The Foods of Fall

If I had to pick a single season for produce (like, if you tied me down and told me I couldn’t eat another meal until I chose) I’d pick autumn. I’ve always liked the abundance of autumn, and the generosity. The neighbors suddenly show up at the door with armfuls of squash. “Want some of these? We’ve got more than we can use.” My mother-in-law grew zucchini. She gave me some that were the size of Little League bats.

Life in a small village in Germany makes harvesting more present somehow. I get my veggies from a family run green house a couple blocks away. They don’t have the space or money to do anything other than seasonal vegetables, and I’ve learned to appreciate what’s suddenly ready to be harvested.

I jones big time for fresh Swiss chard a lot of the year here. My parents grew it in their garden and I totally took it for granted. Seeing it here was like winning the culinary lottery. At the end of every summer I go in the store hoping I’ll spot a big white bucket filled with freshly picked rainbow chard. Not just normal wonderful green chard, but rainbow!!

“I’d like your Mangold,” I request when it’s my turn to be served.

“A bunch of it?” she asks.

“No…. I’d like your Mangold. All of it.” I make sure my tone of voice lets her know that I’m not joking. Screw the other customers, let them find their own source for rainbow chard!

In the fall she has big, juicy, imperfect tomatoes. I had an awkward morning once as I attempted to translate the term heirloom tomatoes into German.

Orange pumpkins are available in the fall, but I lived here for years and never saw a Hubbard squash. Or an acorn squash. Or spaghetti squash. You get the idea. I don’t when or why the region finally got hip to winter Kürbisse, but I used to go into the exquisite (and super-duper expensive) Stuttgarter Markthalle if I wanted to cook with them.

At the moment, Pfifferlinge – trumpet mushrooms – are being picked. They’ve got a short season, so I buy them by the bagful. We eat them in risotto, or sautéed with diced bacon for pasta, or in a cream sauce for chicken.

In the spring, white asparagus is a national delicacy. For about two months, restaurants have entire menus based on dishes with Spargel. Germans and French people go insane for this vegetable. The spears are thicker than regular asparagus (the green variety barely elicits a yawn here) and a pain in the ass to peel without breaking. A few years ago Uwe and I were shopping in a big grocery store, and in the frozen foods aisle I spotted big bags of already peeled, frozen Spargel.

“Hey! Wanna get this? We can eat Spargel all year round!”

Incredulous disbelief and revulsion chased each other across his face. Once he was sure what he’d heard, revulsion won. My husband looked at me as if I’d just suggested that we have sex with a puppy.

“No, I don’t want to buy frozen Spargel! Why would you possibly want to eat that??”

I set down the bag of frozen asparagus and carefully backed away. We go out to eat fresh Spargel each year, in the spring….

But, autumn. It’s time to go grocery shopping again. The first crop of apples have arrived!

NOTES: Text and photo © Jadi Campbell 2019.  To see Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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The Animal Kingdom: A Cornucopia

I just made a salad for lunch that had a cornucopia. “Ooh! ‘Ow lovely!” you exclaim. I thought so too at first. Cornucopia conjures up autumn bounty.

The word makes me think of a table covered in baskets full of vegetables, bowls of late summer berries and fruits, and vases of showy fall blooms. Oxford Dictionaries define it thus: “A symbol of plenty consisting of a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit, and corn.”

Merriam-Webster goes Oxford one better, “a curved, hollow goat’s horn or similarly shaped receptacle (such as a horn-shaped basket) that is overflowing especially with fruit and vegetables (such as gourds, ears of corn, apples, and grapes) and that is used as a decorative motif emblematic of abundance — called also horn of plenty”. Vocabulary.com puts it in more simply. “A grocery store with a large selection of fruits and vegetables could be said to have a cornucopia of produce. A cornucopia is a lot of good stuff.”

A cornucopia salad must be tasty, right? Keep reading….

I often buy produce at a family store with greenhouses a few blocks away. She sells a large variety of lettuces and a sign claims they’re all ‘eigene ungespritzt’ or grown in-house, without using sprays or pesticides.

I know from experience her salad greens need washing, and when I got home I set the lettuce in a bowl of water to soak. A few minutes later I returned to the kitchen to drain the water. I discovered a cornucopia floating on top of the bowl.

Three drowning slugs.

The sight got me curious about slugs and their particular animal family. Were they on my list already? In the course of research I learned that in the Animal Kingdom, a cornucopia is the British term for a family of slugs or snails. [1] I also read that most fresh water slugs and snails are hermaphroditic. Further, “[s]ome species regularly self-fertilise. Uniparental reproduction may also occur by apomixis, an asexual process.” [2]

I’m just glad I’d already eaten….

I’ll skip a photograph this time. But I can assure you: the salad was delicious.

“Ooh! ‘Ow lovely!”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] In the US, it’s named a rout of slugs. [2] Apomixis is explained at Mating of gastropods.

Merriam-Webster.com, Oxford dictionaries.com, Vocabulary.com. More fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Seeds of Summer

The sun occasionally shines. But the air has a nip today, the wind gusts, and clouds traverse watery blue skies. (In my head the entire cast of A Game of Thrones mutters, “Winter is coming ….”)

Summer’s about to end. I still hear crickets at night outside our windows, but how much longer? When their voices (legs?) go silent, it’s the final signal that autumn is taking over.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year. We went to the Stuttgarter Weindorf last weekend, the annual Wine Village. My meal included sauerkraut (a food I’ve come to love only since living in Germany) and homemade spätzle, the egg noodles that are a specialty of Baden-Württemberg. For dessert I ordered a plum tart, Zwetschgenkuchen. Uwe agreed with me: the Weindorf version tasted like Mama’s. My mother-in-law baked it often, with plums from the fruit trees in their yard. And there it was, a sense of nostalgia.

I’m listening to Radio Paradise as I write this post. They play Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, from his 1974 album Late for the Sky. Lyrics and melody from long ago weave into this afternoon.

Coins harvested from a money plant and 3 sand dollars

One of my last acts before returning to Germany from the USA two weeks ago was to harvest coins from the money plants in a friend’s garden. I love this description of money plants: “Also known as Honesty, of the genus Lunaria, silver dollar plants are named for their fruit, with pods dry to flat silverish discs about the size of — you guessed it! — silver dollars. They hail from Europe and were one of the first flowers grown in the dooryard gardens of the New World for their pods and edible roots.” [1] I’m harvesting fruit from American plants that were originally European flowers. I myself am a strange kind of transplant, with roots in both places now.

The coins of the flowers are tissue-thin, each containing several dark seeds. I’ll plant them in pots for my balcony, come springtime. What will grow? Will their seeds take root? But I like the uncertainty. These are the seeds of summer, and even as summer dies (don’t forget: “Winter is coming!…”) in them is a chance to grow something new. Numerous chances, actually.

As we enjoy summer’s bounty, reaping what was sown, it’s comforting to know they’ll carry over into seasons to come.

May your summer seeds bloom anew.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] www.gardeningknowhow.com

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.