by Lindsay Suto
Food systems have changed more in the past 100 years than any time in history. Before the advent of the supermarket and extensive transportation networks, our ancestors had no choice but to eat seasonally, and in turn were more in tune with the natural cycles of the earth and its sacred systems of sustenance.
In Native American cultures, the moons were used to track the seasons. Each moon was assigned a name that usually described an event or activity that happened during that moon’s cycle. It seems that life has always revolved around food, as many of these names give an insight into the available dietary staples of the season. This year’s Seasonal Kitchen Series will explore some of the ancient moons and our region’s seasonal offerings.
We start our year with the Wolf Moon, which appeared when the wolves would howl outside the villages in hunger. Much like the wolves, our ancestors felt hunger in their bellies in the winter as game and wild animals went into hibernation and crops were dormant, long buried underneath the snow. All that was left to sustain them during this time of the year were the foods that had been gathered and preserved in previous seasons: cured meats, fermented fruits and vegetables, hearty root vegetables, and dried beans and grains. One of the foods heavily relied upon during this season was the edible seed of legumes, also known as pulses. The word pulse comes from a Latin word meaning “thick soup”, which is a great way to serve members of this family, including peas, dry beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans.
The cultivation of pulse crops dates back to ancient times, with archaeologists finding peas and lentils amongst the Egyptian pyramids and Mesopotamian regions 5,000 years ago. Slowly these dried legumes made their way west, arriving in Britain in the 11th century. Their arrival in the Inland Northwest is but a split second on the pulse’s historical timeline, but the people here are just as thankful for this hearty winter crop that keeps the hunger from bellies. The wet, cold winters and the dry, hot summers of the Inland Northwest make it the perfect home for these legume crops.
As an easy to prepare source of protein, pulses are popular around the world for their nutritional value and affordability. Pulses are also extremely versatile. From hummus, chili and curries to pancakes and baked goods, they offer something for everyone. But pulses offer benefits to the farmers as well. Pulse crops are very sustainable, requiring little water for cultivation, while also replacing nitrogen that other crops have stripped from the soil. Pulses are great additions to a farmer’s crop rotation, especially amongst the popular grain crops of the Northwest.
While the farmlands of the Inland Northwest are well known for crops of wheat and barley, each year, thousands gather to celebrate the National Lentil Festival on the Palouse, home to one third of the nation’s lentil production. Farmers in the Pacific Northwest also plant more than 80,000 acres of garbanzo beans each year, making them a true local crop that can fill bellies come winter.
Nowadays it is somewhat rare to hear the cries of a wolf, and even rarer to hear the cries of a hungry belly in our part of the world. Even though tomatoes are now available in the middle of the winter and it is possible to eat the exact same diet year round, many people are returning to the traditional, seasonal diets of the past. Whether it’s due to health reasons, environmental concerns, boosting the local economy, or simply a love of the tastiest, most nutritional food, we are seeing a resurgence of seasonal eating and traditional food preparations.
Our bodies were made to crave the foods of the seasons—the wolf needs something heavy to fill his belly come winter, not a tomato plucked somewhere tropical and shipped into supermarket shelves. It is no surprise that the United Nations has named 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, with a focus on nutrition, sustainability, versatility, and affordability. Whatever our reasons for channelling our inner wolves, pulses are here to keep our hunger at bay, and we can take pride in knowing that our community is supplying this important crop.