Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Walking this path along the seasons

Running my restaurant has connected me with food production in a way that I’ve become hyperaware of the paradox our society has created around “you can have anything anytime” and the actual reality of what is “available in season.”  I have struggled to remain true to seasonality, while recognizing that based on Minnesota agricultural limits, my menu at Butter Bakery Cafe would need to look quite different if I eliminated supplemental produce from the year-round growing regions of California and Mexico and focused only on Minnesota’s seasonality.

This becomes even more apparent each spring as our Butter Bakery Café crew plant out our own small plots around the café, as I tend to my own home garden, and as I connect with farmers on their weekly visits to the café with shares of their harvest for our Community Supported Agriculture members.   

What I’ve learned is that there is a lot of waiting.  It creates anticipation and celebration when something finally reaches that point where the time is right.  These past couple weeks we received strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants that transform our bakery items with their fresh taste.  It makes me wonder if we are, as humans, hardwired for certain tastes at certain points in the year.  Additionally, there are certain combinations of tastes that are especially loved perhaps just because they ripen at the same time of the year.  

While I was picking the Juneberries this year (two rounds that totaled over 10 pounds) I was acutely aware of how a next picking would be ahead, but that after that third round they would be done.  Enjoy them while I can, might feel like a limiting phrase, but even as I thought this, I could see the raspberries forming and the blueberries beginning to bulge. It’s this sense of abundance of ripening times that gets lost in the supermarket version of “always there.”

Alongside this gratefulness of limited abundance, I’m also grateful for the super-abundant harvests of wild blueberries in Maine that can be frozen to stretch their window of abundance to a year-round supply for our daily production of blueberry scones. This year our café tried to practice that same preservation effort with our Juneberry harvest, freezing some to stretch their early summer taste further along.  

But while I find this practice useful, I don’t think that serving Juneberries in December is what I’m hoping for.

And then there’s jam. I definitely think about preserving fruits as jams as a way to open up a taste of another season.  What a great winter treat to have that memory of a distant summer day with a dab of raspberry jam on toast. 

Sadly, I worry that these delights of taste get lost when we fall into the marketing trap of year-round asparagus or “fresh” sweet corn.  This week we’re loaded with sweet peas at the café.  Bring them on. Enjoy them while they’re here.  Revel in the tastes of freshness.  It’s a human capacity we should not be willing to toss away.

Walk with me along this green path of taste, awareness, and abundance.