Life by the Season, At Last
The first time I ever heard of a summer squash I was 18 years old. Growing up in the Midwest, vegetables to me were something mushy and grayish that came in a can, or if they didn’t come in a can, they were boiled extensively until transformed into a soggy paste. For most meals, vegetables materialized in the form of a bag of frozen peas and corn, microwaved and occupying a tiny corner of my plate. A token nod to health, largely ignored. Frozen pizzas and boxes of macaroni and cheese constituted the most substantial portion of my diet, and I was pretty happy with that.
In college, a series of environmental studies courses opened my eyes to the concept of eating locally as a means to help the environment. I had never in my life given a second thought to where my food came from or how it was produced, but it gradually dawned on me that the number one way in which I personally interacted with the world around me was through the food that I consumed. I slowly began opting for organic products at the supermarket and attending the weekly farmer’s market in my city. Despite these efforts, my life was still very much disconnected from the rhythms of the natural world. The day of the year had no more effect on me than what clothing I wore when I went outside. For years, I remained curious; what would it be like to synchronize my consumption with what is actually produced in my immediate environment?
When I first started at Red Dog Farm, I thought life could simply not get better than basking in the heavenly aroma of basil in the greenhouse, or a plump raspberry bursting with flavor in your mouth on a hot midsummer evening. I was in love with spring onions, then head over heels for cucumbers and cantaloupes. Sweet corn was pure bliss, and I ate broccoli every day for 3 weeks straight. Just when I was sure that nothing could compare to the delight of the midsummer harvest, suddenly I can’t imagine a greater pleasure than butternut squash and rosemary soup by the fire while a crisp autumn wind blows outside. Sweet Walla Walla onions are a distant memory because now I am in shallot heaven. Shallots in soup, sandwiches, salads; there is no place that a shallot doesn’t belong.
Despite the chilly weather, somehow there still seems to be an exciting new variety of fruit or vegetable each week here at Red Dog, some of which I’ve never even heard of. Radicchio was previously a completely foreign concept to me, and suddenly I find myself surrounded by more varieties than I can keep track of. My favorite, treviso, has deep purple leaves with streaks of lime green and looks just like an octopus. castelfranco is considerably less garish but if you look closely, the leaves are the softest pale pink, and sprinkled with bright magenta streaks near the center. I thought nothing could top the lovely watermelon radish, but recently we began harvesting a vibrant lavender variety of daikon radish that has me enamored all over again.
Of course I still often buy lemons, avocados, or bananas at the supermarket, but eating largely seasonally this year at Red Dog has created the most fulfilling relationship I have ever had with food. Instead of having everything I could ever want to eat at my fingertips, my enjoyment and appreciation of each food is heightened precisely because of its transience. As we head into the winter, I look forward to lots of yummy different kinds of potatoes, kales, and root vegetables, as they rise to prominence in the annual food calendar.