Before moving on to a farm I never could have told you which vegetables were in season when. Except for corn. Being from the Midwest, one of the trademark signs of summer for me is spotting pick-up trucks, their beds holding mountains of ears of corn, parked in gas station parking lots. A wooden hand painted sign hung from the side of each truck bed: Sweet Corn 4 for $1. Beyond that, I, like most people, would go to the supermarket expecting to find whichever vegetables were on my shopping list. Tomatoes in December, leeks in June. Our society has grown accustomed to having what we want, when we want it.
Since my arrival on the farm I have been fortunate to have had nearly all my vegetables come from our very own gardens and greenhouses. My brother-in-law has spent the last few years creating his organic vegetable project and at every meal we reap the benefits. However, he sticks to the vegetables’ natural growing season so I quickly had to adjust how I approached cooking. In the end, I discovered that cooking with seasonal produce has a long list of positive attributes.
When we make the decision to center our cooking around seasonally available produce we enjoy better tasting food, we support more sustainable food practices, and we push ourselves to discover new flavors and recipes.
If you live in a colder climate and go to purchase a tomato in January take a moment to think about the journey that tomato took to arrive in your shopping cart. It most likely came from a place with a warmer climate, meaning it traveled quite a distance, the truck it was packed into emitting more carbon into the atmosphere. Otherwise it was grown in an artificially created climate such as a hothouse that relied on more energy consumption.
A locally grown in-season fruit or vegetable also has more nutrients and a better flavor than those grown out of season and shipped in from a far away place. When produce needs to travel before being consumed it is often harvested early. The food doesn’t ripen as it would have if left to its own devices, this can affect both the taste and the nutrient levels. Think about the difference between a perfectly ripe juicy apple that you picked at the orchard in October compared to one that was shipped in from a completely different time zone. Which would you rather use to bake grandma’s famous apple pie?
I will admit that living on a farm certainly makes accessing seasonal produce much more simple. But for those of you that would have to drive an hour to even spot a farm don’t fret. Try looking into local CSAs, they are a great way to receive local produce throughout the year and can encourage you to try vegetables you might not otherwise cook with. You can also visit food co-ops that tend to focus more on supporting local growers and supplying in-season fruit and veggies. And of course a trip to your local farmer’s market makes for a great Saturday morning outing. You can not only find baskets and baskets of mouth-watering produce but you can also get to know the person or family that grows your food!
For me, eating seasonal food has encouraged me to broaden my scope of recipes and taught me how to pair up flavors in order to valorise those seasonal veggies. In the winter we bake squash, we boil it, we steam it, we puree it and put it in pies, or mix it with garlic and use it as a sauce with pasta. Parsnips are mashed, mixed into soups, baked as fries in the oven. Beets are served raw or cooked, shredded or diced, mixed with feta or drizzled with vinaigrette. You get the idea! It may seem daunting to only stick to in-season vegetables but you quickly discover the versatility of veggies and the endless number of ways you can prepare them. Not to mention at the end of each season, when you can’t possibly think of another way to use a zucchini, the next season’s vegetables arrive and it’s feels like a seasonal holiday, right along with the solstice. Seeing those spring onions appear on the shelves or finally getting a taste of that fresh tender spinach makes the wait so worth it!
If you are looking for a good cookbook I highly recommend Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook. I received this book from a dear family friend who gifted me her very own copy for my bridal shower. It is an excellent book, organized by season, full of delicious recipes. At the beginning of each section is a list of the vegetables in season at that time of the year so you know what to look for while strolling through the produce aisle. Lately we have been loving her recipe for spinach pancakes so I have posted it below.
Don’t be afraid to give seasonally cooking a try! Obviously no one is perfect and sometimes you just have to fulfill that craving for homemade salsa while the snow is falling outside! Though chances are, by focusing your produce grocery purchases on in-season products, you are going to discover many new dishes, flavors, and an appreciation for what the earth can offer us at every moment in the year.