You can't make everything from scratch

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Thoughts on seasonal cooking

Lately, I haven't been posting very consistently, but there's a very good reason for that: I don't really like cooking in the spring.

Or, more to the point, I don't know how to cook in the spring. I have very clear - not to say fixed - ideas for every other season, but spring just doesn't inspire me in the same way.

Summer is easy, with its plethora of fresh fruit and veggies, especially the highly perishable kind. Summer is the season for going to the farmer's market (or, around here, the farm) and making the most of what's ripe and available while it's still ripe and available. It's a very spur-of-the-moment kind of time. It's the season of salads and cold soups, food that doesn't require cooking or that can be cooked on a grill outside, without heating up the apartment.

Autumn is possibly easier. Indeed, autumn has long been my favourite cooking season. There's something about the crispness of the air and the impending winter that makes food taste that much better, and you have access to all the foods that have a long growing season. It's a time to feast on summer's bounty, or preserve it for the cold, dark winter ahead. Autumn food provides an opportunity for reflection and recognizes the ephemeral nature of, well, nature. Autumn is when soups and stews start to look mighty tempting, and the baked dishes come out as it becomes more possible to use the oven.

In recent years, I've started to become very fond of winter cooking. Winter is the season of long, slow, simmered dishes: soups, stews, braises. For me, winter is all about meat. This can be difficult with a husband who eats only poultry and fish, but I managed to get in my share of beef, pork and lamb this past year. I'm sure that winter was once a season of very boring and repetitve meals, based largely on hardy root vegetables that overwinter well, but with most of our food now coming from other places anyway, it's easy to have a variety throughout the season. And yet, I still feel that my cooking is rooted in the season, even when I'm using produce flown in from Chile or Mexico.

But spring? Spring is a tough case for me. It's too warm and sunny for those hearty winter meals, but there's not enough great produce to inspire the way that summer does. Spring is a transitional time, a time of restlessness - "Winter is over, let's go outside!" - but culinarily, I haven't learned how to express that. I recognize some of the ingredients people associate with spring (rhubarb, asparagus, fiddleheads and artichokes for example), but in Canada, many of these ingredients don't come into their own until later in the season. Besides, these are just ingredients, and I need spring techniques: grilled asparagus? To me, that says summer. Asparagus gratin? That's an autumn or winter approach. How do you cook a spring ingredient using a technique that reflects the season?

1 Comments:

  • At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Sil said…

    I think of spring as raw, unfinished, new.
    So I think of spring recipes as close to untouched as possible. Steaming (for the asparagus), warming, chilling. Keeping the barebones flavour intact and highlighting it with fresh herbs and oils. Maybe that's why you can't think of a technique. Spring is all about the absence of technique - keepin' it real, keepin' it raw.
    Chives, spring onions, vinagrettes. Cold pasta salad served with plain tomato soup, a fresh green salad (like the one I'm eating right now *munch*) and crusty bread.
    Spring cheeses and sandwiches (tuna melts and salads with nuts and proteins). Small portions of many things. Tapas. Using up preserves mixed in with the firsts of the season.
    Check out the April/May copy of CityBites:
    http://www.citybites.ca/archives/
    For the article "Please Don't Trick the Animals", and a little snippet on the seasonality of cheese.

     

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