Start of Summer: Little Frogs Peep

November 11th, 2011
by Jo Law

It has been a warm and stormy start to summer. This pentad began with hot humid days followed by stormy nights. Hail storm activities damaged apple crops in South-west New South Wales; spoilt stone fruits in North-west Victoria, and ruined the wheat harvest in South Australia. At the same time, an over-abundance of potatoes and capisicums in the North will apparently drive prices down. Meanwhile, most states’ preparation for bushfire season has started in earnest.

Heat and humdity can dampen appetite and induce fatigue. Although contagious illnesses are generally not prevalent in summer, Chinese food therapy (食療) would caution against this ‘wet heat’.  This ‘food-as-therapy’ practice is related to traditional Chinese medicine and draws from a variety of beliefs including the five elements (五行) of Taoism. Unlike, the aesthetics of Japanese cuisine that aims to encapsulate the seasons in the menu, this system is focused on the human body living through the changing seasons. Its central doctrine is that moderation and balance in food will lead to health.

In practice, Chinese food therapy functions largely on the Cantonese food classification system that categorizes foods into hot (yang) and cold (yin). The classification is more subtle than the yin-yang binary system may suggest. The properties assigned to food include: dry fire (燥火), wet heat (濕熱), oily and fatty (油膩), cold and cool (寒涼), cleansing and cooling (清涼), and nourishing (滋潤). These descriptions do not only describe foods, but how they are cooked and are unrelated to temperatures. The idea is to respond to seasonal changes by taking appropriate herbal preparation or therapeutic foods to keep the body in balance and prevent ailments.

Restorative soups and medicinal teas are the most common preparation which are integrated into everyday family meals.  In A Tradition of Soup, Teresa Chen suggests salted egg and mustard green soup for ‘a refreshing summer soup’,  bitter melon and fish soup for ‘a cooling summer soup’, and fuzzy melon, dried scallop and spare rib soup as ‘a refreshing soup to right the qi’. I found some big fat fuzzy melons (white gourds) at the Chinese grocer’s so decided to give this last recipe a try.

While I was at the Chinese grocer’s I also found tins of grass jelly (涼粉). This is a black translucent jelly made from Mesona chinensis  (仙草) – the said ‘grass’ that is related to mint. It is served as a desert with sugar syrup, sugar or fresh fruit. It is mildly bitter with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Within the Cantonses food classification system, it is a cool food and is therefore eaten in summer. Teresa Chen says, ‘The favourite taste of [Summer] is bitter.’ Mum used to serve this up on a hot summer night with a tiny bit of golden syrup.

2 Responses to “Start of Summer: Little Frogs Peep”

  1. 1 Peter Humble
    November 15th, 2011 at 09:53

    So, how was the fat fuzzy melon recipe? Good? And did it right the chi?

  2. 2 Jo Law
    November 15th, 2011 at 14:09

    It was a delicious soup – very mellow and soothing! The trick with all these soups is the slow-cooked method – with a low flame for a long time, what the Cantonese called ‘old fire'(老火 or lo foh). I am not quite sure about the chi though- being the end of semester, I think my chi might have been a little bit too wrong to be righted.