Sunday, June 2, 2013
The Tastiest Time of the Year
Living in Azerbaijan has shifted my view of produce. In the States, when I want strawberries, I go to the grocery store and buy strawberries. Sometimes they're more expensive, but strawberries are always available. If I am hungry for asparagus, I can have it any time of the year. Grapes are always available too. And eggs cost the same year-round.
I never thought about where those grapes were coming from in February until I moved here and discovered that in February, the closest thing you're going to get to grapes is raisins. If you want grapes, you'd better wait until summer because that's when it's grape season.
So in the winter you have fairly limited (although better than I had feared) produce options. Potatoes, carrots, and onions are always around, but as the winter goes on, the onions get softer and start sprouting green shoots, as does the garlic. The potatoes start looking pretty scary, too. Apples start looking pretty sad, but the pears are still okay, if a little pricey. In fact, everything gets increasingly expensive as the winter wears on. Apples that were 50 qapik a kilo cost 2.50 manat by April.
Tomatoes that were about the same get up to 4 manat before Iranian tomatoes start coming in May.
By the end of winter everyone in the house is thoroughly sick of roasted potatoes and carrots with almost every dinner, and the children dream of strawberries, cherries, and apricots instead of apples, apples, and the occasional pear.
But everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief because summer is upon us. When we stepped into our local fruit shop last week, the girls squealed in excitement. "Strawberries!! Cherries!! Apricots!! Can we have those mom, please!?!"
Summer fruit season starts with strawberries. Every time we go shopping, I buy a big bag and we sit around after lunch and dinner every day, eating our fill. I've discovered my new favorite combination: strawberries and Nutella. Sometimes without the strawberries.
Since strawberry season only comes once a year, we eat strawberries until we're sick of them. Next comes cherries and apricots. Last year we ate so many cherries that I actually stopped buying them at the end. I never, ever thought that I could get sick of cherries.
Then come nectarines and peaches which aren't even exciting any more because we are so full of plentiful, delicious summer fruit by this time. Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach milk shakes, peaches on pancakes, peaches for lunch, peaches after dinner, peaches with everything.
We finish up the year with apples, blackberries, and raspberries. When I went to get apples for applesauce last year (about 100 kilos), I picked up some blackberries and raspberries for canning and freezing, and still have them around, waiting to be eaten. Blackberry cobbler, anyone?
And then the fruit season is over, leaving us with frozen and canned remains to subsist on until the next summer brings cherries and strawberries and apricots to feast on again. At first this bothered me - I should be able to eat strawberries any time of the year I want - because they're tasty and I like them. What would I do when I couldn't just go to the store and buy strawberries or blackberries to make trifle out of in December? How would I survive on apples and pears all winter long?
But I've discovered an upside to living in a place where you eat what is available in season and live without it the rest of the year. Since those strawberries aren't being shipped from three time zones away or grapes from the next continent over, the only strawberries around are locally grown and are fantastic.
Yesterday I scooped handful after handful of dark shining cherries from wooden crates lined up at my local fruit stand. My hands were sticky with juice by the time my plastic bag was full with green-stemmed cherries and the occasional cherry leaf. After dinner I brought out the freshly-washed strawberries and cherries for everyone to eat to their heart's content.
"How many can we have?" Kathleen asked, always making sure to keep life equitable. "As much as you want," I shrugged, "It's cherry season. Eat until you black out."
And that's what I love about summer - and endless succession of fresh, ripe delicious fruit. We can eat as much as we want, whenever we want. Winter will come soon enough. So pass the cherries, please.