Recently I went to the local grocery store to purchase supplies for a wonderful dinner I had planned with a friend. I want to pause and clarify that like every good American who fancies themselves very principled, I too decry the fact that Wal-Mart has prevented small businesses from thriving. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from shopping there as you can get everything you need in one spot without overspending. In France, I get to bask in living a much more principled life where I shop at smaller stores. The result is that I spend more, get less, and have to often go to several stores to find ingredients as the first store might not have any milk, or eggs, or cereal.
French produce is legendarily tasty, coming from a country blessed with rich soil. I love the tomatoes, greens, and seasonal vegetables like endives. Unfortunately, as a product of the Wal-Mart mentality, I have no concept of a vegetables natural season. Wal-Mart is an eternal harvest, with every fruit and vegetable coexisting year round in a perfect (though completely false) harmony. I mean, of course summer is “tomato season,” but that just means they are better, not that you can’t find them. I am not a kitchen dunce. I love to cook, know how to pick produce, yet having to know the seasons of certain fruits and vegetables is not a necessary skill for cooking in the states. Here, it seems like the French all know and abide by a sacred code to eat only what is in season. In my new cookbook, the first section talks exclusively about planning your menus around the season. Now I realize it has less to do with planning and more to do with submitting. The other day I went to go buy figs. Multiple grocery stores proved lacking, and when I went to a specialty fruit stand, the vendor – not to mention the several other more seasoned customers – laughed at me.
I left with a different menu, as is often the case when I go shopping in France. But I can’t really feel annoyed. There is something refreshing and beautiful about an entire country that has accepted the value that scarcity and temporality lend to things. Ease and convenience rank beneath quality. Who would want to eat something out of season when you could instead just have something that was better because it is in season?
Like with everything in France, there is a time and season. It is usually not when I want it. But in a manner very French, the seasons know better than I, when I should want things. I am removed the art of choosing because I am not up to making the choice, I suppose. And thus I learn the very French art of waiting. . . only I think that fig season is over. At least endive season lasts till May, or so I am told.