This is a very exciting time of year. My husband and I try to eat seasonally as much as possible, sourcing many of the ingredients we use from local growers and purveyors who use sustainable methods for what they produce. We’re fortunate, living in the South (the Southern U.S., that is), to have a variety of vegetables available to us all winter long. The Cherokee Indians, who lived in this area, had a name for the time around February that meant “Hungry Month,” but with the number of family farms that now serve the Atlanta area year-round, we do not go without in winter. Collard greens, sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, turnips, winter squash, potatoes, green onions, radishes, apples, and more are all available. Unlike most of the rest of the country, we even get salad greens in all months except July and August. (Once you’ve tasted fresh, local salad greens, no other greens can taste quite as good. You can see, when you bite into fresh greens, why the farmers have to fend the deer off from them so mightily.) And we can get citrus fruit from Central Florida, traveling to us at a distance of less than 500 miles. When I want fruit in winter, I’ll take it.
Of course, every year around this time, I look up one day and realize that Atlanta has burst, again, from the stark beauty of winter’s spread, brown, branches into a cacophony of colors and scents. Visit Atlanta late March to late April, and you’ll be scouring the real estate ads as you sip your sweet tea on a restaurant’s patio. The jonquils and dogwoods may kick things off a bit quietly, but the azaleas soon burst forth, nearly all together, within a couple of weeks. Then the maples and the cherry trees and the—just everything. Everything blooms, all at once. That’s how it rolls in Atlanta. The bees hum along from bush to bush, and the chattering mockingbirds build nests close enough to the porch to chirp warnings at you when you need to come inside or go out. If you can help loving Atlanta in the spring, may God help you—you’ve got a stone in place of your soul.
Then the glorious inevitable happens. My weekly update from the CSA arrives, and as I skim the news, I see, “We have strawberries coming in this week.” And I jump up and down and call or email my husband to tell him.
Strawberries again! We haven’t had a strawberry since last July. And while some might call us foolish for not buying the Chilean berries we could buy at the store all winter, we’ll take the real thing, thanks—local, and fresh off the vine to our plates. How else could I get so excited over the arrival of a fruit?
The strawberries will be in season through perhaps June. Peaches, with their heady scent, will show up in May or June. The watermelon and canteloupe will become available in June, too, just as we need fruits full of water to quench our Southern summer thirst. The blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries will come into season mid-summer and may last through August. And the plums will round out the season. And those are just the fruits—just some of the fruits. The available vegetables will be too numerous to list.
I didn’t always know which fruits and vegetables came into season when. A few years ago, despite growing up here, I was nearly entirely oblivious to what did or did not grow in Georgia, as well as when those foods were in season. Then, keeping only price and recipes in mind, I bought whatever I wanted at the grocery store whenever I wanted to eat it. But after I had cancer and started researching diet and sustainability and just how interconnected we all are, as we’ve adopted a diet based more around local foods, I’ve come to know what the CSA and farmer’s markets will start offering around what times of the year. And I’ve embraced the joy of getting fresh foods, at the peak of their nutrients, while developing relationships with some of the local farmers. It’s a joyful relationship, a satisfying practice.
And this season of abundance starts with the strawberries. I’ve been daydreaming since last week about what to do with my two pints of strawberries when they arrive this Thursday, but I haven’t yet come to any conclusions yet. The strawberries are likely to be a bit less succulently sweet and juicy than they will be later in the season. Dan and I are avoiding cane sugar right now, though we are using some other natural sweeteners. . . . Do you have a favorite way of eating strawberries? A favorite recipe to share?