Monday, January 26, 2009
I was in Union Square this morning for an appointment, and I couldn’t resist walking through the Greenmarket even in the bitter cold. The stands were a far cry from their summer glory, but I quickly found Red Jacket Orchards and bought a few apples: three Cameos and two Galas. The apples weren’t shiny, red beauties. They were a mottled greenish-rust color, with unsightly bulges and dull skin.
Next I popped across the street to Whole Foods to buy a few staples. Walking through the front doors, the first items on my right were rows and rows of berries – blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries from Florida and Mexico. All of them were colorful and shapely, brightly beckoning a shopper sick to death of winter and eager for a little vicarious sunshine.
Over the years I have learned my lesson. Mid-winter strawberries shipped from afar may look inviting, but they taste like sawdust. Blueberries and raspberries in January may promise to cure the winter blues, but they are actually small bursts of sweet disappointment, never tasting as luscious as they do when they are fresh from the local summer sun.
I used to write profiles of chefs for a well-known food organization. After a while the challenge became putting a fresh twist on a chef’s devotion to local and seasonal ingredients, because, “local and seasonal” was the mantra of so many of the nation’s top chefs. The philosophy became so ubiquitous it almost became a cliché.
But taking a bite of the ugly, local apple today and tasting its crisp, honeyed sweetness brought the chefs’ mantras back into focus. Aside from its eco- and community benefits, local and seasonal tastes good… something I will instantly be reminded of when I bite into the first sweet strawberries of summer.