Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eating Seasonally

As I was looking up something in my 1950's Betty Crocker cookbook (a reprint), I skimmed the introduction to the vegetable section and read,

"Thanks to modern agriculture, we not only have bigger, juicier vegetables than our grandmothers or the old Greeks and Romans ever knew, but because of modern transportation and refrigeration, we enjoy vegetables from all over the country the year around."

I enjoy and appreciate bananas, grapes, and other fruits and vegetables that are difficult or impossible to grow here, and I think that it is important to remember that refrigerating and transporting vegetables was a technological advance that still benefits us today. After all, how many of us have time to can (or even freeze) all of the fruits and vegetables that we want to eat over the winter? Or have a root cellar to store enough potatoes, winter squash, onions, apples, and other produce, some of which will likely rot and be wasted? And, even if we have the time and equipment needed for food preservation, we would also need to find enough time to harvest (if not also plant) quantities large enough to sustain our families.

So, I'm not ready to give up my transported, refrigerated produce.

But, I am enjoying the great flavors that come from eating produce in season. As I became an adult responsible for my own cooking, I gradually decreased my consumption of fresh apples. Too often, grocery store apples were mealy and tasteless. By the turn of the century, I think I hardly ate apples.

Four years ago, I started buying apples in the fall from our local Okaw Valley Apple Orchard and discovered that they are delicious--crisp and full of flavor, like an apple should be. Fresh apples were available from the orchard from August through November, and I enjoyed every month of that time.

Last year, I extended my apple eating season through March by buying a huge bag of apples when the orchard closed on November 15. I double-bagged them to keep in the moisture (as Okaw Valley's Jim Bailey advised) and put them in my refrigerator. I didn't try any of them fresh, but my family and I enjoyed cooked apples through March. At the simplest, just cut them in half and microwave them until soft (time depends on the power of your microwave and the number of apple halves). Similar, yet surprisingly different when eating, cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and microwave until soft. I like to put cinnamon on mine; some people add sugar, and others eat them as-is.

Last winter, we bought lots of pears from the grocery store and enjoyed them every two or three days at supper. I didn't really understand that pears are seasonal until March or April, when fewer pears were available at the store, and those that were there didn't taste as good. Those that did have a good flavor were imported from Chile and New Zealand (if I remember correctly), and cost more. Other fruits were starting to come in at that time (I think it was mostly California fruit--strawberries and peaches, for example), so I stopped buying pears. One of the benefits to eating seasonally is looking forward to the return of each fruit or vegetable as its season arrives. And, these days, I am excited that the time for sweet, fresh pears has arrived.

The final member of my fall season menu is winter squash--we mostly eat acorn squash, butternut squash, and delicata squash. Last year I was disappointed that I didn't figure out how to use squash (the topic of a post to come) until it was too late to get any more local squash. The grocery store squash was satisfactory and available for longer, but I would rather buy locally grown squash if I can. So, as the fall season approached, I began to look forward to winter squash. Today, I laid in a store of winter squash. Supposedly you can keep it for weeks or months, depending on the variety. That will be one of my studies for this year.

If you want to lay in a stock of local produce, it's not too late:
Look for end-of-season discounts the week before businesses close, as they try to clear as much produce as possible. Shop earlier for greater selection.

Enjoy the flavors of the season!

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