There’s no doubt that it’s winter in the Central Highlands. I’ve installed woollen boot liners into my Bean boots, and made the most important purchase of the month, thermal socks. These are the few months out of a year that can pin a man down. The days are wet, cold, typically grey and often end before you expect them to. Secretly I love them. I love that winter slows life’s momentum to a snails pace.
I’ve worked hard for this time, for winter that is. I’ve stowed away many provisions. I’ve stored, cured, dried, bottled, frozen, jared, pickled and sauced. All in preparation for these few months of winter. As much as I’d like it to be a time of prolonged comfortable reflection by the fire, there is, as always, still chores to be done. There just isn’t that sense of urgency like there is in Spring to Autumn. This time of the year I consider to be a gift from the family of seasons. It’s breathing space to collect yourself.
Food is an integral part of survival at this time. I’m not being literal here, I’m referring to the mental health benefits that winter soul food provides. In this last week I’ve twice cooked a recipe of deer where I slow cook the beast for an entire day. The legs of deer gently bubble away in a cast iron dish, the aromatics blessing the kitchen with sweet promising fragrance. Mouths begin to salivate, a reaction to the intrigue of what may materialise at the dinner table.
Light is different this time of year. If you take the effort to notice you will enjoy a softness of light that is, often mistaken for bleakness. Shadows contrast and detail all seem to manifest a seasonally specific mood. Fire glows deep red, orange and yellow. Nights are long, frigid but mellow. Blankets become treasured items, as do friendly bodies that warm you with embrace.
Meals are hot, full of steam and sizzle. Warming flavours where spice is no longer sparingly applied. Chilli, Cayenne and mountain pepper are added to most meals. The last of the fresh chilli from the patch is a delight, with that unmistakable pepper flavour reminding us of warmer days.
Before the ice, frost and maybe snow arrives, we take advantage of the last of the forest mushrooms. The field mushrooms finished up months ago as soon as the frost arrived, when they retreated until the following year. The forest floor however is still very active, with late season mushrooms starting to peak out from rotting leaf litter.
Rain taps heavily on the roof, the hot oven hums and the hardwood crackles in the fireplace. The smell of fluffy pastry fills the room, that buttery aroma promises a perfectly cooked crusty pie. Steam erupts from cracks in the pie, escaping into the cold air of the kitchen, only to disappear like ghosts in the night. Steel breaks open the pie, the smell of slow cooked deer meat and wild mushrooms is as warming as a cuddle from your grandma.
Roast vegetable soups, pastas, stews and casseroles dominate the evenings dinner prep. Food that was frozen in summer finally gets pulled from the ice box, cooked with a wintery twist. ‘Yab Chow’ a yabbie (crayfish) chowder with fried potato and yabbie dumplings seems right at home on a winter table. The chilli and spices bring spark to the table, like a flare gun in a football stadium. These small things are happiness to us when our bodies are telling us to be miserable because its grey days and buckets of rain.
How can you be miserable when you have so much beauty surrounding you? These elements of nature, the cold wind, the endless sideways drizzle, pure clean water drops gathering on green leaves, these are all beautiful things. They wash, cleanse and renew, just like it’s written on a bottle of shampoo. The seasons are broken up into four very different personalities, all having their trademark quirks. I love them all, but I reserve the softest spot for winter.