By: Sheila Johnson
They were the sights and smells and sounds of summer; the sensations that, to me as a small girl, were as much a part of the season as the sun on my shoulders or the feel of the cool grass between my toes.
I loved summer – and I still do, as a matter of fact.
But, sadly, so much of what I miss about summer are things that seem to have largely disappeared from life, some of them, perhaps, forever – things like the sound of a wooden screen door slamming, the gentle hum of a small metal window fan, or, best of all, the clang of the ice cream truck.
And, while there is one aspect of summer that still remains, it is one not nearly as tied to the season as it used to be – or, frankly, ought to be.
It’s the whole concept of summer fruit – the kind of delicious, sweet, mouth-watering and nectar-of-the-gods fruit that, for years, you could only get during summer.
Strawberries. Peaches. Plums. Blueberries. Watermelon. Even home grown tomatoes.
The kind of fruit that, even for children, was often as joyous as a icy cold popsicle or a trip to the amusement park. Because they were just as rare. Those sweet and delicious fruits of summer, most of them raised on a farm just a short drive away, only became available once a year. And when they were gone, that was it. They were gone.
But then at some point, mankind realized it was possible to mass produce such fruit indoors, in hot houses, or import them altogether from places thousands of miles away, using techniques that would supersize them, eliminate their visual flaws, and retard their development until they’d reached their final destination.
And, as such, it soon became possible to eat a slice of watermelon or a wedge of tomato in the dead of winter. Even for Christmas dinner, if you so chose.
And when we did that, what we may have gained in convenience, we more than lost as a way of marking the passage of time, or heralding the arrival of the most joyous, sun-kissed and life-filled season of them all.
What’s more, while such off-season versions of the fruits of summer are certainly OK, they remain a pale imitation of the real McCoy. They’re not as sweet. They’re not as juicy. And, above all, they don’t defy anyone to try eat them without a napkin or paper towel – like those very same fruits can do when they’re grown and picked by local farmers, and when they’re enjoyed during the very season the Good Lord intended for us to have them.
That’s why at Salamander Resort we have our own giant fruit, vegetable and herb garden off the main kitchen. And that’s also why, at every one of our Salamander properties, I continue to work with all my chefs and managers to use the indigenous foods, smells and even textures of the season, and to then incorporate them into our ever-changing and ever-evolving menu of soups, salads, entrees and desserts.
Certainly many people in today’s world want little more out of a meal than consistency and predictability. And for that reason such people are often willing to frequent some fast food joint down the road or, perhaps, a nearby chain restaurant.
But, what I’ve found in life, not to mention my many years around some combination of food and a certain type of person, is that, the farther we get from the innocent days of our youth, the more we crave a dining experience that allows us to not fear the passage of time, but actually embrace, and even celebrate it.
That’s also why the real taste of real seasonal food – like summer fruit – can often, in any meal, spell the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.
I just a moment ago bit into a fresh peach that was unlike any peach I could have found in, say, November, December, or even April. But, in between my bending over so not to drip on my dress, or the napkin I just used to wipe my mouth and chin, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to sit down at the keyboard and share with you just a few thoughts about the incredible, transformative and once-a-year joys of summer fruit!
Eat and live well, my friends.