Our last tomato exploded wetly underneath my heel. This was unfortunate in more ways than one: not only had the shrivelled, orange-reddish fruit spilled its remnants of flavour onto the easy chair, it also stuck to my socks. The last clean ones that I had been carefully nursing along.
The squished tomato had occupied the chair in its grudging pursuit of ripeness, leery about it perhaps after its companions had disappeared one by one as soon as they were saturated with redness. Despite our efforts of moving this one reluctant fruit from shelf to table to chair, in varying distances to the wood stove, Sam and I hadn’t been able to coax more than a soft blush out of it. Its skin puckered, its top remained a defiant green and our hope of sharing this last fresh fruit died in the moment my foot connected with it.
We still have acorn squash, carrots, potatoes, and cabbages but what are those compared to a tomato? The carrots have started to shoot out pale, sickly bits of greenery, optimistically trying to grow out of their winter storage into the light. With the demise of the tomato, we are now truly into winter eating mode. It’s already happened all around us – the grouse have finished off the last clusters of highbush cranberries and are pecking at spruce needles and willow buds, and our dogs have re-discovered the tastiness of rotten, stringy poplar bark and frozen moose poop.
As every winter, I begin with good intentions to finally make a dent into our ancient supply of kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas. Tasty things when you have crisp, fresh veggies to go with them – I don’t know why we never eat any of it during the summer. Somehow, I only begin to take notice of them once there is snow on the ground. I give it a few tries, refried beans, lentil soup and felafels with oregano replacing the parsley since we’ve run out of parsley, but our taste buds are not fooled. They recognize the tired flab of the canned, the grit of the dried for what it is, a feeble substitute of the juicy and fresh. They are always short-lived, our culinary excursions into the realm of pulse, a word which inevitably brings ‘repulsive’ to my mind.
My annual chocolate shortage has already begun. It’s impossible to buy enough because the more I have of it, the more I eat. In past winters, I’ve tried to give Sam custody of my chocolate supply, but he’s too easily wheedled out of it. So now that it’s all gone and can’t be replaced until some time next year, Nutella has become fair game. Our jars are all run off, a common problem with our food items since grocery shopping trips are few and far between. The brown gooey mass is pimpled with greyish specks of congealed fat, an unappetizing sight quickly remedied by heating it up and back into uniform smoothness and colour. Not quite up to par with chocolate, but you learn to substitute out here.
Sam, in anticipation of these winter food horrors, tends to go on shopping binges on his last trip out. That’s how we came by the 16 lemons this year, the three tubs of organic miso soup last winter, and two bags of alfalfa seed for sprouting the year before. All things we don’t really eat much. I picture Sam wild-eyed in the grocery aisle, winter looming large in his head, and sweeping things off the shelves that would be exotic, a nice change, and possibly even tasty for us. The food panic has yet to seize him in the chocolate aisle.
It’s not all bad, though. We do make good things like pizza topped with canned spinach, canned moose with mashed potatoes and carrots, spaghetti with cheese sauce and bean salad with canned green beans. Our small indoor plantation of herbs and Swiss chard provides token bits of greenery and freshness, and multivitamins take the edge off the worst food cravings.
It was the hunt for recipes that caused me to kill our last tomato. Up high on the bookshelf, accessible only by stepping on the chair, is where our cookbooks are exiled to. Useless things when you have to substitute or omit more than half of the ingredients, but sporadically, in a mix of hope and desperation, I look into them again. And that’s another item on my wish list: a winter cookbook for the meagre pantry of shut-ins by weather and by landscape.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.