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Fat Guy

In praise of out-of-season fruit

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Yes, yes, I know "fresh, seasonal and local" is all the rage. Apparently even Canadians think it's a good idea, and they have eleven months of winter.

But I've got to say, I'm really enjoying these out-of-season cherries from Chile. Anyway, they're not out-of-season in Chile. If you live there, they're "fresh, seasonal and local" all the way. And it's not like the cherries I eat during summer in New York come from New York. They come from the Northwest. Is there really a categorical difference between shipping from Washington and shipping from Chile? I guess Chile is farther, but once you pack stuff up and start handing it off to the logistics industry, it may as well be coming from the moon. When is cherry season on the moon, anyway?

So, I will be enjoying my cherries from Chile via Costco all week, and I hope the rest of you enjoy an eight-course tasting of winter root vegetables every night.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Interesting. There is certainly a long history of eating out of season fruit from far and wide. Take the Clementines shipped in from Spain. Or the Texas grapefruit. Or the Florida orange. All of these have traditionally been enjoyed at holiday time of year and are not local for most of us. Perhaps it is the fact that we no longer consider these winter fruits special that irks some.

For what it's worth, I will be having a celariac remoulade this evening. And perhaps apple crisp.

I'll be the one in the halo.


Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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hear,hear!

I recently saw asparagus on a restaurant menu, and got a real thrill ....finally, a chef willing to step on the far reaching tendrils of the "seasonal /local/food with integrity" bandwagon, and serve some really fine asparagus.

We're not in a Steinbeck novel, folks...transportation, packaging and delivery has greastly improved since 1920...its ok to eat a pear in May or asparagus in January.

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I actually stood in the produce aisle of my local supermarket a few days ago and I am sure my mouth dropped open in amazement. It's January for gosh sakes and I'm staring at fresh cherries, raspberries, blueberries and a myriad of greens. And they were NOT exorbitantly expensive. Twas not always thus!


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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This is all very true, anything that grows in a tropical or warm climate that hits the market shelves in NY for instance is shipped from far, far away. In addition to citrus fruits I would add pineapple, kiwis, mangoes, bananas, papaya, cactus fruit, guava, figs, avocado and the list goes on!

For your average New Yorker, these products are technically "not in season, nor fresh, nor local" 365 days a year! We still eat them year round though!

Within that same token, it is interesting also to note that there are ingredients that we consider "seasonal" which still have to travel thousands of miles to get to us: chesnuts are a perfect case in point. I won't mention truffles.

If you consider the above, then why not eat south american grown tomatoes or apples in the middle of spring if they are available? Well, because for some of us who live in the northeast, since these CAN grow in our own backyard, we DO have a choice not to. And we all know that there is a notable difference in quality if you compare what was picked yesterday and what was picked and preserved in temperature controlled containers for two weeks.


"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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Glad you got good cherries, but my experience with long-distance fruit has been that a Safeway nectarine in a Safeway nectarine -- in summer when they are grown locally and in winter when they come north from the other hemisphere -- and that they are nasty. And Whole Food rarely gets the job done much better.

Though some fruits and vegetables seem to do better than others. Pitted fruits almost always suck, strawberries hit or miss almost randomly. While you can't count on them, they're almost alwys worth a sniff or two. Asperagus seems to travel well, as do green beans and other less-sexy green vegetables, but tomatoes are loathsome.

I think "fresh, seasonal and local" make a fine guideline, but a bad religion, but am most reminded of its limits not now but when the farmers markets start up in the spring -- and there's nothing to eat but lettuce and rhubarb for six weeks.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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It drives me nuts that where I live (SW US), grapes are $3/lb throughout OUR winter, when its summer in Chile; and Chilean grapes are then $1/lb in OUR summer, when the U.S. & Mexican ones are in season and also $1/lb.

Grrrr.

Andrea

http://tenacity.net


"You can't taste the beauty and energy of the Earth in a Twinkie." - Astrid Alauda

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Food Lovers' Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: OMG I wrote a book. Woo!

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I agree, most people make way too much a deal about eating seasonally/locally. I don't care where a piece of produce came from as long as it is good, and hopefully inespensive.

Right now I'm not eating a lot of fresh tomatoes simply because I can't find any good fresh tomatoes. If someone were importing Chilean tomatoes that were as good as the US grown ones you can get in the spring/summer, then I would buy lots.

I've never noticed a difference in apples, oranges, cauliflower, lettuce, asparagus, or really most other vegetables. The Okra that is hitting the farmers market does look pretty sad lately, as do the Jalepenos, I hope that changes soon.


He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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The summer produce at the grocery stores here in Northern CA looks like crap compared to what was for sale on the streets all over southeast asia last week. I can't bring myself to buy any of it. Since we've gotten back from the 30*C weather in asia we've had roast chicken, mushroom risotto, potato leek soup, cuban potroast, etc.

I'll wait until summer for my tomatoes, berries, melons, and pears. Maybe there isn't a difference between cherries shipped from Washington to NY and from Chile to NY but there certainly is a difference between the ones we can buy on the side of the road in the spring here and the ones that get here from Chile.

Besides - meyer lemons, valencia oranges, celeriac, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, leeks, mushrooms, apples, and root veggies are a nice change from the oppressive amount of summer veggies we need to consume when the garden is in full swing.

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I've never noticed a difference in apples, oranges, cauliflower, lettuce, asparagus, or really most other vegetables.  The Okra that is hitting the farmers market does look pretty sad lately, as do the Jalepenos, I hope that changes soon.

I thought the same until while on a trip in central america years ago, I picked an orange off a tree, peeled it and ate it in the middle of the grove. A completely different experience. This does not mean that I have not eaten any other orange since then though.

The difference in quality is more noticeable with some vegetables or fruits. You will taste it if you were to eat a not freshly picked tomato or apple for instance.


"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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Because I live in California, of course I prefer local, in-season, organic produce. But it would be awfully unfair of me to shut out produce from other markets when they so happily accept such huge amounts from us. So on the off-season I buy whatever looks, smells, and tastes best and I don’t worry too much that it comes from Mexico, South America, Israel, Holland, New Zeland, etc. Come July, I know where they will all be getting their peaches…

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Come July, I know where they will all be getting their peaches…

Georgia? :laugh::raz::laugh:

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They come from the Northwest. Is there really a categorical difference between shipping from Washington and shipping from Chile? I guess Chile is farther, but once you pack stuff up and start handing it off to the logistics industry, it may as well be coming from the moon.

Fruit is a living and evolving thing which has an optimum time for consumption, that is, when it's ripe. If you're going to ship it far away, you'll have to pick it well before it's ripe. And I can tell you, there's a difference between a fruit which has ripened in the tree and a fruit which has ripened in the dark humid hold of a ship.


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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It's 527 miles from San Diego to Napa. San Diego is no more "local" to Napa than Raleigh, North Carolina is to Manhattan -- in fact Raleigh is closer to Manhattan than San Diego is to Napa. In Europe we're talking roughly the distance from Lyon to Venice. Just because you live in California and it comes from California doesn't mean it's local (or good, but that's another topic).


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's 527 miles from San Diego to Napa. San Diego is no more "local" to Napa than Raleigh, North Carolina is to Manhattan -- in fact Raleigh is closer to Manhattan than San Diego is to Napa. In Europe we're talking roughly the distance from Lyon to Venice. Just because you live in California and it comes from California doesn't mean it's local (or good, but that's another topic).

Your right, though I don't think much of the stuff I buy at the farmers market comes from San Diego.

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It's 527 miles from San Diego to Napa. San Diego is no more "local" to Napa than Raleigh, North Carolina is to Manhattan -- in fact Raleigh is closer to Manhattan than San Diego is to Napa. In Europe we're talking roughly the distance from Lyon to Venice. Just because you live in California and it comes from California doesn't mean it's local (or good, but that's another topic).

Well, as long as it is all done intrastate, it is indeed pretty close and easy. No difference really. Whether it comes from Napa or the Hudson valley, it's coming by truck and will hit your market stand in 1 to 4 days.

Now, bringing it from Chile is a different story, first it comes shipped by boat in special containers (1 to 2 weeks), then it goes through various inspections when it passes the border (days and days). So, as Pedro mentionned, your fruits or veggies will be picked unripened and will be allowed to ripen in dark containers, not the best of conditions.


"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler

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We're not in a Steinbeck novel, folks...transportation, packaging and delivery has greastly improved since 1920...its ok to eat a pear in May or asparagus in January.

I'm sorry, but this is so not what "buy fresh, buy local" is about. There are myriad reasons not to eat out-of-season produce that traveled thousands of miles to get to your table. Chief among them are environmental reasons (the cost of shipping in terms of wasted resources), which, believe it or not, is a huge factor that deserves consideration. Environmentally, the chances that those berries you're eating from Central and South America are also coated with a lovely dusting of some toxic chemicals that you won't necessarily taste—and are you aware that berries especially retain residues of pesticides, and are therefore recommended to eat when only grown organically? (I'm not such a purist, believe me, but I will no longer eat any berries grown with pesticides, period.)

There are the costs you pay out of pocket, but there are the hidden costs you are paying by depleting natural resources and, hey, your local and national economy when you give your money to a megalith supermarket, even though very little of your money will benefit the farmer who grew that food.

From the Community Alliance for Family Farmers web site (QUOTED IN ITS ENTIRETY WITH PERMISSION FROM CAFF TO ME): Five reasons to buy local:

Five reasons to Buy Local

1. Local produce tastes better and it’s better for you.

A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. In a weeklong (or more) delay from harvest to dinner table, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality. Even in California, produce may have traveled surprisingly far to get to your grocery store. Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. It is crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor.

2. Local food supports local farm families.

Fewer than one million Americans now claim farming as their primary occupation (less than 1%). Farming is a vanishing lifestyle. And no wonder: the farmer today gets less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar. Local farmers who sell directly to consumers cut out the many middlemen and get full retail price for their food - which means farm families can afford to stay on the farm, doing the work they love.

3. Local food protects genetic diversity.

In the modern industrial agriculture system, produce varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment. Shippers demand produce with a tough skin that can survive packing, transport, and a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown. In contrast, local farmers that sell direct to you or direct to your local restaurants and grocery stores grow a huge number of varieties selected because they have the best flavors, provide a long harvest season, and come in an array of eyecatching colors. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation because they taste good. These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection. They may someday provide the genes needed to adapt to a changing climate.

4. Local food preserves open space, and supports a clean environment.

As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. A well-managed family farm is a place where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops that prevent erosion and replace nutrients used by their crops. Cover crops also capture emissions and help combat global warming. In addition, the patchwork of fields, hedgerows, ponds and buildings is the perfect environment for many beloved species of wildlife. That landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

5. Local food is about the future.

By supporting local farmers today, you can help ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful and abundant food.

Primarily, in terms of flavor, there is another component for local/seasonal. Russ Parsons dialogued with Mimi Sheraton in this Q&A, after she complained about the terrible Driscoll strawberries she ate in New York this year:

And could there be so churlish a visitor as to not love strawberry shortcake, when the berries are local and succulent and not the hollow, white Driscoll travesties from California, the state that in more ways than one, I consider a wasted miracle.

Hello? What?! You ate a strawberry that was designed to travel 3000 miles: why didn't you just salt a pingpong ball instead?

Russ Parsons countered:

it's important to recognize what travels and what doesn't (and what the costs of that travel are) [emphasis mine]. wasabi, a dried root, ground into a paste, will ship easily. even fish, as long as it is handled right, will ship fairly easily. a great strawberry, which is the very definition of fragility, will not. if you insist on buying strawberries when they are going to have to be shipped, there will be a farmer willing to grow them. and they will be something like the current favorite Camarosa--a strawberry-like fruit that will bend forks.

if you want, you could probably have them air-freighted, but even that probably wouldn't be enough to protect a great strawberry (i once had a farmer next-day me some fraises des boises ... they came in an elaborately protected series of boxes ... and they still had been smashed to jam).

But Mimi missed the whole point, clinging to the idea that Driscolls are the best California can do to bring a decent strawberry to the world. Which makes me think she needs to visit here some spring or summer, and go to a U-Pick or a farmers market and find out what she's missing.

Meanwhile, like Melkor (though I haven't recently enjoyed an expensive tropical vacation), I'm enjoying root crops, too, but we still have basil and other local stuff to make me happy. Citrus, oh yeah. Even canned tomatoes—if they're good enough for the Italians, they're good enough for me.

Finally, Food Routes: more on why buying local is so important.

EDITED to fix formatting.


Edited by tanabutler (log)

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I spent a couple of high school summers working in CA’s stone fruit industry and I know that the term “tree ripe” that appears on the box probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Stone fruit has the unique distinction of being uniquely perishable. It can’t really be coerced into staying fresh any longer than it wants to. In contrast, apples, most notably, can remain saleable, if stored under the right conditions, for months after harvest. However, the best stone fruit producers can do is keep it at 33 degrees, treat it very nicely (it also bruises and damages very easily), and sell it as soon as possible. Most stone fruit is sold before it leaves the tree because once it is in the box it won’t last much more than 10 days ( and even at that point quality will have degraded substantially… to the point where the fruit often has to be repacked and reinspected and it risks rejection by the receiver). Practically all stone fruit is picked before reaching true maturity… usually by as much as 1-2 weeks. Once off the tree the fruit doesn’t really get much better, but you can’t wait until it is ripe or it won’t make it to its final destination. There are some purveyors who actually wait until the fruit reaches full maturity, but they are a tiny fraction of the market and are in no way representative of the industry or its product.

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And it's not like the cherries I eat during summer in New York come from New York. They come from the Northwest. Is there really a categorical difference between shipping from Washington and shipping from Chile?

Might I ask why you don't eat NY grown cherries?


"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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I don't care where my produce comes from as long as the quality is great and the price is right. Let the farmers compete on quality and price.

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In contrast, apples, most notably, can remain saleable, if stored under the right conditions, for months after harvest.

Interestingly enough, the first reason of "buy local" ("Local produce tastes better and it’s better for you") is something that I can address directly, specifically in relation to apples.

A friend of mine, the über geek of appledom, is Bill Denevan. He's been farming apples organically for decades, and from him I learned these galling facts.

1) Because the apples in Santa Cruz come ripe in September, and the harvest moves northward on the Pacific Coast slowly, the apple farmers in Washington got pissed that they were missing the harvest by a couple of weeks or more.

Their solution was to hold their apples back TEN MONTHS, and then release them on the market ahead of Santa Cruz. That's right, folks, your Safeway apples are sometimes a year old.

Bill said that, of the 31-something elements that go into creating the flavor of a good apple, 25 or so are destroyed as the apples sit in storage. The brix is compromised seriously. You are getting the ghost of an apple, not only flavorwise, but in the decreased nutrition. I suppose the nutrition aspect wouldn't bother a lot of people, as some consider "food" as little more than caloric entertainment. But the flavor will be seriously eroded by long-term storage.

2) Bill also said that so-called "Delicious" apples (which you and I know are the farthest thing from "delicious," unless your idea of "delicious" is mealy and sacchrine) are only sold in supermarkets because they're what the average consumer thinks an apple is supposed to look like. "Oh, look, a red apple." Reminds me of those people who won't let the guy sell his Ugly-Ripe tomatoes.

Neither of these things is that surprising, is it, at least not if you're as cynical about the economics of food and marketing (and supermarketing) as I am.

However, like many people at eG, I have had the joy of standing in an orchard in late autumn, in upstate New York, picking and eating apples straight from the tree. Likewise, I've had a tomato still warm from the sun, and corn, and peas straight from the pod. Those of you who know what I mean, know what I mean. Those of you who haven't, I encourage placing yourselves in the path of opportunity for this to happen. Go to a U-Pick. Visit a farm. Go to a farmers market, if you can't do either of the above.

Striving for quality is a good thing. Undercutting local farmers is not (anyone who thinks local farmers can compete with megalithic supermarkets is missing some information). Not that buying cherries in January is affecting any farmers in New York. Not this week. But it still has repercussions on the environment.

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So, I will be enjoying my cherries from Chile via Costco all week, and I hope the rest of you enjoy an eight-course tasting of winter root vegetables every night.

:laugh: Well, I did have squash & kale last night-but it was at Chez Panisse, so I can't say I suffered. I also had some wonderful LOCAL Satsuma tangerines in my lunchbox today. :raz:

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[However, like many people at eG, I have had the joy of standing in an orchard in late autumn, in upstate New York, picking and eating apples straight from the tree. Likewise, I've had a tomato still warm from the sun, and corn, and peas straight from the pod. Those of you who know what I mean, know what I mean. Those of you who haven't, I encourage placing yourselves in the path of opportunity for this to happen. Go to a U-Pick. Visit a farm. Go to a farmers market, if you can't do either of the above.

But, what if you want variety...what if you are sick of peaches and nectarines,a nd want an apple in June? to me, the issue is variety..I go toa farmer's market, I am a member of an organic co-op in NJ...but I really enjoy asparagus in the winter, as well as turnips and squash and winter greens. Sure, celebrate what is fresh and seasonal and local...but not to the exclusion of other options. I'll still support my local farmer, but since he cannot offer me apples in July or asparagus in january, for that diversity I will have to support farmers in other countries.

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