When it comes to a discussion of seasonal meals, the following misconceptions are commonly offered up to me. First, it seems that the prevailing image is that the winter season is the most difficult time for people to sustain themselves from the land. The stereotypical winter diet is portrayed in gray, dismal colors, a mix of old and stale root crops with little flavor and starvation rations. Second, the common thought is that the arrival of spring marks instant abundance once again.
Well, let’s consider each. First, with regards to winter meals, let me be the first to say how extraordinarily delicious, varied, filling, colorful, and nourishing a winter diet is. This time of year is essentially what we are working for during the growing season. All our efforts to cultivate and store thousands of pounds of root crops – potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips - is rewarded during the off-season. As we ferment, can, and pickle our surplus vegetables throughout the summer, we tuck quart after quart away on basement shelves. The freezer is stocked with meat, and the root cellar fills with eggs.
Winter, you see, offers a delectable selection for the palate.
Why bother saying this now? It is, after all, late in the spring. Because springtime, it must be said, is really the most challenging season. We finish off the last of our stores as we plant the seeds for the coming season.
Abundance must be sought in creative ways.
Here at D Acres we seed lettuces and other greens into greenhouses and coldframes as soon as the soil thaws. These first salads are an incredible burst of freshness that is eagerly devoured meal after meal. In no way, though, do we expect to subsist on greens alone.
And so we turn to perennial crops and “weed” species, some of the first plants to vigorously emerge from the winter slumber. Asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, and rhubarb are favorites, and subtleties of flavor are achieved with the harvesting of ox-eye daisy, dandelion, nettle, and sorrel leaves, not to mention fresh herbs such as chives and oregano. Plants such as fiddleheads, milkweed, and knotweed are also edible if harvested young. The list goes on: possibilities for foraging are significant, even in this region.
To complete a meal with the above selection, however, we continue to rely on eggs from the chickens (they quickly begin to lay more as the day length increases) and meat (pork and chicken) stored in the freezer. We have just finished the last of our potatoes, and are down to a final pint of our dry beans. These staples are the essentials that continue to nourish us as we approach the summer season.
The spring diet offers a burst of freshness, bitters and tarts dominating the palate as we – the people and the plants – awake from the winter. While spring meals can be challenging, the process of harvesting for and preparing a springtime spread is rewarding and appetizing. The spring season certainly demands a keen sense of creativity and inspiration: what can you do with your backyard?