October is a food-themed month! Well, maybe not more so than any other month, but I was hungry when recently perusing one of my favorite reference books, “Chase’s Calendar of Events: the Ultimate Go-to Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months.” This annual publication contains every imaginable designation, and October has been chosen to promote cheese, spinach, chili, country ham and popcorn. A very tasty dinner could be served by preparing one dish from each themed food, and serving such a meal would be a delicious way to celebrate the turn of seasons.
Let’s start with American Cheese Month, and no, this is not referring to the processed singles wrapped in plastic, thank goodness! The American Cheese Society is behind this promotion to spread the good word about North America’s delicious and diverse cheeses and the traditional and sustainable methods used to produce them. Their website includes information about events in each state (here’s one in St. Louis) plus, recipes, tips for cheese lovers and award winning cheeses. DBRL has a nice selection of books on cheese-making and cheese recipes if you’d like to try making your own or are looking for cooking inspiration. The closest I’ve ever come to making cheese is to make crème fraiche. With almost no effort you can quickly turn heavy cream into this thick, luscious, nutty tasting sour cream. It’s a versatile ingredient, yummy with granola, pie, fruit, mixed into soup or whatever your taste buds fancy.
Next is Spinach Lovers Month. I kept reading about the bad rap spinach got from those poor souls who, when young, were made to eat either canned spinach or spinach that had been overcooked into a smeary slime. Ugh! If you are one recovering from that torture you can rehabilitate yourself by trying some enlivening recipes found in these cookbooks with recipes for spinach and other greens. Reading the chapter on spinach in “The 10 things You Need to Eat” by Dave Lieberman could convince you to add more of this green gold to your diet; it’s one of the mighty veggies that lowers the risk of many types of cancer. And, in the parts of the world where the highest concentrations of centenarians live, spinach is a regular mealtime ingredient.
Moving on to more substantial fare, we have National Chili Month. October is a good choice to showcase chili since the weather turns cooler and eating warm, substantial foods is more satisfying. The huge number of chili cook offs and festivals held year round (including a local one in Lupus, MO on October 6, 2012, starting at 1 p.m.) is a testament to chili’s popularity and versatility. Chili recipes abound, and my favorite to date, a vegetarian one, is from “The Greens Cook Book,” by Deborah Madison.
In this same stick-to-your-ribs vein, October also features Eat Country Ham Month. Do you know the difference between country ham and regular ham? Country ham is salt-cured and sometimes smoked as well. Regular ham has been cooked, deboned and had brine added to it. So country ham is dryer and saltier than regular ham, which is moister and milder in flavor. Feast your eyes on the recipes from these cookbooks or on cdkitchen for old favorite and new-fangled uses of country ham.
Last, but not least, is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, so designated because popcorn is harvested in the fall here in the good ol’ Midwest. Missouri is a big popcorn producing state, along with several of its contiguous neighbors. Popcorn differs from other varieties of corn because its hull is thicker. This allows the pressure from the moisture inside the kernel, when heated, to build to the point that it bursts the hull, turning the gelatinous interior inside out. One of my fond food memories from childhood is standing by my mother to watch as she shook and banged a big covered frying pan over a high flame to make us popcorn. It was stovetop drama for sure and magic too, the way those seeds transformed into puffy-crunchy morsels. Ahhh, and the aroma. “Popcorn,” by Patrick Evans-Hylton, contains recipes, both savory and sweet, that move popcorn into the gourmet realm (e.g., Chai Spice Popcorn and Mocha Chocalata Latte Corn). This author offers a recipe for making your own microwavable popcorn at home and avoiding the less than healthy ingredients of the store-bought variety. You can check this book out at DBRL.
Happy cooking adventures to you this fall!