Thursday, July 23, 2009

Food, etc.

There's a giant crate of peaches sitting on my dining room table. I'm guessing that there's a little over three dozen left from who-knows-how-many. I've been eating peaches nonstop, giving them away to friends, to my landlord, to anyone I can before those delicious little fuzzballs start to rot. The problem is that no one really wants to take them, because just about everyone else has a giant crate of peaches on their dining room table as well. It's peach season, after all, and Macedonia - like much of southern Europe - is a seasonal country.

For the most part, I think seasons have disappeared in America. We have our strawberries, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce available all year long, quality aside. Sure, the sweetcorn from the roadside stand only comes around in the late summer, and local groceries may only have watermelons for a few months of the year (although I imagine Kroger's has them year-round). But most Americans buy the the bulk of their food from supermarkets, and the American supermarket knows not the time of year.

This is not so in Macedonia. When I first arrived in October, fresh salads were already disappearing from restaurant menus, and were being replaced with turshija, pickled vegetables. The tomatoes available over the winter - grown in hothouses in the south of the country, and in Greece - were unnatural, plastic, tasteless, and expensive. Most people avoided them -winter is turshija time.

Then comes summer. The first watermelons, good tomatoes, chives, and cucumbers emerge early, from the halfway-opened hothouses. Things are green and fresh again. Prices drop to reasonable levels. I go to the market, I cook, and I am happy. That's not the end of it, though. The produce stalls start bursting with crops. There are actually dozens of semi-trucks full of watermelons parked all around the city, selling them for $.25 a kilo. Crates of peaches sell for $3, and the city is full of old men walking around with peach juice dribbling from their chin. People are practically giving away green peppers and onions. A month ago, during cherry season, my entire refridgerator and freezer were completely full.

The problem is that Macedonia is an agricultural state surrounded by other agricultural states, and mostly lacks large-scale canning facilities or refridgeration units. There's simply an overabundance of crops as they become ripe, and the price drops to the floor. And, since that crop is only available cheap and fresh for a limited period of time, Macedonians simply stuff themselves with whatever is in season. It sounds like a real treat, and in many ways, it is - I've never had produce that tasted so good.

But seriously - what am I going to do with three dozen peaches in the next two days?

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