Perfection

On this rainy morning I woke up out-of-sorts because of all the things not yet done…and the limited time I have to spend on them. The chickens have caused a lot of destruction in the vegetable garden—they’ve shredded much of our Swiss chard, and have pecked away at four beautiful cabbages. We now include cabbage in many of our dishes, and one of the farmers at the winter market was able to store (and sell) her cabbage almost until spring. So I’d hope to store ours successfully…along with butternut, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and kohlrabi. Only somehow another year has gone by and we still have not come up with a cold storage solution.

Now is a good time to remember what has been accomplished. Yesterday we bought our annual sack of corn from Woodstock Farm in Connecticut, and last night Cherisse parboiled more than 60 ears, removing kernels from the cobs and freezing them in vacuum sealed bags. Most of the cobs are also frozen, as a treat for the chickens during the winter.

Cherisse saved some of the corn and cobs for an amazing corn chowder. Last weekend, at Wings Hill Inn, the chef and owner Chris served a delicious corn chowder made by roasting the stripped cobs in the pan and then putting everything in the soup. The cobs (which he removed before serving) gave the corn chowder a much deeper corn taste. Cherisse tried this technique last night, along with adding leftover roasted potatoes, carrots and Swiss chard, and some of Pat’s Pastured bacon. The chowder was incredibly good.

At the Common Ground Fair, Michael Phillips talked about the natural imperfections in apples—and the challenge of a consumer mindset that won’t buy anything that doesn’t look perfect. Until I grew my own, I avoided all produce that had a spot or two. Now, I simply cut away an area chewed on by some creature, and enjoy the rest. As I husked the corn, a couple ears had a worm at the tip. Two chickens were standing by (and trying to get at my basket of corn), so I broke off the wormy tips and tossed them to the chickens. Growing fruits and vegetables is simply too much work to waste anything good. And unless a tomato is rotten, or a carrot riddled with holes, the undamaged parts still taste great.

Taste is the big difference. Those perfect looking tomatoes you buy in the dead of winter, or the apples flown from New Zealand—they simply don’t taste good. Or rather, they have no taste. Locally grown tomatoes are selected for flavor, not their ability to survive a cross-country journey in the back of a tractor-trailer, and arrive at the store unblemished. Apples grown without pesticides often have spots (which, to the trained eye of Michael Phillips, actually impart valuable information). And yet, picked at their peak, their taste is without compare. Many of our own peaches had black specks on the skin, but the flesh was juicy and delicious—so we peeled the skin off and savored our very own harvest. The parts we didn’t eat went to the chickens or the compost pile.

Growing our own food has forced us to adjust our perception of perfection. Food that we pull out of our own soil, or buy from a farmer who we can talk to (and compare recipes with), that is perfection.

Interesting links: an article about Michael Phillips, from the New York Times last year, and an article from Wednesday’s paper on the Common Ground Fair.

New York Times Growing Apples

New York Times Common Ground Fair

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