Winter is fast approaching, as the days grow shorter and the temperature is dropping. With that said, we think about foods that are hardy and supply us with good nourishment. Winter squash are a group of calorie-dense foods that do just that and are in plentiful supply at this time of year. They are an amazing gift from Mother Nature, packed with an incredible variety of nutrients! I like to admire the decorative array of winter squash at the Co-op, in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I have yet to try all the varieties out there but those I have eaten each have their own unique taste and texture. Winter squash are so named because they can be stored during the winter, often for several months at a time due to their hard skin. They all originate from the same vegetable family, the cucurbits. They originated thousands of years ago in Central and South America before moving up north, and by the mid 1800s, they were a staple product in the Northeast.
I am always grateful when the first apples of the season are ripe and ready to enjoy. Every year by late summer, I am anxiously waiting for the new apple crop to be harvested. In spite of the all the other fruit choices available during the summer season, I feel a void in my diet without a crisp delicious apple—nothing hits the spot like a tart early local apple! I eat one every day when they are available. Some of my favorite early varieties are Paula Red, Ginger Gold, Zestar, and Sansa. And of course the choices don’t stop with those—there will be many more to choose from, along with all of the heirloom apples that have such unusual and fabulous names.
One of the most striking vegetables I see throughout the whole growing season—either at the farm stand or in the produce section or in the garden—is Swiss chard. The magnificent colors of its stalks are a sight to behold. There are several varieties but my favorites are Ruby Red and Rainbow Chard. With the abundance of vegetables in the summer many people do not take the opportunity to sample or prepare Swiss chard since it is not as well known as other dark green veggies. But this is one that should not be missed, and it can be harvested from early spring until the first hard frost. It is a biennial plant, which means that it has a two-year life cycle. It remains dormant for the winter after its first growing year, then comes back in the spring to complete its growing season.
Looking at the tan, rough-skinned exterior of a cantaloupe, it’s hard to imagine that inside contains such a vibrant and luscious surprise! Another one of Mother Earth’s treats for us! Nothing beats biting into this juicy and sweet orange flesh on a hot summer day. I find myself craving melons of all types during the warm summer months, they are so refreshing and thirst quenching, and full of oh-so-many of the nutrients that we often sweat away during the summer months.
It’s that time of year again for cucumbers—local, crisp, delicious cucumbers! They are another of those vegetables that we seem to have a bounty of during the summer—similar to zucchini, when they are ready the supply seems endless! Cucumbers don’t have significant nutritional value but their crunch, mild taste, and hydrating properties are very appealing. They go well with almost anything and always hit the spot on a hot summer day.
After consuming lettuce and salad greens from faraway farms much of the winter, it is indeed delightful to enjoy one of the first delicacies of spring produce: mixed greens. There is an array of baby greens, often in a variety of shades of greens and reds, as well as in different shapes and textures. It is the farmer’s choice, what might be found in the bag of mixed greens, thus it is a surprise for the palate when you bring them home. The tastes awaken your taste buds early in the season, with distinctive flavors of sweet, sour, and bitter. Baby lettuce leaves neutralize the flavors of the other greens often included, such as spinach, pak choi, bok choy. kale, arugula, or beet greens. There may also be radicchio, sorrel, or dandelion, mustard, or turnip greens. These tastes vary in pungency from mild to very strong, but the vast variety of options are welcome.
Radishes—a spring delight—are a feast to the eyes and are often the first local vegetable of the season.
At this time of year, I always welcome the earliest signs of spring: the arrival of the red winged blackbird, the sight of sap buckets on large maple trees, and the steam coming out the chimneys of sugar houses. These days sugaring is often done in a more efficient way than with traditional sap buckets. The use of reverse-osmosis machines, plastic tubing, and vacuum pump collection are common practices. Of course there is still a small number of sugarers who use the old method of hanging sap buckets, which I cherish—I love seeing them, and smelling and even tasting the sap collected in the buckets. Trudging from tree to tree through the mud or snow is a lot of work, but any method for collecting sap is a humongous job!
What would we do without the miraculous egg? There is an abundance of foods that have eggs as a base: savory omelets, fluffy frittatas, scrumptious quiches, mouth-watering deviled eggs, as well as delicious custards, pies, and puddings. These are all made with the miraculous egg! Since Neolithic times it has been an integral component of our diet, and not just as a breakfast food but for lunch and dinner too. Humans have hunted for and consumed eggs as a mainstay in their diet for reliable nourishment for a very long time! Eggs are versatile, quick to prepare, and nutritious as well. They are well liked by all kinds of eaters, both finicky and not so finicky. In 1906 P.G. Wodehouse wrote in his novel Love Among the Chickens, “The good old egg is the foundation of daily life.” Unfortunately since the late 1970s, the egg’s reputation has soured with the news from doctors that high cholesterol foods—which include eggs—increase the risk of heart disease. Consumers have thrown their hands up in despair, asking what they should do: to eat or not to eat? Fortunately, newer research on cholesterol has turned around the egg’s threatening image and once again it is acceptable for a large percentage of the population to eat them.
Chocolate and Valentine’s Day are basically inextricable—but chocolate is one of my favorite sweet treats almost anytime of the year, not just in February. I especially like the dark, dark chocolate that is not very sweet at all—in fact the more bitter, the better! This version is healthier since it is less adulterated than so many other options out there, with fewer unhealthy ingredients, and without the milk products to which many people are intolerant. In the last 10 years the varieties of chocolate have expanded exponentially—considering all the dark and milk selections available, and the options for different additions of fruit, nuts, and seeds, etc. These days it can be a little overwhelming to choose a chocolate confection, with so many options and numerous new ones constantly appearing. Consumers scan not only for ingredients but for percentages of cacao content, and also often look to see which are Fair Trade, sustainably grown, or organic.
It’s January: HAPPY NEW YEAR! Winter may be here—depending on what Mother Nature has in store for us, with climate change and other factors affecting the weather patterns these days—and we can expect it to be cold, for sure, but the good news is that the days will start getting a little longer! However, the fact remains that many of us will still be inside many hours each day, and there will be germs all around us. There is no better time to boost your immune system, and elderberries are one special berry that will help to do just that.
Winter is just around the corner as the days grow shorter now. All the berries are gone for the season except the ones in my freezer, but there is still one variety in season: the marvelously deep red cranberry, which like so many berries has many nutritional attributes. The cranberry’s tartness and unique flavor make it one of my favorites. I love the sour taste of biting into one in its crunchy raw state. I prefer cranberries served with as little sweetener as possible. The cranberry is a cousin of the blueberry, and is a native of North America that is grown in both Vermont and Massachusetts. It has been around for several thousand years but not in its cultivated state. Only in the last few hundred years—since the early 1800s—has it been cultivated and grown, nearby and across North America. Wild cranberries were presented by the Native Americans as a welcoming gift to the pilgrims in the early 1600s. Eastern Native Americans referred to them as sasumuneash. Their original English name, “crane berries,” came about because their blossoms resembled the neck and head of the cranes that often visited the cranberry bogs.