When does summer start? Consult the almanac and you’ll see it’s still weeks away. But in New Orleans, the seasons aren’t necessarily tied to solstice and equinox. To me, they’re marked by a changing mix of cravings, needs, excuses...and yes, we're talking about food.
To one way of thinking, the New Orleans summer begins immediately after the last act of Jazz Fest ends. The weather heats up, and there’s also a feeling that the long train of one big celebration after the next has finally reached the station. It’s time to hop off for a bit.
Of course summer here can test the souls of strong women and men, mine included. But I’ve learned to see the season’s change as a bit of a relief, especially around the table. It feels like a time to repent, or maybe just retrench, and it might feel overdue after kicking the can of goals and pledges down the road from New Year’s to Mardi Gras to, well, now.
That doesn’t mean the fun is over, however. Louisiana food brings its own summertime pleasures, even if they’re more subtle than king cake and cochon de lait.
Gulf shrimp will only get better as the summer progresses. And is there anything better than cool crabmeat, dressed just as lightly as we all want to be on a summer day?
Lately, even oysters count as a summer thrill. There are new types of specially-cultivated oysters that stand up just fine in the summertime, giving varied flavors and textures and giving us something new, different and cold at the oyster bar.
The Creole tomato is the star of local summer produce, but it has plenty of company. Go to a farmers market or a well-supplied grocery. Look at the colors and shapes of the fruit and vegetables, so resplendent now. And you know what goes well with crisp, fresh vegetables? A crisp, cold glass of wine. Remember, this is about balance.
I would never taunt a New Orleans summer. I respect its power too much. So I am not about to say bring it on. But since it’s coming anyway, let’s count the blessings that get us through.