Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables: Cooking With the Seasons

Have you noticed that the strawberries you eat in June taste completely different from the ones you might bite into in February? Or that carrots purchased in March taste absolutely nothing like those you buy in October?

This is because produce is most flavourful and nutritious when it’s enjoyed in season, and purchased from local farms instead of being carted halfway around the world. We can’t grow blueberries here in December, so they’re grown in South America, picked when still underripe, and flown over to us so we can add them to our granola in the off-season… even though they can be pretty much tasteless, dried out, and downright unpleasant at times.

To enjoy food to its fullest potential, be sure to buy local produce when it’s at the height of its flavour and freshness. Each season has its treasures, and if you learn to cook with the seasons, you can rest assured that you’ll revel in the best and brightest that every stop on the calendar has to offer.

Spring

 

Asparagus

Photo by John

Take full advantage of all the bright and fresh flavours of springtime, from astringent herbs and young shoots to berries and wild mushrooms.

Fiddleheads – The unfurled heads of the ostrich fern are known as fiddlehead greens, as they’re the same shape as the head of a fiddle. Fry them up in a bit of butter, add salt, and melt.

Morels – These spongy mushrooms don’t last long, and can be found in wooded areas as well as at your local farmers’ markets.

Spinach – Although spinach is available all summer long (and often well into the autumn), those first baby greens are light, fragrant, and delectable.

Asparagus – Snip off the woody stems and either crunch into the tips raw, or grill these stalks with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. They’re also great in omelettes, soups, and risotto.

Sprouts – Never mind just alfalfa sprouts in salad: try broccoli and radish sprouts in wraps; sunflower sprouts in salads; herb sprouts on egg dishes and hors d’oeuvres.

Wild Strawberries – Tiny and scarlet, these succulent little berries are the flavour of springtime embodied.

 

Summer

 

Tomatoes and Peppers

Photo by jdn

Sunshine seems to be infused in every bite of summer produce: pick it at the height of its freshness and use it immediately.

Tomatoes – There’s nothing like a fresh tomato pulled from a vine: use them in salads, cold soups, on sandwiches, or just as snacks.

Peas – Cooked just to tenderness, and serve with a bit of butter, salt, and mint. Unbelievable.

Arugula – Spicy, fiery greens that are an ideal addition to salads, omelettes and soups.

Zucchini – Grate it into raw “pasta” noodles, fry into medallions, or grill in long strips. A truly spectacular summer gourd.

Corn – Sweet and highly textured, it’s fabulous when pureed into cold soups or added to salads for crunch.

Raspberries – Luscious, bright red kisses, these are both tart and sweet; perfect for desserts, especially when paired with dark chocolate.

 

Autumn

 

Squash

Photo by Mexicanwave

The harvest is at its most abundant from September to late November, so take full advantage of what’s available, and try to incorporate some ingredients you’d normally pass over.

Chestnuts – These aren’t just great roasted: you can use them as a base for cakes, cookies, and breads.

Figs – Plump and perfect, try filling the halves with goat cheese and wrapping them in prosciutto. They’re also great when grilled, or used on a pear and gorgonzola crostini.

Brussels Sprouts – Abhorred by children everywhere, these mini cabbages sweeten when roasted and caramelized.

Pumpkins/Squashes – Long associated with sweets such as pies and cakes, try pumpkin in savoury dishes like curried soup or Moroccan stew. Squash is exquisite in ravioli and vegetarian lasagna, and crusted, spicy squash slices are unbelievably delicious.

Pomegranates – Use the pips in salads, or juice the fruit to use in Persian or other Middle Eastern dishes.

Pears – These come into their glory in early-to-mid autumn, and are as exquisite in savoury dishes as they are in desserts.

 

Winter

 

Kale

Photo by Sweet On Veg

Aim for warming, nourishing dishes that are filling without being too heavy.

Kale – Most people don’t realise that leafy greens such as kale and chard get sweet and soft after the first frost, and some farmers grow these greens straight through the winter in cold frames and greenhouses.

Roots (Parsnips, Beets, Turnips) – Beets can be used to make borscht, which is an incredibly flavourful, warming soup that’s ideal for cold winter evenings.

Endives – Little spears of pleasant bitterness are ideal as “boats” for olive tapenade, hummus, or spiced rice dishes.

Cabbage – Used for cabbage rolls, slaws, sauerkraut, or kimchee, this amazing vegetable is worth exploring.

Kale – This hardy green needs a bit of love and handling to make it tender, but it’s fantastic in everything from stews and bean soups to pasta dishes and salads.

Carrots – Use these hardy root to brighten up dishes with colour and crunch, and use them in desserts where their natural sweetness is allowed to shine.

By cooking and eating with the seasons, you’re not only enjoying food as it was meant to be eaten (i.e. in the season that it grows naturally), you’re also supporting local farmers and their families.

Here’s a tip: if you know that you’ll be craving strawberries and green peas in the middle of winter, then do some prep work ahead of time and can or freeze some when they’re in season: you’ll be able to open a jar of preserves or defrost a bag of succulent morsels 6 months down the road and enjoy a little bit of summer sunshine on your plate. Same goes for preserving carrots

- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros. Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever's in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

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