“The Summer diet is not fitting for Winter, nor the Winter diet in Summer. Each diet has its own time… “
Let us consider a few subtle aspects of the traditional ‘winter diet.’ In doing so I will invoke the spirit of the great Renaissance seer Paracelsus and try to imagine what he might say to us today:
Winter Diet should be clean and simple. It has always been a time of at least some privation, and so affords an opportunity to strengthen the will through ‘making do’ with what is available. It is not the best time to indulge in rich or highly complicated meals. Simple foods promote health in the winter. Foods containing natural sugars and starches are most useful at this time.
The winter diet should feed the mind. Winter begins after the solstice; darkness is already decreasing. Creativity, making ‘connections’ and bringing interrelated elements together are the order of the day. Our food should be high in energy but also conducive to mental clarity; hearty but not heavy. Foods that contain ‘stored sunlight’ are most useful at this time.
The winter diet should feed the brain. Our meals should fight depression, ‘winter blues’ or ‘cabin fever’. Foods abundant in trace minerals feed the brain. Seeds, such as those of the sunflower can help.
The winter diet should be social. Winter is a time for hospitality and sharing with others , for human warmth. Simple foods can be prepared artistically, and simple pleasures can be made richer by experiencing them with others. Generosity and the appreciation of friends can make our tables more abundant.
The winter diet should bring balance. Winter is the season when we are most thrown back on ourselves. It is a time of introversion, a time to ponder and study, a time to learn from others and from our own inner guidance. Winter is therefore the best time to bring balance into our temperaments. We should seek foods that counter, rather than strengthen our tendencies.
I think it appropriate to consider the preparation of one traditional winter food, so we keep our ‘winter thoughts’ grounded in the practical. I have chosen the old New England staple, the winter squash, because it is relatively easy to grow in the home garden, stores well, and offers a wide variety of possibilities to the cook. Squash is a gentle harmless food. Unlike many others staples such as wheat, corn, dried beans, eggs and dairy products very few people have adverse reactions to it.
Here is a recipe from the High Mowing School kitchen, in Wilton, New Hampshire.
Maple and Spice Mashed Squash
2 cups cooked and mashed winter squash
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bake, steam or boil any ripe winter squash, (Hubbard, butternut, or buttercup are recommended). Baking will result in a drier mash. If steaming, peel before cooking for best flavor. Always cut the whole squash before cooking. If peeling raw squash, take care not to cut yourself!
Once the squash is cooked, scoop the meat out of its shell, mash and measure. The ingredients listed above are for approximately 2 cups, so adjust a little to accomodate for the amount that you have.
Beat in the maple syrup to taste, starting with a quarter cup and add more as desired. At this point, add the butter and spices (you might want to start with a little less than is called for and add more as you like. Remember, each squash will have its own unique taste and sweetness, so a recipe is only a guide.
Place the squash in a casserole dish and warm in oven until ready to serve (no more than 30 minutes at 350 degrees). Garnish with any of the following:
Lightly toasted pine nuts, chopped filberts or pecans
Slivered candied ginger
Chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or dill)
Extra maple syrup drizzled on top.
This recipe serves 2-4 people. You will need one small butternut, one large buttercup, or one half of a Hubbard squash. If you end up with more than you need, never fear; it reheats nicely.