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.

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

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.

 

Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient

Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit, Laos

In a post titled Punctured, we met Jeremy: he works in a food co-op and is bitten by a gigantic Thai centipede. Earlier Jeremy worked in a coolants factory that moved operations; repaired stereo turntables until CDs took over; and serviced video stores where the only genre patrons regularly rented was pornography. Then, with the advent of on-line downloads, those shops closed as well.

He’s tried to involve his wife in some aspect of each new venture. Now Jeremy’s at the co-op, and Abigail’s nervous…

Pomolo, Mekong Delta Vietnam
Pomolo, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Jeremy got a job at the market and the offerings for her continued education went from disks to baskets full of items Abigail couldn’t begin to identify. “Whole foods?” Abigail asked bewildered. “What, have I been cooking halves all this time?” Her culinary repertoire consisted of items like tuna surprise, or flank steak with teriyaki sauce.

Jackfruit, southern Goa, India
Jackfruit, Organic farm, Goa, India
Water buffalo, market Luang Prabang, Laos
Water buffalo, Luang Prabang, Laos
Mekong seaweed, Laos
Mekong seaweed, Laos

As Jeremy introduced new ingredients for her to cook, Abigail despaired. The experiment with pornography had wearied her in more than just her body. The effort to familiarize herself with her husband’s latest employment arena was too much. Abigail couldn’t even begin to cook with broccoli rape, celeriac, rose apples, or salsify

just looking up the latter food and realizing that it was a vegetable also known as oyster plant rendered it too foreign. If she didn’t know where to start with a real oyster, how in the world would she find her way around a dastardly, cleverly named root vegetable you had to wear rubber gloves to prepare?

Abby stood in her kitchen, lost. She resented feeling inadequate, but she felt guilty, too. Nothing says loving like something in the oven. Which part was true, she wondered. Love, for whom? Something in the oven, but what?

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Preserved eggs, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
IMG_3745
Chin lau, Bagan, Burma

Her husband had assaulted her senses one by one. First it was her sense of touch with the air conditioners. Sound had proved inadequate with the stereo shops. Her senses of sight, sound and touch were simultaneously overwhelmed by pornography. Currently the food store derided her sense of taste. Abigail wondered depressed what would be next for her sense of smell.

Abby leafed through the cookbook he bought her and sighed, looking without success for familiar ingredients. Miracle whip. Devils food cake. Cowboy beans and chili. A slice of American cheese on a burger. Jell-O with fruit cocktail. When she confessed this to Jeremy, he said, “I married a Betty Crocker cliché.”

He had been dismayed when she first cooked for him. After all those great meals in exotic countries of curries, tom yum gum soups, and completely fresh ingredients, Abby’s cooking was like going from Technicolor to a 50’s black and white film clip. She served fish sticks bearing little resemblance to the fish dishes of his recent memory.25200_V_10_18_34

Vietnam

Vietnam
All dishes prepared on boats in Halong Bay, Vietnam

“I made homemade tartar sauce!” she announced proudly.

Jeremy spooned out mayonnaise with pickles cut into it and smiled weakly.

The first time she tried to cook him Indian food Abigail choked almost to death because she had no idea that the whole spices all get taken out or pushed to one side, and are not eaten. Ditto with the hot chilies used for flavor.

Chillies, Hue, Vietnam
Chilies and mini limes, Hue, Vietnam

New ingredients were dangerous. For her, bourbon vanilla meant cheap cooking sherry. Cans of condensed soup were her friends.

Abby loved tuna surprise, and the most exotic dish she could cook was a quiche. “If life is a banquet,” she thought, “I must be cheese Doritos chips. I am flat cherry soda.”

– from my short story “Punctured” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

Go to the post titled Punctured to read more about Jeremy.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trips and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

  • Salsify: also called scorzifora and ‘the poor man’s oyster’ (photo from Wikipedia)
  • Pomolo: gigantic relative of grapefruit, can grow to the size of a basketball
  • Dragon fruit: thick red rind is peeled away to reveal citrus fruit with pale flesh flecked with black seeds
  • Mekong seaweed: river weed harvested from Mekong River. Often fried in thin sheets with garlic or sesame seeds. In Luang Prabang, Laos, a specialty eaten with dipping sauce that includes pounded water buffalo skin as an ingredient
  • Chin lau: grows on bushes and tastes like lime