Sweet and sour reflections on the changing seasons
With a shrub recipe, too
April is the first month wholly situated in the spring season, and with it often comes a desire to nourish ourselves with vegetables. Our bodies hunger for fresh, crisp greens and the minerals they provide, likely an inbuilt craving based on their seasonal appearance, but a useful one nonetheless.
Through much of history in the northern hemisphere, even a bit after World War Two, supplies were thin through the early Spring, and those first green shoots were a true luxury that we often take for granted today.
In her piece on fresh produce and supply chains in the early COVID days, historian Rachel Laudan cites the 1969 cookbook Good Food on a Budget by Georgina Horley:
“Though officially the first month of Spring, March is still a problem month in the kitchen. Green vegetables are limited in choice and the cheaper sorts have been eaten, in various guises, all too often. Salads are almost non-existent . . . Potatoes are down to the oldest and most battered. Home-killed lamb is at its dearest. Herrings are out of season. Only the most ordinary fruits are plentiful, but they are imported and far from bargain prices.”
Or, as her father said in early Spring during her childhood, “oh, for something green.”
That we’ve made it to April, perhaps skidding in sideways and a bit banged up from the last year, means it’s the perfect time to really dig in and celebrate the Springtime abundance. The days are longer, and warmer, and this time of year brings a feeling of hope and possibility that feels especially welcome.
Cycling back through the wheel of the year to the time of spring greens and even berries is a celebratory moment: One worth celebrating with a springtime kitchen ritual or just a simple dish of fresh veggies.
This month’s reading included another piece on Antarctica, where sourdough baking helped chef Karin Jansdotter find life in a place where very little grows. (and if you’re a fan of Antarctic baking, check out Rose McAdoo’s work, too).
Speaking of sourdough, Farrell Monaco recently wrote about Pliny the Elder’s chickling vetch sourdough starter.
If you’re looking for an easy way to work sourdough into your world, sourdough pancakes require little baking expertise but deliver on flavor. My favorite springtime pancake decoration is edible flowers, particularly wild violets.
Beyond sourdough, our yeasts and other microbial friends make an appearance. Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life is a love story to all the beautiful ways fungi are interconnected with us and with each other. If you happen to like audiobooks, the audiobook for this and for Braiding Sweetgrass are two of my recent favorites.
And some exciting general food history news: The Food History Timeline, a longtime indispensable resource for learning about the history of food, has been taken over by Virginia Tech and is back online. Check it out here.
I wrote this piece on the history of ketchup, a foreshadowing to next month’s condiment-focused member recipes (including my favorite mustard).
I’m also thrilled to announce that I’m creating another class for Fermentation School this year: All about turning your fermentation practice into a mindfulness and meditation practice.
You heard it here first! I’ll share all the details as soon as it opens up.
The Hidden Cosmos deck is almost ready: The first of its kind, this combination oracle deck plus recipe book helps you explore the magic of fermentation in some exciting new ways. Preorders open soon!
If you’re looking for another class, from historic Scottish ferments to how to reduce food waste, the whole catalog is at rootkitchens.shop
And finally, I’ve got a few more calendar spots to help creative professionals strengthen the food narratives in their work, from books to films to exhibits and beyond. I do everything from historical research to creating believable food narratives, and even the occasional set dec.
If I can help you, send me an email to julia @ root-kitchens.com
To make: Peach shrub
As green shoots emerge from the ground, my mind has turned to salad, from salad spinners to why our vinaigrette is actually medicine (and has been for millennia). Shrubs have come into play, too, as a way to honor those early spring berries and herbs, ringing in the season with a bit of zip and a lot of flavor.
This recipe for peach shrub looks ahead in anticipation to the summer season, when trees hang heavy with fruit and peaches here in Georgia are delicious and plentiful. But you don’t need to wait until summer to try it: Those spring berries and fresh herbs make a great substitute.
4 ripe peaches
½ c sugar
pinch sea salt
Vinegar, any variety (see note)
-Cut up your peaches into 1 inch chunks and add to your jar with the sugar and salt.
-Add vinegar until the jar is filled and the peaches are completely covered.
-Screw the lid on tightly and set aside for at least two weeks (I usually do 4-6), giving a gentle shake or stir occasionally.
-Strain and store in the fridge.
Note: This is a great place to play around with your vinegars. I like using white distilled vinegar for shrubs I’ll mix with gin or vodka, and apple cider vinegar for shrubs I’ll use in bourbon cocktails. If you want to get really wild, you can use other infused vinegars (I always have several going that are infused with thyme stems) to add another layer of flavor.