Countdown to a bittersweet season shift

HAPPY EATER

September 12, 1990|By ROB KASPER

I know the summer is ending when order is restored to the lime bin.

In the sweltering, chaotic days of the high season, limes spilled out of grocery store produce bins. At the slightest provocation they would tumble into the aisles. Even when they just sat still, the limes of summer overpowered a passer-by with their aroma.

They looked so ripe and inviting, you felt the urge to marinate a fish in their juice, or spritz several tonics with them, or plunge a fat one into a frosted glass of gin and club soda. Back then, a dozen limes could be had for $1.

But as autumn approaches, the citrus fruit that battled summer's heat has been relegated to smaller, quieter spots in the produce section. The other day at the store, I noticed the limes were now confined to a corner. The rowdy ones had been replaced. The new ones sat in neat rows, like school kids lined up in their new classroom. Gone, too, were the horn-of-plenty prices. The tight, well-behaved and not-very-fragrant limes, now cost three for $1.

I also know summer is fading when peanut butter pushes out hot dogs as the prime luncheon fare for my kids. Hot dogs were in demand when the order of the day was swimming at the pool, or playing in thepark. But when the routine shifts to "readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic," the sandwich du jour switches to peanut butter. Peanut butter is portable and holds up well, I am told, under the rigors of lunch box travel.

And I know I am in the shank of summer when I worry as I eat a garden tomato. In the back of my mind, I know a surprise frost could sweep in during the night, throwing tomato plants into architectural collapse, and making this the last taste of home-grown goodness I get for many months.

Some aspects of the shift of seasons are easier for me to accept. Like the arrival of apples. Real apples with real bite to them. Good riddance to the namby-pamby apples of summer.

As the temperature moderates, so does the price of crabs. After Labor Day most people forget about eating crabs. But those who remember are usually rewarded with big crabs, loaded with meat and blessed with a low-selling price.

I am ready to say good-bye to green beans. Not long ago I suffered from a case of green bean overload. I brought home a giant bag of fresh green beans, and it wouldn't go away.

My family cooked the green beans, and we ate the beans -- over and over again.

I remember polishing off a big bowl of green beans topped with goat cheese and walnuts. Another time I remember eating them with ham. And yet after each of these feeds, when I opened the refrigerator, the bag of green beans was still there.

Moreover, the bag seemed to be getting bigger. It was pushing out the chicken, hiding the butter, refusing to give the corn room.

After one week, the siege of the green beans was broken. In a bold move, I grabbed the bag of green beans and transferred it from the fridge to a trash bag.

Another pleasing aspect of switch from summer to fall is knowing that the soil still has some good moments left in it. This is a pleasant feeling, similar to coming up on the last chapters of a good book. Not onlyhave you enjoyed it so far, you also have an inkling that you are in for a terrific finish.

That is what happened this year with tomatoes and peaches. They had a spotty start, but rallied and seem to be finishing in top form.

It was also a notable summer for sweet corn and greens. But it was an off year for cantaloupes. The cantaloupes began the summer in fine form, but then weeks of rain hit in August, and the melons turnedmushy. While there is some disagreement in the field over watermelon, I think overall it was a good year. Their yield seemed to be down and their price seemed to be locked at $4 for a respectable size melon. Nonetheless, their flavor was good.

In these days of slanting sunlight, I take my lead from the bees. This time of year the bees go into a kamikaze-like feeding frenzy. The bees are desperate to soak up the last sweet juices of summer. So am I.

I just hope I get to that last watermelon before they do.

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