Vol 7, Num 3 :: 2008.02.08 — 2008.02.22
Even though I enjoy looking up and down my street and seeing lights twinkling in anticipation Christmas, I don’t get caught up in decorating for the seasons. My husband and I are lucky if we get our stockings put out, much less even acknowledge Hallmark holidays like Valentine’s Day. I’m no Scrooge—we spend most of the holidays visiting out-of-town family instead of at home enjoying our décor, besides which I don’t like getting caught up in decorating as an obligation of burden. I was therefore grateful when nature itself decided to decorate our home this year as we head from autumn into winter.
I didn’t intend for such a display in the beginning, but a table in our dining room began to collect squash. In September, the collection started with a few pumpkin pie and acorn squash from the garden of our friend’s mother. As the collection grew, it necessitated its own basket, which had been a gift from my mom. Newcomers included additions from our weekly farm share—butternut and delicata and pumpkin. And finally, the collection was complete with a small, hard-won butternut from a plant that volunteered out of our compost and fought packed clay soil, grubs and fungus to produce one precious piece of fruit.
Of course, some members of this little squash community were transformed into delightful dishes throughout the fall, and my husband and I, along with assorted guests, have savored each flavor as much as we savor each story of how these vegetables came to be a part of our home. They brought us color as the leaves faded and the snow covered the ground. They brought us flavor and nourishment as the local growing season drew to a close. Even today, in February, the basket that now holds our winter mittens and hats still bears one last pumpkin pie squash that will be our delight in the dark months. But best of all, the squash from our collection brought us into mutually beneficial relationships with the earth and people that surround us.
You see, none of the vegetables that have passed through our dining room display this year were grown with pesticides or herbicides, which means that the soil and waterways of West Michigan are just a little bit safer for the life forms that depend on them. Additionally, our weekly farm share comes from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which means a living wage for one more small-scale farming family, a creature who’s been threatened with extinction for some time. I know my farmers’ names and see them (and sometimes their children) each week, along with all of the other happy subscribers, from June through October. And I take pleasure in working with others, doing what small things we can to right the off-balance agricultural system that favors mechanized, faceless mass-production over a traditional care of the land through close relationship. That’s why I try to do a significant portion of our grocery shopping at the farmer’s market and local farm stands.
We certainly don’t manage to obtain all of our food from local sources, but it’s the direction we’re trying to go as a household. That journey of small steps has brought abundant joy, so I can’t help desiring to share such a gift with those around me. That gift is the delight of buying eggs directly from the person who cares for the chickens, of tasting the unique tartness of freshly pressed apple cider without preservatives, of knowing I’m helping Michigan farmers make their land financially and environmentally profitable.
As we head into the season of Lent, and then Easter, when we’ll tell and re-tell family and faith stories that help us remember who we are, we shouldn’t forget that our food is an important part of those stories. Does our food tell a story of haste and convenience? Of the tyranny of the lowest price? Or does our food tell a story of our care for the earth and all of the earth’s creatures? At its best, our food can communicate our love for those around us, our commitment to physical and community health and our delight in the diversity of the good earth. By taking small steps to eat locally and organically when possible, we can be proud of the stories we read when we look at our tables, whether they bear a simple weekday meal, a holiday feast or an unexpected meeting of local squash.
It may be late to find much in the way of local produce for winter eating, but it’s not too late to make some plans for the coming growing season. Here are some suggestions, but remember—just pick one thing to try so you don’t get overwhelmed. Every little bit helps!
Butternut Squash Coconut Curry Soup
A simple creamy, slightly sweet soup that combines local ingredients with subtle exotic flavors.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add garlic and onion and sauté until onions are transparent. Add stock, squash and apples. Simmer until squash and apples are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add coconut milk, lime or lemon juice and seasonings. Simmer (do not boil) 10-12 minutes. Puree hot mixture carefully until smooth using food processor or blender. Makes 4 servings. Good served with fresh bread or biscuits or as an appetizer before a festive meal.