Insights by Goldie
Welcoming seasonal shifts

Sound Consumer | November 2004

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

Our senses signal that we're entering a new time zone, as we approach Thanksgiving and the flurry of festive winter gatherings that follow. Our culinary mental meanderings race ahead of us, as we pause, one foot in each of two seasons.

We recall scenes of "Martha-perfect" patio picnics — platters piled with slices of sun-kissed tomatoes, basil and leafy summer greens; bowls of fresh-steamed sweet corn-on-the-cob, just-picked; juicy, sweet strawberries, and chilled ruby-red watermelons. Mmm!

We'll think about those images fondly during the months ahead and rediscover them afresh next summer. But no matter how much we think it will work, sampling those foods imported from afar in winter months deeply disappoints us every time. We hope to remember that this year.

As the sun's light slips south and weakens, the seasonal shift nudges us to slow down, inviting reflection, regeneration and recovery. A wide appreciation and reverence toward such seasonal rhythms prevailed as late as the 1950s, when our country was still mostly rural. The fading daylight lessened outdoor work, reordered activities and resulted in more indoor time with family and friends. Tool repair was winter work, and arts and crafts provided pleasure and practical results. It was a natural progression.

Although it seems the antithesis of what we're willing to hear or heed in our time-crunched urban lives, in truth we're always much healthier overall when we resonate with nature. This includes choosing foods that are part of the season, including at minimum five generous daily servings of the most nutritious and least processed vegetables and fruits available. (I highly recommend the information on the food and nutrition Web site of the Harvard School of Public Health. See www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/index.html.


Foods of the season

For fall and winter vegetable choices, concentrate on all the dense, sturdy roots, tubers and hard-shelled winter squashes, plus winter leeks, onions, garlic and shallots. Such produce has a long growing season, thrives in colder weather, and responds by storing extra nutrients we can use well in this season. If you do include out-of-season produce, buy only organic, especially if it's foreign grown, to reduce intake of potential pesticides.

In addition to local carrots, especially Nash's Best grown at Dungeness Farms, add grated raw beets, turnips and rutabagas in salads, boil chunks in hearty stews, steam slices, or oven roast with herbs and olive oilfor a richer, deeper flavor treat. Don't forget parsnips, ginger root and burdock root — parsnips in stews, oven-roasted, or grated and sautéed; ginger for seasonings in stir-fry or tea infusions; and sliced burdock root as an earthy addition to stews or stir-fry.

Avoid expensive lettuce from California this winter by making more grated slaws and include carrots, beets, turnips and rutabagas along with bok choy and cabbage. Have a large daily serving of sturdy, dark leafy greens and frequently include those from the cabbage family, including kale, collards, arugula, cauliflower and broccoli. Full Circle Farms braising greens are also great as salad greens, by tearing the pieces a little smaller.

All potatoes are nutritious energy sources, welcome at any meal. Sweet potatoes or so-called "yams" are especially great baked whole, and good cold the next day, too, whooshed in a blender with a pinch of cinnamon and milk. The darker sweet spuds are, the higher the vitamin A.

Other delicious tubers include the crisp, crunchy "sunchoke" or Jerusalem Artichoke, which resembles ginger root. Don't peel, just scrub and slice for raw nibbles or salads. There's a subtle sunflower seed flavor, reflecting it's heritage. Cook them any way you would a potato. Their starch (called inulin) is said to not elevate blood sugar levels.

Winter squashes deserve a whole article on their own. Look for their write-up next month. Meanwhile, stock up when they are on sale and they can keep for three or more months, doing double duty as decorations on the table. For now, try Delicata squash. Just slice in thin rounds (no peeling), discard seeds and steam for five or six minutes. Serve simply with a bit of butter or oil and grated Parmesan.

PCC's selection of dark leafy, hearty greens in the brassicas or crucifers (cabbage and mustard family) is the best in Seattle. They are particularly powerful cancer fighters and amazing repositories of iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium.

Use mustard greens, kale, collards, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and all the cabbages. Purple cabbage is somewhat more nutritious than green/white cabbage. Darker green, gold, yellow and red vegetables excel in many nutrients. All varieties of Swiss chard are perfect raw in salads or steamed or braised, and may be splashed with oil or vinegar. Include steamed beet slices with steamed beet tops.

Winter fruits include all the pears and apples from storage, and Kiwi fruits. Unfortunately, although Kiwi grows well here, most are shipped in from other areas, but they are a delight. Include plenty of fresh organic citrus and bananas, and enjoy the fruits of summer from the freezer (yours or ours) and other dried fruits including prunes, dates and raisins.

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