Seasonal Eating is a Way to Good Health

colorful paint I love the berries, peaches and plums of summer. I eagerly await and devour local strawberries as they appear at our farmstand. My ‘fridge fills with blueberries and raspberries, then with luscious cherries, peaches and plums as they ripen. Of course I enjoy our special local corn, which reaches it peak as summer wanes. The foods of the local farms are my favorite aspect of summer. What I don’t like about summer is the heat. It discourages my consumption of food and causes me to do as little cooking as possible.

I look forward to asparagus in the spring yet find I don’t wish to eat it at other times. Just so, I prefer to eat what grows in the summer, especially the variety of summer squashes. These have dwindled now locally. Due to our ability to transport food they can be bought all year round from the supermarket, however I feel much less inclined to include them in my diet now that they are out of season for this area.

In the fall is as the weather cools, I regain my appetite as well as my enjoyment of cooking. Today I got out lentils to make a hearty soup and thought about what vegetables I wanted to put in with them. I had bought one of the winter squashes just coming into season. That struck me as a welcome inclusion. For the same reason I have begun to avoid summer squashes I do not eat winter squashes in the summer. They do not taste the same to me then as they do in the fall.

There are many ways to prepare delicious orange winter squash. While I enjoy acorn squash the most, I also like butternut squash for the variety of ways it can be prepared. Acorn squash is simple. Split and baked face down, it can be turned over when done and enhanced with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. I usually give the baked squash another 5 minutes in the oven until these are melted together in the cavities. When I take the squash from the oven I scrape the soft centers with a fork to distribute the sweetness throughout it.

Butternut squash however can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes I bake it whole on a cookie sheet for an hour or until the thickest part pierces easily with a fork. I remove it, cool it slightly and remove the seeds, then take off the peel and refrigerate the flesh. When I want to serve it, I reheat it with butter in a cast iron frying pan. This is very helpful when I want to fix a quick meal. Sometimes I blend it with some grated ginger, some cranberry sauce and some grated cheese, turn it into a casserole and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes.

When I peel it and include it in a hearty lentil or other vegetable or even meat based stew, butternut squash provides color as well as good nutrition. It is a fine source of vitamin A, potassium, fiber and healthy carbohydrates. Doubtless you have had squash pie. It is an easy substitute for pumpkin in pies as well as in many other dishes. Eating with the seasons not only provides good nutrition, it also brings our bodies in line with the changes that occur as the seasons revolve, a win/win situation for good health.

The Mystical, Delicious Peach

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The peach has wonderful mythic associations. It is a Chinese symbol of immortality, and it is often prominently displayed in depictions of the sage Lao Tzu. There is also a legend that a famous Chinese heroine Ho Hsien-Ku who lived in 7th century BC was transformed into a fairy by eating a supernatural peach. They said ever after that she lived on a diet of moonbeams and powdered mother-of-pearl.

According to Paul Beyerl in A Compendium of Herbal Magick, in Shinto legend, Iznagi, a primary male deity, visits the Underworld where he defeats demons pursuing him by throwing peaches from the land of Light and the Land of Darkness at them. Beyerl adds that the peach is considered by the Taoists to be a sacred food.

I have a lovely amethyst carved pendant from China termed a “peach stone.” According to The Magic in Food, by Scott Cunningham carved peach pits are given to Chinese children as amulets against death. Sprays of peach-blossoms are placed over the front door during the Chinese New Year to guard Chinese homes against negativity. Symbolically they bring the blessings of longevity or perhaps confer immortality. He also suggests that as they have been in China for centuries, with appropriate visualization, peaches may be eaten to induce health, happiness and wisdom.

Every Summer I buy my peaches from a nearby farm stand. The owner always has local ones, ripened on the tree in the sun. They taste like heaven to me, and I understand why they might be considered the fruit of immortality. When I feel ambitious, I buy more than I can eat right away, peel and cut them, add a few drops of lemon juice or a sprinkle or two of sugar, and put them in bags in the freezer so we can enjoy them during the winter.

Versatile peaches can be eaten raw or cooked, as a condiment with meat or chicken or as a sauce over muffins or plain cake. Peaches in cobblers or pies, jams, muffins or even peach shortcake are all wonderful ways to enjoy this delicious fruit. Personally I like them best ripe and unadorned with anything more than the sunlight that warms their lovely plumpness.

I can remember my mother putting them up in canning jars. She would pour sugar syrup over them, then lower them into a big kettle of boiling water. Stored in the basement pantry closet, how good those peaches tasted during the long winters of my childhood. They were such a treat, especially when they were served for Sunday dinner over vanilla ice cream

Try this simple peach sorbet. Fill a plastic baggie or pint container with peeled chunked peaches sprinkled with lemon juice or a bit of sugar. Freeze them until solidly frozen. Have ready a simple syrup using two cups of sugar to one cup of water, stirred until melted, cooled and refrigerated. To serve two combine 2 cups frozen peaches with ¼ cup simple syrup, and 1 Tbs lemon juice. Process until you have soft serve ice cream and serve right away.

Goodness of the Local Harvest

plums-1My mother grew vegetables and fruit and canned them for use during the winter and spring. I remember her on the hot days in August and September, lifting the glass jars out of their steaming water bath in the large canning pot in our small kitchen. Once cooled, the jars went to line shelves in the basement. During winter and spring she had all kinds of vegetables and fruit to choose from. Eating locally was common in those days because food that grew in faraway places was not available. Canning diminished with the advent of freezer chests. Consuming food in New England that was grown in Mexico, China or other distant countries was unheard of.

It is such a treat to eat locally. There is no comparison between food that is grown near where I live and that which has traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to reach the market where I shop. Fresher, healthier, and minimally processed, locally grown food is better for me and for those I love. It tastes better too, though I am happy that my year round diet is not restricted to it. I am no purist, and I am grateful for fresh produce available all year round.

I love eating local fruit during the summer. Sadly, the frost in February decimated the local peaches as well as most of the plums. I look forward every year to purchasing them at our local farm stand, eating them whole, and occasionally baking with them. Now, provided they survive any difficult winter weather, I must wait another twelve months until they are available. The ones in the supermarket look good, yet I pass them by. Eating whatever nature has to offer locally at the time is it is offered is important to me. However I cherish the opportunity to be a locavore, as it is called, in season.

That is why when I spotted the very special small prune plums at the farm stand. I exclaimed aloud in my happiness. The kind proprietor said they were a special lot, rare and most likely all she would get. I bought a couple of pounds on the spot, then later in the week at another visit I bought all that was left of the rest. They tasted wonderful. I was reminded of the use of the word “plum” to describe something rich and/or desirable. These were “plum” good, and I received a “plum” when I discovered them.

All too soon the season of harvest bounty will draw to a close. According to the owner of the farm stand, the yellow squash is almost done. We enjoyed some of the last of it recently this way: I peeled and finely chopped some ginger and half a large onion. I sautéed these gently in light olive oil until onions were fragrant and transparent, added some garlic sliced thin, and then the young, thin skinned squash, sliced very thin cut in three or four inch lengths. This cooks quickly, maybe in ten minutes more. You can mix some thinly sliced zucchini with the yellow squash to good effect. Add basil leaves if available, or thyme. I have given no quantities because this is best made to suit your own taste.