Spring Harvest

Reader Contribution by Bethann Weick
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When it comes to a discussion of
seasonal meals, the following misconceptions are commonly offered up to
me.  First, it seems that the prevailing
image is that the winter season is the most difficult time for people to
sustain themselves from the land.  The
stereotypical winter diet is portrayed in gray, dismal colors, a mix of old and
stale root crops with little flavor and starvation rations.  Second, the common thought is that the
arrival of spring marks instant abundance once again. 

Well, let’s consider each.  First, with regards to winter meals, let me
be the first to say how extraordinarily delicious, varied, filling, colorful,
and nourishing a winter diet is.  This
time of year is essentially what we are working for during the growing
season.  All our efforts to cultivate
and store thousands of pounds of root crops – potatoes, carrots, beets,
turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips – is rewarded during the off-season.  As we ferment, can, and pickle our surplus
vegetables throughout the summer, we tuck quart after quart away on basement
shelves.  The freezer is stocked with
meat, and the root cellar fills with eggs. 

Winter, you see, offers a
delectable selection for the palate. 

Why bother saying this now?  It is, after all, late in the spring.  Because springtime, it must be said, is
really the most challenging season.  We
finish off the last of our stores as we plant the seeds for the coming
season. 

Abundance must be sought in
creative ways. 

Here at D Acres we seed lettuces
and other greens into greenhouses and coldframes as soon as the soil
thaws.  These first salads are an
incredible burst of freshness that is eagerly devoured meal after meal.  In no way, though, do we expect to subsist
on greens alone. 

And so we turn to perennial crops
and “weed” species, some of the first plants to vigorously emerge from the
winter slumber.  Asparagus, shiitake
mushrooms, and rhubarb are favorites, and subtleties of flavor are achieved
with the harvesting of ox-eye daisy, dandelion, nettle, and sorrel leaves, not
to mention fresh herbs such as chives and oregano.  Plants such as fiddleheads, milkweed, and knotweed are also
edible if harvested young.  The list
goes on: possibilities for foraging are significant, even in this region.

To complete a meal with the above
selection, however, we continue to rely on eggs from the chickens (they quickly
begin to lay more as the day length increases) and meat (pork and chicken)
stored in the freezer.  We have just
finished the last of our potatoes, and are down to a final pint of our dry
beans.  These staples are the essentials
that continue to nourish us as we approach the summer season. 

The spring diet offers a burst of freshness, bitters
and tarts dominating the palate as we – the people and the plants – awake from
the winter.  While spring meals can be
challenging, the process of harvesting for and preparing a springtime spread is
rewarding and appetizing.  The spring
season certainly demands a keen sense of creativity and inspiration: what can
you do with your backyard?