Although we try to buy our food locally and sustainably, every now and then you really just have to eat an orange, even though it’s peach season in Ontario. So we dropped by the grocery store to pick a few things up, just to round out our farmers’ market haul, and what do we see? Bartlett pears…from South Africa. Pears. From South Africa. In September. In southern Ontario.
There are so many layers of ludicrous to this practice of selling produce that has been transported internationally during its local peak season. I’m still seeing apples from New Zealand and China in the stores, even though we’re surrounded by some of the best apple country around. Shoot – one of our neighbours has a fecund apple tree that is loaded with beautiful specimens that they never seem to pick. If you really really need an apple, like right now, you could probably just go pull one off their tree rather than buying an expensive apple from halfway around the world that was, I might add, probably harvested months ago and stored because Oceania’s seasons are the reverse of ours. So, maybe, buying a Pink Lady from New Zealand in March makes some sense: that apple is likely to be fresher than a local one and probably juicier. But when it’s apple and pear time around here and the shelves are loaded with fruit from 13,000 kilometres away? Well, that’s just nonsense.
While I make no claims to trendiness at any point in my life, I have to give my mother full credit for being an early adopter as far as the local food movement went. While we ate our fair share of Velveeta cheese (that stuff is good, man) and Miracle Whip (that stuff is NOT good, man) we also spent much of our summer sourcing out the freshest possible produce and sometimes growing it in our backyard. My mom turned me on to the difference between a potato that came out of a bag shipped from wherever and a potato dug out of the ground, scrubbed, and cooked quickly and simply. Her new potatoes, steamed with butter and fresh dill, were simply delicious. Perfect, in and of themselves, without any fancy techniques, sauces, or treatments. Every now and then we’d make the short trek out to Lumsden, a small town in the Qu’appelle Valley, where the alluvial soil made for superior growing conditions compared to the grassy plain on which our suburb had been built. We’d load up on carrots, gnarled and dirty, peas, beans, and whatever else was on offer, then head straight home to shell, string, scrub and cook it all up into dinner, with lots of snacking along the way. Other days, we’d visit the downtown market, where I became fascinated by, and briefly desired to become one of, the Hutterites. But that’s a different blog post.
When I moved out on my own, I kept up the family tradition of market scoping, and became a devotee of the Hamilton Market. That was a different kettle of fish entirely – in fact you could actually buy fish at the market, not to mention pasta, coffee beans, and whatever else you wanted. That was a new and welcome surprise to me, that market could extend beyond carrots, peas, and some hand-knitted baby booties. Further moves took me to the St. Lawrence Market, which became our main grocery store for about 12 years, and then the fabulous smorgasbord that is the Downsview Market (when I was feeling frugal) or the Wychwood Barns (when I was feeling flush).
These days, we live a little closer to the source of our food, which is something gives me great pleasure. Today, I bought not one, not two, but three heads of romanesco broccoli, because it’s short-lived, it was beautifully fresh, and the farmer who grew it was getting rid of it at the end of the morning for $2 a head. He lives and works about 15 miles from my house, so that romanesco made a short trip into town on his truck this morning, then an even shorter trip back to our house, where I’m going to steam it up to accompany a smoked turkey breast and multi-coloured potato salad with homemade aioli and red onion. I’ll do like my mom did and keep it simple; no sauces or z’atar or roasting it on a spit whole; just the beautiful, greenness of the romanesco, steamed, salted and fresh as it’s possible to be if you don’t grow it yourself.