On Tuesday, September 28, my work for the Brattleboro Food Co-op put me on a flight to Washington, D.C. I would soon join Karin Mott of Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op and Allan Reetz of Hanover Food Co-op in the nation’s Capital. Together, we would spend an unforgettable day at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have always loved the glorious sweet potato!! I ate them frequently as a child since my mother was very nutrition-conscious and wanted to provide us with the best foods. Many people I know grew up eating sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar—the thought of which is a disgrace to this incredibly nutritious root vegetable. They are so naturally sweet and tasty, why would anyone want to mask all their natural goodness? Perhaps the reason was because they were served out of a can, which hardly does them justice. A real baked sweet potato is a sight to behold, when you cut through the dull orange brownish skin to find the magnificent deep orange flesh underneath. We are fortunate to have access to locally grown sweet potatoes right here in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, since the majority of sweet potatoes in this country are grown in the south. Their peak season is from early fall though many of the winter months, provided they are stored in a cool dark place. There are reported to be 400 varieties of sweet potatoes, and they with yellow, white, cream, orange, pink, and purple flesh. But the deep orange sweet potatoes are most commonly grown here.
For some of us, fall brings sports events worth watching, along with harvests and leaves. I too enjoy a few hours spent watching amazing athletes banding together in pursuit of championships. That’s why I happened to see a TV commercial for a very large national chain touting its support of nutrition in the school system, through the employ of chefs and the education of providers in the benefits of good, healthy eating for our youth.
September is upon us but there is still a supply of the ubiquitous yet beloved summer squash. We all look forward to it but once we have been inundated with it for a couple months we can’t wait for the season to be done. Summer squash, including the well-known zucchini, is a very versatile vegetable since it can be added to almost anything. This is a great feature since farmers and gardeners have such an abundance once it starts producing. Its mild taste complements many things: cake, cookies, bread, soups, stir fries, salads, and vegetable casseroles. It has never ending possibilities. Let’s not forget to mention that stuffed zucchini is a delicious treat since gardeners often find large trophies hidden amongst the squash leaves.
The first tomato of the season is a treasure that all of us impatient tomato worshippers yearn for, that first taste of a vine-ripened tomato, not from a greenhouse but from plants grown in the great big outdoors! It is a true marker of the arrival of the glorious Vermont summer. Juicy and sweet as candy, we all hope that they will grow in abundance each summer. Nothing compares to the locally grown tomato and it complements many foods so well! Tomatoes are very versatile. Some of my favorite ways to consume them are sliced with fresh basil and chives, and fresh mozzarella cheese (preferably from Vermont too), or in a salad with a small amount of greens, and last but not least, fresh salsa—all mouth-watering delicacies! Fresh tomato soup on a cool fall day is very tasty too—with plenty of fresh garlic, basil, and parsley, you couldn’t ask for more!
Berry season is now upon us as the first-of-the-season local berries are coming in: the luscious, mouth-watering strawberry has come and gone, and soon to follow will be blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Hurrah!! You can find all of these berries either wild or cultivated in our beautiful Vermont countryside throughout the summer and even into the early fall! How lucky we are to have all of these delicious and nutritious berries readily available to us locally! Even if we can’t pick them in our backyard, we have