“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Of all the great debates I have held with friends over the years, most have been about music. Beatles or the Stones? Bonham or Moon? Van Halen or Van Hagar? John or Paul? Paul or George? 1960s rock vs 1970s rock? Or 1980s vs 1990s? Though a topic that is also discussed often in these parts has to do with the seasons. The one I had the other day was, “Which season is best, Mississippi Fall or Mississippi Spring?”
It’s a hard one for me.
Mississippi has unique seasons. Some say our seasons are— almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. Others recall the seasons as dove, deer, duck, and turkey. Still others measure the seasons by football season, basketball season, baseball season, and golf. In my business we are sometimes guilty of only caring about crab season, oyster season, crawfish season, and shrimp season. Though that’s one helluva good calendar in my book.
I once saw a meme that suggested that Mississippi has 11 seasons— winter, fool’s spring, spring of deception, third winter, the pollening, actual spring, summer, hell’s front porch, false fall, second summer, and actual fall. For the purposes of this column, I will stick to my two favorite Mississippi seasons spring and fall.
Spring and fall are the easy choices for me. Our summers are way too hot. The heat never bothered me as a kid and I was outside all day, every day, during the summer. I’m sure I got hot, but it was never the topic of conversation with my friends. And it never bothered me enough to not go outside. If we were riding bikes in the neighborhood we knew where all the faucets were at every neighborhood house, and which families didn’t mind if you drank from their garden hose.
Now in my sixth decade, there are brutal summer days in which I choose to go immediately from the house to the truck, from the truck to the office, from the office back into the truck when my work is done, and from the truck back into the house. End of day. End of story. And that is with the luxury of a remote start option on my truck, so the air conditioner is already running when I get in. Older me is a much bigger wimp than younger me.
I don’t mind cold weather at all. Winters are less of a problem for me. Though, again, in my advanced age (seeing a trend here?), I get colder than I used to. It’s mainly feet and hands. But I am the guy who used to sleep with the window open on below-freezing nights. Now I put on furry bedroom slippers as soon as I get home. I have now become a slipper guy. I used to think bedroom slippers, or “house shoes” as my grandmother called them, were also for wimps and they looked stupid. Today I have a pair in my office, in my suitcase, and at several other locations where I might lay my head.
My wife, however, is still in the leave-the-window-cracked-on-cold-nights-and-turn-down-the-heat phase. For three decades we were temperature compatible. Today we are miles apart and it’s a constant battle over the thermostat.
That brings us back to spring and fall. It’s probably not fair to hash this argument out in the middle of pollen season because that certainly puts a cloud over the discussion. A literal cloud. A yellow cloud of pollen is swirling around and getting on every surface available including up each nostril as I type. The pollening is happening now. The azaleas are in full bloom, my eyes are watery, my nose is running, and my silver truck is yellow.
In defense of spring, the foods are much better than in the fall. Spring gives us strawberries, soft-shell crab, crawfish, lamb, various lettuces, morels, artichokes, and asparagus. I could have just stopped at the first four, but I’d like the reader to think that I eat green stuff, too.
In the fall we get beans, mushrooms, cauliflower, chestnuts, duck, figs, fennel, leeks, pheasant, and cabbage. When compared to spring, it’s not even close.
If we’re talking sports, fall is the clear winner. I know that baseball is big in these parts, but football is king. It’s not even a discussion. A Friday night in small town Mississippi is magical. I love the atmosphere at local high school football games. Not just because they take me back to some of the fondest memories of my youth, but because they tend to bring the entire community together. We take pride in our local football teams. Saturdays are even better when college teams kick off.
When we boil it down, we’re really talking about April and October. Both months average around 75-degree highs during the day and 52-degree lows in the evenings in Mississippi. In my opinion, it’s a tie when it comes to which month has the best weather. I prefer spring mornings and fall evenings. Again, football on fall evenings— when the air is cool and crisp— is hard to beat.
Spring wins easily in the foliage category, at least in my part of the state. By April the pollen is gone. Everything has greened up and is blooming. Fall may be prettier in the northern part of the state where the hardwoods are more prevalent. But down here there isn’t a lot of fall color in the woods as we are in the middle of the Pine Belt, so it’s mostly straw and cones.
Again, no disrespect to winter and spring. Spring owes its beauty to winter, and we wouldn’t appreciate the cool crisp evenings of fall without the shoe-sole melting heat of summer. We need them all. San Diegans might have world-class temps year-round. But that’s like being a fan of Alabama football. You’re a constant winner. It gets boring. The teams we follow require endurance, patience, and practice at dealing with continual frustration and loss. We endure.
OK, winning constantly is not boring. It’s awesome. I’d love to be a fan of a team that was a constant winner, but I am a lifelong fan of programs that require constant patience and continual hope. My teams build character.
In my book spring is the winner based on the foods available and the feelings of new life and new beginnings. Though it’s very, very close because fall has football. But as much as I love football— and I truly love football— I love food even more.
And to make sure we don’t have any loose ends, the correct answers are Beatles, Bonham, Van Halen, John (a close one though), Paul, 1970s, and 1980s.
Asparagus Bread Pudding
1 cup asparagus, cut into one-inch long pieces
1 Tbl Olive Oil
1/2 cup White Onion, diced
1/2 cup Red Pepper, diced
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup Riesling Wine
12 Tbl Fresh Basil, chopped
1 tsp Dry Mustard
1 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Half and Half
1 /2 cup Whole Milk
4 Egg Yolks
6 cups French bread, crust removed and small diced
Preheat oven to 325.
Place three cups of water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil. Place the asparagus pieces in the boiling water and cook for 45 seconds Strain the asparagus and run it under cold water until cooled completely. Drain and dry the asparagus pieces and set aside.
In a medium-sized sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions and peppers for two-three minutes. Add the cooked asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for one more minute. Add the wine and allow it to reduce by half. Remove this mixture from the heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the basil, dry mustard, sour cream, half and half, milk and eggs. Blend them together and fold in the cooked vegetables and French bread. Cover and allow the mixture to set for one hour before baking.
Place the pudding mixture into a lightly buttered 2 quart Pyrex baking dish. Cover the pudding with a piece of parchment paper, and cover the parchment paper with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes covered. Remove the foil and paper and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Allow pudding to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Yields: 8-10 servings
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)