On May 21st we moved into the Chinese calendar solar term of Small Full Grain. This refers to the grain and seed crops which are now beginning to become plump, but are not yet ripe. As an example, my blackberry bushes are covered with small, tight green berries. Soon I will have to pull screening from the storage and spread it over the bushes. This is to keep the ripening berries safe from the birds who enjoy a good juicy berry as much as anyone. It looks like I will get a few more this year than last but still not enough for preserving in any way. There will be no regrets about eating them freshly picked though.
So far this season we have been cooler and wetter than usual. The rain is fine for the crops but sun and warmth are also essential for ripening. I suppose in a month or two I will be bemoaning the heat in posting but right now it feels like April just kept going and completely over-ran May. I should have lots of energy but those overcast days make me want to crawl back into bed. Not actually depressing, they just seem dull and flat. We are far more sensitive to weather than we think. There is even a new science studying this called human biometeorology. It sounds exotic but actually it can serve a very practical purpose. Anyone who has ever suffered from migraine, as I have in the past, can appreciate the University of Calgary study that found migraine headaches in 43 percent of patients coincided with the Chinook wind, a warm westerly wind with a predictable annual pattern affecting that region of Canada. Any illness that has known triggers can be managed more effectively. Not knowing what’s setting off your condition can often be as aggravating as the condition itself. Spring thunderstorms can trigger asthma and barometric changes can trigger attacks of arthritis.
No matter how we try to manipulate our environment with heat and air conditioning and closed up spaces we will not be able to escape the fact we are part of a larger system. Often these attempts to dominate the wider environment have less than satisfactory results. All those well-sealed living spaces have higher pollution levels than the out of doors. Air conditioning systems are still incubating Legionnaire’s disease long after the outbreak that gave it it’s name. This is one of the reason’s I put so much attention on seasons and weather.
In the west we tend to limit ourselves to swapping snow blowers for lawn mowers and sweaters for bathing suits as the seasons change. In other cultures the effect of weather and the seasons are better taken into account and adjusted to. In Ayurveda and TCM take seasons into account to determine appropriate foods to consume for optimum health.
As we move into warmer weather TCM recommends foods for keeping the body cool and balanced. Americans don’t eat much bitter gourd or lotus root but the stores are full of recommended fruits like watermelon and strawberries and tomatoes and cucumbers. Even though they are available almost year round now we do tend to think of and enjoy them as summer foods so it’s quite easy to follow this advice. In general, TCM says the diet should contain more vegetables and fruit at this time so as to stimulate the appetite and provide adequate fluids and we all know most of us don’t eat enough of them anyway. In Ayurveda summer is the pitta season. Cooling foods are recommended in this system as well. Cucumbers are on the list again as well as summer squash and zucchini.
One of my warm weather favorites is gazpacho. It has a history going back to the ancient Romans and was popularized in the Andalusian region of Spain. Originally he main ingredient was bread. The version known as Seville gazpacho, named after the Spanish city where it is popular, also uses tomatoes in the base. In the United States, you will most often encounter a breadless version. I have made and enjoyed both styles and even versions I call Mexican, as they include cilantro. It’s delicious, quick to make, doesn’t heat up the kitchen and is great to serve when what’s on the grill is not finishing as fast as it should. Now if summer would only come.