“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
—T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
We Northerners are all-too-familiar with the long wait for a warm spring day. It’s no different here in Produce. While we quietly tend the shelves full of whatever good food we can get from far away to sustain us, Wisconsin farmers plow and sow, preparing for the first harvests of May and the bounty of the summer. We all kind of want it to hurry up. April, nonetheless, is the month to welcome the return of the light and the softening of frozen ground, a time marked by celebration days for millennia in nearly every culture on earth. Among the many things I eagerly await is the opportunity to eat seasonally again.
Over the last few years I’ve tried to keep most of my diet in line with what’s growing in our region right now, and it’s made me more aware of my links with my natural and social environments. We’ve evolved so that our bodies flourish in tune with seasonal rhythms. Tentative and delicate early greens link with the life just beginning to bubble up from our winter slumber, and the profusion that follows gives us the greater nourishment and variety we need as we become more active and engaged. The short season for early spring veggies makes them special. Not only does produce grown to be eaten very fresh (rather than to be stored and shipped) tend to taste better—the fleeting presence of our first harvest is an invitation to be especially conscious of what we’re eating, and to enjoy it fully. Those of you too anxious about tax season to enjoy such contemplation can reflect on the gentle treatment seasonal eating gives not only your body, but—at least comparatively—your food budget. In any case, these connections with our place and time link up well with the awareness encouraged by Earth Day, which we’ll be celebrating at the Co-op this month by (among other ways) highlighting our human connections with local food producers.
Though April won’t give us much new local produce, we will be featuring asparagus (as well as strawberries) from the West in anticipation of what will grow here soon (soon!). To tide you over, we’ll also continue to bring in some delicious fruit, including a range of pears from South America. After taking every opportunity this winter to praise the Concorde as the best pear I’d ever tasted, I was sad to see their season come to a close—but I’d forgotten about the Abate Fetel, which is really at least as astonishing. Eaten crisp, this fruit cultivated by a French abbot (Abbé Fetel) in 1866 has a honeyed, floral scent and flavor unlike anything else.
It’s possible that intrepid local farmers will work their magic to bring us some delicious hoophouse-grown greens. I’m most excited about the possibility that we’ll see the first of the wild foods to come up here in Wisconsin—my favorite of which is the ramp. If you haven’t had ramps before, you’re in for a treat! This wild leek, with its beautiful magenta bulb, delicate stem and broad, smooth leaves, tastes like a cross between garlic and green onion. It’s delicious in salads or with eggs and mushrooms. I sauté it very briefly or eat it raw. I still have a jar of ramps I brined and fermented at the end of last year’s season, and they’ve made a wonderful addition to omelettes and soups. (Incidentally, the ramp also gave Chicago its name, via the language of the people living along the shores of Lake Michigan at the time La Salle arrived in the 17th century).
Speaking of language (ha!)—and bringing us back around to Eliot’s words of desolation and renewal—April is also National Poetry Month. Language is as much a part of our human environment as the air, soil, water, plants, animals and each other—the medium where connections and meanings are made. Food-growers give us the opportunity to reflect on the place of our bodies in living systems, and poets teach us to look at our life in language together. What would it mean to speak and write seasonally? As we all start coming out of our shelters and greeting one another after a long, cold winter, let’s take a moment now and then to appreciate the foods, words, and worlds we share.
Spring comes on the World—
I sight the Aprils—
Hueless to me until thou come
As, till the Bee
Blossoms stand negative,
Touched to Conditions
By a Hum.