Learning My Thumb Green
Spring! Usually a time to wax poeticly about new beginnings and life, but frankly, having grown up in New York, spring has always just meant gray, wet, and chilly.
Somehow, in Denmark’s colder, grayer, and wetter spring seasons, I’m beginning to thaw to the idea of the beauty of the season. At least when I’m at work.
Ramsons, beach herbs, cabbage sprouts, asparagus are coming in in droves at the moment. And what a relief! Working in Copenhagen restaurants, where the language of seasons and food is so interconnected and focused, winter feels very long, and spring, very welcome.
But when it comes to my own personal kitchen, in a city apartment in Copenhagen, where are the seasons? Sure I can now buy asparagus. But I also have cucumbers and tomatoes, and somehow, I’ve had those all winter long. Where are the fennel fronds, or chervil flowers, or baby nettles? Where is the sense of a “lifting” from winter? Where is the abundance of variety and life that spring promises? Which aisle can I find them in?
I’ve grown up in cities and in suburbs my whole life, where our food source was the supermarket or grocery store. Food was what they said was food. Until I had gone foraging a few times for work, I would’ve trampled on wood sorrel because they looked soft, or lightly kicked ramsons just to hear the rustling of their leaves. I wouldn’t have even seen woodruff, even if I could smell something intoxicating. I would’ve walked by, not knowing this whole world of flavors and foods.
I can be excused for not knowing what these foods looked like in life, or where they grew, mostly because I didn’t even know of their existence. But how can I bake great bread without even being able to tell the difference between ordinary grass and wheat? How can I know what could affect the properties of the flour for bread baking, if I do not even know the basics of how, when and where the plant grows? How can I know food, which is my profession, where its living source comes from?
In fourth grade, I won a prize for a little science project where I tracked the development of a plant fed with salt water. I don’t need to learn the outcome of something so obvious now, but learning how and when to grow food is something that’s currently on my plate…