chile, maybe by air. Apparently everyone has forgotten the cautionary myth of Prosperpina/Persephone. And just as we’re losing winter altogether in a tornadic tsunami of melting polar ice caps.
The onetime home of the Human Scratch N Match also ran a silly story, on produce prices rising, that actually quoted a woman stupidly musing that it might be “the economy” to blame. Not bad weather and diminishing water, of course. As I noted over on the Twitter, anyone complaining about the price of tomatoes in March is cooking it wrong — this is the season of “better dead than red” in the produce aisle, at least if you want flavor and fair prices. But then there was the way a protest at the newish Upscale Aldi’s was covered elsewhere. Most shoppers interviewed thought it was all about those softballs next to the flown-in blueberries, not the fact that so much processed crap is cheap because tomato pickers in Florida are paid slave wages. Really, if a chain can’t Shetland-pony up a penny a pound more, you really have to wonder how exploited its grape harvesters are. Two bucks might be more than a price.
I’m reTweeting myself to say magazines should be ticketed for running recipes calling for blueberries in February. Especially when they’re for “chilled gazpacho” while the snow’s piled high from Minneapolis to Manhattan.
And speaking of cringing in the grave, Squanto would probably care less about attacks from wingnut blowhards than he would about Thanksgiving recipes calling for fresh corn in late November. Stick a fish in it. That harvest has been and gone.
I’m so old I remember when the Big Homme published a newsletter on cooking what was in season, back when the idea was about as alien as pork belly in this country. And it was truly excellent; I saved the whole run in my cobbled-together binder for story ideas as editors finally caught up to the wisdom of eating locally/seasonally. So it’s doubly odd to see “his” latest column in the Bullfighters’ Mag, with a recipe for zucchini-tomato tian to go with Easter lamb. Whiskey tango foxtrot? Bad enough that so many allegedly serious cooks are already jumping the gun and using asparagus when it’s still coming from Mexico. But tomatoes and zucchini belong in basil season. They make as much sense as Peeps in August.
By your Tweets you shall know them: I’ll confess to editing what I post on the Twitter read ’round the world, just to be sure I’m not inadvertently revealing myself to be one of those cook-as-I-say, not-as-I-do kind of food writers. What in the name of Chile were raspberries doing on an influential home menu right after New Year’s? Then again, the real surprise was that they were not preceded by asparagus. Again.