Imagine life without grocery superstores, 24-hour drive-thru windows and food delivery apps. Imagine that instead; you had to eat what you or your neighbors could produce. Now imagine; it's February and you haven't had any fresh fruits or vegetables all winter long. You've been eating eggs, dairy and meats and the last of the potatoes and other root vegetables stored in the cellar. All that you canned the growing season before is dwindling. Then March comes along. The days get a little longer, the air loses its chill and those first shoots of green poke their heads from the ground. Spring has arrived, and with it, a new year of fresh produce.
That scenario is hard to imagine, considering modern grocery stores give us the luxury of year-round fresh produce. However, while the long-traveled, out-of-season, supermarket variety fruits and vegetables may get you through the winter, they're no match for the flavor and superior quality of fresh, in-season produce. Here in Middle Tennessee, we're lucky to have such a long growing season which allows for months of fresh, local produce. And that may be the greatest luxury of all.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares are a great way to get your hands on a wide variety of locally-grown produce come spring. Buying your CSA shares now helps out your local farms. As Hank Delvin Jr., of Delvin Farms (www.delvinfarms.com) in College Grove, explains, "The winter and early spring are when farmers need cash flow to make repairs for the new year, order seeds and pay for labor to get repairs done. Paying a farmer up front for a CSA is a great way to get them kick-started for the year."
(For a roundup of local CSAs, visit the Farm Guide.)
Look for - and enjoy - the following local produce in markets this
(Click headings for recipes!)
Spring Onions: Planted in the late fall, spring onions are harvested in the early spring while their bulb is still tender. They resemble scallions and can be used similarly, but their bulb is larger and the flavor stronger. Slice the green stalk for stir-fries or mix into salads. Sprinkle on cooked eggs or soup. The bulb is sweet enough to be eaten raw, but may also be sautéed or caramelized; made into sauces or pureed into soups.
Asparagus: When first planted, asparagus plants won't produce until the second or third year. The recognizable stalks are actually buds that will eventually turn into wispy fronds. Some grow to 10' tall, if left unharvested. Cut stalks at the base near the ground and eat quickly as they lose sweetness the longer they're left. Store stalks in a jar with one inch of water until ready to use.
Greens: Many farmers, like Delvin begin planting hearty greens such as cold-hardy spinach, collards and arugula in covered hoop-houses long before the threat of frost is gone. Delvin wants to get a jump on the farmers' markets. "Winter greens are one of the first vegetables available each year. We like to get a jump on starting them for market as early as we can for our customers." These hearty greens can be eaten raw or sautéed with olive oil and garlic or stirred into soups.
Broccoli: Broccoli is related to cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage. Broccoli grows best in cool weather. Once the weather warms, its sprouts can become tough and will eventually flower, if left to its own devices. Enjoy any number of ways including raw, boiled, sautéed or roasted. Don't forget those stems! The florets are tasty, but the entire stem is delicious, but the very ends.
Spring Fruits: While rhubarb isn't actually a fruit, (it's a vegetal perennial with a fibrous stalk like celery) its tart flavor when combined with sugar evokes the taste of a citrusy, tart cranberry. The first of any fruit-like plants to come up each spring, rhubarb can be made into teas, sauces for braises and, most commonly, desserts. Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries for its sweetness and complementary seasonal timing. You can find both in the market starting in April.