Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Blog 08: Let them eat rhubarb!

I recently had a conversation with Lauren, who has brought to our Black Trumpet kitchen her own docile demeanor and gorgeous culinary stylings, about the antsiness we chefs get at this time of year. Around here, Spring is a fat promise of green things to come. Mud notwithstanding, the world reemerges from beneath its snowy veil with colors unseen since November. Yet, here in the Seacoast area, Spring’s local bounty won’t result in ramps, fiddleheads and rhubarb for another month at least. The fiddleheads, nettles and greengage plums featured on our refreshing new Spring menu are coming from far afield, unfortunately. But soon, these items—along with ramps, morel mushrooms and early radishes—will push through the frosty New England mud and fulfill the promise of Spring.

In this little hamlet, where callus-handed, hardy fisherfolk once laid the foundation for our cozy village, Spring often enters with a whimper. Last year, on our opening night at Black Trumpet, it came with a blizzard. The neighborhood die-hards who still support us showed up in force. This year, in tune with Puxatawny Phil’s forecast, Spring enters with harsh winds, freezing temps and plenty of residual snow (in our yard at home, a quinzee on our deck is currently housing the 75-pound lamb we will serve to staff and their families on Easter Sunday). I like that Black Trumpet was born during the week of the Spring Equinox. I like that the anniversary of that day will always coincide with the season we associate with rebirth. That’s what I want the kitchen to be about, too: rebirth of creative ideas, rebirth of dormant ingredients, emergent seedlings in cold loam.

Speaking of cold loam, our current menu offers an arugula and dandelion salad in place of the usual Back River Farm greens. For six weeks out of every year, Garen over at the farm takes a little hiatus between crops to order, organize, cultivate and sow his fields and greenhouses. He does most of this with just his own two hands. Around the time of the Super Bowl, he and I go through catalogues and pick out ingredients for late Spring, Summer and Autumn menus. If the crops are successful, everyone benefits—not just our guests in the restaurant, but farmer’s market patrons and Enoteca customers as well. Garen grows beautiful food, and the community has begun to recognize his efforts, which is fantastic. Later this spring, Garen will be bringing me his “little head lettuces,” a mixture this year of deer tongue and dragon’s ear. Maybe we’ll call it the Tongue’n’Ear Salad. Or maybe not. Either way, we always miss Garen’s gorgeous greens when he’s between crops, and we look forward to the produce that lies ahead.

As for my own garden and our restaurant community garden at Strawbery Banke, I am growing extremely anxious to get my hands in unfrozen earth. We will be divvying up the weeding detail at the community garden again among our BT staff, but this year, I’ve invited the front of the house to participate as well. Christine, our bright and shining new star behind the bar, will hopefully contribute some of her landscaping expertise. The organic and heirloom seeds are in the mail. All we need now are a few dozen more degrees Fahrenheit.

In my conversation with Lauren, one of us (I can’t remember which one) said, “I’m sick of root vegetables.” My daughter Eleanor has sworn off snow. Berwick, where we live, has seen 112 inches of snow this year. Winter has had its way with us, and we are over it, ready for Spring like never before. Let them plant seeds! Let them eat rhubarb!

Your dedicated chef and friend,