Seasons of Food


Long ago and far away when I was growing up, there was a very different flow of food to the table. Even in the suburban bedroom communities of New York City we had a garden and a dozen chickens in the backyard. Lots of food was raised at home by everyone, even in Brooklyn! And food markets reflected the local seasons. This was before Eisenhower’s highways were finished and it took the better part of three days to drive from NYC to Knoxville, TN. The rhythms of the seasons was reflected in the food we ate. Let me explain.

Every part of our country has seasonal crops and times when every local vegetable and fruit is abundant. Without the far flung shipping we now have there were also times when you simply could not get certain things, and various produce we are now used to never showed up fresh at all. So with the emphasis on buying locally again I have been going back to the way we used to eat – and I have realized how much sense it makes to my body!

Spring was so welcome because fresh green foods could be added back into our diet after a winter diet of root crops, dried, canned and frozen foods, stews, soups and winter squash. It was a natural time to detox and clean out our systems with dandelion greens, asparagus, peas, green onions, lettuces, spinach, radishes and finally strawberries! Spring lamb and broiler sized chickens were again on the menu. Our whole diet was lighter and full of that new green of Spring. The chickens were laying eggs!

The beginning of Summer was a feast of all the early crops and fruits: peaches, cherries, green beans, summer squash, and more greens. This was a wonderful feast time and we ate right out of the garden. The meat on the table was poultry and lighter meals than winter. Although we had started putting food by as soon as there was any extra food in the Spring (Strawberry jam, peas), canning and freezing was now in high gear. We never sat down without some veggies or fruits to prepare for ‘putting by’.We talked about how good it would taste come Winter.

July brought corn and tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, broccoli and more beans. We ate and canned and pickled and preserved; weeded and watered and fertilized and replanted. More food was on the way! August came with cauliflower, cabbage, beets, later carrots, eggplant, and more squash. Zucchini was left as a surprise on neighbors doorsteps just to get rid of it! Potatoes had started to be dug as well.

The first crisp days of Fall propelled us into a last frenzy of activity to save all the root crops and winter squash for the lean days of late winter. Apples were ready for the root cellar, applesauce, drying, and canned for pies. We waited for the first light frosts to sweeten the kale and Brussels sprouts before we harvested. Rows of parsnips, carrots, beets, and turnips were either pulled and stored or covered with piles of mulch to be dug all winter without being frozen. By the first deep days of winter, the pantry, freezer, cellar shelves, and attic were stuffed with food. Freezer lockers held beef, pork, and chickens; hams and bacon had been smoked and hung in brown paper.

In some ways winter was a favorite season. No more putting food by, tending the garden, or sitting with a bushel basket between my legs cleaning and preparing veggies! This was a time of hearty stews, slow cooked foods, and deeply satisfying soups. My body likes this, too. In Winter I need the depth and richness of these dishes to keep me warm.

Now, as we are in the last months of Winter, I have started to look forward to the greens of  Spring to tone up my body. I am ready to start the plants for the gardens of Summer, and will do better about keeping the ‘winter keepers’ safe and eatable longer. Yes, in a cold climate I do put on 5 to 10 pounds as soon as it gets really cold, but in the Spring with the increase of outdoor activity and the new lighter foods, it all comes off quickly. I love how my body responds to these changes. I trust this wisdom, and I find if I stick to a seasonal diet all is well! Indeed, variety is the spice of life!

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