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Apr 27, 2001 11:18 PM

Do you buy seasonal produce?

  • b

Heres a little food for though,

I had some interesting exchanges on the recent "I hate fruit thread" and it got me thinking about my sources for produce.

I'm spoiled, and I know it. I live in Napa, Ca. so I have the benefit of a nice friendly climate. The Bay Area is ethinicly diverse, so there is a demand for specialty items that I might not see elsewhere. The local wine and restaraunt industies help fuel demand for quality produce. I'm close enough to the central valley to benefit from it's agricultural bliss. Life is good.

That brings me to my question. Do most chowhounds buy their produce in season? Do they know the best times of the year to get citrus fruit? Corn? Figs? Melons? Hard squash? I'm betting most do.

Second query, where do you buy at? Chain Supermarkets? Co-ops? Gourmet shops? Farmstands? Do you search for local produce. Do you have those options.

I think this might make for interesting readin' and writin'. Weigh in!

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  1. I'm not sure of the exact dates for some of the produce's season, except the fruit. I'm lucky, too, because I live in Southern Calif. & the availability and ethnic diversity is here, too. I'm afraid sometimes I succumb to a yearning and buy out-of- season--vegetables, mostly. I usually buy from a speciality market because I find the quality to be so far superior, but even they buy out-of-country produce in order to supply demand. I try to buy "organic" but can't always find it in what I want. Farmer's markets are available here (open all year). Once or twice this year I tried the "out of season" strawberries and they were dreadful..pithy and tasteless. Tomatoes are the most difficult. I long for them in the winter but they are ghastly. Even though we live in the "garden belt" much of the produce in the winter is imported and the quality varies. The produce people where I shop are helpful about choosing quality and giving information about seasonal produce. I would like to find a book about seasons for all produce. Anyone know of such a book?

    14 Replies
    1. re: Kit H.

      "Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables an Uncommon Guide" by Elizabeth Schnieder is an excellent book that has lots of information about selecting fruits and vegetables, when they are in season and where they come from.
      As a bonus there are some really great recipes to boot. All fruits are not included but many unusual varieties are mentioned and illustrated.

      1. re: Scottso

        For the cheapskates among us, it would be nice to know of a brief list online as to what produce or other foods are good at what time of year (although of course it varies with locale), in case anyone happens to know of one. That would be so useful if one existed.

        1. re: Stevens

          Look outside, is it cold and wet?, if it is, or whatever approximates to cold and wet in your 'hood, then the chances are its not Strawberry season. If its been hot for a long time its probably August and it means that the Tomatos will be good.

          Surely, even in this day and age we know what grows when ( I'm thinking naturally here ), if it really is an unsolvable puzzle, then I suggest you buy a book on gardening which will show when things are planted and harvested, they'll be cheapest at about the mid to latest harvest time, usually.

          I'm sorry to be sarcastic, but honestly .....

          1. re: Phil Laurie
            Janet A. Zimmerman

            I think you're being a little harsh in response to what seemed to be a genuine inquiry. Certainly it seems obvious that much produce is at its best in the summer months, but it's not true for everything. Citrus fruit, for example, or artichokes. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about produce, but I couldn't tell you when figs, for example, are in season (I don't like them, so I don't much care). And with today's transportation and global markets, you can't gauge what's in season by what's in the markets. So I don't think it was the stupid question you seem to believe it was.

            1. re: Phil Laurie
              Brandon Nelson

              Hi Phil

              I used to share this sentiment. My mother never bought stuff out of season when I was growing up. The whole process was sort of osmosis for me. I assumed most other folks had the same kind of education. After 12 years working in produce retail I have to tell you, the general public is pretty ignorant to peak seasons for produce.

              I would choose not to carry fresh corn in January because it's awful. In my opinion corn needs to go from the field to you plate in less than 48 hours. When I buy fresh corn it's hours old, and I use that day if I can. Otherwise I might as well be buying canned or frozen corn.

              I have talked customers out of buying out of season produce and into buying stuff that is many times. often times they are suspicious at first. They are always grateful later.

              The sad fact is we are too far removed from where our food comes from these days. I was lucky enough to have parents that came from families with farming backgrounds. If you are knowledgable, pass it on to someone else. You will be doing them a huge favor.


            2. re: Stevens

              I recall a friend who'd lived in Japan for a few years mention that the wall calendar he used there noted the special things to eat each season. Anything like that here?

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                A calendar like that would be great. I wouldn't be surprised if your county extension office would have something similar.

                1. re: Betty

                  Thank you to everyone who suggested the seasonal produce books.

            3. re: Kit H.

              I'm another lucky one. We live in Northern Virginia. Farmer's markets in every town in Fairfax County. Melons from the Northern Neck, corn from the Eastern Shore, lima beans from Delaware. Squash up the wazoo. Best of all, bushels of local peaches, in particular those from the Moutoux Orchard in Vienna (over ten different kinds); one bite and you may never buy a peach from anyone else ever again. Fortunately, they have already started a new orchard out in Loudoun County in preparation for the inevitable day when the kids get an offer they can't refuse for the land.

              We also are close to pick your own raspberries, thornless blackberries, blueberries, and even cherries (!). Last year we learned of a cherry orchard in Rappahannock County called Cherries on Top. About 11 different kinds of cherries, including the otherworldy Rainier. And yes, the orchard is on top of a mountain.

              Add to that strawberries from our strawberry patch, tomatoes, peppers, and basil from the garden, and life is good. :>) We also have a blueberry bush from a nearby blueberry farm that got turned into homes a couple of years ago. This year's crop looks good; we might even get a whole pint!

              1. re: Kit H.

                There are 2 books that I know of - one is
                Cooking Fresh from the Bay Area by Fran McManus. This has recipes and lists of seasonal produce. I read somewhere recently that the company that published this was doing other regional areas as well.

                and The Greenmarket Cookbook : Recipes, Tips, and Lore from the World Famous Urban Farmers' Market
                by Joel Patraker, Joan Schwartz - this is a big beautiful book that has more of an east coast slant - made me want to plan a trip to NYC just to hit the farmer's market!


                1. re: Celery

                  Thanks, Celery, for the book titles. I will check them out.

                  1. re: Kit H.
                    yvonne johnson

                    you might want to take a look at:

                    Perla Meyers (1991) "Art of seasonal cookery" Simon & Schuster. recipes for the 4 seasons using ingredients that are fresh and in season. we've tried quite a few of them and found them to be very good.

                    I see from the cover she has 2 others using similar approach: "the seasonal kitchen" and "from market to kitchen"

                  2. re: Celery

                    Another good book is Fresh from the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher. Here's a link to info about it.


                2. I always buy produce that is in season. It seems like heresy to do otherwise. The flavors are flat, the prices shocking. I grew a vegetable and fruit garden for many years so I know what month to expect different fruits and vegetables to appear in force. When I shop with friends who are less aware of the produce calendar, it seems strange when they buy out of season. I'm also familiar with what produce costs in season, so to buy apricots at $2.49 per pound seems absurd. I realize that the premium is because supply is low in the off season, but I enjoy looking forward to strawberries and peas appearing locally in June and corn making its debut in July. I'm lucky and can buy produce a few blocks away that is fairly high quality from a local produce/convenience store. I used to go to farmers markets, but I'm happy enough with the local store.

                  1. I shop for fruits and vegetables in health food stores where I buy organic, and in Manhattan's Chinatown, where I buy things like lychees, my favorite fruit.

                    The places where I shop for fruits and vegetables don't have anything except when it's in season wherever it comes from. I won't pay $6.95/box for Chilean strawberries in season, so I wait until they're in season here in the U.S. It just occurred to me that there is one exception to this in-season business: Bananas. I used to live in Malaysia, where there is an incredible profusion and variety of fresh bananas. The stuff we get in most of the U.S. was picked off the tree when it was several weeks from being ripe, and it never ripens. I think that's why raw bananas here upset my stomach.

                    It just so happens that I was in Chinatown on Thursday, looking for some fresh vegetables for my father (e.g. lotus roots, waterchestnuts). I spoke with a shopkeeper who explained that the season for bamboo shoots starts in late June or July and lasts until September. We both agreed how much better fresh bamboo shoots are than canned ones, and I told him I'd see him when they get here.

                    1. Yes. strawberrys, peaches, cherries.fresh corn (real NJ sweet corn not the horse corn we got in So. Cal )blackberries,raspberries. The only fruits I buy in supermarkets are apples and those only when the local winesaps are not in season.

                      1. c
                        Caitlin Wheeler

                        I do buy seasonal produce -- from thrift most of all. I buy mostly from the farmer's market, but there is also a wholesale fruit market in Manhattan that tends to be fresher and cheaper than most supermarkets. The only things I'll buy in supermarkets are limes and lemons and pears (which ripen after picked), artichokes if they're cheap enough, and lettuce if it's fresh. I do buy frozen veggies (mostly spinach) and carrots in the winter, since I can't abide to live on squash for 4 months.

                        For northeasterners, there is a book on the Union Square greenmarket which has a chart showing seasonal fruits and veggies and recipes.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                          to which wholesale fruit market are you referring? i'm hoping maybe you've got a special secret. is manhattan fruit exchange wholesale?

                          1. re: emily
                            Caitlin Wheeler

                            No secret -- I was talking about MFE - I heard that they actually supply some supermarkets, though I've never seen Muscat grapes in Gristedes ...

                            1. re: emily

                              Yes, Manhattan fruit exchange is wholesale.