The Four Seasons ... cue Vivaldi
Spring has arrived; the cycle of life enters renewal. With Spring comes the onset of freshness … freshness in perspective, freshness in vitality, freshness in food. Trees show the brilliant green of new growth, flowers begin to bud. Chicks, ducklings, calves and lambs frolic near their mothers. We are shaking off the brume of winter (archaic word, and yes, you will have to look it up … I stumbled across it searching for one word to encapsulate winter). The open ski runs are largely devoid of snow; powder turns a precious memory. The fragile mountain flowers have spread their carpet of color; blue, yellow, pink, red. Vivaldi’s violins echo through our consciousness to herald the arrival of Spring.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, 4 March 1678 to 28 July 1741, was born in Venice. He was a virtuoso violinist, teacher, impresario, Roman Catholic priest, and most importantly, an Italian Baroque composer. Vivaldi composed a great number of instrumental concertos for the violin and other instruments, sacred choral works, and more than fifty operas. Many of his works were written for the all-female ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children. Wikipedia.
Musicologists consider Vivaldi’s distinctive Four Seasons to be his greatest work and among the boldest “program music” to be written in the Baroque period. “Program music” is an instrumental rendition of an extramusical narrative, a line of text, a poem, or any other form of writing. Program music was not a typical technique in the Baroque period, about 1600 to 1750. In fact, the term “program music” as not described until the Romantic period, from about 1830 to 1900.
Vivaldi was inspired by the landscape paintings by Italian artist Marco Ricci whose paintings offer glimpses of the serenity of country life. He composed the Four Seasons between 1720 and 1723, and published them in Amsterdam in 1725. Le quattro Stagioni (the Four Seasons) comprises four violin concerti, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each comprising three fast-slow-fast movements. Vivaldi also wrote twelve individual sonnets to accompany each movement.
Vivaldi and his 18th Century music give context to our food and eating habits. The admonition is straightforward … eat local, eat healthy, eat seasonal.
Foods that are grown and consumed during their natural season are more nutritionally dense and have more vitamins; they support the body’s natural healing properties. Foods grown out of season are not able to follow their natural growth and ripening rhythms and must resort to artificial and synthetic enhancements.
The natural cycle of crops is meant to support our health and nutritional needs for the season of life at hand … Mother Nature knows best. Leafy greens in the spring help alkalize our bodies and facilitate detoxification. Hydrating foods keep us hydrated in summertime heat, watermelon, berries, cucumbers. Root vegetables and winters squashes make hearty stews and soups in winter.
Seasonal foods are less likely to be subjected to heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, not only benefiting our food but also the environment … less air and water pollution, and soil contamination. Buying seasonal foods supports local farmers … less transportation, less forced ripening, less refrigeration, and fewer chemicals. Take advantage of farmers’ markets and community garden programs; get to know your local farmer; encourage and support them by demanding organic non-GMO fruits and vegetables.
Eating with the season yields better flavor … fresher, sweeter, better-tasting … in addition to nutrition at its peak.
Eating seasonal foods saves money. More in-season abundance leads to lower costs … Econ 101. Local foods mean less transportation, storage and processing costs.
The first Farmers Market day beckons …
The violins of allegro of Vivaldi’s Spring speak the melodious songs of birds, streams that burble as they carry winter’s snow harvest from the mountains. The warm spring storm brings nourishment to the land. Pensive largo enwraps flowery meadows with the soft murmurs of leaves and plants, and flocks of newborn animals under tender care. The nymphs of spring revel in joyous celebration in allegro pastorale.
We look for dark, leafy greens (Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, mustard, fresh parsley, fresh basil); asparagus; artichokes; apricots; strawberries; honeydew melons; limes; mango; pineapple; green beans; radicchio; rhubarb; morel mushrooms.
We listen to Adam, the local fournisseur de champignons, describe how and where to look for morels. Donning our raingear we tramp the forest floor, eyes searching. Aha, the first find of the season. We are fortunate … both black and white morels succumb to our harvesting; some for dinner, the rest to be dried for later enjoyment.
In Vivaldi’s Summer allegro nonmolto the earth is scorched by the sun, man and beast languish, the pine alights with fire, the summer birds joyously sing. The west wind, Zephyr, blows gently, but Boreas, the north wind, brings thunder and lightning. Adagio reveals the furies of insects born by the winds. The sky is filled with thunder and lightning and hail cuts down the proud grain, presto.
Our summer menus comprise summer squash; eggplant; corn; fresh cilantro; tomatoes; berries (blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries, elderberries; mulberries; loganberries); grapes; lettuce; shallots; melons; peaches; plums; black currants; cantaloupe; cherries; broad beans. We eat them as freshly picked as possible, raw, unadorned or simply prepared.
The allegro peasant celebrates the bountiful harvest with song and dance, and inflamed by the liquor of Bacchus, reprises in well-deserved slumber. The warmth of summer begets the morning and evening coolness; the fog rests in the hallows in adagio molto. In allegro hunters seek their quarry amongst the soft flutter of falling leaves.
We turn to heartier foods: carrots; sweet potatoes; ginger; pumpkin; broccoli; cauliflower; kale; apples; pears; gooseberries and huckleberries; persimmons; quince; endive; brussels sprouts; turnips. We savor the last of the seasonal bounty, for winter cometh.
The North Wind harshly blows. Vivaldi’s allegro nonmolto violins tremble with cold amidst the freezing snow. The warmth of our largo hearth brings contentment, while the tempest rages. We move with deliberation, for hearing Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds at war bursting forth, we know this is winter allegro.
Hearty are our stews and braises: root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash); citrus fruits (oranges, clementines, grapefruit, tangerines); cranberries; pomegranates; dates; red currants.
We have nourished our bodies … we have eaten healthy; we have eaten local; we have lived with the seasons. We seek not retreat, but rejuvenated we confront winter with joy and anticipation. We bring our winter apparel to the fore, tune our skis, and anxiously anticipate that first chair up into nature’s whiteness; untracked powder awaits.