Eating locally and seasonally is important to me. I believe it is good for the environment but I also think it’s more fun to eat seasonally than to eat un-seasonally.
I know that lots of people like to eat corn on the cob in December. Why not? If they like it there it is – available in plastic bags and already peeled and even super-sweet I imagine. But I like practically every food that exists and can easily take advantage of my indiscriminate tastes to rotate seasonally the foods I eat.
Eating strawberries and asparagus throughout the year robs me of the opportunity to discover them newly each spring when they come into season.
In Baltimore where I grew up, my family always greeted spring with dinners of shad, little potatoes dressed with chopped parsley, and asparagus with Hollandaise. Starting in late January I would ask my grandmother and my mother from time to time, “Is there shad yet?”
We looked forward to eating that meal each spring. Who wouldn’t?
But putting aside traditions and environmental concerns, most foods that grow in the ground taste a lot better when they are local and therefore seasonal. They are not picked before their time and develop fully.
But the other day, Eun, my partner, pointed out to me that Earth ‘n Eats, the Mennonite co-op in Pennsylvania from which we buy a lot of our produce was offering its own hothouse tomatoes. Eun thought we ought to try them.
There is no matter on which I am more rigid than eating tomatoes when they are not in season. I love waiting masochistically long until early July when the first tomatoes are brought to us from southern Virginia farms. I love monitoring carefully and even declining to use those first tomatoes because they are all pulp and no juice and clearly picked too early.
But when two weeks later the real tomatoes begin arriving I change our menu radically to celebrate them for the rest of the summer and until the nights get colder in September and tomatoes stop ripening.
At The BreadLine, my downtown restaurant, I was known by customers to be generally curt and arbitrary; and when people would ask in January for tomatoes on their sandwiches I would throw my arms dramatically into the air and say, “Where do you imagine I would get tomatoes in January?”
I remember saying that meanly one day to two college-aged young women who fell off to the side to wait for their foods. One said to the other: “Really, what is he talking about – ‘where would he get tomatoes in January?’ I mean they are in every Safeway I go to.”
So much for being condescending.
Anyway, I breached my scruples the other day when Eun suggested we try the tomatoes from Earth ‘n Eats. It is she, after all, who manages Bread Furst and so I wanted to agree with her suggestion and not be my imperious self at that moment.
So I ordered hothouse tomatoes.
Josiah delivers early in the morning and the tomatoes had already arrived when I arrived, perfect entirely unblemished orbs of very hard flesh a little like reddish lacrosse balls.
I cut into one. It glistened with a pink and white interior. Not a drop of tomato juice fell onto the cutting board.
I sighed and said a little prayer of apology to Mother Nature and then I made a taboulleh, a delicious salad of parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, olive oil and lemon juice almost good enough to compensate for the deficiencies of the flavorless tomatoes I cubed and added.