The Last Phase is the Most Glorious

The growing season is pretty much over here in Colorado. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden there will still be the occasional snow-covered leaves of kale to harvest, or maybe one last head of cabbage to pull from the cold, hard ground. This Saturday the lot where farmers stands piled high with produce all summer was empty. Living at Zone 5 on the plant hardiness map teaches you to really savor the seasons. Winter is long, and when spring finally arrives at the end of May she’s slow to reveal herself. It seems like all we get is radishes and salad greens forever, until August when summer arrives and gives us everything all at once: peaches, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peas, zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers. The bounty of summer overwhelms us and we hardly have time to appreciate it all. September and October lull us into complacency with seemingly endless offerings of pumpkins and hot peppers, but apples and pears freshly plucked from the tree hint that a change is coming. Autumn turns abruptly to winter here in Colorado, and the first snow in October snaps us back into reality- the barren season of our Zone 5 winter is approaching. A visit to the final farmers market of the season reveals the beauty of nature even at the end of the growing season in November. I’m reminded of a favorite line from the movie, The Calendar Girls:

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Concord Grapes

Concord Grapes from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

The thought of grapes hadn’t even entered my mind as I passed through the crowded farmer’s market, eying the mysterious Japanese eggplant and passing my fingers over plump tomatoes. Amongst the regular cultivars I’d grown used to seeing over the summer, my eye halted at the sight of a newbie – midnight blue grapes coated in white dust. Could it be? Concords! I couldn’t hide my excitement from the farmer, eagerly (but tenderly) gathering up a couple pounds of the delicate grapes. Here in Colorado, the season for such fruit seems to pass with the blink of an eye. Feeling like I’d struck gold, I headed home with my riches. Most of the Concord grape’s flavor is concentrated in its thick skin, and an abundance of pectin means this fruit is well suited to preserving as a jam (find Rachel Saunders’ recipe over at Tasting Table). My first desire was to bake a Concord Grape Focaccia, which you’ll find here on the blog later this week. A few of you who follow Ladomestique on instagram had some great suggestions for cooking with Concord grapes. Talley of House to House blog was kind enough to steer me towards Melissa Clark’s recipe for grape focaccia in the New York Times. Joelle of Home Sweet Homemade suggested grape juice. Gail likes Concord jam. Tori had a fantastic idea for incorporating the fruit into a strudel, and @bablanch pickles the grapes.

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For Everything there is a Season

Eggplants from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

Summer lingers here in Colorado, but autumn is nipping at her bare feet. The days are definitely getting shorter and a cool breeze swept through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains last week. Mornings are crisp and I need a light sweater to take Minnie the dachshund for her walk before breakfast. Summer won’t let go just yet, and her bright sunlight warms the day slowly, but she just can’t seem to coax the mercury into the 90′s as she has done in weeks past. The farmer’s market is bursting with produce: tomatoes, beans, peaches, and eggplant. I feel the need to grab as much as I can. The frost will arrive soon, bringing an abrupt end to our summer. Our grief will be soothed with the arrival of autumn and her apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, and pumpkins. Though I’ve reveled in summer this year, fall is my favorite season. Enlivened by the smell of change in the air, I feel the year has begun anew. January first means little to me. The beginning of fall has always felt like my New Year.

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Ingredient of the Week: Okra

Okra (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

“What kind of peppers are these?” the cashier at the grocery store asked me. “Those aren’t peppers, they’re okra,” I replied. I couldn’t fault her. Growing up in the south, fried okra was a big part of my diet, but I had never actually seen the whole pod, naked, without a crisp coating of cornmeal or cloaked in stewed tomatoes. It wasn’t until I left home and began buying my own groceries at farmer’s markets that I saw the fresh pods, shaped like a “lady’s fingers” (as they’re called in India), covered in a fine fuzz and colored green or purple. Okra is such a staple in southern cooking that it’s hard for me to fathom how you feel about it, though I’m willing to bet you either love it, hate it, or have no idea what it is.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s sentiment, “Vegetables are never rightfully hated, merely misunderstood.” especially rings true for okra. It’s human nature to fear things we don’t understand, such as okra, which doesn’t look like any other vegetable, nor does the flesh cook like any other vegetable. Okra is not easy to love; it requires thoughtful preparation and responds well only to very specific cooking techniques. Learning to love okra is no more difficult than eggplant, beets, or kale; it’s a matter of focusing on the vegetable’s positive attributes rather than trying to make it behave like something it’s not. Okra will never be easygoing like a tomato, or refreshing as a cucumber. To really get to know okra is to discover a taste reminiscent of asparagus, with a delightful texture that is both crunchy and juicy at the same time.

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Ingredient of the Week: Sweet Corn

Peaches and Cream Sweet Corn from Munson's Farm in Boulder (c)2012 LaDomestique

If you’ve been watching the news you may think there will be no sweet corn harvest this year due to extreme heat and drought across the “corn belt” of the United States. When I turn off the tv and head to the Boulder Farmer’s Market, I find Munson’s farm stand overflowing with large, vibrantly green ears of fresh peaches and cream corn. I asked one of the farm stand workers how their season is going, and he said it’s going to be a bountiful harvest. Though our dry summer in Colorado has been marked by fires and drought, Munson farm reports their access to irrigation water and the warm weather ensured a “long fruitiful season.” This makes me wonder, are big agriculture is feeling the devastation of parched crops more than the smaller operations selling at farmer’s markets? Corn prices at the farmer’s market in Boulder are unchanged from last year, and the corn is just as gorgeous as ever. So this week at la Domestique, we celebrate sweet corn as ingredient of the week.

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