Would you wait for a Fig and Date Salad?

Posted on September 20, 2011

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I waited and waited all Summer long for that tree in our backyard to yield some sweet, plump little figs. They are finally here, just as Fall starts to set in.

Today is gray and rainy, with an electrifying chill in the air. It feels dramatic, this change of the seasons. Experiencing such a shift four times a year is a poignant experience. Not everyone gets such a chance, but I don’t think I realized this until recently, when I began to think more about where my food comes from.

Summer used to start for me when school let out, and Fall when I had to go back again. Winter was all about Christmas, and Spring demarcated by Easter. The seasons started and stopped according to those landmark days. It never occurred to me, with access to a grocery store that maintains the same basic stock year-round, thanks to imports and prepackaging, that the change from Spring’s fresh greens to Summer’s ripe fruits to Fall’s apples and pumpkins to Winter’s cans and preserves best reflects the amazing cycle of seasonal change. Instead, I went by pretty-wrapped presents, baskets full of candy eggs, the shutting of books, and the sharpening of pencils, eating blueberries in January and bland supermarket tomatoes in the heirloom season of August.

I think this off-kilter passing of days is an interesting social phenomenon, embedded both in privilege, for those who have access to stocked-out-of-season food markets, as well as disparity, for those whose local food economies survive on fast-food chains and corner stores. What is furthermore profound, however, is that in equal measure in both cases, an understanding of what is actually, “good food” has been lost with our societal disconnect from the annual clock.

Having never taken notice before, I actually was worried up until this past weekend that the figs wouldn’t make it as the weather turned cold. I have been hearing of ripened figs in the Northeast since mid-August, so I was concerned that ours were still small and green. I am still having the same worries about my bell peppers, which are only now about the size of the figs. It’s officially Autumn after all; the kids went back to school weeks ago. There are Halloween costume pop-up shops all over the place and Christmas decorations already on sale. Therefore, time’s up in the garden!

But I’m slowing gathering that seasons don’t really have a true beginning or an end, just a period of transition from one to the next, each bringing it’s own bounty, in it’s own time, according to particular conditions of soil, sun, and water. Our fig tree seems to be extra shaded by a big evergreen in our next-door neighbor’s yard. The figs are just taking their time, so we will take our time to enjoy them now, and then we will wait again, until next year.

I’m still waiting for the day when I can say that this entire salad came from my garden. I’ll have to move to California for the dates, I guess, since that’s where they came from according to the package, which I purchased at Costco. The Romaine lettuce and cucumbers, too, came from that big box store. Oh yeah, and the feta cheese and sourdough bread. Perhaps I earn points for making my own dressing?

As you see, though my perspective has shifted, I’m still making the transition to a seasoned locavore…  I gleaned some words of wisdom regarding this personal change from an interview posted on the blog Civil Eats with Ken Meter, an analyst of local food movements and president of the non-profit organization, Crossroads Resource Center. He noted:

I see change in the U.S. being something that’s very rapidly being organized by people for themselves… Change is learning from mistakes, breaking old habits, and letting things emerge that we know we can’t predict but know we need to get to… In many ways, change is recovery.

I took this salad to work with me today to share with my office mate. We both agreed it was better than any salad we have ever ordered from the fancy (and expensive!) bottega where we often go for lunch. It was one small step, and one big lesson learned: good things come to those who wait.

Fig and Date Salad
with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 head Romaine lettuce, torn
1/2 medium cucumber, thin sliced
1 handful dates, pitted and halved
4-5 fresh figs, halved
Feta cheese
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
Sourdough bread

Place lettuce in a large salad bowl. Top with cucumbers, dates, figs, and sprinkle with feta cheese. Dress in honey balsamic vinaigrette to taste, and serve with slices of sourdough bread or tear bread into pieces to toss with salad like croutons.

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