Sean McHugh's Eclectic Autodidact: ‘Flo's return, local food'


By Sean McHugh, Eagle columnist

I was sort of worried that things would be weird between Flo and me after she came home from her summer abroad at Oxford. The last time we had been apart this long was two months before we met. I think we were both afraid that something would have changed between us and that somehow we wouldn't be able to go back to the way our lives were before this separation.

Then we spent Monday afternoon watching Stargate in our pajamas while eating nachos.

Now that we've reacclimated to living with another person (or, in Flo's case, living with someone who doesn't stagger home from the clubs at 3 a.m., blare the TV in the common room, and then sleep until midafternoon the next day), it's time to get on with our summer.

Though it may seem that we've missed most of the season, the days of high summer are really one of the best times to live in Western Massachusetts. The days may be slightly shorter than in June, but the nights are cool enough to drink hot chocolate while stargazing. It's also the best time of year for produce.

One of the chief things that Flo and I have missed in this time apart is the chance to cook for one another. She didn't have any cooking facilities and I didn't have any impetus to cook, so we are looking forward to interesting recipes involving all the sumptuous food available to us now that the farmers market season is in full swing.

I love farmers markets, partly because I enjoy the flavor and variety it gives me and also because I've read that a Florida tomato would technically fall under the mineral category of 20 questions.

In case that was unclear, I'm not talking about the town of Florida, which is known for alpine views and delicious turnips, but the state of Florida, where they hope that if they pump our food full of enough chemicals we'll forget the phrase "hanging chad." I especially love finding something that I either never liked before or never knew existed and discovering that it's suddenly a cornerstone of my diet.

Last summer I discovered kale and found that it was an excellent substitute for lettuce in sandwiches and could be easily shredded added to almost any dish. This year I've gotten into zucchini in a big way, adding it to just about everything I cooked in my solitary days. What's funny is that even though I know I enjoy it in stir-frys, pasta sauces, and chili, I still have a hard time reminding myself that it's a vegetable that I like. I guess part of it is that many times in my youth I ate one thinking it was a cucumber. My brain would compare the received taste to the expected one and conclude that I was eating the worst cucumber in history. Even now if I see a squash-heavy dish in a cookbook my natural reaction is one of disgust even though rational thought tells me it is likely to be delicious.

Regardless of whether you won't eat a meal that mildly inconvenienced an animal in its preparation or if you think that a meal isn't complete without the entrée still trying to escape, if you don't take advantage of the vegetables of summer you are kind of missing the whole point of living in a temperate zone. Given that there are roughly 26 gazillion kinds of vegetables available when summer hits Massachusetts (citation needed) continuing to subsist on the same genetically manipulated supermarket vegetables after winter ends is like keeping your oxygen tank on after finishing a scuba dive.

I think that since the relentless march of globalization has allowed us to buy peppers and blackberries in December, we sometimes forget that they actually grow outside in a specific time of year that are infinitely superior to the shrink-wrapped substitutes that are flown in from a greenhouse in the southern hemisphere.

Sometimes I find the phrase farmers market a little odd as for the better part of human history that would have been a redundant term and markets for other professions would have needed the descriptor. Despite this little etymological quirk I want to try keep the farmers market my chief sort of produce partly to support local businesses, especially those owned by people with awesome beards, and partly to reduce my dependence on the sort of mechanized pharmacological corporate agriculture that would make Phillip K. Dick wake in a cold sweat.


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