I was speaking with a local grocer yesterday who, even though his stores currently sell tomatoes and asparagus, still laments that people don’t buy more seasonally. Grocery stores in a way prevent us from thinking seasonally by offering us everything we demand regardless of quality.
But you can still shop seasonally if not locally (in Cleveland). Why are grapefruits twenty five cents a piece right now at my grocery store? That’s really cheap, so they should be kind of crappy, right? No, they’re the best ever. Why? Because it’s grapefruit season. It wasn’t until I lived in Florida and I looked up one day in February and, Cleveland native that I am, thought to myself, “Wow, look at all those grapefruit. I thought fruit was a summertime thing.” And then I thought, “Wow, look at all those grapefruit—in somebody’s front lawn. I wish I had a front lawn like that.”
Fortunately, I had a friend who had a grapefruit tree in their front lawn and I think I consumed 100 grapefruit that winter. Grapefruit nirvana.
I think about this now because most mornings I segment two grapefruits for the kids. I love segmenting citrus fruits. It’s meditative. You get better and better at taking the pith off the fruit. It’s fun to watch the blade curving along the perimeter of the fruit. And all this fun results in the removal of the bitterness, leaving nothing but pure fruity bursts of flavor.
The thing is, segmenting citrus fruits is very unfun if you don’t have a sharp knife. And here is the impetus for this post, sparked by morning grapefruit: one of the most important things you can do to be a better cook and to have more fun in the kitchen is to use sharp knives. The thing is almost nobody does—not that I know at least. I have never been in a home kitchen that contained sharp knives. Never. OK, a couple times I have but they were only sharp because they were never used. This must change. American home kitchens must have, to borrow from MFK Fisher, "knives sharp as lightning."
In culinary school, I learned how to sharpen knives on rough sharpening stones. When I hung out at the sushi temple, Masa, the chefs sharpened their knives on smooth ceramic stones. For years I sharpened my own knives, but frankly, I was never very good at it. Not as good as a professional sharpener. So I found a professional sharpener in Cleveland and I take my knives to him once or twice a year (fellow Clevelanders, it's at 1867 Prospect, across from the Convocation Center–says wet grinding on the sign out front, back of an antique shop). It is what I recommend to all the people who ask me about the subject. And learn how to steel your knives to keep them sharp. They will stay sharp for a long time.
Guys, does the mother of your kids like to cook? The best Mother’s Day gift you could get her would be sharp edges on her knives.
I repeat, a few of the best ways to improve your skills in the kitchen is, one, to use really sharp knives, two, to buy grapefruit in February, and three, to know why you buy grapefruit in February.