I was reading A Canadian Foodie yesterday – I’m quite the sucker for Local Food blogs in my own country, although I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone – and I read her posts about the Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice feasts that she’d attended (and, in one case, hosted) in celebration of local food. Her winter solstice gathering didn’t actually happen at Midwinter (it happened, iirc, in January), but it got me thinking. This was a “solstice” party. Not a Christmas party or a New Year’s Eve party. It was a celebration of the land’s bounty and she tied it to the cycle of the seasons (whether or not she’s of a religious turn of mind that sees that cycle as holy).
And this got me thinking about balance; about what’s available, at any given time, when we eat what our ecosystem/bioregion offers us; and how that has its own rhythm, its own breath. So I wanted to talk about that a little bit, today. Thus:
B is for Balance
In winter, the foods that are available tend to be flesh and roots, along with the preserving agents of salt, fat, and vinegar. We eat meat, we eat cheese, we eat nuts – all heavy with oils; we eat vegetables preserved in vinegar, sugar, and salt (think beets in vinegar, sweet pickled onions, brined cucumbers, marinated mushrooms); fruits that have been stewed with sugar (think all those cakes and cookies featuring soft cheese and/or jam), or dried and reconstituted with wine (another way of preserving fruit in sugar, as it happens); we bring out the salt-cured sausages, the smoked fish, the pate made from liver or romano beans mixed with onions and garlic and dried herbs. We eat food that is rich – because the cold demands it of us, sure, but also because those are our options.
In summer – and Midsummer in Ottawa means that you might, maybe, have your first cherry tomatoes (if you started them early enough), and you’ll definitely have strawberries (YAY!), but you’re mostly still working with leafy greens and stalks or one kind or another – we eat fresh and, frequently, raw vegetables. Salads abound as we try to keep the heat out of the house. Grain is more likely to be couscous (or other quick-cooking pastas) or bread that’s been cooked outside of the house (these days, that means getting it from a bakery, but there are folks who build backyard wood-burning ovens, a bit like chimineas, out of Cob or other material) – rather than barley or other long-cooking grain that can be thrown into an all-day-simmering soup or stew.
When you eat locally, you take the rhythm of the land into your body in a visceral way. Winter vegetables – even when they’re preserved summer vegetables – don’t taste the same as summer vegetables do when they’re eaten fresh.
Winter, as I’ve said before, is Root Time. We fill ourselves with roots, but we also curl in on ourselves, we huddle around fires, tell stories, do things by feel, in the dark. this may be significantly due the secular holidays (Hallowe’en, Christmas, New Year’s, Winterlude and Valentine’s Day, even Thanks Giving and Easter if you want to sidle a little over the boarders of the dark side of the year) that fill the time between October and April, but I find that winter is also a time of traditions – another form of conserving/preserving, really, which is apt.
Summer is expansive – long days, freedom of movement (no more coats!), windows thrown open and the kitchen moved into the yard (BBQ season, anyone?). And everything, everywhere, blooming and growing, rising and broadening, deepening and ripening. If winter is a time when we gather in and wrap our arms around ourselves to keep warm, then summer is a time when we throw our arms open to the world.
Taken together, this inward, outward motion, root to branch to root and back again, this rhythm is almost like breathing: A constant and necessary motion. Balance.