Eating seasonally and locally is part of my religion. Almost to absurdity, or so my friends and family will point out. But I’m committed, for many reasons. I want small farms to thrive; I want air to be clean and carbon footprints to be as small as possible. So I don’t care how tired I am of leeks – if it’s winter, we eat leeks. We also eat broccoli and cauliflower, root vegetables, cabbage, and endives. Unless the season is poor. Then we eat whatever else is available. And when a new season sweeps in, I don’t look back.
I confess that of late I’ve fallen off my own wagon or at least let a foot slip off. The culprit is artichokes. I just cannot resist them, and neither could Louix XIV, who considered them his “cute little sin” and insisted his gardener at Versailles plant multiple varieties (supposedly five). (I’ve always felt I had a lot in common with French royalty, in terms of my culinary taste at least). Artichokes are at the market now, fat bunches of mid-size, purple-tinged beauties, the kind that yield little golden and tender hearts, have hardly any “foin” or choke, and whose leaves are so tender they might be butter in a different form.
As I succumb I do think it makes some kind of sense. The artichoke season in Italy is tongue-in-groove with that of the French season. As we wave goodbye to the huge, globe-like Camus artichokes from Brittany and the teeny little “poivrades” from Provence, we usher in the purple-tinged versions from Italy, which is only 600 miles away. And this is where I’m confronted by a conundrum. What is the definition of local? Is it 100km? 1000km? Does Italy fit in?
There isn’t a definition of local that states exact distance. When it comes to food, local is a concept and a decision as much as a reality. I’m ferocious in my devotion to supporting local growers but my commitment is to a doctrine rather than a dogma. While I always prefer to put my money in the hand of the grower, I want to eat lemons and drink coffee, enjoy tea and season with spices. So, I practice the doctrine of “doing the best I can” which means supporting local agriculture and squeezing lemon juice over it. What about you?
Thus, my hymn to the small artichoke in its season from the closest farm possible.