Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Eating seasonally is a pretty hot topic right now. Even if you only follow one or two foodie accounts on Instagram, the chances are you've seen more than a few posts about the importance of eating seasonally and more sustainably. Chefs and food writers bang on about it a lot. Heck, I bang on about it a lot too!
Many of us are making a conscious effort to be more sustainable consumers - from eating less meat, reducing the amount of single use plastic we use, choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products and buying higher welfare where we can. Eating seasonally is part of this conversation. There are some truly compelling arguments to be had from both environmentalists and nutrition experts as to why we should be eating seasonal, organic produce, however I won’t go into those here because this article is not intended to deal with why you should eat seasonally, it is about how to do it.
The main reasons I choose to eat as seasonally as possible are simple: I eat with the seasons because I think it tastes better and I like it. We've all experienced that heart sinking moment as we bite into an apple and immediately feel it's slightly soft skin give way to a floury, tasteless mush, rather than the crisp and juicy bite we were hoping for. The pale and rock-solid tomato; the watery, tasteless strawberry; the dry, papery satsuma; or tough, stringy broccoli. Food that is in season is grown closer to home and is picked at its peak, meaning it's not travelled as far to get from farm to supermarket shelf, to our table.
Secondly, eating with the seasons helps to keep my diet varied and exciting as I can’t just throw the same fruit and vegetables into my trolley every week to make the same half dozen dishes on repeat. I enjoy the way that eating seasonally forces me to utilise my creativity. I get excited when courgette season starts. I long for the first flash of British strawberries. I miss Brussel sprouts over the summer months... truly, I do.
So that’s all well and good, but how do you actually go about eating seasonally? As an urbanite, the ebb and flow or nature's bounty isn't always that obvious. From Doncaster, to London, to Newcastle, I have always lived within five miles of the city centre. This isn't uncommon. In 2017 there were 54.8 million people living in urban communities vs 11.1 million living in rural areas in the UK. Consequently, understanding seasonality and the process of food production is not intuitive for us.
Here are a few things you can do to help introduce more seasonal foods into your diet:
1) Grow your own - Don't worry, I'm not suggesting you become self sufficient. You don't need to invest in an allotment and start tie-dying your t-shirts. Ordinary urbanites like me will never have the space, or frankly the time and energy, to grow enough fruit and veg to be self sufficient but that's not the goal. Firstly, it's fun to grow things. Secondly, growing your own lettuce, radishes, maybe some tomatoes and courgettes, or a few green beans in pots or a small planter can really help you appreciate the time and effort that it is required to produce such a humble crop. (This really makes you think twice about tossing produce in the bin too when you know the effort involved in rearing a seed into food.) Reading the instructions on the seed packets about sowing, planting out and harvesting can also help you to begin to learn about food seasons.
2) Subscribe to a local veg box scheme – these veg boxes are often put together from local farms and therefore offer you a simple, efficient way to introduce some seasonal fruit and veg into your diet.
3) Do some research – There are lots of great resources which can help you eat seasonally from cookery books to websites. My favourite website is: www.eattheseasons.co.uk It is incredibly accessible and easy to understand. It can also help you begin to think about the seasons of meat and fish. In terms of books, I really like Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries series and his Greenfeast series. The very structure of his books means that the recipes follow the rhythm of the season. And as a fellow city-dweller, he writes about seasonal eating in a way that seems relatable.
4) If in doubt, buy British - All fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets have to display the provenance on it somewhere. Sometimes it is clearly signposted on the packaging; sometimes it's on the cardboard box the veg is displayed it. If it was grown in the UK (assuming you live in the UK), it most likely means that it is in season. This rule of thumb doesn’t always work as there are some foods that we can never grow successfully in this country – peaches and lemons for example. However, for most everyday produce – think lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, apples – check the provenance. If it’s not in season, don't buy it; pick something else instead.
5) Think about how you’d cook it – Does the vegetable require a lot of cooking or a little? For example: parsnips, squash, cabbage, apples, leeks often require quite a lot of cooking to make them really delicious. They would also, as a rule of thumb, be eaten hot. We associate those foods with roast dinners, creamy sauces, cinnamon spiked crumbles or hearty soups. Both the cooking method and the way we eat them suggests that they are foods that belong in the colder seasons. Whereas peas, cherries, peppers, asparagus, courgettes, tomatoes require much lighter cooking or can be eaten raw. Lightly steamed peas or asparagus, dressed in a little butter; thinly shaved ribbons of courgette tossed with fresh parsley and lemon juice; cherries eaten straight from the bowl. These dishes and flavours are much lighter and are often served cold, or just warm, suggesting that they are most at home when the days are warm and long.