Seasonal cooking is getting more popular every year, which is a GREAT thing. What does this really mean, though? Well, for me, it means that you should make the main item on the dish a seasonal item. For example, March is the start of asparagus season, so I will plan a great appetizer around this delicious spring vegetable, rather than using butternut squash, (it will still be available) which is in season during the month of October. Using in season ingredients means the flavors will be far superior — and a lot cheaper. What a bonus!
If you walk into your local supermarket, you will have no idea which the everyday items that are out of season because they are always available. That doesn’t mean you should buy them, though. They may look nice on the outside, but they are usually tasteless and dry on the inside. Strawberries are the perfect example. If I put an in season strawberry and an out of season strawberry in your hand, you wouldn’t even think they are the same fruit. The size and taste is drastically different. However, we accept these poor fruits and vegetables because, as consumers, we want them to be available year-round. I guess our we crave strawberries all year because we expect that they will explode with so much flavor and moisture in your mouth that you won’t be able to wait to shove a second, third and fourth one in. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, especially when they are out of season.
Of course, as a cook, there are certain basic ingredients that you will always need. For example, we need lemons because the acid seasons and balances our cooking. That said, sure, maybe we’ll still use the lemon juice and rind through the year to bring out other flavors or brighten the dish. However, we’ll also hold off on making the lemon meringue pie until lemons are back in season. Does that make sense?
What happens is that the grocery stores will just change the location, geographically speaking, of where they buy their products. To keep up with their competition, they need to have out-of-season products available year-round. For example, grocery stores will purchase grapefruits from Florida at the beginning of the calendar year — when they are in season — and then transition to California by springtime. By summer, they are buying grapefruits from South America and even Africa, in some cases. Rule of thumb/tip: the farther away it is grown, the worse the product is going to be. For this reason, they are now picking the products earlier and earlier, depending on how far they need to travel. This results in bland, dry, and boring fruit. There is a reason why every time you go to Florida you want to purchase some local grapefruit — because it was just picked from the tree, and it’s ripe and perfect. Our taste buds and bodies benefit from higher quality fruit.
With a little knowledge and preparation, picking in season produce is not difficult to do. After some practice, it will become second nature for you, and you will start to crave those products that are soon coming back in season. It becomes such a treat when you can’t have that product all year. If your market is a good one, it’ll even do the work for you most of the time. It will set up big displays to showcase products that are in season at that particular time. Other “everyday” products take a little more research. Check out the great link below, which not only shows the seasonal items per month of the calendar year, but also breaks them down by location in the United States. Use and explore this tool to become a seasonal consumer and enjoy cooking and eating that much more.