Harvest Season: Fresh Table Update

Layers Summer’s done. Fall’s getting its swerve on. It’s harvest season, which sounds like it could be the tagline to a cool horror-action movie. I’d emerge from the shadows of a bleak and wretched orchard, wearing a broad-brim hat and a black duster. In one hand, a double-barrel shotgun. In the other, nothing at all, for the hand would be replaced with a rusty scythe. Shing-shing! The blade will cut apples in half. The apples will bleed. A child cries! Crows fly! It’s harvest season, some raspy voice would say.

Farmer’s Market still has a good bounty going — winter squash, a bevy of apples, parsnips and yams and fennel all coming to the table. But, time winds down. The farmer’s markets will soon sink back into the earth to hibernate before the snow. The farmers manning the tables will once more return to flesh-of-burlap stuffed with itchy hay, and they too will be sucked down into the mud.

So, looking back, how’d the Fresh Table Experiment go?

Here’s my watermark: if I don’t go to the farmer’s market every week, we don’t have food to eat.

That sounds bad. It’s actually good. It means we don’t have a lot of processed foods in boxes or bags hanging around. No microwavable meals. No rice or pasta that consists of a desiccated starch product and a packet of concentrated sodium-slash-uranium dust. If I don’t pick it up fresh at the market, then baby don’t eat. (Not that we have a baby — not one the government knows about, moo hoo ha ha, secret baby.)

I learned to make lots of new things. I learned to eat lots of new things. I feel healthier. I’ve lost weight despite eating “worse” foods. Food-wise, things are good.

Of course, with autumn and harvest comes the Winterpocalypse. The Big Freeze. The Snow Job.

We do have some local markets that will stay open. The produce won’t be locally harvested, obviously, but you can’t win ‘em all. I think I can transfer the Fresh Table ethos to the grocery store, albeit imperfectly. Just orbit the ring of the store, as they say — stick to the outside, veggies, fruits, meat, dairy, that sort of thing. Whenever I have to venture toward the nougaty center to, I dunno, fight the minotaur and buy rice noodles, I’ll just have to remember the basic rule: if the ingredient list has shit on it that I don’t recognize and might need a pharmacist to translate, don’t buy it.

(The theory, right or wrong, scientific or not-so-scientific, is that over-processed foods like, say, high fructose corn syrup are bad for you because the body and brain don’t necessarily recognize them as “food.” The brain wants you to keep eating, because it isn’t sure you’re really absorbing actual nutrients through actual food. That might be bunk. I suspect that some tiny mote of truth exists there, though.)

So, overall, it was a good experiment, and a success I hope to carry on year after year. After all’s said and done, shopping at the farmer’s market was cheaper than at the grocery store. I walked away from the farmer’s market the other day with a back-breaking bag of vegetables, and it cost me under $15. That is literally a week’s worth of food.

I’ll leave you with a few quick cooking tips, if’n you give a poop.

Leeks

You have to clean the hell out of leeks. They get dirty up in all their little crevices. Cut them into rings, pop them in a deep bowl of water. Clean with thumb and forefinger. The grit and dirt goes to the bottom, and you just dredge the leek-rings out of the water. Bonus points if you call them “dirty little bitches” as you wash ‘em.

Fennel

Roast it. The bulbs, at least. Is that what the bottom of the fennel is called? A bulb? I’m too lazy to look it up, but you know the part. It’s bulbous. Dice it up, slick it up with olive oil, pop it in a roasting pan with goes into a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes — maybe longer if you like that caramelization factor.

Okra

Roast that, too. You need ‘em crispier, I think. Go 450 for 20 minutes. Also, smaller okra seem to work better. The larger ones can be tough. Angry. Like troll fingers.

Cauliflower

Makes a bitchin’ soup. Here’s my version. Six cups of chicken stock, salt, pepper, pinch of thyme, dash of cayenne pepper — cook the chopped head of cauliflower until it’s soft, maybe 30 minutes. Blend it. I use an immersion blender. Get it velvety. It’ll still be a bit coarse, so if you want it silky, here’s whatcha do — while still hot, mix in a half cup of parmesan cheese, and a half cup of aged provolone (or romano, or asiago, or fomunda cheese), and then cut in cubes of butter and mix in either milk or heavy cream (a little at a time; and which you use is dependent upon how you feel about fat content) until it reaches the consistency you want.

The real magic trick is what you do with the bowl. Pack the bottom of the soup bowl with good cornbread. Pour soup over it.

Winter Squash

These are totally not in any alphabetical order. I’m just banging them out as they come to me. But here’s what you do with a winter squash. Halve it. Scoop out the brains and guts (i.e. the miscarrage of seeds that lurks within). Then, fill it with something. Butter and maple syrup is a good trick (and make sure it’s real maple syrup — take a look at the ingredients on what passes for pancake syrup at the store and shudder; plus, the real deal tastes so good, it’s downright silly). Or, sage and sausage. Or bacon and beef. Your call. Stick it in the oven. How long depends on the squash and the size. Around 350 for 45 minutes could do it. Put a little water in the pan or on the cookie sheet to stop the squash from drying out. You can drape it in a tent of foil, too, if you want. Or, you can put the foil on your head to prevent Socialist Brain Waves. Your call!

Also, spaghetti squash can be a little bland unless you get the… I think it’s called “orangetti.” Sweeter.

The End

And that’s all she wrote. Er, ate. See you next season, farmers.

Next harvest season.

Shing-shing!

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