When do you eat what at where and how?
I know this is a loaded question. Somehow I always find myself using food/ingredient when it is NOT in season (but I suspect I am not the only one...). As a result, it is one of my new year resolutions to eat and cook food/ingredients when they ARE in season in order to appreciate their taste at its prime.
My plan is to put together a chart with months in chronological order and associate all the things I like to eat and try to the corresponding month(s) when they are bountiful and taste the best, which will then be used as a reminder for me to plan menu. Below is my first attempt and I have no doubt it will continue to grow.... and I would love to know what are the things you will only eat during certain months of the year to help me explore food that I have not tried but should have. And if there are specific locations or ways that certain food should be enjoyed to taste the best (including mail-order sources), I would appreciate the suggestions and corrections too! (The ones with * are to be tried in 2008.)
Jan.: Honeybell* (mail-order)
July: Cherry (mail-order)
August: tree-ripened peach from Michigan (U-Pick orchard or farmer's market)
Sept/Oct: Apple from U-Pick orchard
Oct: Dungeness Crab* (Port Angeles, WA), Oyster
Dec. Harry & David Royal Riviera Pear (mail-order)
Like you, there aren't many things I purposely eat in season, though it often works out that way because I shop by price.
The things I absolutely will not eat out of season are:
Cucumbers (just mushy and gross)
Berries (except frozen)
Figs (these are an end-of-summer treat)
Chestnuts (like figs, only for winter)
Fiddleheads (only found in spring anyway)
Watermelon (anemic and spongy beyond summer)
Tomatoes, with the exception of cherry/grape tomatoes (see above)
I'm in San Francisco, so the local season is extended. But still, I look forward to:
December/January: Clementines, Meyer lemons, local Dungeness crab
March: asparagus, spring lamb
May/June: Nectarines, cherries, apricots
July/August: tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes
Fall: new crop onions, potatoes, nuts; winter squashes and pumpkins
I'm not the best person to ask: I either eat plain crab at home (or in a friend's home) or Chinese-style crab, and pretty much any decent Chinese restaurant will do a good job with it. I guess Great Eastern in SF Chinatown will always be a sentimental favorite, since that's the place where I discovered I like crab. A lot of people on the SF board are into Vietnamese roasted crab, but I've never had it. Maybe that's something to remedy this January (resolution #1).
Today, I'm more focused on Meyer lemons -- I just polished off a bowl of warm Meyer lemon pot de creme, which is one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. I'm so happy to live in a place where they literally grow on trees, and when they're in season, people are begging you to take them off their hands.
Meyer lemon pot de creme (from a recipe in Fields of Greens)
2 whole eggs
8 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup Meyer Lemon juice (about 6-8 lemons)
1 tsp. lemon zest (about one lemon)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar thoroughly, and then whisk in the cream and finally the lemon juice. Strain though a fine wire mesh or cheesecloth (if there's no pulp or seeds in your lemon juice you don't have to do this, but you'll get a more "refined" product), then stir in the lemon zest. Place ramekins (or custard cups) in a larger baking pan, fill with mixture, add water to pan until it's halfway up the sides of the cups, cover loosely with foil and place in oven and bake 45 minutes or until custard is almost set in the center (it will continue to cook after it comes out of the oven). Although the recipe calls for this to be served at room temperature or even chilled, I think it's best still warm from the oven -- like fragrant lemon clouds. I put it in the oven when I serve the first course and its usually ready to come out of the oven when I'm clearing the table from the mains. The dishes come to serving temperature while you're making coffee (or tea, or whatever) -- perfect timing! You can garnish with a little extra zest, or some candied citrus peel, and I usually put some kind of cookie (shortbread, amaretti -- something buttery and/or nutty) on the side. Listen to your guests swoon and watch them scrape their dishes!
Makes 8 six-ounce servings.
You can use regular lemons (although it won't be as fabulous) -- just increase the sugar by 1/4 cup.
To get the most out of your mail order expensive Meyer lemons, I recommend candying any rinds that are left after juicing -- the rinds are very fragrant and not as bitter as regular lemons.
First of all, great question. Do you keep a list of recipes or food ideas for when things are in season? One example: as the season progresses, I have been know to get tired of plain lobster boil. So on my list is pizza, ravioli, salad with mango, omelets, but small zucchini in season, I run dry on recipes for... until February. By July, I've completely forgotten them.
The answer to my question does not lie within this thread, but I thought I'd ask it anyway.
re: thinks too much
What a coincidence - hubby suggested that we don't just make a list of when to eat what, but also make a list of things to do with those seasonal ingredients yesterday when we had discussions about this topic!
Here are the ideas I have come up with so far:
Tomato - canned tomato sauce (saved for winter months), I am also thinking about hosting a tomato taste test at home for friends and families to sample different varieties of tomato and pick their favorite
Cucumber - pickles
Crab - homemade crab cakes
Sweet Onion - onion soup
would love to hear from others about their favorite ways of using seasonal ingredients too!! Thanks for the question!
You might find "The SF Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook" of interest. It is divided by the seasons, with a table of contents for each. Each food item (veg, fruit & flesh) is described including how to choose, differences between varieties & months of availability. There are also a number of recipes for each item, many from folks well known in the SF area & quite a few contributions from names familiar to most CH's regardless of where their home is. The book is very well done, allows for advance planning, and is small enough to perhaps bring to market in preparation of an unexpected find. My seafood market carries primarily freshly caught fish from our state.
I don't know my fish "seasons" that well, so I always have my most comprehensive fish cookbook in the car. I can buy whats fresh & then check what I might need to pick up to prepare it! Enjoy your endevor - it should be a rewarding yearlong focus.
I'm in California, and we are seriously spoiled when it comes to fruits and vegetables, so we can have them seasonally and also locally. Spring is strawberries and asparagus, summer is peaches, nectarines (especially white ones), cherries (depending on the weather) and corn. There's about ten minutes (in summer I think) when we get fresh figs, which are heavenly. I don't know about anywhere else, but here in the South Bay, summer is zucchini season. Everyone grows it. Sometimes people just bring bags of it into the office. Same for tomatoes. Once you've eaten a proper tomato it's hard to imagine eating any other kind. In the fall we get lots of different kinds of apples. I don't know where you'd get them, but fuyu persimmons are exquisite. We have a tree and we pick them generally between Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving.
I did try to look it up on google but I haven't found any lists online that is comprehensive enough for me to use as a guide. Many of them are locale-specific and list mostly produce. By asking this question, I am hoping to know when is the best time to eat what I already know, what are the other things I don't know about and should not miss, best sources for getting something that is not available in where I live, as well as creative ways for making good use of these wonderful gifts on earth. Taste is a very subjective thing - the "wheels" that are already available out there don't necessarily have all the things I am looking for, hence I am reinventing the wheel that is custom-made to include all things my family and I love and enjoy. ;)