SOME PEOPLE'S fancy turns in spring, to seed catalogs, bringing the world of food to their back yard. For others, road maps are the spring reading that draws them; they leave their back yards in search of foods of the world. In any case, spring brings a search for something new, from new peas to new products. So here are a few eating adventures to head for or send for.
Close to home, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is sponsoring a series of tea parties.Concerts along with tastings of colonial-era teas and refreshments made from 18th century recipes will take place in Old Town Alexandria's historic Carlyle House. The house is filled with antique tea accessories for the duration, and the afternoons -- today, April 5 and April 26, from 2 to 4 p.m. -- will be filled with the sounds of colonial period music.Admission is $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for ages 6 to 17. Carlyle House is at 121 N. Fairfax Street; for information, call 549-2997.
Later in the spring -- April 12, to be precise -- a little of Old Russia will be revived, at the St. Mark Orthodox Easter Food Fair, 7124 River Rd., Bethesda, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Admission is free, and past experience has indicated that you'd better get there early if you want to buy a taste of such local rarities as paska , the Russian forerunner of cheesecake, or such bakery specialties as kulish , Easter bread, nut rolls or poppy seed rolls.
An African safari, Washington-style, requires a down payment of only $5 before April 1. What you get in return is a book of discount coupons allowing 5 to 15 percent off until May 21, in African-owned local businesses: afour restaurants, two bookstores and two craft shops, plus admission to the May 24 All Africa Festival in Kalorama Park. Coupon books are available at Nyangoma's Gallery, 2335 18th St. NW; Salt of the Earth Bookstore, 1762 Columbia Rd. NW; the African Room at the Last Hurrah, 1415 22nd St. NW, or by calling Project MARVO Inc., at 463-6054.
You need not go farther than the post office this year to sample fresh white asparagus, though in Europe people travel hundreds of miles during white asparagus season to sample this short-lived delicacy. It is exorbitant in Europe, and no less here. Mister Spear, P. O. Box 1528, Stockton, Calif., 95201 (209-464-5365), will send 6 1/2 pounds of fresh large white asparagus for $33, postpaid, between April and June. You can also order fresh green and canned asparagus, but why bother, with those available in the supermarket? Delivery, via UPS, takes a couple of weeks from the time they receive the order. Spear by Spear, it costs about 66 cents apiece; but, as one produce dealer put it when I gasped at the price of pre-season asparagus, "You'd rather have that than chocolates wrapped in gold foil, wouldn't you?" Yep.
With the taste -- or non-taste -- of winter tomatoes fresh in your memory, you can solve next winter's tomato problem with the new Burpee seed catalog entry, called the Long Keeper tomato. It is not the tomato to eat in the dead of summer, when other varieties are said to taste much better. But this tomato, its planting timed so that the tomatoes turn color just before the first frost, can be stored in a cool place long into winter (as much as six months after picking) to ripen into what has been described as a moderately good tasting tomato. Most of us would happily settle for "moderately good," come next December.
In case you don't want your culinary adventures to come to you, Johnson & Wales College in Providence, R. I., one of this country's major training grounds for professional chefs, is combining cooking classes, dining and sightseeing in weekend-long Cook'n'Tour programs. Running each weekend between April 24 and May 31, these programs will include cooking classes all day Saturday, with a chance to try your hand at buffet decoration by carving vegetable flowers. Friday evening is a gala dinner, Saturday evening a classical banquet with white glove service and running commentary on the food and wine by the staff, Sunday champagne brunch and then a tour of Newport. The price is $185 to $205 per person, including everything but transportation to Providence. Calorie count not available.Write Johnson & Wales College of Continuing Education, 8 Abbot Park Place, Providence, R. I. 02903, or call (401)456-1120.
The French Connection strengthens in the culinary world, this time in both directions. From the French side, master chef and master merchandiser Michel Guerard, who invented first the world's most expensive diet food (cuisine minceur ), then the world's most expensive frozen food (for his shop across the street from Paris' Fauchon), is now cashing in on home cooking. He has joined Conran's to test -- and imprint his seal of approval on -- the cookware in their 1981 catalog, which is also larded with his hints, explanations and recipes. Alas, however, a pot does not a three-star dinner make.
In the other direction, Almaden wine company has announced that it just shipped its second order of sparkling wine to France, for a total of 620 cases. In America the wine is called Blanc de Blancs Champagne. In France, they are very protective of the name champagne, and are certain to insist on calling it "sparkling wine" -- or else, perhaps, "that blankety-blank champagne." Given the stunning increase lately in French champagne prices, however, American sparkling wines may begin to taste better to the French with every additional franc.