What happened to winter?
Photo: Courtesy Kate Gross
It seems as if winter passed us this year. But exactly what effect will mild temperatures and an almost complete lack of snow play on farmers’ crops going froward, and how will that effect what we eat in the months ahead? On this first day of Spring, Grub Street decided to get a couple of Philly’s more farm focused chefs on the phone and find out how the season is shaping up compared to years past, and how it will influence what they put on their menus in the weeks ahead. “Farmers are projecting everything coming earlier this year,” Russet chef-owner Andrew Wood told Grub. “As long as we get the rain at the right time, they’re all saying its going to be a great growing year.”
Mitch Prensky, who partnered with Newtown Square’s Blue Elephant Farm to supply his restaurant Supper, sees things a little differently.
“There’s no good side to this,” he cautioned. “It’s kind of like you’re in a boat on the ocean during a massive oil spill, and all fish jump up in to your boat. It’s great that you have all these fish, but what about the polluted sea?”
At Blue Elephant Farm, Presnsky said there are plenty of weather-related anomalies. One being the profusion of dandelion greens coming up in the fields. Ordinarily at this time of year, the ground there is just beginning to thaw out. This past winter it never froze over. So the grasses are growing out of control.
Prensky added that since they went into winter expecting typical conditions, he and his crew didn’t plan for warmer than usual conditions.
“Because of the greenhouse, we don’t really rely on the vagaries of winter,” he said. “We planned ahead and what we planned for was winter.”
So, save for robust greens, lettuces and some herbs that he’s pulling from Blue Elephant’s greenhouses, Prensky said nothing’s sprouting just yet.
“In hindsight, if farmers knew that his was going to be such a mild winter, they could’ve done more,” Farm and the Fisherman’s Josh Lawler said, adding that many of the farmers he deals with already have crops in the ground. “I just found out that asparagus will be ready in the next week or two, which is great, because you get two nice days around here and everyone all the sudden wants asparagus on the menu.”
All three mentioned that during the mild winter menu planning became a challenge.
“The weather itself is effecting the menu,” Wood told us. “When it’s warm, you don’t want to cook wintery dishes and people don’t want to eat them.”
As an example, he explained that he only made soup once since opening in February.
“Things weren’t as hearty on the menu this winter,” Lawler said, adding that since farmers were still reaping the same produce, he and his crew were essentially using the same winter products, but treating them more delicately.
“We did a lot of quick roasts, and like, shaved turnips and radishes,” Lawler said. “I put venison on the menu, but when it’s 70 degrees out, no one wants to eat venison.”
Going forward it’s unclear how this year’s warming trend will continue to play out.
“I look at it as a challenge,” Wood added. “It’s all about trying to interpret what nature’s doing.”