One of my seasonal growing/eating inspirations, Eliot Coleman, calls the weeks surrounding the winter solstice the “Persephone Months”. He’s describing a time of year when the sun’s path is so low that it doesn’t heat up his cold frames enough for growth to continue; the crops sit waiting to be harvested, perfectly protected and preserved in their cozy beds. The reference to the goddess Persephone comes from the story about her journey to the Underworld. There are many versions of this myth, but generally it tells of Persephone’s kidnapping by Hades, Demeter’s refusal to allow anything to grow until she is returned, Persephone eating pomegranate seeds, fruit of the Underworld, and being compelled to return to Hades for 6 months of the year, making Demeter sad and all green things die. When Persephone returns, Demeter rejoices, and all green things grow.
I’ve got a little Persephone going on in my kitchen right now. The harvest bounty from summer and fall, that has been canned, frozen, and root cellared, (well, okay, not exactly your typical root-cellar, it’s coolers in the basement, but we make it work),
has dwindled down to the last jar of pickles, the last few autumn-picked apples, the last couple bags of frozen berries.
The cooking becomes rather stark and unimaginative as I struggle to find inspiration without much help from Mother Nature. Although it is officially spring, and the list of fruits and vegetables in season, in New England in spring, is long, at the moment it is entirely hypothetical. Spring is relative.
What’s in season? There’s a great tool to find out, no matter where you are. At Sustainable Table you can enter your state and the time of year, and you are redirected to the National Resources Defense Council’s seasonal eating lists. Once there, you can also search for Farmers’ Markets in your area. If you check out New Hampshire, you will see how far off our food spring really is-it’s more like May/June. We have had an indoor winter Farmers’ Market this year, and there have been some green offerings, but they have been the more winter-hardy leafys like kale, cabbage, bok choy, and arugula. No fruit unless it’s been preserved as jewel-like jams and jellies.
I rely on the grocery store until the large farmstand up the road opens up, and then I can feel a little better buying veg not grown locally, because at least I am supporting a local farmer (they stock market produce until their own comes in). I pretend by buying things I would have put by in my large, fully functional, and completely imaginary root cellar, like potatoes, rutabaga, cabbage, onions, apples, carrots, leeks and beets. I also buy frozen broccoli and canned green beans and peaches. But these are lackluster substitutes for the tender, green flavor of peas (snow, sugar snap, and shelled), asparagus, and baby spinach and lettuces, not to mention the eye-watering, mouth-watering sourness of the first rhubarb of the season. Those of you who have long winters and have rhubarb in the spring know what I mean. So good.
So the calendar says spring is here. It looks like spring, it smells like spring, but it still doesn’t taste like spring.
See you on the Road.