Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eating in Season is Simply the Best

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Eating 'in season' foods helps to benefit all"

Throughout human history, our food grew and ripened around us. We ate seasonally: fiddleheads and asparagus in the spring, then rhubarb and strawberries bringing us into summer, with fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob leading into the bounty of tree fruit and tomatoes in the fall. We’d pickle or can foods picked at their peak to preserve their flavours and nutrients for later in the year.

But in recent decades, we’ve been spoiled by fresh food flown or trucked in from distant climes. First strawberries throughout the year, now we also see raspberries and blueberries on the grocer’s shelf in the winter or spring, courtesy of China, California, or Chile.

It’s gotten so bad that people often don’t even know what’s local, or what’s in season. A recent letter-writer expressed surprise that organic apples from the Barrie Farmers Market grew in Chile rather than Simcoe County. What surprised me was that someone expected local apples in May or June! Apples season here starts in late summer, with cold-stored local apples available through the winter in gradually diminishing quality and quantity, growing scarce by April. May or June? I wish!

Moving toward sustainability, our family has been filling our plate and pantry as much as possible with local food, which means eating produce as it’s harvested. Sometimes a challenge, it’s also fun. Pick-your-own at Barrie Hill Farms is a cherished family outing; self-picked berries top our morning cereal for months. We also love freezing them for later, and making all kinds of jams and jellies, combining hand-picked local berries with in-season Niagara-region stone fruits. Spread on home-made bread, it’s heaven for your mouth!

Whether from a CSA, farmers market, or your own garden, eating locally in season means winter menu staples are late-harvest vegetables that keep well in cold storage. Luckily, my wife has found numerous tasty ways to prepare carrots, parsnip, turnip, beets, and cabbage, especially some truly gourmet soups. Of course, one great resource is the Internet. But while a web search can give you a recipe for just about anything, often it involves sourcing exotic or out-of-season ingredients to supplement your main item, which sort of defeats the purpose.

That’s where our second secret weapon comes in: the wonderful book Simply in Season. This handy reference is organized along the agricultural calendar to provide great instruction on how to use each food as it comes into season, and more importantly, how to combine the foods that are in season together. Colour-coded with handy tabs showing which in-season foods are in each recipe, it is our most well-worn cookbook, a veritable bible for Barrie’s bountiful local foods.

Eating simply and in season helps re-attune our lives to the natural rhythms, rooting us in Nature’s wonders, courtesy of our local farmers. And with a great resource like this book, eating local in season needn’t be a chore. Instead, you can enjoy the superior taste and nutrition of the full variety of fresh foods, while supporting our local economy and ecology and your health, too.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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