I love summertime.
This is the time you have farmer’s market, the time you can have locally grown, seasonal vegetables on your dinner table.
Before I dive into the two words of “fresh” and “seasonal” that is charming to me, I would like to point out that turnip, and rosemary I have used to season the chicken are two things I never heard or saw growing up in China. There is no roasted chicken when I was in China either. They were new things to me when I came to the U.S. many years ago, and I have learned to love them in my home cooking.
I bought these two vegetables yesterday afternoon at the farmer’s market and cooked them last night. This way, I felt that I have appreciated the freshness of the vegetables and they truly make a difference in taste.
See the lively purple color of the turnip? They are bright, vividly shining with its deep, elegant color, not like the ones in the supermarket, dull, wrinkled because they have been shipped long distance, on the shelf for a while. And, look at the green beans, they are nicely plump, not too old to be tough, just ripen to be full and solid, both in terms of the pod and the beans inside. Most importantly, they are still tender. Late summer and early fall, it is the best time to enjoy green beans and turnip so they are on my dinner table often.
When I was little, there was no supermarket and refrigerator in China. For three years during China’s disastrous “Culture Revolution”, my parents were forced to relocate to a small college in Confucius’s hometown, Qufu (曲阜). There, my parents shopped our grocery in an open market held twice a week. Peasants from the villages around brought rice, fresh vegetables, tofu, eggs, live chickens to line up a dirt road just outside the college campus. People, including us, were poor, but we got to eat very fresh vegetables harvested in the morning, the peasants carried them to the open market with the morning dew and the mud still on. And they were always seasonal, you recognized that the season had changed right at the dinner table.
One incident I remembered was a suicidal chicken. It was a fat chicken my mother just bought from the open market. Before my dad had a chance to kill it, it jumped from our 3-story high apartment. The poor thing did not die from the jump but was killed later. When my mom was cleaning the chicken, she found the chicken’s liver was unusually big that caused her to worry. Around that time, hepatitis B was spreading across China. My mom was so concerned about the chicken might have this awful illness that she brought the chicken liver to the college clinic asking the doctors there to check and diagnose! Later, looking back, I think my mom was more concerned about if we should throw that chicken away or eat it. It was a luxury meal then.
Life has changed so much, so fast since then. Technologies do bring convenience into our daily life including cooking, but we also lost many precious things in the process. We eat the same vegetable year around, and they are produced and shipped from far away places. Many are harvested early to be easier to ship. Vegetables are no longer the same taste they used to be. People hardly have time to sit at the dinner table, we are always on the road, stuffing us with a quick fast food, rushing to reach another place……
In the U.S., there are a very limited variety of vegetables, day in and day out, you eat broccoli, onion, green pepper, carrots, and tomatoes again and again. With these limited choices, I was shocked one time that a young cashier looked at my spinach and asked me what kind of vegetable I was buying.
No wonder why the life expectancy in U. S. is low and is projected to be on par with Mexico by 2030. We are one of the richest countries in the world and have the most advanced medical care. Maybe we should re-think our food culture, eating habits. Maybe we should sit at our dinner table more.
The U.S. has so many great things to be proud of, but not in its food culture. Things have been changing towards healthy eating since I came here 20 some years ago. But it is still a long way to go.
Farmer’s market is a good start to eat more vegetables, fresh and seasonal. Give it a try, you would not regret.