Trying new things on for size: micro-seasonal eating and other traditions

For those who grow their own food or eat with the seasons, you well know the difference between a plump tomato just plucked from its vine and still warm from the sun and its sad wintry counterpart, the mealy, pale, flavorless orb. The former needs no ornamentation, the latter requires a dramatic amount of it.

I've learned a lot by eating seasonally. What's available in my garden or at the farmers market is what's at the peak of freshness because it's what grows well at that given time.

I've also learned a lot by eating in an even more micro-fashion; the old When in Rome. What's available fresh in any given city or area -Gullah food in coastal South Carolina, for example- or what is traditionally served on a given holiday in a certain part of the world -the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy, place-specific stuffings on Thanksgiving Day in America...

Although St. Patrick's Day in the U.S. is most definitely a uniquely American variation on its real Irish counterpart, celebrating the day because it's also Oliver's birthday, has led me back to the annual delight of a corned beef and cabbage feast. 

Literally, I make this once a year, but it's a culinary way to mark this bit of time in March. It's a way to make Ol's birthday mean that much more, linking it to a tradition and country larger and beyond him and us and our family. It's an excuse to read books, study traditions and learn more about a culture, people and language we might not otherwise. 

Sometime during the week leading up to March 17, we start toasting each other with Sláinte (meaning Good Health in Gaelic), talking about the whys and hows behind the celebration of St. Patrick, learning a bit more each year about Ireland and its history, and looking forward to visiting that country some day.

The capstones are Ol's party and our family dinner, and even though the boys still don't like turnips, still prefer raw cabbage to poached, and the unyielding fact that we have zero Irish ancestry, I like the tradition of the whole thing and appreciate the ways in which food can enlarge perspective and understanding and palate, all in one delicious bite after another.

We gain so much by seeking to experience new and unfamiliar tastes and experiences, places and tongues, people and systems of belief. Doing these things is the path to greater understanding: of self, other, and the countless ways we're all connected. If we don't do so, we stagnate and become smaller, closed, less engaged and committed to the greater global community than we can and should be.