A is for Asparagus…..

What exactly is the seasonal food here in Western BC? It was late April and I had to admit that nothing immediately sprang to mind. So I had a quick look online and was surprised to discover that asparagus and fava (or broad beans) should have been available. Well, the beans would be greenhouse grown. I’ve been following the blog Manger, of which I’m a fan and ended up buying the author’s recently released cookbook, A Kitchen In France. And because the focus is on seasonal recipes (in a region of France where the weather in April doesn’t seem entirely different to the West Coast of Canada) I was pretty happy to notice that there was a recipe for both vegetables.

I thought I was a fairly aware person when it came to fresh, organic or at least local produce and I love to frequent farmers markets once they open shop again in the city, but this lack of knowledge in seasonal produce showed up a huge gap in my education. It’s as if I’ve forgotten chunks of my childhood in the countryside in England, and I have a generally good memory. We had a vegetable plot with many different varieties of produce, my sister and I would be sent out to pick chilled Brussels sprouts off their stalks in the winter, but otherwise only the really obvious plants seem to have stuck in my mind. Summer is easy – tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, cucumber etc. Winter for many root vegetables, but those shoulder seasons?…..

Now I’m on a bit of a mission. I’m a fan of J.B Mackinnon’s writing (The Once and Future World, short stories from Outside). A few years ago he and Alisa Smith wrote the 100 mile diet. I’d heard a lot about it and it’s since gone into the lexicon of our language for those even remotely interested in local produce and reducing their carbon footprint, but I had never gotten around to reading it. I ordered it from the library then raced through it, increasingly inspired by their, at times contentious, search for a variety of seasonal produce.

Fired up with all sorts of thoughts relating to ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ I powered in one day after work to a local organic store and proceeded to ransack their shelves for vegetables. Hmmm, well I admit I bent the rules a little. Not entirely local and seasonal, more a case of seasonal, almost, but not necessarily local. And like a kid in a candy shop I wanted to try everything. No fava beans, but I bought Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) from the Okanagan, asparagus (from the States, oops), oyster mushrooms, potatoes (States again) and red snapper (which came from about 200kms away and was probably the most local thing I bought that day). Oh, and actually local rhubarb. Cooked whilst following a Jamie Oliver recipe that used grated rind of orange, about as un local and unseasonal as you can get.

I cooked everything. Note to self: pick one main item and build a meal around it. Don’t make every item the main focus, chaos inevitably ensues. I had every available pot and pan going as each vegetable needed its own space and cooking time. I pulled it off, mostly, although the meal was a little less than hot and fresh and more lukewarm and slightly soggy from waiting a few crucial extra minutes for various vegetables. This is of course down to my abilities, or lack of, as a cook. But there is a case of too much of a good thing. And the amount of energy used just to cook everything negated any savings I might have made by choosing the more seasonal vegetables. Each item had its own charm and delicious taste though, sunchokes are surprisingly good. Washed and tossed in olive oil and garlic, then roasted in the oven for about 35mins, they make a welcome change from potatoes. But asparagus, ah! Fried in the inimitable olive oil and garlic, the greenness of them epitomizes the fresh colour and taste of spring. It wouldn’t be such a hardship to live on this spring vegetable for a while……

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