Understanding and implementing seasonal eating is one of the best ways to improve your health and wellbeing.
It is one of those concepts that gets banded about frequently as ‘on-trend’ but if you consider what it entails, it has actually been around for centuries - simply eating whatever was ripe and ready locally to you throughout the year. This was how our ancestors consumed food long before the boom of transportation and a globalized food system meant that we could get our hands on whatever food we wanted at whatever time of year. Imagine you’re in the local supermarket take a (virtual) look around, especially on the fruit and veg aisles… Grapes… Strawberries…Asparagus - all available 24/7, 365 days a year.
What this means, in reality, is that the aforementioned items have probably been picked before they reach full ripeness, packaged up, shipped thousands of miles and stored in countless locations just to make it on to the supermarket shelf. The flavour and freshness are compromised here in order to get the food to the consumer. The food supply system is at the core of this, but that is one for a whole other article!
Your local area will have specific growing conditions, dependent on many factors such as the sun exposure, rain, wind, soil type, and so on. Different types of crop fare best at certain times of the season. Think salad leaves, courgettes, tomatoes in the summer, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, root veg in the winter. The idea of seasonal eating is to consume the foods that are ready to harvest at the time that you wish to eat them. For example, July's seasonal treats include fennel, cherries, strawberries and courgettes.
Seasonal eating isn't just restricted to fruit and veg. Many types of meat and fish are seasonal too, alongside herbs and even cheese. Eating fish in season is really beneficial for the sustainability of each fish species. Certain fish is in abundance at certain times of the year, making them a more responsible choice. Using mackerel as an example - it is a migratory fish meaning it comes to the UK in spring and early summer to feed, and then migrates to warmer waters in autumn to spawn. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) have a really handy guide to eating fish in season, you can find it here MCS Seasonal Fish. Think also of mussels - you may have heard the old saying to only eat shellfish in months with an 'R' in! Here in Devon, mussels are at their best during the colder months (October through to March) shellfish tend to spawn during the summer months and this period of rest for them is really important for re-population. You will also find that if you eat mussels in the summer they may not be at their biggest size-wise due to being harvested too young.
Meat too can be seasonal, buying meat and game in season supports the animal's life cycles and improves flavour and texture. Let's look at Spring lamb as an example. Spring lamb offers a really delicate taste and texture in part due to the fresh new grass that the lambs eat in the spring months. It is best served simply, as the lambs get older the meat gets stronger and responds better to slower cooking methods such as braising or stewing. Spring lamb is at its very best during the summer months, so now is a great time to get along to your local butcher for some!
It's unrealistic to change your entire eating habits to only eat seasonal produce, but as with most things, a conscious approach makes all the difference. You will probably find that you are to a certain extent eating seasonally already and that this could just be enhanced. Making small changes daily has a larger and more sustainable impact overall on your lifestyle.
There are many benefits of seasonal eating including;
- Fresher produce and the flavour is far better
- Health benefits - more nutrients and vitamins due to harvesting the produce at its peak and less preservatives used
- Supports the local community and British farmers, fishermen, food producers and economy
- Reduces carbon emissions and plastic packaging use
- Cheaper way to buy quality produce as the price will be lower when the supply is at its peak
- Forges a connection with your local area and surroundings which boosts wellbeing
- Creates awareness of seasonal rhythms
A few suggestions for how to increase your seasonal eating:
Celebrating your food
In the summer we tend to crave lighter, fresher produce. Beautiful summer produce such as berries, salad leaves, radishes, tomatoes all go hand in hand with summer salads alongside the BBQ and fresh summer berry puddings. In the winter when the nights draw in and the temperature cools we feel ourselves turning to more warm and comforting foods - stews, soups, casseroles. That’s where the hardy and wholesome root veg, the potatoes and the cabbages and brassicas come in.
Grow your own
If you are lucky enough to have some space for a vegetable patch or even a few pots, you can have a go at growing your own produce. Check your local shops, garden centre or nursery for seeds, plug plants or to ask for advice. Most seeds packets will have a chart on the back of their packet indicating the best time to sow, grow and harvest. Try strawberries in pots or hanging baskets, herbs and lettuce on the windowsill and so on. Very therapeutic and great if you have little ones around to get them involved in this process.
Keep an eye on local foraging opportunities
I’m not suggesting a wild mushroom hunt here if you’re not the most confident of foragers. But have a look around where you live - you may find nearby fruit trees that you can pick; apple trees, fig-trees, cherry trees, maybe even some pear trees. Obviously check the tree is on public land and not someone’s garden before you go picking! Other easy foraging ideas are elderflowers, bilberries, wild garlic, and samphire if you’re near the coast.
Check out the supermarkets
When certain foods are in season the prices drop in the supermarkets due to increased supply. Keep an eye on promotions or special prices, things like strawberries, new potatoes etc.
We are so lucky here in Devon to have an abundance of great local produce and suppliers. Right across the country there are many local farms and suppliers offering subscription boxes or local produce boxes. These will often centre around seasonal produce, and contain such high-quality fruit, veg and meats. Some suggestions Dart Fresh, Riverford, Greendale.
Farm shops , fishmongers and greengrocers
As above – many local farm shops will be offering up seasonal produce fresh from their fields and farms. You may be pleasantly surprised at the prices as well. Don't forget the local greengrocers, fishmongers and butchers too for really competitively priced seasonal produce. This also helps support local businesses which is more important than ever in this current climate.
Pinterest / books / websites/ apps
These are all great resources to find out what is in season. We especially love BBC Good Food ~ Seasons, Delicious Magazine ~ Seasonal Eating and National Trust ~ Seasonal Foods to identify what’s in season for each month and the helpful recipe suggestions alongside each item. Also The Almanac which is a wonderful book about reconnecting with the seasons including key dates, tides, seasonal foods and lunar phases.
Happy seasonal eating!