Reconnect with the natural ebb and flow of summer, autumn, winter and spring
Challenge of seasonal eating
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You know how good a strawberry tastes when picked at the height of ripeness? The aroma is amazing and the taste is beyond sweet. But then, taste a strawberry at any other time of the year, bought from a supermarket, chilled within an inch of its life and the taste is… Well, it doesn’t really have a taste. It’ll be crunchy, not luscious; dry, not juicy; and it just won’t be that jam packed flavour bomb that is a berry in season.
You could ponder the same thing about most fruit, and lots of vegetables. A new season apple? Perfect cauliflower? The momentary glimpse of asparagus? Big beautiful heads of broccoli? Even meats and animal products have seasonal fluctuations.
So sure, you can buy most produce year round in Australia, but do you really want to?
I’d argue that 90% of the time, the answer should be no, and I need to remind myself of that as much as anyone.
For many people, day to day life is a challenge of managing competing demands with the arsenal of quick and easy tools at our command. Chief in the toolbox is the supermarket. We all have to use them, and for plenty of us, the ease of doing all the shopping – groceries, produce and even more in some places – at one location is profound. Sometimes you just have to do it!
But the flow-on effect from that is we get removed from an innate understanding of seasonality, and of when we should be eating different things. It also means we lose the connection between us as consumers, and the people who grew, made or produced our food in the first place. It is after all, why factory- and broad-acre farming developed as the world industrialised.
But before I get too preachy, I’d rather think about small things we can all do to reconnect with the natural ebb and flow of summer, autumn, winter and spring.
The first thing is to get some local intelligence. Eating with the seasons requires you to build some understanding of what is in season where you live – in a country as vast as Australia, regional differences can be huge. You can do that by going to a local farmer’s market, green grocer or even talking to the produce manager at a supermarket (maybe). Look around and ask questions.
And counter to what I’ve done most of my adult life, I’d suggest you don’t shop with a list in hand. You see, I’ve always menu planned. Very, very seriously. I plan every single breakfast, lunch and dinner my family eats. Deviations freak me out and I plan opportunities for spontaneous meals! I used to plan a week at a time, before I did the shopping, and it meant my recipes dictated what I purchased and not the other way around. Now I plan once I’m home, and can see what I have in front of me. So maybe have a list, but be prepared to adapt it!
Look for the produce that is cheap and buy lots of it because that’s a sure sign that it is in peak season. Mind you, if you’re anywhere other than a farmer’s market, ask if it is produced locally.
Get to grips with what you can freeze. Lots of fruits and vegetables cope just fine in the freezer. If you’re game, start to think about what you can pickle, what you can ferment or what you can bottle. Get a dehydrator! That’s loads of fun.
And you should absolutely experiment. See a vegetable you’ve never seen before? Buy some and give it a go. Think about replacements and substitutions. No asparagus? Try green beans. Leeks crazy expensive? Try shallots or even onions with a pinch of sugar. Play with your food!
I realise that I’m in a very privileged position, where my business requires me to go to our local farmer’s market every week to collect the contents for our Produce Pods. I talk to local farmers every day. We live on our own small-scale farm. Seasonality is unavoidable and positively embraced. But habits are hard to shift, even for me. There will be times where I really, really want to cook something and know that it isn’t available here. That’s where the 10% comes in. Sometimes is ok! Just make sure that when you pull that tool from life’s toolbox, that do so consciously and enjoy it when you do. And then just keep on supporting real people, growing real food at real places.