In the world of food, no word is used and abused more than the adjective ‘fresh.’ Food purveyors want us to believe everything is fresh, including food “fresh” from the can or bottle. The only thing not extolled as fresh is wine. Old wine is better which always puzzles me because I am one of those barbarians who like grape wine “fresh” from the fermentation barrel.
When Carol recently sent me to the garden for a few sprigs of dill, I realized once more that there are varying degrees of freshness and they need to be described with the artful descriptions and distinctions that wine connoisseurs use. The very second I pinched off a sprig of dill, the heavenly aroma wafted up through my olfactory nerves with a piercing liveliness that was far more electrifyingly dilly-ish than even the aroma of a dill pickle (which smells quite lively too). Just passing my hand over the dill plant sent this spicy liveliness into the air around me. I immediately thought of the subtle nuances of the wine-tasting world. Fresh dill was not “unusually weighty and tannic” as one might describe a good Burgundy, but unusually light and acidic. In the language of wine buyer and author Kermit Lynch, in his wonderful book, Adventures On the Wine Route, dill’s aroma was “almost visible.” I put a sprig on my tongue and found it penetratingly exquisite with a “playful bite” to use Lynch’s language again. The dill taste was still there on the potatoes Carol prepared, but dill put aside for future flavoring did not maintain that ascending virginal tang of the dill in the garden, to use some of my own winey language which gets better the more I drink.
We recognize degrees of freshness more in some foods than others. No potato, however well-stored, can equal new potatoes just big enough to eat and fresh from the soil. Even with today’s extra-sweet sweet corn varieties, ears roasted right after being removed from the stalk have a delicate flavor that begins to wane with an hour or so. Peas start losing that ultra perfection of flavor even sooner. With both corn and peas, freshness has another connotation. There is a peak time for flavor, at least for me, depending on how far along in development the vegetable is when picked. If allowed to mature too much, goodbye subtle nuances. Peas have to be picked when they have not yet filled the pod tightly, corn when the kernels are still just a tad on the green “pimply” side as we say. Mechanical harvest can’t do the job when the crop is at its most flavorful so no matter how hard commerce tries, I don’t think it can ever bring the tastiest food to market. The tastiest is the reward of the home gardener.
Freshness also affects the taste of meat, sometimes dramatically. Pork sausage fried on butchering day has a heavenly taste that few people experience these days. Even frozen, sausage will start losing that first flavor in a couple of months until it finally tastes like what we refer to as “old boar,” a term not even wine tasters have thought of yet. That’s why it became customary to season stored sausage with sage— to mask that old boar taste. I’d rather taste old boar.
Even fresh food marketers have to pick their fruits and vegetables a little ahead of time. I wonder if we could come up with a way to label freshness. I’d call it the “ago code.” First class fresh corn or peas would have a label that said “picked less than a day ago.” Second class fresh would be stamped “less than two days ago.” A third would identify stuff picked “less than three days ago.” The rest would carry a “stored” symbol.
What is freshness anyway? Is it just a figment of imagination? Is it a substance in itself? Could it be geno-typed, isolated and injected into food to make it taste better. I sure hope not.
I stop at old boar, having actually smelled it cooking .
Dill is a plant I always have in my garden along with my trellised cucumbers. My definition of fresh is food I grow myself. I am not alone in that regard. My 5 year old grandson last December heard his father mention he needed to go get a cucumber. My grandson wanted to go so he got his coat on and flew out the door and around the house only to find there was nothing in papaws garden. He came back around the house in tears. He or his sister refused to eat the “store bought” cucumber. My grandson and granddaughter may not know what fresh is but they know what it tastes like!
‘Fresh’ is just one of many marketing ploys that people fall victim to. If you want a real eye-opener, check out the USDA definitions for ‘cage-free’ and ‘free range’ eggs. Really misleading, but the markets jump up the price for basically no benefits over plain old in-the-cage eggs. The only ‘fresh’ I rely on is when I pick the fruits and berries from my yard or gather the eggs from our own henhouse. Even when we eat from our freezer or canned goods in the winter, we know that the produce was fresh when we processed it.
As I get older, if have developed an extreme dislike for the ‘marketing whores’ that will say and do anything to get people to buy their products. Are people really that stupid?
Most consumers that shop at grocery stores have never really experienced True Fresh anything,as true fresh fruits and vegetables are only experienced by gardeners that raise these things.But the worm has turned in some respect as many consumers perfer ‘supermarket’ fresh over the real thing.Take apples for instance many people I know don’t like an apple that really as a lot of taste and is tree ripened they perfer those hard as a rock apples that taste like plastic from the grocery store.But as you say nothing compares in taste to me like fresh ground sausage or fresh cherry tomatoes eaten in the garden or fresh fried Patty Squash or a pot of fresh green beans or just picked Dew Berries or a fresh Persimmon still on the tree in mid October or fresh…………….
A strawberry or a raspberry picked and popped in your mouth can’t be equaled. My grand children spend the summer and early fall eating raw veg in the garden.
I’m so dedicated to fresh that I only eat fruits and vegetables while they are still attached to the plant. 😉 Just kidding – I usually pick it and then put it in my mouth a fraction of a second later. I can think of quite a few things that need some aging or drying to be best: garlic, sweet potatoes, pears, winter squash as mentioned previously, oregano, hops, hickory nuts, bread for toast, french silk and pumpkin pie, beer, chili. Hmm,now I’m hungry and I just finished dinner. I fully support the Ago Code.
The smell of just picked celery and onion fried up to start a pot of anything is marvelous. And what about just dug garlic. You’ll never smell that in the supermarket.
Basil …. basil …. can anything smell fresher in the garden in summer….?
Gene, you had me at barbarian! Love it ! Hmmm, I now have a sudden urge to go sniff the pickles in my refrigerator, go figure! I do hope this post finds you in good health and “spirit” otherwise.
Who needs a garden? I love my fresh iceberg lettuce grown 400 miles away and my tomatoes genetically engineered to look fresh for weeks and my fresh not from concentrate orange juice that’s been frozen for months and is basically tasteless sweet water until they add flavorings!
On another hand, the delicious red kuri squash and others see their vitamin and sugar content improve with winter storage. This squash is very popular in Europe, especially with organic farmers, for its sweet chestnut flavor, hence the French name “potimarron”, from “potiron” (squash) and “marron” (chestnut). It can be cooked as a vegetable and stays firm, it does not turn into mush like most other squashes.
After I finish my wine, I am heading to the garden to pet the dill. Wish we could share the joys of new potatoes with everyone!
Such ESP timing! One hour ago I went to the garden for all the makings for fresh potato salad. Thanks for you dilly of a post….
The word “fresh” has lost all meaning to most people, thanks to marketers. So has “natural” and “home made.” As a lover of words, this frustrates me endlessly. Soul-catching terms that poets and lovers once uttered with careful precision are now glibly tossed around to sell cars, diapers, and toothpaste. The antidote continues to be writing like yours Gene, writing that joggles the reader more fully awake to all his or her senses. Including common sense.