This Weeks Share: Bok choi, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Endive, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Poblano hot peppers, Sage, Thyme, Tomatoes, Delicata winter squash
The Germans must have a word for it: regretting losing one’s liking for something.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about regretting losing something, which is heartbreak or nostalgia or, well, regret. Nor am I talking about regretting liking something, which is chagrin. I am talking about the very specific feeling one has when one thinks of something one no longer likes and, while not regretting not liking it, finds one somehow nonetheless misses liking it. I suppose in a way it is a nostalgia for a former version of oneself that was capable of liking the thing one no longer likes, something one has outgrown or simply grown tired of.
It is a pointless, possibly asinine emotion. It is the sort of thing CEOs have beaten out of them in business school so they have more time for important activities like creating new tax shelters and writing opinion pieces about how hard it is to be rich. Unlike, say, fear or anxiety, which have their uses, it leads nowhere in particular. No catharsis, no planning, no retreat, no bold new step forward. Fortunately, it does not occur often, so it does not lead to nearly as much wasted time as traffic jams, videos of kittens or televised golf.
I cannot say I encounter this emotion often. But I do feel it at Fair time. When we moved here 20 years ago we took to the Washington County Fair enthusiastically. We would go several times during its week-long run in late August, walk through all of the many cow barns, study the farm dioramas, eat too much greasy food, admire the prize winning duck, and mostly just watch all the other people. It felt like the quintessential local event.
Actually, it is the quintessential local event, part vacation, part show off time, part celebration of local life, part community meeting. The local business–feed dealers, maple syrup producers, apple orchards, loggers, butchers–set up their booths. The fire companies barbecue chicken. The kids parade their perfectly coifed cows and sheep and rabbits around the show rings. The Dairy Princess hands out ice cream. The farmers compete in tractor pull and mosey through the equipment dealers’ displays talking about engine performance and how the corn is doing. Toy tractors, vegetables, needlework, geese, place setting, horse riding, udders, brownies, pigs, all are judged, the winners beribboned. 50,000 people live in our county and this year’s Fair had 125,000 visitors. Just about everybody goes at least once.
But not us. Our attendance and excitement has diminished in recent years. At some point about a decade ago the idea of walking through a barn full of cows and spending $8 on a mediocre sausage and pepper sandwich started to lose its thrill. We continued to go at least once, but increasingly out a of a sense of duty. What kind of a local does not go to the Fair?
Well, maybe a not entirely local local. We have lived here long enough that the novelly of rural life has worn off. There are still moments and characters that catch my attention, but for the most part big guys in work pants smelling of manure, talking way too loudly (so you can hear them over the sound of the tractor) and scoffing at book learning are just a normal part of life. 20 years in Easton have done their job. We don’t need to go to the Fair to marvel at what strikes us now as ordinary.
Nor do we feel that deep need to go to the Fair that true locals feel, people who grow up thinking of it as the most important time of the year, who spent Fair week in the 4H dorm–a first taste of independence–and spent the other 51 weeks of their childhood years preparing the specially selected calf for showing, who run into their schoolmates and old sweethearts at every turn, for whom official recognition of their herd quality matters in all sorts of ways. I understand that deep need and appreciate it. I like living amongst people who grow up that way, who feel that need, who want to know their neighbors and what their neighbors are up to. But that does not mean I feel the need too. We missed the Fair entirely this year and never missed it.
In fact, I managed to forget all about the Fair this year and spent some minutes waiting to pull onto the road to the fairgrounds wondering what on earth could cause so much traffic on a random Wednesday afternoon. The site of the midway all lit up took me by surprise. I drove on perfectly content to pass it by, but I as it fell away behind me I felt an odd jolt of regret that I no longer cared about the Fair. And while this did not for one moment cause me to consider turning around and going to join the crowds, it did make me regret that I did not have a fluent German speaker in the car to at least give this feeling its proper name. Oh well, maybe next year.
Vegetable notes: I am often asked if there is any difference in taste amongst the various eggplant varieties we grow. I have not noticed it, though I think I slightly prefer the texture of the long thin Asian eggplants when grilled. But perhaps I just lack the palate to appreciate such fine distinctions. You can try doing your own taste test with the three different varieties you have this week: Machiaw, the thinnest and most purple; Orient Charm, a little fatter, straighter and lighter purple/pink; and Orient Express, which is the black one. Feel free your conduct your test according to whatever rules strike your fancy.
I usually hold offer a little longer on handing out winter squash, in part because it seems to soon for anything to do with winter, in part because many years we don’t have great production and I want to keep it for later in the season. But production was not an issue this year. Well, actually overproduction may be an issue. I don’t know if we have space to store the whole crop. One way to deal with this is to start handing it out now. To ease you into it, we have started with the Delicata, a small variety. It has nice smooth flesh. The easiet way to cook it is to stick it in the over whole and bake it until it is soft. Then you can scoop out the flesh and puree it with a little cream, perhaps a touch of maple syrup and a sprinkle of hot pepper, a dusting of nutmeg and some sage. Thin that puree out with stock (vegetable or chicken) and maybe a little white wine and you have squash soup.
You can sauté any member of the chicory family, including endive. I like to steam it first and then squeeze out some of the moisture and chop it before I sauté it, but you can skip that. It is excellent cooked down with a good dose of garlic and some onion and some hot pepper (such as poblano).