Do You Know What’s in Season?
If I had a dollar for each time I asked this question and people did not know, I would not be writing this – at least not from my desk. I would be retired and sitting on the beach in a comfy chair on a tropical island with a cool drink (agua fresca anyone?) in my hand because I would have amassed major wealth. From that beach perch, in or near the tropics, what would be in season? Coconuts, mangoes, avocados but certainly not brussels sprouts, winter squash or parsnips.
What prompted me to write this post (which I have started a hundred times before now)? I read a Facebook post from someone who said that they cooked brussels sprouts (yes, I am mentioning them again because I do love them as one of my favorite cruciferous vegetables – see my book Nutrition CHAMPS and look at the C category for more info on why I love this class of vegetables) and wheat berries for lunch. She is not the only one. People are still eating winter squash. This is, however, the begining of July. And what’s in season now?
Well, I can tell you exactly what’s in season in where I live because I just did a cooking demonstration at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, about the pressure cooker and my new book. The menus are based on what’s fresh at the moment (see these charts to find out). I cooked an Enlightened Four Bean Salad and Herbed Summer Squash with Walnuts, both of which I cooked in the pressure cooker. I have to coordinate what I cook with what the farmers are selling – right then.
I walked the market and I can assure you that there was not a Brussels sprout in sight. There were other cruciferous vegetables such as kohlrabi, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower but even bok choy (which is still in season where I live just 60 miles north) was nowhere to be found.
Here are a couple of easy ways to know what’s in season:
- Grow your own food, if you can,
- Shop at a farmer’s market, or
- Join a CSA (community supported agriculture program).
You will clearly see what’s growing. If you see brussels sprouts, you will know that you live in a much cooler climate than I do but my guess is they are not growing many places in the summer. Do you know how I know? (I am not clairvoyant.) They are a cool season crop, and taste best when the weather is cool.
My simple guide for knowing what’s in season:
Spring is shoots: such as asparagus, leeks, onions, peas;
Summer is fruits: actual fruit such as stone fruit and the fruit of plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, eggplant and much more which tend to be lighter and contain more liquid;
Fall is a continuation of summer with the addition of some of winter’s bounty: such as the first of the winter squash (which can last for 3 to 6 months if stored properly); and
Winter is Roots: such as beets, parsnips, celery root, turnips, rutabaga, etc.
If you want a more extensive look, check out this chart. Somehow nature has a way of providing the types of foods we need as we need them, thus summer produce include more watery foods when it tends to be hotter out (it’s more than 95 degrees here today).
There are foods that we don’t even think of as seasonal but they are such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, which for me are a summer and fall crop; garlic which is generally harvested in June and July and then it’s cured and ready to use and eat in August or September and it’s spent by January. Kohlrabi and radishes can be found many times of year and their season depends upon geography and the soil where you live. Rarely is anything at its peak throughout the entire year. Shopping in your supermarket or big box store will give you a skewed view of what’s in season – it’s all there, almost all the time.
So, what does all this mean?
This post is not about being right or wrong. It’s about thinking about how you get the freshest food available. Generally fresher food, grown with more attention, love and care will have more nutrition and higher antioxidant values. (Don’t ask me to prove this although if you do a side by side comparison of store bought versus farmer’s market grown produce and you will know which has more flavor which might be a clue to its nutrition content.) My chef friends and I agree that food doesn’t generally taste better than what you started with so start with the best that you can easily get and afford. After all, in order for eating to be sustainable, you must be able to eat comfortably within your budget.
- Enjoy your summer tomatoes and beautiful berries.
- Eat what’s fresh and tasty.
- Even though you love Brussels sprouts (insert your favorite fall or winter crop), save them for when they are truly in season, and savor them.
My husband (the oh so non-foodie) commented recently about the tomato that he found on top of his veggie burger: “You don’t usually give me tomatoes. And this one is good.” I went on to explain that he hasn’t had a tomato since last fall because it hasn’t been “tomato season” but they are now starting to come in. So my twenty plus years of blabbing has been almost for naught with my husband but I hope that it won’t be that way for you.
Consider the seasons when choosing what to eat. I can assure you that a fresh, ripe summer nectarine (or tomato) cannot be matched by one imported from Chile in January. Save your Brussels sprouts for the cool of winter. For summer, slice up a variety of colors of ripe summer tomatoes, add chopped basil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and enjoy. But if you must have your cruciferous vegetables, enjoy a lighter summer slaw.
Here is my latest slaw recipe. Feel free to add other vegetables that you like that are in season.
Simple Slaw (El Salvadorian Style)
- 1/2 large cabbage cored and finely shredded
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1 medium onion quartered lengthwise and very finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves minced (optional)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup white vinegar
- Add the cabbage to a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the cabbage and let it sit for at least 15 minutes until the cabbage wilts.
- Drain off the water.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
- Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. (Refrigerate or not.)
- Taste and adjust seasonings.