Seasonal foods comprise produce that is sold to local consumers at the time of harvesting.
As I browse through the stalls of my local farmers' market in Kentucky I am truly impressed by all the wonderful crates of summer fruits and vegetables. All are ripe and ready to be eaten.
It can be a rewarding challenge to cook and eat seasonal produce in a world where it's possible to have any foodstuff all year round.
Nowadays, few people even know which fruit and vegetables are naturally in season at a specific time of year.
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Fresh Fruit All Year Round
Have you ever picked up a container of strawberries in early January, and wondered where have these come from.
When I see fresh summer raspberries I think back to the days of my Irish childhood when ripe, fresh berries were a summer treat only.
Until some time in the 1980s, shelling peas and washing clods of mud from carrots were familiar tasks to anyone who cooked. The way we buy food has changed immensely in the last twenty years.
I remember going with my mother to the 'potato man' for spuds and the 'vegetable man' for seasonal produce. I'll probably get some flack for those outdated terms, but for accuracy's sake, they're the titles we used back in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. What was available for sale varied with the season.
This is no longer the case. Every fruit and vegetable of your choice is available all year long. This change in produce availability has been greatest for those who live in areas far removed from agriculture.
It is now usual to see strawberries in supermarkets throughout the winter and to buy root vegetables washed and sealed in plastic with no hint that they have ever been near earth.
As I pondered this wide availability of vegetables for all seasons, I thought about the impacts of our new shopping habits on life and our communities.
Increasing our knowledge of the produce our ancestors used in season is well worth the effort. And so, let's explore some facts and tips about seasonal foods.
Seasonal Foods Are Less Expensive
Notwithstanding the supposed age of convenience, there are some advantages to buying seasonal food. Most homegrown foods in season are still less expensive.
For those concerned with environmental issues, food being in season can imply some possibility of local origin, as produce flown halfway across the world loses the context of the season.
Seasonal food in the supermarket is often grown in the US, which means less environmental impact during transportation.
Choice Vs. Repetition
Anyone bored with a repetitive diet would benefit from choosing seasonal produce, which opens up a world of variety rather than being restrictive.
You'll notice a significant difference in taste between a freshly plucked, warm sun-ripened fruit and one picked when unripe and consumed several weeks later.
To quote celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's website, "It's a really good idea to buy food that's in season whenever you can. It tastes better and tends to be cheaper than food that's traveled thousands of miles to get to you."
Organic, seasonal suppliers often sell wild and foraged produce amongst larger varieties of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Here it is possible to buy three or four different kinds of tomatoes alongside sorrel, edible flowers, rocket, and wild garlic, things we mostly never bother to eat anymore.
Winter Season Fruits and Vegetables in the United States
Here's a quick list of vegetables that are in season during the winter months in America.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Citrus fruits including grapefruit, lemons, oranges and tangerines.
If you need some recipes for cooking with winter vegetables here are some of my favorites.
Sautéed Cabbage – A Quick and Simple Irish Side Dish
How To Cook Cabbage Irish Style
Quick Easy White Bean and Tuscan Kale SoupKale Sautéed With Bacon And Garlic
How To Cook Rutabaga Or Turnip Irish Style
Moving on to spring, here's a quick list of in-season spring produce.
- Carrots (two crop vegetable in spring and fall)
- Fava Beans
- Mustard Greens
Here are some of my favorite recipes for spring time produce.
Fennel Salad With Lemon and Sherry Vinegar Dressing
Spicy Red Lentil and Carrot Soup
Brown Sugar Glazed Baked Carrots
Fresh fruits are the highligt of summer produce.
- Green Beans
Here are some of my favorite recipes.
Ultimate Summer Vanilla Raspberry Ice Box Cake
No Bake Easy Vegan Raspberry Cheesecakes
Easy Appetizers – Shrimp and Cucumber Bites
Nectarine and Blackcurrant Galette
Apples and pumpkins mean fall in America, but there's plenty more to choose from.
- Butternut Squash
- Carrots (two crop vegetable in spring and fall)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Swiss Chard
Here are my favorite fall recipes.
Apple Crumble – Perfect Farm Wife Style
Chicken Curry With Apple And Raisins
Twice Baked Sweet Potato Casserole With Bacon And Pecans
Irish Guinness Beef Stew – Crockpot Recipe
A Little Compromise For The Fruits We Love
Some fruits and vegetables we like to eat are never going to be seasonal.
In the US, fruits like bananas, mangoes, and pineapples have to be imported all year round. Companies work with specific farms abroad to import produce without flying it. In certain cases, they claim that this can be less damaging to the environment.
However, they also give a greater portion of the market to local producers. This model enables a sustainable balance to be struck between eating mainly seasonal, local produce and still being able to have the trappings of modern life such as banana smoothies on a rainy January day.
It seems to be an example where looking after local economies then helps people globally and would question the wisdom of giving away all power of choice to large supermarkets and corporations to manage global food logistics.
Seasonality of Meat
Seasonality also applies to meat and is possibly even more confused than the fruit and vegetable market.
Most people can name a few fruits and vegetables associated with summer, but few of us remember which meat was traditionally eaten when.
Beyond the false seasonality of the Christmas turkey, which has actually led to extreme intensive farming practices, we can generally buy any cut of meat at any time of year.
Chicken is at its least expensive in late spring and early summer.
Turkey is at it’s very best price in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Availability has artificially coincided with the time of peak demand. Wild turkeys are native to North America and were once prized birds. They nearly faced extinction in in 19th century.
Beef is usually at its lowest price in the early fall or autumn.
Pork is at its least expensive in fall, so this is a good time for serving pork loin or uncured pork chops.
Ham and bacon are at their best prices during the winter months.
Fish and seafood availability varies greatly by location and time of year.
Seasonal Eating for City Dwellers
Try getting food delivered from a reputable organic store. These no longer require direct debits or regular commitment.
This kind of scheme tends to supply less common produce at an affordable price such as Jerusalem artichokes, wet garlic, and even wild strawberries.
Look for schemes that deliver organic seasonal fruit for offices.
Grow Something Edible
Planting fruit and vegetables is the best way to know what should be in season when, as well as getting instant access to fresh produce. This does not have to involve much more than an indoor windowsill.
Easy plants to grow indoors include capsicums and herbs. For anyone with a balcony, large tomato crops can be achieved from just one grow bag. Many varieties are now available from Black Russians to tumbling cherry tomatoes.
Sprouted shoots grow indoors at any time of year for delicious and nutritious salads. Try cress, alfalfa, or beetroot for ease and then experiment with more bulky varieties.
Get a good sprouting guide as soaking and sprouting times are important in getting tasty, safe results.
Lazy gardeners with large gardens could opt for planting indigenous fruit trees. Peach, apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees need a little tending but not as much as whole vegetable crops.
Grapevines are ideal on sunny brick walls. Hedges and rambling vines are equally simple to plant; wild strawberries and blackberries are easy to introduce to any outside patch.
Preserve foods in traditional ways like jams, pickles, and chutneys or use modern methods such as freezing and dehydrating to get the most of your produce and year-round flavors of seasons.
I hope this post has given you some new and interesting information about preparing and eating seasonal foods.
Thanks so much for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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