One of my treasured neighborhood advisors keeps telling me to “advertise” our commitment to ingredients grown on local farms. We are making pickles with local cucumbers and buying blueberries and beets from small farms. Indeed, we are buying whatever we can get from farms around us. Our doors are open to them when at the end of the farmers’ markets that bring them to Washington, they have leftovers to sell to us.
I have been reluctant to say much about this because I don’t want to be seen as one of those dogmatics who write on their in-store signs the precise number of miles traveled by the carrots and kale. I am not one of them.
My commitment to local ingredients comes less from a concern about their carbon costs although I know that is very important. It comes less from a commitment even to the prosperity of small farms that surround Washington although that too is very important.
I believe in local ingredients most of all because of they taste better, because if tomatoes are left to ripen on the vine as they should they are incomparably better than those picked and packed before they are ripe. That’s why I want tomatoes from Virginia, not Florida.
One can’t be too rigid about this. Pineapples and artichokes don’t grow here and canned tomatoes have their place. But fresh tomatoes are an entirely different thing from the canned ones and that is why in short order you are going to see Bread Furst’s food tilt heavily toward them. It will stay tilted that way until October when local tomatoes disappear altogether until next July.
I am less a locavore than I am a season-obsessive. I believe in eating with the seasons. I love the rediscovery of asparagus in the spring and apples in the fall, of corn, melons, and peaches in July and pears and pumpkins in October. I love it when I receive from a local produce fellow as I did a day ago an email that says:
Sweet corn is now available, these are not your typical silver queen varieties, these are actually awesome!
Following Mother Nature gives me rediscovery through every season of every year. And of course I get the flavor bonuses of eating foods when they ripen on vine, bush, and tree.
I suspect I got started early in life on this course by a grandmother and a fish. My grandmother whom we used to call “the last of the Edwardian ladies,” made at her table a celebration when in late February shad became available in Baltimore, a city that always loved shad as much as it loved oysters and crabs.
Whole unboned shad, asparagus, and new potatoes steamed with butter was our best early spring dinner. Followed a month later by lamb and peas.
That is a habit which has persisted. My mother stopped driving her car at the age of 94 but before then she took some delight in buying the first shad of the season for my sister and me.
These days, as everyone knows, everything is available all through the year. Strawberries for Christmas? Why not? They’re being grown somewhere and are in the Chevy Chase Safeway.
I know it is a trick of my psychology that I lose my appetite for foods out of season. Who wants to eat an apple when blueberries are available? Why bother with oranges if apricots are in season?
So although I wish I could claim to you that when we make blueberry pies as we do right now we are doing it to reduce our carbon footprint. But the truth is we replaced lime meringue pies with strawberry cobbler and then cherry pie and now blueberry because limes are out season, strawberries and cherries came and went, and blueberries are now here.
This is one of those principles I cherish at Bread Furst.