I've purchased many packets of seeds to start what I am hoping will be a nice Italian garden consisting of; Basil, Oregano, Mint, Broccoli Rapini, Beets, Red Onions, Red Onions of Florence (my Godfather in Florence was pleased to hear of this selection) Roma tomatoes, Italian sweet peppers, Peppercinis, Serrano Peppers, and Tuscan Kale.
There has been a big push on television and in the cooking community to go Organic and the starting of family "Recession Gardens" as a way to save money on produce.
Great ideas but not why I'm doing this garden.
I'm reading a book The Unprejudiced Palate ~ Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pelegrini.
Written about 50 years ago but still applicable to today's foodie. He's an Italian immigrant from Tuscany who speaks of the American food scene and the American's ability to , even in hard times, not know what hard times really are as our supermarkets have such selection that almost anything can be obtained regardless of the season. He writes (and I'm paraphrasing), the purpose of life was to understand how hard it was to sustain life. He goes on to talk of his family garden and eating only the few things that would grow where he lived.
It was this that I have been trying to put into words for some time in my own work with food. Everything has it's trends and the food industry is no different with restaurants that feature either organic and/or seasonal menus. Organics and Seasonal menus are nothing new, however it is only now that the terms have become easy buzz words for restaurant P.R. to get asses in the seats. After all, before World War II there was nothing other than organic. Now that people are realizing some of the chemicals found in processed food aren't the best for you there has been a swing to organics propelling stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods into the forefront offering natural alternatives.
In cities where the food culture is at a higher level you find restaurant featuring 100% organic menus purchased from local growers. I find this truly fantastic but the practicality of it all makes me wonder. What about the salt and pepper? That organic too? Who churned that unsalted butter, Virgins?
I would love to feature a seasonal and organic menu but my surroundings prevent me from doing so. New York and San Francisco have no problems getting their hands on some fennel for tonight's salad, but here in Orange County try and find enough stock to feature it for 200 to 300 covers without braking the bank. There's just no market for a truly seasonal menu in my neighborhood regardless of the money that is still in these hills. Even then, if I offered it I'm not sure that my target clientele as a whole are food savvy enough to order it.
In Pelegrini's book he writes of eating seasonal because that's all you had to eat. You didn't eat tomatoes in the winter because they didn't exist. You grew what you could in your surroundings and ate things when it was time, usually with the bland flavorless bread of Tuscany that gets its non-flavor from the lack of salt, (a recipe resulting from a centuries old feud with the Pope's salt tax).
My godfather in Florence, Silvano 66 years old, spent his early childhood under the occupation of German soldiers and the later part of his childhood in the poverty of what was post war Italy. On Christmas Eve a few years back I traveled to Florence. We sat after dinner eating mandarin oranges out of a large box. One after another. But instead of throwing the peels away he would hold them in his hands, smelling as he called it "il purfumo". To him the mandarin orange was a magical thing. Later he explained to me that as a child his brothers and sisters all received only one Christmas gift each, a mandarin orange. I tell this story to my customers and try to stress the importance of the mandarin orange as so rare in that part of Italy at that time of year that just the smell of the citrus was gift enough, even for a 5 year-old boy.
So in an attempt to better understand the business in which I find myself becoming more and more consumed I begin planting a garden. From the Italian deli near me, Claro's, I've purchased what I think is a good starter kit of seeds. Then it's off to Home Depot for the supplies. I'm starting from seeds and not starter plants as to really get a feel for the time and effort it takes and hopefully by Labor Day I'll be able to treat the family to a nice late summer feast of home grown organic produce. I'll try to post pictures of the progress for anyone who cares. And if you have tips, well, send them my way. If I don't take them, well, don't be upset. I'm just stubborn.
Ci sentiamo, G