A few weeks ago I posted about our visit to the strawberry patch and shared some some ideas about eating in season (read that post here). Eating seasonal foods has let us shop locally and support farms in our area. It has also kept us in touch with nature’s rhythms and has helped us feel more connected to the world around us.
Eating in season, though once the norm (before refrigeration and highways came around), is a new idea for most of us. In America we are used to having foods shipped to us from around the world and having access to what we want at any time of year. I got started on this idea only about a year and a half ago but have loved what it has done for our family and the way we eat.
Here are some of the highlights of what I have learned:
1. Pay attention to what is in season in your area. On this site you can look at a chart for each state. I made a smaller one for myself of the foods that we usually buy (I’ll post it as soon as I figure out how). This takes some work but it is fun, you will love anticipating the first ripe strawberry, then blackberry, then peach, then watermelon, and finally apples.
2. Buy locally if you can. But if you can’t try to buy foods in season where they are grown, they will have a higher nutrient content and be fresher. Consider traveling distances. If you can get something from your state or the neighboring state go for it over something that comes from another continent.
3. Pick your own. Even if you can’t garden there are lot’s of opportunities to pick (this is a good source to help you get started). This let’s you get foods in season, connect with local farmers and pick foods when they are at peak ripeness. Plus most foods come to a point of overabundance when they are at peak season and prices drop. Which lets you buy more for less.
4. Plant a Garden. A container garden is a great start.Planting some herbs or a few potted vegetables can help you get in touch with the growing seasons around you.
5. Shop at a farmer’s market. The morning at a farmer’s market is fun and a great source of local produce. Plus more and more areas are offering something called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or or other types of co-ops that let you buy directly from local farms. Often this involves getting a box of in-season produce every week or two. Others are more flexible and let you order exactly the items you want. There are more and more websites dedicated to helping you connect to local food resources, here are just a few : USDA, Local harvest.
6. Let your grocery store know your preferences. Grocery stores are aware that consumers are becoming more interested in knowing where there foods come from. Some are already carrying local foods that you may not even know about so be sure to ask.
7. Learn to preserve foods. Inevitably, when talking about eating in season, the question comes up. What do we eat in January when nothing is in season? While in Texas we may have a few greens and beets still growing, most of the country is covered in snow. We will get into canning and drying foods later, but to start with just think about freezing. Anything you buy in the frozen foods section of the grocery store you can freeze yourself. So buy fruits and vegetables in season when they are ripe and from a local farmer, wash, dry, cut up and freeze. For a few, like tomatoes, it is better to roast with oil and then freeze in oil, these are great tossed in pastas in salads. Fresh herbs are great preserved in oil too. As the summer goes on we can go into the details, but for now just give freezing some thought. Freezing fresh summer produce can make for healthier and less expensive foods all year long.
9. Start cooking. Seasonal foods will inspire your menu, and because they are in season and fresh, will always be your tastiest ingredients.
A good cookbook to get started is this one by Alice Waters. Her focus is on fresh ingredients and she mentions the seasons of the produce as she gives her recipes.
Though the initial transition to a more seasonal diet can be a challenge (my family really missed fresh tomatoes this winter) it can also make cooking and shopping easier. When I limit myself to what is in season I can ignore most of what is in the grocery store. And the in-season foods are often on sale making my shopping less expensive. I am still new to this approach and definitely don’t stick to seasonal foods all of the time, but for the most part I have really enjoyed shopping and cooking this way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips.