Squatting down in the sun and dirt picking berries may not sound like much fun, but when you haven’t had a strawberry in 10 months it is truly a celebration. This year my family has been on a journey to eat seasonally. For us this means eating foods that are in their current growing season and trying not to purchase those that aren’t (we aren’t fanatical about it, but where tomatoes once were on my list every week, over the winter it dropped down to every month or two). I got moving in this direction after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I highly recommend. In it, her family endeavors to only eat food grown in their own county. The book is a memoir with beautiful narrative about the agricultural year intermixed with some basic facts about nutrition and the American food culture.
It seems that in American we have come to expect access to all foods at all times of year. I distinctly remember throwing a fit in the grocery store when on the same visit I could not get fresh endive or dried Cardamom Pods. The grocer looked at me wearily, “Lady you have to go to New York if you want to get those kind of fancy ingredients.” I left in a huff without a plan for dinner.
But reading Kingsolver’s book about growing seasons helped me make a connection with another type of season. Historically the church has celebrated something called liturgical seasons. Each season has a different emphasis and so throughout the year we are able to to focus on different aspects of the spiritual life. For example Lent (the 6 weeks before Easter) is a time of repentance and is typically marked by praying and fasting. This is followed by Easter (the 7 weeks following Easter Day) which is a time of celebration and feasting.
Growing up in the Orthodox church this was a very real experience for me. During Lent the entire church would fast together for 40 days. We gave up eating all of life’s luxuries, meat, fish, dairy, olive oil and wine. It was a time of simple meals and reflection on our human weakness. The week leading up to Easter (traditionally called Holy Week, which we are in right now) was even simpler, meals were kept sparse and basic. Then the Saturday night of Easter would come. We would celebrate with a midnight service. A packed church would sit in darkness and then slowly light up with flaming candles. “Christos Anesti ,” we would cry out. “Christ has risen!” After a long (really long, with lots of standing up and kneeling and standing up again) and joyful service we would celebrate together. In the middle of the night we would gather, eat a meal and break our fast. The first tastes of butter and egg or a lamb stew melted in our mouths. We were a grateful people. And as we ate these rich foods we remembered that Christ had died for us, to give us life, and life abundantly, we could taste the abundance spread out on the table in front of us.
You may be beginning to wonder what this has to do with strawberries. Well it occurred to me that just as we have seasons that we celebrate as a church, that perhaps God has given us these same types of seasons of fasting and feasting in our natural world. That the dreary months of winter are there for a reason and it is a different reason than the abundance of spring, but they both teach us about God. As the foods come and go in their season and we celebrate the harvest of each I am reminded of how good God is. Imagine the excitement of the first strawberry of the season after going without all year, blackberries next, then peaches, then apples. Plus all the vegetables in their turn. I am reminded that it is God that feeds me. I am reminded of the diversity of His creation. I am reminded that He is in all things.
I’m hoping you are getting the idea that we were pretty darn excited to pick strawberries last week and even though the prices will drop in a few weeks, we could not wait to be out there (don’t worry, we will be back to pick more and extra to make jam, which we do eat all year long) . We went to Marburger Orchard outside of Fredericksburg, TX. They have the option to pick your own strawberries, blackberries and peaches, plus onions and a handful of other vegetables. I was delighted to have the chance to talk with Mr. Marburger. It is rare these days to find a real life farmer and I had a lot of questions for him. Here are some of the things that we talked about when it comes to eating in season.
1. Eating in season is the only way you can eat locally. If you want to support your local farmers you have to eat in season. The reason we have access to out of season food is because it was grown far away from us, often somewhere in South America, sometimes New Zealand, where it is in season and then is shipped to us. If you want to be able to be able to ask the grower what they put in their soil and how they grow your food than you have to eat locally. Eating locally also gives you the freedom to go and visit a farm and see for yourself how food is grown and how animals live. If you want your purchases to pour back into your community you have to eat locally which typically means eating in season.
2. Eating in season makes food more affordable. During peak season produce is often growing in an overabundance and the prices drop. If produce is ripe and can’t be sold it simply spoils. So most growers will be glad to sell it to you at a discount. Plus eating locally and seasonally you have the extra bonus of saving money on all of the transport of your foods. An average meal today has traveled over a thousand miles to arrive on our plates. That means most of our money spent on food goes towards gas and transportation rather than back to the grower.
3. Eating in season means food is healthier. Fruits and vegetables have the highest nutritional content when they are at their peak ripeness. Most commercially farmed foods are picked weeks before they are truly ripe. As Mr. Marburger explained to me while picking strawberries, “A berry will get redder but it won’t get sweeter once it’s picked. The strawberries you see at the stores are red but they weren’t that color when they left the farm.”
4. Eating in season makes your food taste better. Not only do the seasons inspire our menus throughout the year but our cooking actually tastes better. With fresher and riper ingredients we are able to create tastier dishes.
5. Eating in season cultivates an attitude of gratefulness. Like some of the other great things in life a ripe strawberry is worth waiting for. Eating it, especially after not having one for months I couldn’t help but feel blessed. After a long winter (I know it is still winter where some of you are and I’m sorry, but for Texas we had a long winter too) squatting down with my hands sifting through the ripening berries, my daughter running down the rows (smashing up rotten strawberries and smearing them on herself), the sun shining and the anticipation of fresh berries and the strawberry jam and ice cream that was to come. I couldn’t help but be reminded of God’s great love for me and for all of us.
For some more thoughts on eating in season click here.