For most parts of the county, January (and particularly this January), means cold, snow, and ice. Many cultures have called the full moon that falls this time of year Hunger Moon, or something quite similar.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how our ancestors were keenly aware of the cycles of the earth, and observing the moon was a regular practice. I wanted to deepen my own connection with the moon, and have been exploring what each moon means and what those names can teach us.
EXPLORING THE HUNGER MOON
Hunger Moon was a name used by colonialists in the New England area, adapted from the native Algonquin people. Many other cultures used different words but they had a similar meaning. Choctaw knew this moon as Little Famine Moon. The Cherokee, Boney Moon.
For those people living in four-season climates, the winter Hunger Moon was a time of very little food available. Hunter-gatherer cultures would be faced with their hunting ranges covered in snow, the wild game would be hibernating, bony and lean, also hungry. Farm fields of early agrarian societies would have been frozen, preventing anything from growing.
This was a time when the food gathered, grown and preserved during the months of bounty kept people sustained. A well-stocked kitchen would be filled with jars of jams and ferments, sacks of dried beans and dried grains. Root cellars would hold beets, potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, other roots, and winter squash. These foods would have been carefully grown, sorted and stored away, the lifeline for the winter.
WHAT A MODERN DAY HUNGER MOON CAN TEACH US
This moon reminds us of the scarcity of food, a real issue before the modern day inventions of refrigeration, freezers, and international shipping of foods from all over. While many people today do face issues of food scarcity, it’s usually because of income, not because there simply isn’t any food.
Obviously, I have access to just as much food in the middle of January as I do in July, via the natural food store down the street. And living in California, I’m able to grow fresh food year round. But growing veggies that will ‘keep’ throughout the winter and putting away food in jars still enchants and enthralls me.
Perhaps it’s my old soul carrying over ways of life from the past. Maybe there is some deep cellular memory. For me, putting up jars of sauce or stocking the pantry with bushels of potatoes gives me more than just convenience.
In a world of arbitrary things like social media followers or page views to account for what it means for being successful, having a well-stocked pantry is a more tangible challenge and method of measuring success. If you didn’t put up or store enough food, you don’t make it through the winter.
A REMINDER TO NOT WASTE FOOD
We live in a time of excess- excess useless plastic shit, excess traffic, excess food waste.
For me, letting a head of lettuce go limp, forgotten in the bottom of the produce drawer, isn’t a big deal. Or letting the last few slices of bread go stale because we forgot to close up the bag. We can toss it out and go buy another. If we had planted, watered, harvested, dried, threshed and winnowed, stored, and then carefully calculated before each bake to determine if there would be enough grain to get through the winter, would we discard those slices so easily?
Hunger moon is a good time to think about how we can prevent food waste in our own homes. I’m making the commitment to be better about using leftovers.
HUNGER MOON IS A TIME TO CELEBRATE ROOT VEGGIES
When we go to the grocery store, it’s easy to look past the humble root veggies. Often knobby or weathered or hairy, they aren’t the most attractive. They can pose a problem for a cook, unsure of how to use them. Remember my radish/rutabaga mixup? Instead, you probably do what I do, and pass them up and choose the more exciting broccoli or colorful greens.
But these humble roots should be celebrated. Picked in the fall and if properly stored, they can last for months, providing substance and nourishment when there is little else growing. Deep in the cycle of Hunger Moon, I’m sure our ancestors didn’t turn up their nose at the lowly rutabaga. Instead, they were thankful for yet another meal.
This Hunger Moon, why not feed your hunger for connection (see what I did there? too much?) and remember a time when the rhythms of the earth had more importance to the daily life. There where cycles of hot and cold, wet and dry, short days and short nights, scarcity and abundance. Why not enjoy a meal from the types of vegetables that would have helped your ancestors get through yet another winter?
HUNGER MOON ROOT VEGETABLE STEW
I’ve paired up with my dear friend Elaine, of The Seasoned Vegetable, to create a beautiful and warming root vegetable stew to celebrate this Hunger Moon.
The broth is made with Parmesan rinds, giving a deep flavor with limited ingredients. Also, giving us a good reminder to be resourceful with the food that we have. White beans add a humble protein. Onions, garlic, and dried herbs add great flavor. But the stars of the soup are the often ignored stars of the winter season: parsnips, rutabagas, celeriac, and carrots.
My guess is you’re like me and you don’t have your own root cellar to pillage. We went shopping at the local market, but this recipe uses ingredients that can invoke memories from a different time.
When you’re standing in line at the store, why not imagine you’re traveling down the dark steps of a cellar? You retrieve knobby shapes from burlap bags, unearth roots that you carefully packed away in layers of sand months before. Back in the kitchen, you shake out dried herbs from glass jars. You snip off an onion and garlic from braids hanging from the rafters. A bowl of beans, that you carefully shelled and winnowed, sit soaking in a bowl on the counter.
If my runaway romanticized imagination doesn’t resonate with you, what do you think Hunger Moon would have been like for your ancestors? If we were suddenly without grocery stores or refrigeration, what might you eat this time of year? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!
Get the full recipe for Winter Root Vegetable Stew here.