Seasonal Produce: An Outsider’s Perspective

Fran Sun / Photo

Fran Sun

As someone born in Australia, one of my favorite things about living in Vermont is how we have actual seasons. Not just “oh, look, the pavement is no longer burning my feet through my shoes!” or “is it just me, or is the air bath water?” I come from the subtropics, and though we get “winter,” it’s winter with a definite lower-case “w” and it is absolutely not to be taken seriously. If it gets to 40 degrees F, that’s a big deal.

When I first arrived in this country at the beginning of April 2015, I was the only person in New England who was excited to see the snow that held on well into alleged-spring that year. People were very patient with me.

My first winter was mild. I call it my “training-wheels winter” and it really was. Not a lot of snow, not a lot of very cold days. When spring came along, I was actually kinda disappointed. But one thing I enjoyed immensely was seeing my fellow Rutlanders (Rutlandites? Rutlandians? Rutlords and Rutladies? Feel free to let me know in the online comments or on Facebook if there is an official title!) thoroughly enjoying the warmer weather. The first sniff of outdoors-able temperatures saw backyards full of people throwing a football, grilling out (“having a barbie / barbeque” where I’m from) and smiling benignly while children played in the still-brown grass. I thought, “how adorable!” The plants were soon to follow — I have never seen anything move as fast as spring vegetation in this part of the world.

I came to learn that spring/summer that plants and animals do NOT mess around when the warm weather comes, and that’s for a really good reason: it’s short! It felt like no time before a chill was in the air, not that I felt it, being six-months pregnant by the time it started and having my very own nuclear reactor inbuilt. But last year’s winter was a lot less adorable and amusing to me. I am terrified of falling on ice at the best of times. Christmas Eve, two days before I had my son at 41 weeks and four days pregnant, I stood miserably fixed in place on a shopping outing, a sheet of ice between me and my car, wondering if it was appropriate to call my husband to pick me up, even though the safety of my car was less than 15 feet away.

Anyone who’s had a baby in the depth of winter can tell you it’s no fun. No navigable sidewalks makes stroller walks hard, and rugging up a baby so they stay warm but also don’t overheat in the car is a tricky balance.

Anyway, the point of all this preamble is to tell you how excited I was this year to see spring. It made me feel like a real Vermonter! I excitedly pointed out the buds on the trees to my husband, and we marvelled together at the purple crocuses poking up through thin layers of crusty snow in our front yard. The subsequent explosion of our garden was a sight to behold.

And so was the produce at the farmers markets. In Australia, I could not have told you what food was in season when, apart from the very obvious things like big, fat mangoes in summer, and juicy, fresh lychees in buckets from the farm my dad’s old sailing buddy owns. Most things are freely available most of the time. The farm-to-table culture is all but nonexistent in my hometown. The primary produce is beef cattle, and 99 percent of it is exported. Restaurant menus will rarely, if ever, list a local farm as a supplier. It’s all very disconnected. The opposite is true here.

I love and appreciate it so much, as a food-fan. U-Pick berry farms! Chatting with the farmer who pulled the greens you’re about to buy out of the ground that morning! Fresh garlic! I am certain the farm worker who sold me that for the first time thought I was an actual alien.

So this year, I’m happily indulging in all things seasonal. I’ve made strawberry jam, and this past weekend I made a carbonara that was too good not to tell you all about. You can use any early-summer greens you like, just prep them appropriately to leave some crunch. Enjoy!

Early summer carbonara (serves 4)

(adapted from New York Times Recipes “Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara”)

  • 1 pint container English peas or any shell-able pea variety, shelled (makes about 1 cup)
  • Half a bunch of bunching broccoli or broccolini (or asparagus, I was too late)
  • 3 slices of bacon, sliced into quarter-inch pieces
  • 5 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • ½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound spaghetti

Fry the bacon until it’s crispy and set it aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Blanch the peas and broccolini in salted boiling water until tender but still crunchy, set aside with the bacon.

Whisk the eggs with the milk, set aside. Bring your salted water back to the boil and cook the spaghetti for 8-10 minutes until al-dente. While this is happening, heat the bacon fat in the pan and toss the bacon and vegetables back in, just until everything is warmed through evenly.

Have everything ready to go when you drain the spaghetti — this is crucial. When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it and quickly put it in a serving bowl and add the egg mixture. Toss it vigorously to cook the eggs. Add the cheese, then the bacon, vegetables and basil, tossing constantly.

Season with lots of black pepper. Serve immediately.

Fran Sun

Fran is a new stay at home mom who moved to Rutland from Australia in 2015.

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