Friday, May 22, 2009
In the Season Thereof...
Rhubarb season is upon us! It doesn’t rate rave reviews any more, but rural folks used to look forward to the first harvest of the season: a tangy vegetable, loaded with Vitamin C, that’ll make you pucker if you eat it raw, but is delicious in pies and cobblers. I used to make a rhubarb custard pie that was out of this world, but that’s a subject for another blog.
I was thinking about rhubarb the other day and how, after a winter of eating only vegetables that could be stored in a root cellar: potatoes, carrots, cabbage , apples (though you couldn’t store the cabbage and apples together in the same place, because they would make each other go bad quickly), anyway, after a winter of bland veggies, the rhubarb must have been a singular delight to rural people of previous centuries. Spring tonic, they called it.
I often give thanks, as we ask the blessing on the food, that I live in a time with wonderful agricultural and transportation facilities so that the most common of us can eat food out of season throughout the year. Who’d a thunk it? No one in Sierra County, New Mexico, in the year I was born.
But, at the same time, something has been lost—that once-a-year specialness that attended the ripening of each crop, beginning with rhubarb. Each succeeding surprise, from strawberries to raspberries to cherries to blueberries and blackberries to apples, each advent was anticipated and relished and remembered long after the plants had withered with the frosty winds of fall.
There are a few things that remain as once-a-year blessings. Like Pacific Northwest strawberries. You won’t find them shipped fresh across the country, because they don’t last. Dark red and sweet, they’re unsubstantial as the river mist, and if not eaten soon after picking, they melt away. The season begins about mid June and is almost over on July 4th. I can hardly wait.
Another once-a-year delight is sweet corn. Oh, you can buy corn in the market right now. It’s corn season somewhere in the world. But there’s nothing as good as just-picked corn. The minute the ear is pulled from the stalk, the sweetness starts to disappear, so the quicker you can get it husked and cooked, the better it will taste. That’s why good corn is a once-a-year, straight-from-your (or neighbor’s)-garden affair.
And then there are lilacs. Is there fragrance that can compare with theirs? That’s a once-a-year treat that I look forward to. Again, it’s a short season but filled with the double sensory delight of scent and sight.
The picture is of my four-year-old lilac bush that must have heard me threatening to pull it out and run it through the chipper if it didn't start blooming pretty soon. It managed to squeeze out four blooms, so I let it live.
Last on my current list of once-a-year treats is my neighbor’s flowering cherry tree. Two weeks, max, I get to enjoy the rosy splendor of that tree before the petals fall and blow across the street to edge my lawn in pink drifts. It’s already over, and I’m glad I have the picture to augment the memory.
So, what about you. What, besides Christmas, do you wait all year for?
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