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Cooking Seasonally


rgruby
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Just curious.

For what it's worth, I live in the North-East (or South-Central Canada) and I don't really consider myself particularly dogmatic to cooking seasonally, but if foods don't travel well, or just are so substandard to the local, seasonal fare when available (tomatoes and corn on the cob to name two), then I minimize my use of them, substitute canned or frozen, etc.

And, I try to buy and use produce that is available only seasonally.

So, how seasonal are you in your cooking habits? (I'm referring more to using or not using products that are available in the markets rather than say methods of cookery like grilling more in the summer and making stews in the winter (although I certainly follow that pattern)). What do you not use out of season, even if it is available?

And, with improved shipping methods etc., do you see yourself cooking "seasonally" less and less as more products in good conditionreach our markets?

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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I try to be as seasonal as possible but I live in Dallas so it's fairly temperate here even in the colder months. I find that summer produce is the most "seasonal" of the bunch, in other words, I only cook with those items in-season: fresh tomatoes, eggplant, melons, peaches, etc. Conversely winter seems the hardest season to stay with since there is a scarcity of produce and it gets oppressive after a while. I definitely cook in-season with seafood and even stick to the "months without R's" rule for clams, oysters, and mussels. I find that mussels don't really get good again until January-May, cultivated or not.

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I would consider myself a completely seasonal cook. I've lived in California all my life, so I grew up eating summer fruits and vegetables from our family friend's local roadside stand. For years, most of my food has come from local farms around the Bay Area. It comes to me via a small panel truck, not a jet. Eating asparagus and raspberries in December feels very, very wrong to me. Just because you can doesn't mean you should, at least around here. (I realize that we have more opportunity in California than almost anywhere else on the planet.)

On a slight tangent, I'm always amazed at how much longer the food from the Farmer's Markets last in comparison to supermarket produce.

There is a great deal of wonderful winter produce available here (but then, it barely freezes here): chard, kale, artichokes, all kinds of winter squash, Brussel sprouts, turnips, beets, celery root, the fresh fall crop of nuts, tangerines, oranges, Asian pears, apples, and many more that I am forgetting. Our Farmer's markets are open all year.

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I've never really been much of a seasonal cook until this last year. Now that I work at a farmer's market and do probably 95% of my shopping there my cooking tends to be more seasonal just because the stuff that's in season is what's most readily available and with hald a dozen different stands carrying much overlapping product I've stared to be much more aware of the details of freshness in the products. Granted a lot of the stuff comes up from caslifornia so it's not all what's locally in season but the selection is still much more seasonal than what I'd find at the stupidmarket.

Bacon starts its life inside a piglet-shaped cocoon, in which it receives all the nutrients it needs to grow healthy and tasty.

-baconwhores.com

Bacon, the Food of Joy....

-Sarah Vowell

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I live in Seattle in a neighborhood with a farmer's market from May to November. During those months I cook exclusively seasonally. Come winter I try to stay mainly with seasonal things but I get a craving for asparagus sometimes and have to have it!

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To reprise my frequent rant... We don't have "real" farmer's markets here. A couple of small start-ups are interesting but hardly comprehensive. I find that seasonality creeps in because of price and freshness so that is what drives me. I don't really think about it much.

I have learned to be wary of produce shipped in from the southern hemisphere. We went through a bad patch last year with Haas avocados that were shipped in. Most of them had black spots indicating to me that they were stored at too low a temperature. I gave up on avocados for a while. Our Hong Kong markets, Fiesta Marts and HEB stores are generally the most reliable for varied and fresh produce so I am not totally bereft. And... If some lovely asparagus shows up, I will probably enjoy it whenever.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I'm not sure it's so much a devotion to "Seasonal Cooking" -- something of a religion in some quarters -- as it is a dedication to cooking whatever looks best at the market or the store. I don't boycott December tomatoes because they are out of season; so are the green beans I buy. I ignore them because they suck. Same with Chilean peaches, or California strawberries in February. At the same time, my cooking is affected by the weather, so those light summer meals seem less compelling than something braised and served with roasted root vegetables. So I stay seasonal not because I have to, but because it feels right.

I think it's a little silly to adopt rules and force oneself to stick to them. God knows, no one needs another source of angst over the course of a long winter night. ("I knew it was hothouse lettuce and a Mexican tomato, but I needed that BLT. How will I ever face the farmer's market again?"). And, over the long run, any cook worth his or her salt will spend enough money on quality food to support local growers and sellers.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I try, but I generally just shop by what looks most appealing at the store at that particular moment - conveniently sidestepping wan November tomatoes - and what my budget allows - taking expensive-but-woody-anyway fall asparagus out of the running. The weather and what we want to eat play roles too.

Then again, I'm not adverse to making a chicken pot pie in the middle of the summer if that's what we feel like eating (utilities are included in my building, so I have the luxury of cranking the air down to 60, putting on a sweater, and pretending it's winter :laugh:)

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For a bunch of different reasons, I've started shopping at the local farmer's market for my produce. Like Marie-Louise, I'm in California and have the definite luxury of having that option available to me year-round. I generally buy my produce and then build the meals around it, not in order to stay seasonal but because it makes more sense for my other goals (weight loss and budget).

However, when I first read Geoff's note, I remembered a few years in my younger days when the Spouse and I were first married. Although I'm from an area of Canada that doesn't have to deal with harsh winters, it is on an island and, 20 years ago, that sometimes affected the quality of shipped-in winter produce. For several years, we'd haunt the roadside vegetable stands and then spend time putting food up. Same as when I was a kid...my mum canned and froze a lot of our vegetables, which were then eaten over the winter months. I guess that would fall under "not eating seasonally". :smile:

As for cooking methods, again, here in California, I refuse to turn on my oven during the summer. It's just too damn hot here in the bowels of Hell ... oops, I mean Sacramento. :raz:

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I've been cooking pretty seasonally this year--we joined the local CSA, so what we eat is whatever came from the farm that week. And the quantity of food is sufficient that I don't have to buy much else. However, after our season ends in November, I'll have to go back to shopping again.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I'm not sure it's so much a devotion to "Seasonal Cooking" -- something of a religion in some quarters --  as it is a dedication to cooking whatever looks best at the market or the store.  I don't boycott December tomatoes because they are out of season; so are the green beans I buy. I ignore them because they suck.  Same with Chilean peaches, or California strawberries in February.  At the same time, my cooking is affected by the weather, so those light summer meals seem less compelling than something braised and served with roasted root vegetables.  So I stay seasonal not because I have to, but because it feels right. 

I agree. One of the joys to me of trying to cook seasonally is that you do get much more attached to the seasons themselves and the dishes become more cherished. Come May and June I want a grilled piece of fish with a little lemon juice and olive oi, or a salad of summer tomatoes with oregano. But then you get them out of your system and are eagerly awaiting the braises and roasts of autumn. It lends itself to less repetition: you stick by what's best and in season and the dishes will create themselves.

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If not for the seasonal rythms of produce, I don't think I'd even notice the seasons at all here! With the exception of baby carrots, bananas (and all the other tropicals), and bell peppers, which we regularly buy from wherever the hell they come from (red peppers from Holland? OK!), most of the stuff is seasonal. Buying most stuff at the farmer's market is still a pretty big net (some folks drive 400+ miles from San Diego to Livermore), the seasonal stuff is just the best tasting and cheapest. Right now the asparagus from Chile is in its prime season (spring down under), so we will get stuff like that. The farmer's market has one farm that sets up portable greenhouses to grow tomatoes year round. Seasonal? No. But not bad tasting either, and for US$3/lb., not a bad price. "Cook seasonal" is a great rule of thumb to get delicious food at low prices, but outside of warm climates it's easy to overdo it.

Here, the beet/cabbage/turnip/cauliflower/potato season only lasts for a few months. If it were six months, I would probably go crazy.

Oh, forgot one thing. Like Kevin72 says, it encourages you to get out of ruts, so you don't cook the same thing all the time. I'll add a corollary to that: Reducing the selection to the seasonal fraction also encourages you to try produce you haven't had. When six vendors all have Brussels sprouts that look good, you're more likely to go outside your comfort zone, instead of falling back on mediocre-quality but familiar fare.

Walt

[Edit to comment on Kevin's point]

Edited by wnissen (log)
Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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