Spring has sprung

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“April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” — from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

I may not avow the cruelty of April. But, it certainly unfolds in ways that tease, confound and befuddle, particularly in northern climates. There are warm, sunny days offering a taste of spring and a glimpse of the coming summer. Everyone’s outside in tee shirts. Then wham! It’s raining. It’s snowing. The harshness of winter slaps us in the face. No matter that March 20th was the first day of spring. We’re in April now, with its tug o’ war weather.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still
You’re one month on in the middle of May
But if you so much as dare to speak
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch
A wind comes off a frozen peak
And you’re two months back in the middle of March

Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time 

Consider the strawberry –  strawberries grown out of season. They can be red. They can be big, looking plump and juicy. But they are best described as “taste free.”  Since the beginning of time, or at least recorded history, the food we eat has been governed by the seasons. Seasonality is what underpins the whole idea of farm-to-table. Modern industrialized farming has set out to reduce the impact of the seasons on our food supply. Celebrating seasonality is often replaced with “shelf appeal.” It looks good. The size is consistent. It’s available all the time. So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, if what you want is standardized food. I’ve asked this question before – Do you eat to live or do you live to eat?

Every spring, when it comes to Loch Duart salmon, some folks suffer from April Shock.  They’ve just come thru three months of predominately big fish from Loch Duart – 6/7, 7/8, 8/9 and even 9/10kg. Think about it. A 10kg salmon weighs more than twenty-two pounds. That’s a honkin’ big salmon. You look up. It’s April, and suddenly those fish are all gone. The restaurant is engulfed with turmoil. The waiters are bewildered. The hostess has a fainting spell. The sommelier is drinking the cooking wine. The pastry cook perspires while the grill cook wrings his hands in agony. The escargot jump out of their shells. What can we do? Call Superman! Shine the Bat Light across the sky! Where’s Underdog?

But wait! From within the bowels of the kitchen emerges a man. He’s wearing checkered pants, a white double-breasted coat, and on top of his head rests a starched white toque, Seeing the resolve in his eyes, it is immediately clear. This man is a Chef.

The Chef immediately takes command

“Have no fear, the Master Chef is here! I have the cure for April Shock. Those large robust full-flavored salmon from Loch Duart may be gone for now.  But Loch Duart is still here. This is spring and it’s time for Loch Duart to begin harvesting its New Generation of fish. All salmon must be small before they can be large. Loch Duart replicates as closely as possible the natural life cycle of a wild Atlantic salmon. That is why they taste so good all year round. Change is good – it allows food such as Loch Duart salmon to be served on the menu, but served differently with a different result. Age and flavor develop in all things as they grow. The cure for April Shock is simple. I will change my recipe. I am not simply a cook. I am a Chef! When you taste the new season Loch Duart salmon, you will be cured.”

And, that’s exactly what happened. He changed his recipe. He adapted his cooking method to bring out the delicate, sea-fresh flavor of these tender young salmon. Everyone in the restaurant sat down together, marveling at the wonderful flavor of the fish and the talents of their Chef. The sommelier became sober. The hostess got up from the floor. The pastry cook cooled down and the grill cook proudly manned his station ready to serve the diners waiting oustide in the April rain.

Two constants remained, Loch Duart’s farming ethics and award-winning taste. Once more all was right with the world.

Near the end of The Waste Land, Eliot writes

“I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order” 

We are only limited only by our imagination. Celebrate the seasonality of our foods. It’s April. Celebrate the seasonality of Loch Duart. Leave that cookie cutter salmon for those who eat only to live. For those who live to eat – Bon appetit!

Dale Sims, co-founder of CleanFish, California-based distributor of Loch Duart salmon