Mention luxurious food and most people think of heaping servings of beluga caviar, raw sea urchins, foie gras, kopi luwak coffee or other expensive, hard-to-find delicacies. Some people will travel hundreds of miles to eat multi-course tasting dinners at small, highly specialized restaurants that serve unusual food.
Have you made your reservations to dine at Magnus Nilsson’s Faviken Restaurant near the Arctic Circle in Sweden? Only 12 reservations are accepted every night, and the wait is over a year. Once your dinner date draws near, you’ll be given GPS coordinates for locating the restaurant, as well as recommendations for transportation. Just getting to Sweden is only the first and easiest part of your journey. A private plane is almost essential for this adventure.
Once there, you’ll meet the entire culinary team, have interesting drinks and nibbles, including crispy lichens, and settle in for a long evening of things you never thought you would eat. Things like raw moose heart with moose marrow and pea flowers or perhaps young turnips cooked under decomposed ferns. I love this kind of food because it stretches my mental definition of food. Pine ashes on my baked fish and spruce syrup on my morning yogurt? Yes, please, but not every day.
Most days I crave simple things well done, and I suspect that here in Virginia during peak garden season we have some of the most luxurious food found anywhere — things we can only get for several weeks every year or that grow better here than anywhere else. Things like wild strawberries, pawpaws, peaches, ruby salt oysters, corn and tomatoes.
There’s nothing quite like a perfectly ripe tomato still warm from the hot summer sun. Cut that tomato into thick slices, sprinkle them with a liberal amount of salt and pepper, and pile them onto white bread liberally spread with mayonnaise and you have the perfect summer lunch or dinner or even breakfast.
What kind of tomato? Well, it depends on your mood and what good old granddad grew. Some people swear by Mortgage Lifters; others say that Early Girls are the only variety worth eating. My mother loved all kinds of yellow tomatoes because they’re mild and make the most beautiful cold tomato soup. Me? I’m obsessed with Cherokee Reds and Green Zebras.
Corn is available in the grocery store for months, but it’s not at all like corn that’s taken straight from the garden to the kitchen and plopped into a pot of boiling water within 10 minutes. It’s important to eat good corn before the sugar has a chance to convert to starch. As with tomatoes, the variety of corn is a highly personal preference – white, yellow or bicolor. They’re all good.
This year I’m obsessed with maque choux, that Cajun combination of corn, onions, peppers and maybe some herbs and okra. Shrimp and andouille sausage are optional. As for peaches, well, I’ve been making white peach ice cream several times every week. White peaches have an intensely floral fragrance and delicate color. On some hot sultry nights, a bowl of white peach ice cream is dinner.
So … I propose that we all celebrate our local bounty. Put a table in the prettiest part of the vegetable garden. Decorate it with flowers and your favorite pottery. Invite your most cherished friends over and serve them all your local summer favorites – fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese; shredded squash fritters; corn on the cob with herb butter; cold tomato soup with chunky croutons; a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon; a tomato and corn pie; blistered shishitos peppers; stuffed eggplant; peach ice cream; and peach/blackberry cobbler. Call the occasion a Once in a Blue Moon Dinner. Be prepared to repeat the invitation all summer.
CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener who writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.