Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tomatoes in February

This photo captured my attention last week when looking for something else in my photo files.

late season tomato harvest 2017 on Crandall Hill
I'm not sure how many tomato varieties are represented but I can quickly identify Green Zebra, Yellow Pear, Sweetie Cherry, Cherokee Chocolate, Black Cherry, Roma Paste, Amish Paste, Black Sea Man and Stupice. I can almost smell the particular tomato scent, almost taste the sweet, complex, deep flavors, almost feel the splash of sun-warmed juice on my chin.

But, it's February, and it's cold, and it's snowy and these tomatoes are but a colorful memory.

Author Barry Estrabrook writes:

"I think wanting a tomato in the dead of winter - or wanting a little bit of orange on the plate ...is inherent in a lot of our shopping decisions. We expect an ingredient to be on the supermarket shelves 365 days a year, whether or whether not it's in season or tastes any good. It's the price we pay for insisting we have food out of season and not local." 

supermarket tomatoes
"We all know what industrial tomatoes taste like (or don't)
but they have only a fraction of the vitamins that the tomatoes
my mother fed to me in the 1960s did" - Barry Estabrook
"Tomatoes are bred to be perfectly formed so they can make their way across the United States and onto your dinner table without cracking or breaking," writes Estabrook in his best-selling book, "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit."

"Corporate agriculture does one thing, and only one thing, extremely well. It puts incredibly cheap food on our tables. But that cheapness comes at an incredible cost to the environment, to workers, to rural communities, and to food quality - in terms of both nutrition and taste...
We foodies and people in the sustainable food movement chant these mantras, 'local, seasonal, organic, fair-trade, sustainable,' and they almost become meaningless because they're said so often and you see them in so many places. If you strip all those away, they do mean something, and what they mean is that you end up with something like a Florida tomato in the winter — which is tasteless."

In this interview, Estabrook, elaborates on changes since "Tomatoland" was published in 2011.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Candlemas Day

... half our wood?
Everybody's favorite psychic rodent, Punxsutawney* Phil, tells us we're in for six weeks of winter.
The day we in the USA have come to know as Groundhog Day is known as Candlemas Day across the pond in Europe. And here's where Phil gets his authority.
If Candlemas day be sunny and bright, winter will have another flight; If Candlemas day be cloudy with rain, winter is gone and won't come again.
Candlemas comes 40 days after Christmas. Origins of Candlemas date to a Celtic holiday, Imbolc, where participants carried torches through the fields in rites of purification, welcoming the fertility of the coming spring. The church adapted the tradition into the blessing of the candles, reminding all the Christ is the light of the world.  It is also observed as the day when Jesus was presented at the Temple. (Luke 2:22-40).
February 2 marks the midway point between winter solstice and spring equinox and through the ages, folks, weary of winter, have turned to traditions of weather observation to bring some hope for better days to come.

The English can be thanked for this old agricultural adage
"The farmer should have, on Candlemas Day, half his straw and half his hay"
However, when those farmers moved across the ocean to New England, the last line underwent a change to reflect the danger of the long, cold winters in New England where keeping warm had to be a priority.
"The farmer should have, on Candlemas Day, half his wood and half his hay."
A tip of the hat to my friend Louise Aucott who posted this on her Facebook page a couple of days ago. (Her post sent me googling for more information about Candlemas)
"Half of your wood and half your hay must remain on Candlemas day."
Then today, neighbor farmer (and cousin) Kent Kenyon posted this:
"Half your straw and half your hay shall remain on Groundhog Day"
Next year I think I'll celebrate Candlemas in the French tradition. La Chandeleur  (from chandelle meaning candle) grew from the notion that a long-ago pope distributed pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome to celebrate Candlemas. Thus the French serve crepes on February 2. The luscious round buttery pancakes are symbolic of the sun returning to warm the Earth and Jesus as the "light of the world."

*Thanks to Mr. James Berger, my high school Pennsylvania History teacher, I can spell Punxsutawney without the spell check!