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cooking with the seasons

will preface by saying i live in new england and our growing season is short. 100 years ago, i'd be eating root cellar turnips much of the year and if i only ate "local", i'd never enjoy an avocado or a lemon.

that being said, i am often puzzled by menus proposed on here. just because pears may be available in my local stores now, doesn't mean those pears are any good at all. they are either from october's harvest and have been in cold storage, or picked rock-hard and flown many 1000s of miles. right now i've got local berries and stonefruits by the bushel.

often in winter, i see people proposing caprese salad, or something with corn on the cob. in about 6 weeks, i won't eat either of those foods til next year.

so, hounds, how important is it to avoid seasonal dissonance when you are cooking? especially for parties?

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  1. I think your dismissal of stored/imported produce is overly broad. A couple of months ago, Hannaford had pears on sale, and they were superb. I don't know where they were from or how they were ripened (I've read that pears don't get sweeter after picking but I find that claim suspect). Other than when I know locally grown produce is in its prime, I decide what to make based on what supermarket offerings look good. I would never decide in advance to make peach cobbler in May. Caveat: I happen to be good at discerning when typical kinds of fruit are ripe and juicy.

    My impression is that a larger proportion of the population eats the same way year round than contributors to this Board would imagine. In supermarkets, I regularly see people purchasing hard peaches, and bright green pineapples that have no chance of ever being sweet. I take coumadin, the dosing of which is affected by certain foods. Those of us who are on it are told by doctors and nurses to eat the same foods year-round in order to keep our clotting factors in the desired range. I won't do that, which results in having to have more frequent blood tests and dose adjustment. The coumadin clinic staffers seem puzzled to hear that I cook seasonally. When Trader Joe's has the fresh stalks of Brussels sprouts, I enjoy THEM, but not the biweekly bloodletting that follows.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      Another Coumadin/warfarin lifer here.

      Two things that helped me:
      INR reader for home use (ask your insurance company-it may be covered 100%) and a pill-splitter.

      I understand wanting to eat "seasonally".

      Oooh, and doctor-shop? I had a wonderful MD advise me to "eat more spinach" (i love the leafy green!) the other day-rather than messing with my medication dosage. On Friday night "wine night" I just try to balance it out by eating a nice leafy-green salad.

      Good luck and happy eating and cooking!

    2. I always assumed that most of the seasonal dissonance in menus proposed here are reflective of where the poster lives, more than just eating out of season foods. But, I dunno.

      I was in Oregon last weekend (about a 5 hour drive from me) walking around a pear orchard, talking to the owner. The pears are usually ripe by now (end of July) however, they are about two weeks behind this season. The peaches are a few weeks behind as well. So if I suggest a pear tart right now, it would not be seasonal dissonance for me, but you might think so.

      The same with seafoods on each coast.

      1. I try to be seasonal, but I have a similar problem, in that the growing season here is very short, so if I truly ate only seasonally, I'd be shit out of luck in winter. I think folks who live in places like California forget that most of us in the rest of the country don't have access to great produce year round. I know I was dumbfounded when I left California for the first time to move to Chicago, that I couldn't get things like good grapes at the grocery store.

        So, I take the approach of eating seasonally in that, if it's in season somewhere in the country, I'll try to use it. So, in winter it's lots of winter vegetables like broccoli and squashes (even though these aren't grown locally in winter). In summer, it's more tomatoes, peppers, and corn (which are grown locally).

        When I give food suggestions I try to keep that in mind too... I wouldn't think to suggest someone serve butternut squash in July.

        2 Replies
        1. re: juliejulez

          somebody i know who is a boston local just suggested butternut squash risotto the other day. lol. and not long before another posted to another about making a maple apple cake. we're all in the same place !!!

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I was shocked this week to see scads of very large butternut squash in Kroger here in VA.

        2. I live in NE too and while I prefer "local/in season" and for the most part try to stick to it sometimes you can find good out of season foods, some even local. A good example is Backyard Farm tomatoes out of ME. I wont hesitate to buy those or even kumatos when the craving for a fresh tomato strikes in January. Our winter farmers market offers frozen veggies they grew/froze themselves which is nice too.

          I also take advantage of the short growing season here and freeze my own veggies I get from the CSA and farmers market-things like freshly shucked corn kernels, local fruits and berries and veggies. I make sauce from tomatoes, pesto from all the basil. Following this board I see that many people do the same. Nothing better to perk up a dreary winter day than bowl of pasta with pesto or a corn and black bean salad.

          I guess I tend to take people at face value, especially CHs and assume if they suggest a caprese salad in February or a pear tart in August that they live in a place where fresh tomatoes and ripe pears are available. If it doesn't work for me I just move on or let the poster know It not available to me.

          I think CH's (as on many other boards) there is propensity to be very US-centric as well as assume that people are from their general area. There are posters from all over the world and all over states on these boards so unless I am on my local board I try to keep that in mind.

          1. I live on a small, cold island off the coast of northern Europe. Like the OP, we have a short growing season and, for some fruit and vegetables, we always have to import as they don't grow in this climate.

            That said, I try to buy and cook seasonally. Fairly easy now and will be into October - but it gets tough in the winter months, when it's pretty much root vegetables and cabbage.

            1. I cook seasonal food as much as possible in New England.

              1. So if you live in MN and make a rhubarb crisp in January, using rhubarb you harvested from your backyard and froze, that would certainly not be eating seasonally. But it would be eating locally---in fact, extremely locally ;0)

                Would you like to be served a rhubarb crisp in January?

                2 Replies
                1. re: soccermom13

                  Is there ice cream with that crisp?

                  (OK I am a food-slut. Head hanging.....) :)

                  1. re: pedalfaster

                    Yes, because is is a crime against nature to serve rhubarb crisp without ice cream. At least two scoops of ice cream. Good quality, high fat vanilla ice cream.

                    I brought some of this crisp to work a couple of weeks ago and a co-worked dished out the ice cream to help me and only gave people small single scoops. I felt I did not know him well enough to say "What are you thinking?!?!????? Put MORE ice cream on each serving of crisp!!!!!"

                2. I hear you on seasonal dissonance, and if you are a locavore you are keenly aware of it, yet somehow I can find an awful lot of things at Central Market (IMO as good as a grocery store can be) that my be out of season locally but they look and taste as if they were in season. It blows my mind. There are, however, a few things that remain truly seasonal. Hatch chilies are in!

                  1. I live outside San Diego and have a Farmers' Market three blocks away. I always keep in mind what is there when I shop elsewhere. I lived in RI most of my life, so got used to eating things only when they were at their summer best--tomatoes, corn, peaches, etc.--so though the season is longer I still don't buy summer vegetables in the winter. I had posted a menu for critique a few days ago--mentioning it was warm where I lived--and I was surprised at suggestions like braised chicken thighs or meatballs. Not because they aren't great dishes, but they're not summer foods to me.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: escondido123

                      Also in San Diego county, inland area, and much of my vegetable garden is already petering out (I plant in March). Harvested all of our corn in May and early June, ate a lot fresh, but froze both whole cobs and cut corn. Our peaches were ready late May to early June, so they've been eaten 99 ways already and lots are in the freezer to later. Have over 10 quarts of tomatoes and tomato sauce in the freezer, along with basil-heavy pesto and pesto from parsley. So, seasonal to us is year-round. All I'll really miss is fresh sliced home-grown tomatoes. I've even thought of planting more tomatoes now to extend the season till the first frost (living inland, we do get a little of very light frost). It's truly a gardening Disneyland here.

                      1. re: pine time

                        I'll see that and raise you -- here in Florida, we're just getting ready to *start* gardening. Many gardeners have two planting cycles here, as we garden from September to May -- June through August is too hot and humid(although the diehards manage some crops), and we don't have more than a few frosts to contend with. Some years, there's no frost at all.

                        Yes, this is a pretty steep learning curve for transplants!

                    2. Also living on small, cold European island, and old enough to remember when seasonal and local food meant pretty much only root veg and cabbage from Feb to March. We eat seasonally and locally as much as possible, and rarely buy things at are available in the UK in season when they are out of season ( I wouldn't buy asparagus airfreighted half way across the planet; would rather stick to eating the local product if only for a small part of the year).

                      But I would definitely have a dish out of season made with fruit I had frozen. A cobbler made with frozen berries in the dark days of February is a real treat.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Londonlinda

                        A local restaurant used to define its ingredients as saying they only bought local products or those from "traditional trade routes" - which meant they would use, say, lemons as they've always been imported but would not use aubergines.

                        1. re: Londonlinda

                          Thanks, Londonlinda. I really was serious about the question I asked about rhubarb crisp in January. I observed someone turn up her nose at a rhubarb crisp served in Jan. because it wasn't seasonal. But it was made from rhubarb picked locally at the height of freshness and then flash frozen. I was stunned!

                          1. re: soccermom13

                            It'd be only just adrift from seasonality in January for me. The first of our rhubarb in the UK is usually available from February (although this is the "forced" fruit, grown in dark sheds.)

                            1. re: soccermom13

                              Well that person is jut plain silly. Think of all the preserves made for winter use.

                              1. re: soccermom13

                                Perhaps she would have preferred a literal snow cone! From local, seasonal snow, of course.

                            2. Late spring through autumn, I'm all about cooking with the season and it is easy to do here in VA. Since fresh, local produce is so good, I've lost my taste for some items out of season, for instance melons and corn on the cob. I'm not a purist, though. We buy non-local produce in the winter.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tcamp

                                Local and seasonal tastes better, and it's often cheaper.

                                But yes-- even here in Florida, there's not much being produced locally right now (hot and humid) -- so if you want to eat anything fresh, it has to be trucked in.

                                1. I've lived in a variety of climates, with growing seasons ranging from full-out Canadian winter, to sub-tropical year round.

                                  Growing up, cooking with the seasons meant trying to keep ahead of what was in the garden, rather than eschewing non-seasonal foods. There were also the seasonal treats - fresh berries, corn on the cob bought directly from the farmer, fresh caught salmon, which we searched out because they were so good.

                                  Now, I tend to pig out on whatever is seasonal and good, while it's available. So right now, I'm eating a lot of okra, mango, pineapple and avocados. I was recently in Germany, where I ate lots of chantrelle mushrooms and fresh berries. But I still eat other stuff too.

                                  As others have said, in some climates the growing season is very short. A friend, talking of her childhood in rural mountain Poland, says "cabbages and potatoes is what we had, so cabbages and potatoes is what we ate". I'm quite happy not to have to go back to a time when you only ate fresh vegetables half the year.

                                  There are some things that I don't eat unless they are fresh and local, not for philosophical reasons but because it's just not worth it. I've eaten fresh cherries once in the past eight years - after growing up with a cherry tree in the backyard, imported store bought ones taste like nothing. I basically don't eat peaches and pears, because they don't taste good when they're not fresh and ripe, and they don't grow locally.

                                  It can actually be difficult to *get* the best of the seasonal produce for a lot of people. I've been in situations where I rarely got the good stuff - living in a big city, the grocery store didn't necessarily stock the local, fresh stuff (a combination of price and logistics), farmers' markets were only accessible with a car, and even then were priced out of my budget for many things.

                                  1. hmmm... I'm nearly three months late to this party, but I'd like to share a thought with you all. I grew up in California, the California of yore, when Orange County was called Orange County because everyone who lived there, including family on my father's side, actually grew oranges in huge orange orchards! Ancient history indeed to most who read these pages.

                                    But the interesting thing, and I suspect it may be true for others who grew up in temperate zones, is that "seasonal" food has been more or less something that happens to "other people" all of my life.

                                    Which is not to say we did not eat "seasonal" when I was growing up. It's just that with California's climate back then, the seasons just all seemed to party together! It was also the custom for families and neighbors to get together to "put up" whatever was ripe for the rest of the year. In addition to "family oranges" year round (different types of oranges have different seasons). we had all sorts of fruit trees in our very large "back yard." Both Mission and Kadota fig trees that bore beautifully, lush apricot trees, one puny peach tree and a puny apple tree my grandfather said were always complaining that it wasn't cold enough for them, a loquat tree, pomegranate, and a lemon orchard across the street. All of that, plus my grandfather's Victory Garden during World War II produced just about every vegetable known to man, from asparagus to zucchini!

                                    Looking back, there may have been more "seasonal" things than I remember because at Christmas time, the jewels of the Christmas dinner spread were often things like my mother's pickled figs, a neighbor's pickled water melon rind, another neighbors incredible pickled green beans that were fresh and crisp and delicious!

                                    I do know we ate "fresh" year round back then. And I recall no deprivation of any sort. Even during WWII, we lived on the Mexican border (Chula Vista) and my mother bought beef, flour and sugar there, as well as fresh butter and such. Well, that plus my best friends parents owned a huge dairy. Oh, and back then, "grass fed beef" was the norm.

                                    So "seasonal cooking" has ALWAYS been a strange concept to me and I'm wondering if others who have grown up in temperate climates share this disorientation with "seasonal cooking?" Or am I the only one?

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      I look at seasonal cooking as 'cooking with what is fresh and in season' -- which is exactly what you did...oranges when they were ripe, figs when they were ripe, etc.

                                      "Seasonal" doesn't necessarily mean apples in the fall and asparagus in the spring....it means just eating it when it's there and ripe and at its best.

                                      Here in Florida, eating strawberries in February IS seasonal...because that's when they're picking locally. Strawberries are late spring/early summer in other parts of the year, and that's okay, because it's seasonal for where that particular crop is being grown.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        I agree, but I have a hard time imagining living in an area where "seasonal" means harsh winters and Alpine skiing and a winter diet of root vegetables! And that is after living in such climes as an adult! Who broke my imagination? But I also have trouble wrapping my mind around Santa in a red swim suit tossing shrimp on the barbie!

                                        Off topic, but do you miss living in Paris as much as I miss having you live in Paris? '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          heehee -- yes, particularly in relation to food.

                                          I love Publix, but my local marché it ain't.

                                          But "seasonal" in France right now means seeing who spots the first cepes and girolles, and picking apples, and the appearance of enormous pumpkins that look like they're just waiting to be turned into Cinderella's coach, and the appearance of wild game of every description at the market.

                                          (But yes...it gets really frustrating by January to have nothing but hothouse tomatoes as "fresh"....at least France imports gazillions of lychees and clementines to fight off the scurvy...)

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            You need to live near a 99 Ranch Asian market, but I don't think they've reached Florida yet. Mine, here in Plano, is exemplary, with none of the "traditional" odors one associates with old fashioned Asian markets, yet I can get everything and anything, and much more, at 99Ranch.

                                            The mushrooms! Things like organic trumpet mushrooms that are a fortune in Whole Foods for the price of dirt. Exotic? How about some fresh sea cucumbers? Try making tzatziki with one of those puppies! Fresh fish? They take it out of the aquarium, then scale and dress it for you. Frozen AND fresh durian. And produce that warms the cockles of your heart. Oh yeah, and they have fresh cockles too...! And goat, and lamb, and wild things too. '-)

                                            Everybody needs a big new modern 99 Ranch market near them.

                                            Oh... And if you ever long for some nice French beef, here's the spot, except it's DRY AGED Charolais beef!

                                            Welcome home!

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              oh, we've got Asian markets (complete with stench of marine life)....

                                              ...but I'm talking about the three-times-a-week marché of local produce and how what's cheap is what's in season right now, and probably fresh and local.

                                              Charolais is quite a popular breed in the US, but I have to confess I far prefer US cuts (except the beef cheeks that I have such a hard time finding here...)

                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                  one of my biggest belly laughs was years ago near Gainesville FL -- a customer's son was raising a bovine for his FFA project -- they'd spent some extra cash to buy a young Limousin bull -- and promptly named him Cadillac.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    That is funny! In a similar vein, when I was a kid, probably early elementary school, family friends had a prize bull they named "Dilemma." Later, the first time I heard the expression, "Tossed on the horns of dilemma" I couldn't figure out how so many people had heard of our friend's bull! If you're not careful, life can be soooooo confusing!

                                    2. I cook seasonally, kind of(I don't buy much produce from the supermarket. I don't buy much of any food there, actually.) I can and freeze a years worth of produce so I will have peach cobbler in May but it's last years canned peaches. I have fried green tomatoes on my Christmas menu made from this September's tomato harvest.

                                      Does that qualify as seasonally eating?