No matter the season, it is always summer in the produce section of your neighborhood grocery store. Even on the coldest days of winter, when the mercury dips below freezing, you can find a plethora of produce that makes you forget there will be a foot of snow waiting for you on the car by the time you get through the checkout. We have become a season-less nation thanks to imports from warmer countries, hydroponics, and hothouses.
Growing up, I was well aware of the seasons. I grew up on a a small farm on the far side of east Cleveland. There were no chickens scratching or pigs wallowing (at least not when I lived there), but there were fruit trees - hundreds of them.
My dad was hired on in the early 1980's to help take care of small farm for the owner, Marian Ginn Jones, daughter of Frank Hadley Ginn and wife of William Powell Jones. We lived on the farm in the little gatehouse at the end of the drive. Mrs. Jones, a wonderful old woman, let us roam around, climb the apple trees and eat any of the produce. Growing up on the farm spoiled me rotten when it came to food.
In the spring I would climb into my favorite apple tree by the drive and look out over my domain. Little pink buds unfurled their petals on the tips of gnarly gray apple branches to cast a rosy haze over the farm. This was the first and most exciting sign of spring.
Early summer warmth coaxed the petals to drop and blanket the ground with a carpet of pink and white. Little green apples began to form in their place and we would watch with anticipation as the green slowly turned to vibrant reds, yellows and blushed greens.
When the first of the apples were ripe, we would shimmy up the trunks and perch in the shade of the leafy branches as we munched away at the sweet, juicy, sun-warmed flesh. We would bash the fallen apples on the fence post and share our bounty with the horses, our little hands stretched out the way we were taught so the horses didn't mistake our fingers for carrots.
Apples were plentiful well into the chillier months of fall. My dad would load up the truck bed with bushels upon bushels of apples to take to the local cider presser and the fruit was magically transformed into thick, hazy, brown cider. "The good stuff" as we called it. A few years ago the presser was forced to close because of new pasteurization laws. Since it was a small operation, the owner just didn't have the funds to purchase the new equipment. No more of the good stuff.
Throughout the winter my dad would bring up gallon jugs of cider from the basement freezer for a treat. After spending hours in the snow making forts and throwing snowballs, we were greeted with mugs of hot cider and spent the evening around the fire.
Late winter and early spring was pruning time. My dad would spend the entire day, or as long as he could stand the cold, pruning back the trees. He would often greet us at the end of the day with a chilly hand down the back of our sweaters.
Then the cycle would repeat itself. There's something comforting about the repetition of the seasons and watching an apple go from bud, to blossom, to baby, and into my mouth when ripe.
To my readers, I challenge you to step back from the produce at the store and think about what you are about to buy.
Ask yourself: what's in season, where did the produce come from, will it be at its peak freshness and ripeness?
Shop your local farmers market or participate in a CSA program. That way you can be sure that the food you are buying is the freshest it can be instead of picked, packed, stored and shipped from another country halfway around the world .
Take your kids - or grand kids, nephews, nieces, cousins - to a pick-your-own farm so that they can experience where their food comes from. If you live in the Cleveland area, I highly recommend visiting Patterson's or Eddy's fruit farms - I would go there every fall with my family, friends, or on class trips.
Thanks to my dad, Dennis Mastrangelo, for the photos.