I’ve got a post brewing about early green things, but since it snowed that’s going to have to wait a bit. As winter begins to loosen its grip, there are all sorts of exciting developments to celebrate, most of them involving the garden, but this is also a time of year when fruit is revealed to be the great locavoracious challenge in this climate.
Preserves are great, of course, but by late winter I want to eat fresh fruit something fierce, and the last stored apples and pears are long since gone or mushy. And there are months to go before the first berries begin to appear in June. I have no problem eating tomato purée all winter and spring, waiting until summer to eat them fresh, because there’s simply no comparison; out-of-season tomatoes are barely food. But as much as I love applesauce, and I do, there’s no way it can hold a candle to all the brightly colored citrus fruit that’s ostentatiously piled in every store I walk into, loudly bragging about how it’s in season now.
Acidity is essential to good cooking, and I use it more and more. It sharpens other flavors, and makes food pop. There’s almost nothing that can’t be elevated by lowering its pH. I rely much less on citrus than I used to, though; I use all sorts of homemade vinegars in all sorts of ways, including cocktails, but come March a box of clementines is my undoing. And don’t get me started on blood oranges, even though my sumac vinegar has a lot of potential as a substitute. So lately I have been guiltlessly indulging in lots of citrus fruit. After all, our far-flung tropical colonies like Florida and California should be known for more than just fake tits, and we should support their efforts to diversify their economies. It’s important to think big picture.
This is a typical meal around here: a seared duck breast on a pile of vegetables with a sauce. Sautéd shiitakes, deglazed with sherry, caramelized rutabaga with leeks, and chard with garlic, all cooked after the duck successively in the same pan to catch a burnishing from some of that luscious fat. The sauce was blood orange juice and a knob of butter swirled around the pan after the chard had mostly mopped it clean. I have often made a gastrique from maple syrup and blackcurrant vinegar, and it absolutely kills with duck. I love it. But this citrus sauce made me all kinds of happy. I even left the pulp in it for those lovely little bursts on the tongue. And then I had three clementines for dessert.