Eating with the Seasons
Learning to “eat with the seasons” has become a huge part of my life in the last 10 years. My relationship with w hat I cook and how I eat has become so much more satisfying and rewarding as I have moved away from the grocery store produce section and moved closer to the farmer’s market, the orchard, and my backyard garden. By keeping in sync with what is available in each season of the year, I find that I am more in sync with the cycles of nature herself and I derive great pleasure from consuming the fruits and vegetables which are most related to each time of the year.
The cool weather of spring lends itself to vegetables which can handle it. Think, “Salads.” Lettuce, kale, spinach, and arugula, all of these are plentiful in May and June. I find myself savoring every bite of my tender salad greens or relishing the flavor of a home-made spinach and feta quiche. Spring greens are so bright and refreshing after a winter of hearty soups and stews. Add to these, asparagus and strawberries, both of which are only available in these late months of spring and you have a first class food celebration to kick off the coming of warmer weather.
Summer, of course, is a Pennsylvania eater’s paradise. The farmer’s market tables overflow with cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, berries, peaches, and watermelon to name just a few. I freeze some of what will keep through the winter and savor those treats which I will only get to eat at this time of year. Meal planning becomes effortless. Merely scanning the kitchen counter tops or opening the refrigerator reveals a cornucopia of produce. The jumping off point for every meal is dictated by whatever is in greatest abundance.
As we come into fall, the party of summer really isn’t over until mid-October or even early November. Many years, I still find tomatoes, peppers, or even sweet corn at the farmer’s market when people are beginning to think of pumpkins and Halloween. The cool season greens of spring reappear on farmers’ tables and they are joined by many of the staples which will carry me through the winter: sweet potatoes, hard-shelled winter squash, onion, and brussel sprouts, just to name a few.
Brussel sprouts, in particular, have become a favorite of mine and my families’. To cook them, I slice them thinly, so that they’re all but in shreds, and then I saute them in a pan with copius amounts of minced garlic and a tablespoon of butter. A little bit of liquid in the pan right at the end wilts them down and you have a perfect side-dish vegetable. If you think you don’t like brussel sprouts, try cooking them this way. You’ll be doing a healthy thing for your body and “eating with the seasons” at the same time.
Winter is all about keeping warm, isn’t it? Inside and out, we are trying to conserve heat. Soups and stews become staples in my meal plans. Having stocked up at the end of the farmer’s market season, my pantry is filled with locally grown potatoes, winter squash, and onions. Some farmers continue to sell produce through the winter and thus, I am able to buy carrots and some of the heartier greens. The local orchard makes their own apple cider and they will have apples from their trees available through spring. Did I forget to mention mushrooms? We live in the mushroom capital of the world. They are “in season” year round and are a favorite of mine throughout the winter in so much of what I am making.
Eating in winter does get a bit lack-luster by the end. Especially in March , when the freezer is empty of the sweet corn and peppers that had been stockpiled back in the fall. Thankfully, I know that in early to mid- April those first stalks of asparagus will be pushing their way through the soil in my garden. Then I will rejoice for another growing season of fabulous food will be on its way to my kitchen and my plate. When I am eating foods that are in season I feel as if I am eating the very essence of those weeks and months. If Thoreau talked about “ sucking out the very marrow of life,” then to me the gifts of fruits and vegetables picked from local farms and fields are the marrow and the months in which they arrive are the bones.