As the roots of summer seem to finally take hold here in the Willamette Valley we see the shift from spring start to show itself in both the fields and our farm life. Although we are still in the thick of spring peas and have a few more batches of turnips to harvest, the heat will soon do away with these tender hearts and bring forth the stalwarts of summer. The zucchini and yellow squash have blossomed and set fruit and will probably be in the harvest next week, the beans are growing every day. We will see our last harvest of lettuce heads this week, not wanting to take the chance with the bitter bites that large lettuce invariably produces in the heat. The eggplant and peppers finally have agreed to really grow; being truly heat loving plants, they don’t much care for our temperate climate, still we coax them to produce just enough of their offerings for our seasonal delight by the end of summer. And basil, with its intoxicating aroma and divine flavor– another heat lover–harvested this week!
And along with the changes in the field we saw our first trip to the creek side swimming hole whose waters not only cool our bodies but refreshes and replenishes our spirits as well. The lovely thing about living where there are four seasons, be they less distinct seasons than I was used to, is that the passing of time is marked not only by numbers and names, but by the particulars created by the changing weather and landscape. For us, each season is distinct not only by its heat or its cold, rainy or dry, but by the different activities, routines, festivities, and moods. More and more, our seasons are defined by the food.
Although just seven short year ago I didn’t give much thought to how food grew, after beginning to grow our own food we naturally began to eat more seasonally. After garden fresh tomatoes just one year in to gardening, we stopped ever buying fresh tomatoes from the store. We have always loved food, and good flavor and good quality ingredients are key to making good food. A fresh, sun ripened tomato is a whole different vegetable to tomatoes picked green and shipped far or greenhouse grown. It was little things like this that began to chip away at the food perspective we were raised with–that we should eat the same things year round. For us, it was just too disappointing to eat a store bought tomato in the winter, so we just didn’t. We canned the over abundant summer crop we had and waited for the next summer and that first ripe tomato was a yearly treasure grown right in our backyard.
As things like this found there way into our mind set, we also began to think beyond home gardening and connected many dots that created our desire to produce food for our local community and to buy and eat that which we can’t produce from others here in our local community, and this means being more seasonal in our approach to eating. The challenges to this desire are many, and in the end, we are not purists by any means. Up until our local health food store recently stopped carrying fair trade bananas, my children each ate a banana every morning. They would also really like to have apples around all the time. Sometimes I waiver, but the organic apples are all from South America right now…it just seems crazy to me to buy them. They walk by melons in winter and beg; but melons, like tomatoes, have come to mean one thing to me, and that it…summer! The joy and specialness of these things, of seasonal eating, just as much as the improved flavor, make me stand firm in much of our home’s approach to food.
So, we lick our lips at the smell of the tomato plants, and pray for sweet melons by the end of another mild Oregon summer. Just as the first spring peas are so unbelievably thrilling, their time comes and goes, and we begin to anticipate the first young zucchini, which inevitably becomes something we would rather wait until next summer to eat again anyways. Then, the sweet kiss of cool weather creates vegetables that are like candy compared to their summer cousins. Our palate is blessed with these wonderful flavors, laying down memories in sweet and sour, tangy and buttery, to go along with the memories of splashing in cool water and throwing rocks, of days longer than nights, of the feeling of lightness, of almost floating a little bit off the ground that the energy of summer brings us.