I’m getting hungry for autumn foods. I don’t know if that’s because I haven’t had them in a while, or because there’s something in our physiology that causes us to crave season-dependent foods.
All I know is, salads don’t appeal to me any more, but a picture and recipe of potato-and-ham soup had me drooling all over myself. Bean soup–any kind of nice, thick soup really–chili, meat loaf, a
good pot roast with savory, meaty gravy… Can you see yourself fixing those kinds of things in the summer? Not me. Summer for me is meat on the grill to help keep the house cool, salad meals, lots of fruit, and anything cold that can be refrigerated and eaten as leftovers. In the summer time–for me–the livin’ is lazy when it comes to cooking.
Now, though, the jars of home-canned cherry and apple pie fillings at the roadside stands and farmers markets put me in the mood for some baking. I’ve been perusing the cookbooks and eyeing new ones at the store. I want to eat the things I haven’t had since we last put a log on the fire.
I did a little online research to find out if this tendency to change my menu with the season has any physiological reason. I’d always heard that people crave things with more fat in the winter because metabolizing fat helps keep us warm. I’m not sure if that’s the truth, or just wishful thinking. (Bring on the pizza!) One thing I learned in my search is that eating foods in season is better for us because that’s when those foods have the most nutritional value.
That makes sense, I suppose, but it’s backed up by, of all things, research on milk. In a study conducted in 1997 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, significant differences were found in the nutrient content of pasteurized milk in summer versus winter. Iodine was higher in the winter; beta-carotene was higher in the summer. The ministry discovered that these differences in milk composition were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows ended up producing nutritionally different milks during the two seasons.
In other words, we are what we eat. Udderly true, in this case.
Here’s what the sources suggest regarding other foods:
- In spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth of this season. The greening that occurs in springtime should be represented by greens on your plate, including Swiss chard, spinach, Romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
- In summer, stick with light, cooling foods in the tradition of traditional Chinese medicine. These foods include fruits like strawberries, apple, pear, and plum; vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermint and cilantro.
- In fall, turn toward the more warming, autumn harvest foods, including carrot, sweet potato, onions, and garlic. Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
- In winter, turn even more exclusively toward warming foods. Remember the principle that foods taking longer to grow are generally more warming than foods that grow quickly. All of the animal foods fall into the warming category including fish, chicken, beef, lamb, and venison. So do most of the root vegetables, including carrot, potato, onions and garlic. Eggs also fit in here, as do corn and nuts.
They didn’t mention bananas, but I know that I love them in winter and avoid them in summer. Maybe they’re not juicy enough for me in those hot summer months–or maybe my summer body needs things other than what bananas provide.
George and I decided this year that locally grown strawberries are so much better than store-bought–and so important to our small, local growers–that we would limit ourselves to eating them in season, when we can buy them fresh off the farm.
Maybe, unwittingly, we chose something in our nutritional favor. One thing’s for certain: When you eat only what’s in season, as much as possible, the “change of seasons” takes on a whole new meaning! With strawberries not available to us in winter–by choice–we really look forward to that June crop. And after all, anticipation is just another spice of life.