Essential Knowledge 13: Seasons (時節須知)

夏日長而熱,宰殺太早,則肉敗矣;冬日短而寒,烹飪稍遲,則物生矣。冬宜食牛羊,移之於夏,非其時也。夏宜食乾臘,移之於冬,非其時也。輔佐之 物,夏宜用芥末,冬宜用胡椒。當三伏天而得冬醃菜,賤物也,而竟成至寶矣。當秋涼時而得行鞭筍,亦賤物也,而視若珍饈矣。有先時而見好者,三月食鰣魚是 也。有後時而見好者,四月食芋艿是也。其他亦可類推。有過時而不可吃者,蘿蔔過時則心空,山筍過時則味苦,刀鱭過時則骨硬。所謂四時之序,成功者退,精華 已竭,搴裳去之也。

List of Essential Knowledge::Seasons

Summer days are long and hot, which causes meat to spoil if the animal is slaughter too soon. Winter days are short and cold, which slows the cooking process and may cause food to be undercooked. Beef and lamb (mutton) are best eaten in the winter time and are not good for consumption during summer. Cured hams and preserved meats are good for eating during summer but are not as well suited for winter. As for condiments, mustard [1] is suited for summer and black pepper for winter. If one can find preserved winter vegetables in the peak of summer, even a once lowly item becomes a treasured ingredient. When one finds tough old bamboo shoots [2] during autumn, even such a typically worthless item becomes a precious commodities. Some ingredients are at their best when eaten early during their season, such as shad [3] in March. Some ingredients are best late in their season, such as taro in April. All ingredients are similar in this manner. However, some ingredients can no longer be used when they are too old. For instance, when mature, daikon roots become hollow and dry, bamboo shoots become bitter, and anchovies [4] become bony and hard. Such is the nature of life, where a thing grows and prospers only to fade away [5], sapped of its strength and vitality [6].

Random notes:

[1]: For me, when people say 芥末 nowadays, they more often refers to ground wasabi and less to ground mustard seeds. But in this case it means the latter.
[2]: I don’t know what type of bamboo shoot 鞭筍 actually is. A Google image search of the word phrase shows older shoots that are likely fiberous and tough. I’ll go with that.
[3]: Reeve’s shad Tenualosa reevesii
[4]: Japanese Grenadier Anchovy Coilia nasus
[5]: The phrase “四時之序,成功者去” is found in 戰國策::秦策三::蔡澤見逐於趙, which translates to something like: “Like the sequence of seasons, one flourishes then fades”
[6]: Is Yuan Mei talking about himself, fading from the peak in his earlier life at a higher post?


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