I went to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket this morning, and almost did a jig when I spotted the first asparagus of the season. Yippee!
Glee and excitement over each new crop of the year are a perk of eating a seasonal diet (and locally grown automatically means seasonal, unless it’s greenhouse grown, but more about that in a second). For me, this is especially true for the spring treats that are only around for a few weeks.
I think “seasonal” should be right up there with “local” and “organic” in our food priorities that impact both environment and taste buds. Even if you are eating the fruits of industrial agriculture, you’re better off knowing what’s in season in your area when. Here’s why: although in-season doesn’t guarantee local (I saw New Zealand apples in New York last autumn), out-of-season does guarantee an increase in fuel burned to bring it to your plate. Out-of-season food has either been shipped long distance from somewhere it is in season (more fuel-burning miles), or greenhouse-grown (heating greenhouses uses fuel), or stored in refrigerated facilities (more fuel).
Anyway, after I refrained (barely) from doing a jig over the asparagus, I spotted another seasonal treat a few stalls down: ramps (also called wild leeks, a.k.a. Allium tricoccum).
What I really wanted to do was go straight home and start cooking, but I had an afternoon class to teach at the New York Botanical Garden. So I dropped off my asparagus and ramps at home and headed for the subway.
I got to the Garden with some time to spare and headed for what I think of as “the back 40,” the uncultivated, ignored areas at the outskirts of the garden. There are always interesting wild plants there. Today I spotted a patch of mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) that I’ll definitely check on later in the season to see if they are bearing fruit. Then I found a swathe of nettles (Urtica dioica) that are delicious as a cooked green or mashed up with potatoes and buttermilk. I collected a bagful. After that I gathered some redbud (Cercis canadensis)
On the way back to the subway I saw a woman creating a vegetable garden in her apartment building’s small front yard. She had onions and lettuce already growing, and had just transplanted her bell pepper seedlings. Because the nights are still a little too cold for peppers, she was rigging ingenious individual cold frames for the plants using sticks and plastic bags.
And now I’m back home and thinking about dinner. I think I’ll do the asparagus the way I had it in Switzerland last spring: steamed, then slathered with melted butter and sprinkled with shavings of cheese, except that instead of Parmesan I’ll be using Sprout Creek Farm’s spectacularly good Barat cheese. The ramps will get sauteed and then layered with scalloped potatoes, and…
Excuse me. My mouth is watering as I write this and I have to go cook now.