How often do you stop and think about the seasons when planning a meal?
Until I started growing my own food, the thought of feeding my family based on what was growing at a particular time of year never even crossed my mind. If I wanted to toss together a salad made with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers in the dead of winter, or if my kids wanted a snack of fresh snap peas in the middle of summer, I simply went to the local grocery store, where almost every food on the planet is available year-round, and quickly and easily purchased any fruit or vegetable we desired.
The other night, as I was assembling a meal of baked winter squashes, I got to thinking about seasonal eating and how our family’s eating habits have changed over the years, since I began growing a garden of our own. It brought a smile to my face to know that I was able to assemble a wonderfully simple, yet elegant meal from ingredients that came, almost entirely, from our garden — baked spaghetti squash topped with a wonderful, fresh, heirloom tomato sauce (recipe from the Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook) and, for dessert, baked acorn squash topped with maple syrup, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
I think it’s a lost art, really… farm-to-table, or seasonal cooking, but it’s something that more people, like me, are starting to take an interest in. Why? Three simple reasons:
- It costs less to eat local food that is in season. When food is in season, it is in greater supply, and, therefore, costs less — the basic economic law of supply and demand takes effect. If you grow it yourself, you’ll save even more money. Even if you have a small garden, or can only grow in containers, you can save yourself hundreds and even thousands of dollars per year. One of my favorite books for learning how to grow lots of food in a small area is John Jeavons’ How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine.
- Food that is in season tastes better. Now that I know what a real, vine-ripened tomato tastes like (as opposed to one that was picked green, then gassed to turn it red) I will never buy another store-bought tomato again. This means that we don’t get to eat fresh tomatoes in our winter salads, anymore, but that’s okay. The taste difference is so amazing that we’re willing to go without for a few months out of the year, rather than compromise our taste buds on store-bought tomatoes that taste like water.
- Consuming produce when it’s in season means that you’ll be eating a more nutritious product. According to Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here: Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, “If you harvest something early so that it can endure a long distance shipping experience, it’s not going to have the full complement of nutrients it might have had.” According to Camilia Salem at yumsugar, “Studies have shown that some crops can have up to three times more nutrients when grown in season.” This is probably the number one reason why I grow my own and eat what’s naturally in season, now.
So, if it’s not in season, and doesn’t come from my garden I will rarely venture out to the grocery store to purchase fruits or vegetables anymore, and I almost always think seasonally, now, when it comes to planning our family meals because it saves our family tons of money, tastes amazing, and gives our family an added boost of nutrition each and every season of the year.
What are your thoughts about seasonal cooking and eating? What are your favorite seasonal dishes? What are your favorite seasonal crops to grow on your own?