When it comes to fresh produce, have we lost touch with seasonality? And could eating with the seasons, in fact, save us money?
Supermarkets offer 'convenience' by providing us with the same fruit and vegetables the whole year round. Thanks (or debatably not) to modern food processing methods and a global distribution network, whether it's spring, summer, autumn or winter, the produce aisles remain unchanged.
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The British asparagus season may only be eight weeks long (starting in the UK from the end of April), but we can have asparagus with our Christmas dinner if we so choose! But is this really such a good thing? The over-packaged, over-travelled limp asparagus stalks we can buy in November, air-freighted from Chile, are not even comparable in quality (and yet double the price) to the fresh green spears wrapped in brown paper that we can buy at our local Farmers market in May.
Further to this, many of these out of season fruit and vegetables depend on chemicals, preservatives and waxes to make them look aesthetically pleasing. And that's before we've even considered their nutritional value. Seasonal produce picked and eaten at its peak, is higher in vitamins, mineral and antioxidants than fruit and vegetables picked before ripening and then transported halfway around the world.
I always remember going to my Grandma's house and her freezer being filled to the brim with gooseberries, redcurrants and broad beans freshly picked from the garden. And as with so many things with food, our grandparents had it spot on. With all of this in mind, here are some top tips for eating from field to fork.
Shop at your local farmer's market for the freshest, seasonal produce grown on your doorstep. Even if you can't go every week, by visiting once a month you can least gain an awareness of what produce is in season, so you know what to look for in the supermarket. Even armed with this knowledge do still be vigilant and check the labels in the supermarket - I have unintentionally picked up Spanish tomatoes at the peak of British tomato season.
Get an organic vegetable box deliveredto your doorstep every week, http://vegbox-recipes.co.uk/veg-boxes/find-a-box-schemefrom where all produce is sourced from local farms. This is fantastic way of trying new fruit and vegetables you may not usually choose, equipped with the knowledge that they are locally sourced and packed full of goodness.
Grow your own produce. Yes, this really is the "gold standard" of seasonal eating, as you can quite literally get from field to fork within the hour! Not practical for everyone, but if you have even a small outside space then take full advantage. Potatoes and tomatoes are both very easy to plant and maintain, and even if you only have a windowsill you can grow chillies and fresh herbs!
Stock up the freezer with seasonal fruit and vegetables. Whilst not as nutritionally tip-top as fresh produce, this is still a better alternative to fruit and vegetables that have been picked before ripening and then sat in storage for days, even weeks, on end.
Be confident in the knowledge you are getting 'value for money' - when produce is in season locally, the abundance of the crop usually means that it is much less expensive. By eating seasonally you are not only benefitting nutritionally, but financially too.