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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.

                    Link: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg...

                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.


                              Link: http://www.mitechtrading.com

                          2. This is the time of year I begin to be really frustrated with living in NY. A local strawberry is still 4-6 weeks away. But then I console myself with the thought that it'll be so good when it gets here.

                            The local farmers market this AM had apples and potatoes and hard squash and yams...sigh.

                            I buy bananas, kiwis, Fiji apples, and pineapples in the health food store or supermarket, as well as broccoli, carrots, and greens. Most other fruits and veggies I just wait for, and wait for, and wait for...

                            1. h

                              what a great question for discussion! I agree with most folks about buying produce in season. The quality and the prices just can't be matched off-season. I don't eat off-season produce, but my chowhound husband doesn't mind as much and will eat whatever is in the supermarket. Aren't we chowhounds rather than "foodies", since foodie is more akin to groupie?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: highendpalate

                                A nice way to buy seasonally is to use a CSA (community supported agriculture). You end up supporting local farmers and get fresh seasonal produce to boot. Ask around at your local farmer's markets or you can check out the Local Harvest website. In the SF Bay Area there are numerous farms that offer shares/subscriptions/deliveries.

                                I've been getting deliveries from 2 different farms for years now and absolutely love it - and I can always supplement my deliveries with trips to the farmer's markets or local produce/grocery market.

                                We got our first organic strawberries of the season last week, along with fava beans, sugar snap peas and carrots among others.

                                Link: http://www.localharvest.org/

                              2. I'm joining in on this thread a little late, but thought you might be interested in hearing from someone who shops for a family of 8 (me, him, 5 kids and an elderly aunt).

                                Boy oh BOY do we buy seasonal produce. But then again, not always. My goal is to make sure the kids get a varied diet despite their (minimal but undeniable) finickiness. Fresh, frozen, canned...I use em all. Locally grown and imported: yup and yup. Price is my #1 concern. Anything that doesn't really measure up in freshness or quality can always go into soup or under a cheese sauce. Basically, I do whatever it takes to get something green down their gullets.

                                Here's what we buy in season, and where.

                                WINTER: clementines (3 boxes a week in Dec and Jan -- this year the season seemed longer but the kids never got tired of them); Macintosh apples (small size for small hands, good shelf life, 3 lbs/week); oranges and grapefruits; winter squash; turnips, parsnips, rutabagas (they love root vegs mashed with butter, or cubed in chicken soup). Most of these are supermarket staples.
                                SPRING: dandelion greens, mesclun, cartloads of asparagus (my sons like asparagus for the same reason Babe Ruth refused it); peas; broccoli di rabe. We shop at a retail produce market. The quality difference in spring vegs is huge. Supermarket produce just doesn't measure up at this time of year.
                                SUMMER: Lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, corn, summer squash, green beans, peaches, eggplant, strawberries (quarts and quarts), blueberries (by the flat), watermelon. All these from roadside stands in Jersey on our way home from "downna shore."
                                AUTUMN: Wonderful local apples at a pick-your-own orchard.

                                I buy green beans, zucchini, and broccoli year round at the supermarket no matter what they cost or where they're shipped in from, as long as they look half decent. I buy bags and bags of so-called baby carrots, which sometimes taste great and sometimes taste like soap, but the kids don't seem to care one way or the other. I buy bananas any time they're less than 69 cents a pound. Comice or bartlett pears whenever I see them. 5 lbs of potatoes a week. Cabbage for cole slaw. Romaine lettuce for salad. Celery for stuffing with peanut butter or dunking into ranch dressing. (Or both: little boys eat some strange combinations.)

                                I can't always count on having time to prep 3 different fresh vegs on a weekday, so we usually end up with at least one frozen vegetable on the dinner table along with one or two fresh. We use a lot of canned peaches and store brand unsweetened applesauce.

                                In my daydreams, I'm walking to the Reading Terminal market with a net bag on my lunch hour and coming home with the freshest possible premium produce: one perfectly ripe mango, six baby zucchini with blossoms, tiny new potatoes, half a pint of raspberries. That's how I shopped 20 years ago, and that day will come again...someday...after I've helped these picky eaters grow up to be good faithful chowhounds.


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Suky

                                  Wow. I can barely plan ahead to make sure I've got a potato in the kitchen, much less stocked for 8. I'm very impressed.

                                  1. re: Suky
                                    Brandon Nelson


                                    You will miss buying berries by the flat when that brood is gone. I simply want to wish you an early Happy Mothers Day for the smile that post brought to my face.


                                  2. j
                                    Jason Valdes Greenwood

                                    I appreciate that you refer to the fact that you are from the Napa Region. You are very lucky to have a long growing season with many farms around that are able to provide you with vegetables year round. You are also living in an area where people have more of a dedication to organic vegetables in season.

                                    Living in New England is another story, of course. I try to buy vegetables only when they are in season, as most people who read these probably do. Of course, that would leave us eating canned vegetables for much of the winter. In the winter I make due with what I can get, trying to stay within seasons (eating asparagus in the March, even though it hasn't pushed through the snow yet here). I do have a month by month list for the peaks for fruits from a Chez Panisse cookbook which I refer to.

                                    In the past we've bought shares in a CSA, which was a great way to get back in touch with the land and where our food comes from. It provided us with almost organic vegetables (they weren't certified organic, but were being grown organically) all summer which were fresh picked that day by the farmer. Share holders were encouraged to visit the farm and help out whenever possible (it is now required). We're not joining one this year because we've moved and there is not a pick-up close to us, but hopefully next year. For this year we'll stick to Farmer's Markets, where you can still talk to the people who grew and harvested the vegetables and fruits.

                                    1. I almost always buy produce in season, and am aware of what's in season here. Kind of like southern California, we have a nice climate too, and have available fresh produce all year long. We have farmer's markets that I go to, plus the farmers selling their goods on the side of the road. We have a Fresh Market Grocery about 35 minutes away that sells the most gorgeous produce if I need something extra (or I happen to be there). My paternal grandmother had a working, vegetable-producing farm and it was the best then and now.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: bayoucook

                                        Just curious: why would anyone reopen a thread that has been dead for 8-years?