As many of you know, I adore the book Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I enjoy the book so much that today I decided to share with you one of my favorite excerpts from the book about the “vegetannual”.
To recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year, picture an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season all the different vegetable products we can harvest. Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal Vegetable Miracle, calls this imaginary plant a “vegetannual”.
Excluding the small fraction of our diet supplied by perennialsÔÇöour tree fruits, berries, and nutsÔÇöwe consume annuals. Our vegetal foods may be leaves, buds, fruits, grains, or other seed heads, but each comes to us from some point along this same continuum, the code all annual plants must live by. No variations are allowed. They can’t set fruit, for example, before they bloom. As obvious as this may seem, it’s easy enough to forget in a supermarket culture where the plant stages constantly present themselves in random order. (Kingsolver)
The process by which vegetables come into season is not random. It is easy to remember what is in season if you can simply picture the vegetannual. Work your eyes up the vegetannual starting from the bottom and consider this:
- First come the leaves such as spinach, kale, lettuce, and chard. This usually occurs in spring around April and May.
- Second comes the more mature heads of leaves and flower heads such as cabbage, romaine, broccoli, and cauliflower. This usually occurs early summer in May and June.
- Third is the tender young fruit-set including snow peas, baby squash, cucumbers in June.
- Fourth is green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes in July.
- Fifth is the more mature, colorfully ripened fruits like tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers in late July and August.
- Sixth includes the large, hard-shelled fruits with developed seeds inside such as cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, pumpkins, winter squash around August and September.
- Last come the root crops like potatoes and onions right before winter.
Barbara Kingsolver best describes the vegetannual in this excerpt from Animal Vegetable Miracle:
Picture its life passing before your eyes like a time-lapse film: first, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves. As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, flower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard-shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage unit of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root.
Plainly, all the vegetables we consume don’t come from the same plant, but each comes from a plant, that’s the pointÔÇöa plant predestined to begin its life in the spring and die in the fall. What we choose to eat from each type of vegetable plant must come in its turnÔÇöleaves, buds, flowers, green fruits, ripe fruits, hard fruitsÔÇöbecause that is the necessary order of things for an annual plant. For the life of them, they can’t do it differently.
I love the idea of the vegetannual! Picturing this imaginary vegetannual plant can serve as a reliable guide to what is in season wherever you live!