By Roxanne Crittenden, courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop
Even though I grew up here in California, I find the cycles of abundance and scarcity here a little surprising. In a Mediterranean climate like ours, winter is a time of plenty when it comes to fresh produce. Greens, root vegetables and citrus all thrive in the cool weather. But with the longer days of spring, many of those crops begin to bolt and go to seed. Soon, all the citrus fruit will have been harvested. Things are getting busier on the farms in preparation for the warm season, insects are buzzing, the fields are full of tulips and daffodils, and the farmers are planting their tomato starts. But this is the slimmest time of year in terms of what’s ready for harvest. That said, in a place as verdant as the California, “scarcity” is relative and new crops come in quickly.
As winter wanes, lettuces, spring onions and green garlic are some of the first spring arrivals followed by fennel, asparagus and cilantro. Now we’re seeing the spring dandelion greens and soon fava beans, sugar snap peas and shelling peas will be ready. In not too long, the little flowers on the strawberry plants at T&Y Farm and Good Humus Produce will be plump, beautiful fruit. I think of Spring as an opportunity to immerse myself in each new crop as it matures, and recognize them as promises of the approaching bounty.
This month there have been five or six different varieties of head lettuce, not to mention cabbages, baby salad green mixes, and arugula available from our farms each week. I find myself eating salad almost every afternoon for lunch. These are not the iceberg lettuce and hard-unripe-tomato salads of my childhood. I like to add feta cheese, toasted nuts, sliced citrus and fennel, or dried fruit to mix it up. The last oranges and lemons of the season make sweet, tangy salad dressing when combined with olive oil. I’ve found frittatas are a great medium for fennel, green garlic and new potatoes; we like them so much at my house I’ve been making them almost every week with those gorgeous orange-yolked spring eggs. True pasta primavera must include asparagus and arugula along with carrots, and in celebration of the cool, wet weather we’ve been having I’ve been turning the rutabagas, turnips and leeks into soups on cold days.
Traditionally, part of eating seasonally has been “putting up” the warm-season bounty for leaner times. Now is a great time to enjoy the stored harvest of last summer and fall. In addition to sweet corn, Full Belly Farm grew several varieties of heirloom flour corn last summer, which is milled into the red cornmeal that we’ve included in the Peck & Bushel this week. This spring, in addition to the exceptionally sweet raisins from Capay Canyon Ranch, you may see sun-dried stone fruit or tomatoes from Good Humus Produce and occasionally walnuts from Haag Farm or almonds from Capay Canyon Ranch in your FarmShares.
We hope that you are enjoying this burst of much-needed spring rain as we are, and all the seasonal food that accompanies it!