March and April, at our house, are “empty the freezer” months. Before the next growing season, when we store what comes — spinach and tomato sauce, apple pie filling — we try to eat everything left from the season before. Often, by this point, much is gone, but there are one or two things left in ridiculous abundance. This year we have Balaton cherries. As the snow has melted, we have eaten cherry soup and cobbler, cherries in every way we can think of. March, for us, food-wise, is an uneven time.
It’s a problem we’re lucky to have. Before the era of freezers and supermarkets, people in northern climes canned and pickled and stored in root cellars all they could to get through winter. They had to get the numbers right, and do their best to make sure what they stored would keep. My grandmother used to remember the year tomato canning on their farm had gone awry, and the night the family heard Pop! Pop! Pop! as each jar exploded, one by one, in their fruit cellar. What a mess, and there went the tomatoes for winter.
During Lent, people were at the tail end of winter, eyeing the snow outside and then what was left of their bug-filled, moldy stores. Lent comes around the same month the Native Americans used to call “Hunger Moon.” It makes sense that some denominations made a virtue of fasting and deprivation during Lent. And it makes sense that some of our symbols for our gratitude for new life at Easter, eggs and lambs, might have been some of the first foods available on a farm in spring.
I’ve been told that church attendance declines during Lent, for reasons that can’t be explained by illness or vacation schedules. It’s not a joyful time of year. And yet, in the years my husband and I free-floated through our spiritual practices, Lent was the time of year we always felt pulled back to church. We would open the red doors, or the grand cathedral doors, of a church we’d never before entered and after that Easter would likely not enter again, for a few weeks of listening and contemplation. It makes sense: our freezer was emptying, and spiritually, we were hungry.