Astoundingly, we are at the peak of the local growing season already. As much longed for as this time of year is for me, I still cannot believe it has already swooped in so fast. And I am afraid to blink lest it fly right by. So I try to hold my eyes wide-open, capture the colors, textures, aromas and flavors to such a fineness of detail as to warp time itself into a standstill.
A short list of the goods I saw at the Kingfield Farmers Market this past weekend: blackberries, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, sweet and hot peppers, a half dozen varieties of eggplant, raspberries, apples, summer squash, potatoes, beans … Oh, Sweet Summer!
It is said that the devil is in the details. I am not so sure. For me, it is those summer days spent weeding the garden, strolling about the neighborhood, picking apples or strawberries, sitting with a coffee at the market while catching up on news — in short, those days spent all absorbed by detail, that I feel like time spools out at a sweeter and gentler pace, each moment at least somewhat palpable and certainly in comparison to the blur of workaday life.
In the Aug. 2 edition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Michael Pollan writes about how cooking has become something of a spectator sport, the real-life activity having been supplanted by the passive and vicarious act of watching people cook on TV. Not necessarily a consequence of this shift in behavior but certainly related to it, Americans eat out and take out more, microwave more, or aggregate the contents of cans and jars and spice packets into “dishes” more routinely; dishes that have lately come more and more to pass as “cooking.”
To me, this is very dispiriting. In addition to the richness of experience that’s being left on the table (or not), as Pollan points out, “it’s hard to imagine ever reforming the American way of eating or, for that matter, the American food system unless millions of Americans — women and men — are willing to make cooking a part of daily life. The path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food, not to mention to a revitalized local-food economy, passes straight through the home kitchen.”
If you asked folks why they would forego a pleasure so basic as the consumption (if not the preparation) of meals made from scratch, I would guess most might tell you it was a matter of constrained time.
Here is what I want to tell you, dear reader: scratch cooking is not hard. You may even find it pleasurable. And if you are looking to spin out your summer days into the kind of long and brilliantly hued threads that weave securely into lasting memory, then there is not a tastier way than scratch cooking to do so. Especially at this time of year when you can go to the farmers market and get fresh fruits and vegetables that were likely picked early that morning or the night before and are still loaded with flavor. (And nutrients, of course, but this essay is about pleasure.)
So if you want to share my recipe for a long and lasting summer, here it is: Go to the farmers market, now is the very best time. Invite your kids, or your neighbors or your friends into the kitchen and begin to cook. Together. Peel, wash, chop, blend, sauté, bake. Take every step. You may not end up eating until 10 p.m., but you will savor every moment along the way and reap the reward at the end.
Here is a recipe to start out your dinner:
Farmers Market Chilled Fresh Corn Soup
— 8 ears of farmers market sweet corn
— 2 Tbs butter
— 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
— A generous handful of fresh herbs — basil, sage, oregano, thyme, marjoram or a mix of whatever you have picked-up at the market or in your garden
— A pinch of salt
— Optional: crème fresh, plain yogurt or sour cream
1. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and set aside.
2. Break the cobs in half and place in a large pot. Barely cover the cobs in cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the cobs for about ½ hour. Strain the broth into a bowl and let cool.
3. In the meanwhile, finely chop the herbs and stir them into the oil. Set aside.
4. Over medium heat, melt the butter in the same pot you used to simmer the cobs. Add the corn kernels and a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not overcook or let the corn burn in the pan.
5. Put the corn into a food processor or blender and puree. Keep pureeing and gradually add enough of the corncob broth to achieve a smooth and cream-like consistency.
6. Chill and serve with a dollop of the crème fresh, yogurt or sour crème and drizzle with the herbed olive oil.
7. If you want to make the soup appear more elegant, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois before chilling.