Ode to Winter

The warm winds of spring have brought with them the promise of little green shoots popping out of their seeds to generate the stuff of salads. There is a brief moment in our northern spring between the holding cold of winter and the heady 24-hour daylight, before our winter habits – frozen into trails through the yard – are washed away by the rapid onslaught of melt.

It is on this moment that I contemplated the things that are possible only in the long dark months.

I am certainly a seasonal person – my whole life changes dramatically with the hours of insulation and thermal ups and downs. I sleep much more in the winter, and while the content of our diets is always largely based on what we grow (in terms of produce, at any rate) the proportions of different foods and how they are prepared varies greatly as the months roll by.

Cabbage, for example, is a staple year-round, however we shift from ‘fresh’ cabbage stored in the root cellar to sauerkraut as the spring comes on, and there may be a brief cabbage-free window between the last of that being consumed and the first early new heads maturing in August.

Part of the reason for the timing of this shift is that the storage conditions shift in the root cellar in response to outside temperatures. A few degrees can make a lot of difference to the longevity of storage for certain crops, and the degree or two above freezing maintained throughout the winter is great for holding cabbages and apples for the long haul. So for cold storage, I am grateful to winter.

Even colder storage is readily available to us off-grid folks during the coldest months in the form of freezing – so much can be held over well that way: broccoli, beans, berries, etc. It is a treat to have ready access to ice cubes, to making ice cream and to keeping leftovers indefinitely just outside the door. These things I miss when the thaw comes.

Crushable kale is a dream come true for the lazy chef – no chopping required. Take one kale plant, frozen, and crumble into pan. Add water and heat. Voilà! I experimented as temperatures warmed and discovered that this exercise is carried out most efficiently at or below -20ºC, so it is best not to wait too long to take care of the last of this crop hanging around in the porch. For crushable kale I am thankful to winter.

On the flip size is heat – I so appreciate the continuous cooking surface that is a woodstove in winter, with it’s different zones of heat conducive to simmering pots for hours on end, making pancakes and english muffins, and of course an ever-renewed pot of tea.

Our propane use shoots up in the summer as the woodstove shifts from roar to hum to the odd grumble when it’s particularly cool, and wood-burning becomes the purvey of the greenhouses and the odd outdoor cookfire.

So yes, I delight in the oncoming edibles that are springing forth as the snow disappears – spruce tips, fireweed shoots and all of the other delicious little plants – but not because of coming from a place of lack.

Here’s to another turn of the seasons.

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