Monday, September 12, 2011

New Hampshire is not a good place for fruits and vegetables. Locals will take issue with this, but they're wrong. It's not a question of the quality, that's the thing - that's what locals will bristle at - it's the length of the growing season.

By the time the watermelon is ready, summer is ending, the hottest weather is behind you, and you may even have some pretty chilly days while waiting for the last melons to ripen. Lima beans have a season of only a couple weeks, and barely overlap with the end of the tomato season - despite being considered a spring vegetable in much of the world.

Fava beans, peas, and strawberries have come and gone in much of the country before New Hampshire planting season begins.

That's the problem. You have rhubarb come in first, sometimes before you've even planted anything. Strawberries are next, in June, and apart from berries and the quick-growing small-volume vegetables like lettuces and radishes, you're shit out of luck until August.

Then everything comes at once. Summer - the kitchen summer, the tomato sandwich and ratatouille summer - happens all at once, and then it's gone before you have time to make it a habit. Locals don't always get it - that even in Indiana, where it snowed just as much as it does here, the farmer's market opened a full two months earlier and was going full guns before the first plants had been put in the ground in Berlin, Lebanon, Manchester, and all those other New Hampshire towns named after everywhere else. Summer produce in New Hampshire is a sign that you've gone a little farther north than you were supposed to. You aren't really meant to be here. That's why the land isn't interested in feeding you. This is the airport Chili's. This is the 2am Denny's. You don't have the full menu. Smoke your cigarette and get your flight.

That said, while summer is actually on, it's awesome. It's all at once. You get that magic hour when tomatoes, corn, limas, and okra are all ready at the same time, and you've got more watermelon than you can eat. The quality of the produce is terrific - sometimes surprisingly so.


People keep asking me, you can really grow okra in New Hampshire? I can. But I don't - my mother does. She was so skeptical that it was going to grow up here that she insisted on planting it in her garden - a real garden, full sun - instead of my planting it on my deck, which gets sun in the afternoons. And not only does okra grow up here, it thrives. We get a bumper crop every year. If you don't pick it every 5-7 days, you get enormous pods like some of the ones pictured there - too big to eat, so I use them for vegetable stock.

Like lima beans, okra is one of those vegetables a lot of people are sure they hate. It's green. It has a weird texture. I was on the fence about okra for a long time. I was one of those people who loved it in gumbo (or other soups) - where the mucilaginous (slimy) texture is unnoticeable because it simply thickens the soup - but didn't like it on its own.

Then bit by bit, I came to love it. First fried or roasted - again, cooking methods that reduce the "slime" - then any method. When you have good fresh okra, I really don't think you can improve on okra and tomatoes, which is exactly what it sounds like ... sliced okra cooked with chopped fresh tomatoes and a little salt, until the okra is cooked through (10-15 minutes depending on the okra) and the tomatoes have broken down. You can add peppers, onions, bacon, garlic. You don't need to.

Lunch took advantage of the season. Everything except the bacon and the poppyseed roll is local: the goat cheese on the roll, the okra and tomatoes (from my mother's garden), the corn and red pepper (my mother's again) and lima beans in the succotash. The succotash is just cooked lima beans, corn cut from the cob, and chopped red bell pepper, cooked in a little butter with a little Tony Chachere's seasoned salt.

Succotash, okra and tomatoes

1 comment:

  1. Great post as always, Bill. Not an okra fan - except in gumbo, of course - but maybe it will grow on me over time. As far as growing seasons go - the Pacific Northwest makes NH look like Southern California by comparison! We didn't see 70 degrees until June this year, and last year the high temp on July 4 was 58, with drizzle thrown in for good measure. We get plenty of strawberries and peas, and of course lettuce grows well (where doesn't it?), but we're lucky to get one or two harvests of non-cherry tomatoes, and you can forget about peppers, basil, eggplant, or melons. There's just not enough sunshine!

    Voted for your curry duck confit in the contest. Keep up the good work!