I’ve been meaning to post this for a while… but life has gotten the best of me and my best laid blogging plans.
The Hungry Months
Towards the end of the winter or beginning of spring (March and April) there is just not a lot of seasonal food. It’s sort of a dead time. The storage crops are getting old, and the new plants are but only a few inches tall. The just-born animals are too small to consider eating. Everything has to grow enough to become a reasonable meal. At the same time, farmers are working pretty hard on growing seedlings, setting up successions, managing their greenhouses, tilling their land. So, farmers markets? Not really at this time of the year.
Back in the day when people really had to rely upon what was locally grown, this time of the year was known as the hungry months. Particularly March and April, especially in places like New England. Down south…. well that’s another matter. The hungry months were actually the most dangerous months. It was more common to die during those times due to reduced immunity and ‘not enough fat on you’ to keep you strong through a major illness. Interestingly, at least to me, many cultures and religions have fasting practices in the spring. This may just have a seasonal food basis (this is my theory). During these months you need abstain from running around and eating everything green that pops out of the ground, because it needs to grow. Without fasting the first crops of the season would not come to full fruition and hunger would be prolonged.
Being a locavore during this time of year is hard in New England. There is relatively little to go off of. The deep winter CSA and winter markets are done, and it won’t be until June that the main season CSA kicks off. Luckily the first Amherst Farmer’s Market will be next weekend, and many more to follow in May. By Mid-May there will be many great early season options with farmers coming out again to sell the firsts of the new season.
But until then, we have to make do with what we have squirreled away. We have freezers still full of frozen produce and meat, and we have maybe too much jam. If we had not ‘put things away’ for the year, it would be these months that we’d be hit particularly hard, not December and January when there still is a lot of winter produce to go around. Without these stores, I think we’d be eating lots of grain and rutabaga….. Luckily we have a pretty decent supply of food. Frozen eggplant… broccoli, berries….. jam… lots of jam… grain, and a lingering amount of winter storage vegetables. We will be fine. Truth be told, we over stocked ourselves a bit. We learned that we froze a good amount of food, but might have overdone it with jam.
So, as you might have noticed, our meals have become a little less seasonal or perhaps asynchronous, and have been combining items that were picked at the peak of their season last summer combined with winter storage foods. It can make for some nice or interesting combinations, but in the end we are eating well off of our hard work. It is nice to know that by the time we get to spring goodies, we will not be hungrily scraping at the bottom of our fridge and freezers, or like in many instances in young Laura Ingall’s life, eating many many meals of cornmeal. We will still have a decent amount of food to cover us till the growing season really gets going.
It is this time of year, the hungry months, that you realize the cyclic nature of life while eating locally, seasonally. It is almost the time of death and rebirth of the season. For a short while, we have a clean-cut from our connection to what comes out of the ground, and then shortly thereafter it is yet again solidified by the emergence of late spring. Cyclical. I can remember last year as we in full anticipation awaited fiddleheads, arugula, rhubarb, green garlic, and strawberries during these weeks, scouting out the earliest farmer’s market dates. Just as we are now.
Though, we need to eat things like strawberries and rhubarb sooner than later so that we can enjoy the fresh ones and leave space for the next round of frozen stores. We will begin the same process over again of enjoying the seasonal bounty and storing some of our cherished produce away for future enjoyment during the harder months of next year. This is an exciting and hopeful time for us locavores as we head towards May. Everyone hang in there. It’s closer than you think!