Eating Seasonally

Let’s get back to the topic of traditional eating and pick up where we left off a few days ago.  So, the 3 cornerstones of traditional eating are eating locally, eating seasonally and eating simply.  We talked about how food cultures and traditions evolved from the food available in a particular region combined with the means of preparation and preservation.  I know that sounds complicated, but it’s just a matter of eating what you can grow or gather in your area.  So today, let’s move on to eating seasonally.

I think many of us have a rough idea of what eating seasonally is about.  If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll notice all the pumpkin spice *everything* that has been popping up on Facebook over the past week or two.  I guess that could technically be considered seasonal eating…if it’s actual pumpkin and not artificial pumpkin flavoring.  Seasonal eating is nothing more than eating what the soil is providing inside any particular season and it’s the reason we associate berries with spring, tomatoes with summer and pumpkins with fall!   Our grandparents ate this way because they had no other options, but for our generation, there are many benefits to be had from eating seasonally.

First, it just tastes better!  I know we love our chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day, but have you noticed that those strawberries are white and hollow inside instead of brilliant red and fleshy?  As hard as modern food science tries, they cannot replicate the sweet, juicy flavor of a strawberry that has ripened in the May sunshine.  Hot house produce has a one-dimensional flavor, flat at best, that is no more than a mockery of the real thing.  Stick to citrus and apples in winter and your taste buds will thank you.

Second, fruits and veggies that are grown locally, picked at the peak of freshness and eaten as soon as possible retain a much higher level of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than produce that was picked green and stored for months in controlled-atmosphere cold storage.  Yeah, that apple you bought in May?  It was picked last September, sprayed with fungicide and stacked in a cooler til you bought it.  (Now, there are exceptions to that rule.  Squash and sweet potatoes, for instance, actually improve in storage,  as the starch content is turned into sugar…but we’ll talk storage crops another day.)

Third, eating seasonally saves you money.  In-season produce cost is often 50% less than unseasonal produce.  You figure those February strawberries had to be manipulated into ripening, packaged in a climate-controlled facility and then shipped across the country.  May and June strawberries take their time, ripen naturally and are eaten as quickly as they’re picked.  And to be honest, in gardening circles, as we approach the end of the season, there are days that I give away produce because I can’t stand the sight of another zucchini or tomato.  That’s an absolute money-saver for the lucky recipient!

Fourth, eating seasonally keeps you connected with the Earth, seasons, life cycles.  Remember a couple weeks ago when I said that there’s a rhythm to living seasonally?  There’s something that’s almost magical about the first ripe tomato, berry or apple, especially when it’s still warm from the vine or the tree.  Magical.  And those flavors become indelibly linked to memories in a way I can’t explain.  Don’t laugh at me, but a few weeks ago, I sobbed as I picked black raspberries for my dying father-in-law.  Of course, I was grieving the impending loss….but I was so unexplainably sad that he was experiencing his last black raspberry season.  There was such grief in knowing that season would never come for him again.  I can’t explain it.  Don’t judge lol.

Eating seasonally is a matter of creating a diet built around freshly-harvested foods, making the necessary adjustments for the various seasons, of course.  Now admittedly, the farther north you go and the shorter your growing season, the more difficult this style of eating becomes, but it IS possible.  As with eating locally, eating seasonally doesn’t have to be an all or nothing prospect.  It’s entirely acceptable to start with one meal a week and build up from there as your resources, confidence and knowledge begin to grow.  An example of a seasonal meal for Ohio in mid-August could be something as simple as green beans cooked with onions and tiny new potatoes, roasted sweet corn and cukes/tomatoes/onions marinated in a simple vinaigrette.  How easy is that?!  As fall approaches, how about a stuffed butternut squash with a side of braised kale and a compote of stewed apples and cranberries?  Admittedly, winter is the more difficult of the 4 seasons to eat in season, but that’s where your storage crops (winter squash, pumpkins, onions, potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, apples) and preserved foods come into play.  So for a winter meal, possibly pumpkin ravioli with sage leaves sautéed in browned butter, home-canned veggies or fermented pickles and a mug of steaming, mulled apple cider?    A spring meal could be a pan of foraged mushrooms, served with wilted greens, early spring onions or wild garlic and if you’re lucky, the first of the fresh rhubarb.  You cannot tell me that doesn’t sound delicious!   And yes, my children WOULD eat that.

So to summarize, eating locally is nothing more than eating food that can been produced in your particular region.  Eating seasonally is eating food as it becomes mature in your particular region.  We’ve got one more ‘cornerstone’ of traditional eating to address…eating simply…and we’ll do that in a day or three.  Til next time!