Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Taking Time to Taste

Taking time to smell the flowers is more of a spring and summer pleasure in the Midwest. In autumn, unless you like smelling mums (ugh), splendor in the ordinary involves taking time to taste the harvest. And it does take time. More time than bending over to stick my nose in a pink peony.

If tomatoes or beans are from my garden, I have taken time to plant and nurture seeds; water, feed and weed soil; tend and trim plants; and pick the produce. For vegetables purchased at farmers markets, a farmer has paid with his time. But in autumn comes the payoff ~ tasting. And aside from popping cherry tomatoes right from the vine into your mouth, tasting takes time, too. Well, the prep does. Blending flavors, experimenting with cooking techniques, and finally savoring ~ these are not for nights when you want a quick and convenient meal.

After many disappointing harvests, this year I was SO grateful for God’s bounty, I determined to be as faithful as possible with what He’d blessed us with. Okay, I didn’t pick or use some tomatoes before they got brown and mushy, but I did plan in advance how to make best use of almost everything from my own little patch and from farmers markets. It was fun, very satisfying, and delicious, but I have pretty much lived in my blue-and-white-checked apron for two months.

My first foray into gourmandise was ratatouille, which makes use of tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, bell peppers, eggplant, basil, and parsley. Its stewlike consistency is soft on the palate, and the fact that all these flavors have stewed together for a while makes for a rich taste experience.

Next came cold tomato soup—gazpacho, which uses tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, and either zucchini or cucumber. I made two batches, one with zucchini and one with cucumber. Since gazpacho is not cooked, the blended flavors pop with freshness.

I took a break from blending and made a few combining-type recipes. Think four-bean salad, roasted or grilled veggies, and zucchini and tomato bake—or Tian Provenรงal. Just plain beans and broccoli freshly picked and steamed were so tender and sweet, they didn’t even need butter or salt to be gourmet treats. And two big pots of my very veggie soup jam-packed with every green, red, orange, and yellow edible plant under the sun. Every veggie under the sun is of course an exaggeration, but that's what it felt like in the hour it took me to chop all those crisp, colorful crops. On the upside, all those flavors and health benefits were glorious.

Winding down now—even my apron is tired. My last bursts of energy for blended epicurean delights were tomato basil soup and butternut squash-Macintosh apple soup ~ oh, and applesauce with vanilla and cinnamon. Now that our tomatoes and beans are long gone and the final farmers market is tomorrow, I fondly remember this harvest season for my investments of time and the pleasure we had in savoring those meals. Our local grocery stores’ sales on frozen vegetables this week are timely, but I will sure miss that locavore taste. I suppose nothing keeps me from concocting ratatouille and gazpacho from store-bought produce, but my apron and I are ready for a rest from harvest season’s culinary adventures.

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