Seasonal Treats

During New England’s long off-season, we can relax our definition of “local.”

I’m a big believer in keeping things local—vegetables harvested at a sustainable Massachusetts farm yesterday are both tastier for me and healthier for our environment. I’m also a big believer in modern technology—refrigeration and ground transportation allow us to maintain variety in our diets year-round. So when the ground is frozen and even a cold rain seems like a pleasant respite from winter, I see no need to deprive my family of fresh produce. Faced with few local options, I can enjoy tropical fruits without that prickle of guilt that accompanies a pineapple in July (when blueberries and peaches abound). But importing all of our produce from the equatorial region is hardly a good solution.

With our East Coast farmshare from Enterprise, we aimed for a golden compromise—produce grown at sustainable farms, within a reasonable radius from home. Each week’s share has reminded us that New England’s seasons are hardly universal. While Massachusetts farms send out potatoes and beets from storage, their southern counterparts can still grow our summer favorites (albeit with the occasional help of greenhouses)—along with a few treats that would never thrive up north.

I barely knew what to do when a pile of summer squash appeared in the dead of winter. We could barely discern shape of our Weber grill under the piles of snow. After the second round, I could no longer handle the seasonal dissonance of eating pasta primavera while bundled up in wool socks and flannels. But zucchini has a place in the comfort food repertoire as well, and soon my freezer was restocked with enough zucchini bread and muffins to carry us through until the early spring.

Winter is a tomato dead zone for us—my first taste of a local, late-summer tomato has ruined me for life on the pale, mealy midwinter supermarket substitutes. I will occasionally give in to temptation and pick up a pint of organic grape tomatoes with a “Product of USA” label—but they rarely seem worth the high winter prices. How wonderful, then, to have flavorful tomatoes from just a few hundred miles away literally fall into my lap on several occasions this winter. I did pay for them, of course, but it somehow seems less of an indulgence when someone else is making the decisions. We had no problem putting them all to good use, but in my heart (and tastebuds), I know that the real tomato treasures are half a year away.

, Enterprise included organic strawberries for several weeks running in midwinter. Each share included one pint, usually from Florida—just enough for us to slice and enjoy as a special treat for a day or two. By the third week, my children came to expect the small package of plump, luscious berries, though their joy was no less genuine for its regularity. And when, a few weeks later, there were no strawberries to be found, their disappointment was apparent. Yet even 4-year-olds know a good thing when they see it, and mine are not too inhibited to shout out in the produce aisle, “Mommy, we don’t buy those berries in the winter. They were grown far away and will not taste very good.” (Their mother is still working on her kids-say-the-darnedest-things smile, lest our fellow shoppers thing we are engaging in food evangelism.)

Florida has more than strawberries, and almost every week our share includes one citrus variety or another. My kids were confounded—our farmshare is “sort of” local, and yet we were getting a fruit that would never appear at our farmer’s market. But citrus from the CSA box has three times the appeal as that in the grocery store. My daughter quickly discovered a love of grapefruit, bouncing with glee the second and third times they appeared. On subsequent weeks I found myself making grocery runs to pick up a few organic ruby reds—because who can deny a request to share a grapefruit with Mommy?

Of course, nothing says “Florida winter” like a pile of oranges. For two weeks, tangelos were packed in every lunch. We cut navel oranges into wedges, sucked out the flesh and used the rinds to make goofy grins. And just a few weeks ago, our box came packed with an armload of Hamlins—each one helpfully labeled “juice orange.” Never one to turn down a recipe with only two words, I took this as a directive and set to work with a (borrowed) citrus juicer. We sat down to breakfast with a pile of hollowed-out orange rinds on the kitchen counter, the juice so freshly squeezed that it was still capped with foam.

Nutritionists may decry the empty calories and lack of fiber, but I assure you: There is no other way to hold sunshine in a glass.


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