A gusting breeze from the north is blowing scatterings of white blossom from a neighbour’s tree like confetti, across my small back garden. Behind, silhouetted against the clear blue of this morning’s sky, the giant maple that frames my western horizon is pregnant with leaf buds, not quite out. They look like they’ll burst forth by the end of today. I imagine them giving a great “at last!” as they emerge into the light and warmth.
All this new life is crying out to be written about, for spring here in Toronto is a good three weeks late: the magnolia blossoms have just come out downtown, the lilies of the valley in my front yard came through the dirt a week ago, only, which is the time they are usually in scented bloom, and the farmers’ markets are barely managing to meet everyone’s hunger for spring greens.
A slow spring can mean that we get the pleasure of fresh brilliant new green leaves and drooping subtly graceful maple and other tree flowers over a long stretch. But this year it feels as if we have been so delayed that we’ll leap straight into summer heat with barely a moment to enjoy the freshness. I hope not. And I am told that for those who grow grapes and make wine in Niagara and upper New York State, this late spring is probably a complete disaster: Even if there’s heat now, the fruit has not had the long time it needs to slowly grow and fill out, so the harvest will be meagre.
Mother Nature is pretty stressed right now. Even in unpolluted, more environmentally intact times she gave with one hand and took away with the other, producing feast and famine both. But now we seem to be headed for more of the catastrophic and less of the benign, depending on where we live and what we’re trying to grow or harvest.
My time in Kurdistan was a reminder of the small margins that many people live on, and of their vulnerability to food insecurity. The refugees from Syria that I met in a UNHCR camp there were relying on monthly supplies of basic staples: oil, bulgur, rice, salt, sugar from the World Food Program. The stack that was each family’s food allotment, a tall stack, was a visible measure of just how much food it takes to feed a family, and just how difficult the logistics of feeding the world can be if and when there are catastrophes of war or “natural calamity”.
As I went out to Kensington Market yesterday late afternoon to forage for supper (I had black-eyed peas cooked to tender, and a plan to test a Kurdish rice recipe, but needed some greens, a little chicken, onions, and some wine) the choices were dizzying. There is plenty of real food, in a raw, needing-to-be-prepared-and-cooked state here in North America. Our task as home cooks is to take on the challenge of shopping wisely and treating food with respect. And we need to push our families and friends to do the same.
The challenge in my household is getting people to delve for leftovers. We all cook from scratch (and yes, when I am here I do a large part of the cooking), but that’s the positive part of the food picture. Even though I have moved to clear glass containers, to make things more visible (and to avoid plastic), it hasn’t really improved things much. I am the only one who regularly turns to leftovers during the day, and there’s resistance to them even when they’re on offer for supper. Do any of you have this problem?
One approach to avoiding food waste, one that an aunt of mine used to take, is to make smaller meals, to avoid leftovers altogether. Make sure there’s plenty of bread and cheese etc to fill the gaps, but just put out less prepared/cooked food, so that it all gets eaten. But that seems so inhospitable to me. I like the feeling of plenty, the ability to welcome unexpected guests without stinting or rationing anyone. And so the leftovers issue continues to frustrate me.
I’m resisting the urge to buy vegetable starts (eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, etc) this weekend. It’s all very well for me to imagine too much of a burst of summer heat, but if we do in fact continue to have a slow cool spring, it’s definitely way too early to put out starts. The impulse to engage with spring and new life is so exciting, so energising, almost irresistible. And that’s perhaps because it feels like a connection to our ancestors, who did indeed live with want and Nature’s fickleness, and without the assurance of the generous food supply that we enjoy…