Eating with Seasons
In the past, we have broken the seasons into a broad European delineations of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The produce that was available during the year varied according to the season, and most people had some awareness of seasonal change: you bought apples in winter; tomatoes in summer and asparagus in spring. Then tomatoes started to appear in supermarkets in winter and nobody asked why, so we began to lose our sense of seasonal eating because oranges, tomatoes and asparagus were all sitting on the shelf together.
Some would argue that if there is a demand for a product then what is the issue? Flavour alone is a huge reason for eating seasonally. An apple should be juicy, crisp and full of flavour. The floury, tasteless, not to mention expensive apples that are available all through summer are more draining on our resources than a winter apple.
The energy demanded for this year-round availability is huge. Fruit and vegetables are picked in their season then transported to storage houses and stored in climate-controlled refrigerators for months and, in some cases years, to ensure that there is enough supply year-round. They are then transported back to stores. By the time it makes it to your fruit bowl, the average distance one food item has taken from farm to kitchen is 4000km. That is for Australian products alone. For international imports, such as the Spanish garlic, the distance travelled can be up to 12,000km! That means more vehicles on the road, more carbon dioxide being released and continuing impact on our unpredictable climate.
To help navigate this issue, we spoke to our beloved fruit and vegetable providore, Shane Roberts, asking his advice on how to choose seasonal produce:
1. Shop at your local farmers market or get to know your local grocer and start asking questions. Make a household rule to only ever buy Australian fruits and vegetables; there's no need to eat asparagus from Peru!
2.Shane encourages consumers to use their senses when buying produce. Get to know what ripe fruit looks like. When the growing conditions are right, fruit will arrive at the shop ready to eat.
3. Join a fruit and veggie co-op or get a veggie box subscription. You will pay far less for better quality seasonal produce and be exposed to a variety of vegetables you might not even know existed.
4. Educate yourself! The Sydney Markets has a list of what is available in what seasons. Check it out here.
Preserving is also an essential part of seasonal eating; not only does it reconnect you to produce that is abundant, cheap and tasty at the time, it also is the best way to enjoy cherries or delicious tomato sauce in the middle of winter. In the coming months, why don't you make a batch of preserved lemons, bottle pears and quinces and make some malt-pickled onions to store for summer picnics.