In the introduction to her 2008 cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina Garten writes about cooking seasonally, explaining how she learned to cook this way when she and her husband began spending part of the year in Paris. There, people visit the markets each morning to buy food for the day, choosing from foods that are in season at that moment. Ina had always dreamed of cooking like a Frenchwoman but she found the reality of food-shopping in Paris to be stressful. She realized that people there had limited options; they could only cook what was in season, and some ingredients that she was used to - pumpkins and cranberries at Thanksgiving time, for example - were not available at all. Over time, she adjusted to the idea that she would have to cook like a French person, going to the market without a plan and buying what was there on a given day. She learned to cook seasonally, making use of what was plentiful, which was also what tasted best.
I've never been to Paris. A lot of what I know about Paris - living there, cooking and eating there - actually comes from reading Ina's cookbooks. (I am a die-hard Ina fan. I've often said that I want to be her when I grow up. If that means an apartment in Paris someday - well, fine. I have to play the part, don't I?) When I read Ina's discussion of shopping in Paris, my illusions were shattered. I, too, had long maintained a fantasy of shopping daily in a bustling city market, a large leather-handled basket over my shoulder with a baguette poking out of the top. I'd be wearing a long, floaty skirt, or maybe a trim top with cigarette pants (I'd be trim in general). The food would be impossibly fresh and I would be spoiled for choice. I'd take it home and cook a gorgeous meal, which we'd eat on our terrace. We'd drink wine and the children would behave beautifully, complimenting me on the fabulous meal I'd served...
Romantic notions, straight from the mind of the woman who just told you she's never been to Paris.
Back to reality. Shopping, cooking and eating, for us, are not quite like that. We're not picky eaters at all, but freshness is important. We eat a lot of produce around here - a good five or six servings per day when you count both fruits and vegetables - and I really like the idea of buying it all fresh every day or two. Even more, I like the idea of having it be easy to find, and affordable. I'm one of those rare people who adores buying groceries, even in a mainstream supermarket. But I don't always think about the seasonal limitations of food shopping. Ina's experiences give me pause; it would be much more difficult to shop entirely based on seasonal availability, but it would help a cook learn to be more creative and resourceful too. I do try to shop, and cook, seasonally - I buy apples in fall and citrus in winter, asparagus in spring and tomatoes in summer. There is room for choice; if I feel like it, I really can have an apple pie in May, or an asparagus tart in September. They won't be the best examples of those foods, though, and that's where seasonal marketing shines.
Though we recognize that shopping locally and seasonally is important, we live in a part of the country that isn't always conducive to bountiful harvests. The chile harvest, for example, is highly dependent on the monsoon season - more rain means more chiles, and an earlier harvest for a longer buying season. In spite of the difficulties of growing produce in the high desert, we have some excellent farming around the state. Here in Albuquerque, we're fortunate to have a wonderful farmer's market during the growing seasons, with early autumn its biggest and best time. The Downtown Grower's Market is open on Saturday mornings and it attracts a big crowd every week. There is live music. There are fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, pastries, dried meats, eggs and many different kinds of handicrafts. It's fun to browse and try and taste. It's also a good opportunity to ponder local, seasonal produce (more plentiful than many people realize), and learn how to make it a bigger part of our lives.
Chiles feature prominently, of course, along with other types of peppers. You can buy fresh red or green chiles to take home, or have them roasted at the market. You can also find dried-chile ristras, to decorate your home (it's traditional in New Mexican culture to hang one outside your front door as a sign of welcome). Chiles freeze well, especially if you take the time to cook and chop them first. Then, they can be enjoyed all year. You can buy them in the grocery store, often from larger-scale farms, but they always seem to taste better when they come from small farms dotted around New Mexico. Peppers are an important part of autumn here, culturally as well as economically. I think our peppers epitomize local, seasonal harvest.
Pumpkins and root vegetables are having their moment now. Carrots, potatoes, turnips, garlic and onions abound, basic elements for hearty cold-weather stews and soups. Soon, it will be time to stay indoors and eat things that fill you up and keep you warm. These foods travel well and store well, waiting until you're ready to use them. To me, carrots and pumpkins, with their warm, brilliant shades and promising culinary potential, are a seasonal must.
Autumn is the season of golden fruits, flowers and foliage. Our market is full of yellow at this time of year - squashes, gourds, peppers, apples and sunflowers crowd the tables. Yellow is one of the freshest food colors, bringing to mind crispness, juicy bites, sun-warmed flavors. It's easy to imagine building meals around such foods, isn't it? As Ina put it, the food that is plentiful right now is also the food that tastes best. Whether in Paris or in your own hometown, cooking seasonally is smart and delicious.
Do you try to cook and eat locally and/or seasonally? What is in season right now where you live?
Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below:
Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Gillian at Tales from a happy house.
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at mitenska
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.