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Seasonal Food: What to eat and when
June 18th 2015
Eating the right fruit and vegetables in season is more nutritious, good for the local economy and helpful for the environment. Here Pure Package Founder Jennifer Irvine tells you how to do it
I am a big believer in balance; incorporating healthy eating, exercise and a little bit of what makes you happy. As the old saying goes - ‘there isn’t a diet which will do what healthy eating (and happiness!) does’. As well as the effect on your body, your mind can also get cluttered with too many options for health, and indeed weight loss, so I like to simplify it. An easy way to make sure you are getting a good variation of vitamins and minerals is to eat in season and make sure you have a rainbow of colours on your plate.
This is the ethos we stand by at Balance Box and The Pure Package - you will always get a rainbow of colour in every single meal you get from us. We’re based in New Covent Garden Market so we always get the best pick of the fruits and vegetables before they get sent anywhere else in the country.
So, why eat the seasons? Seasonal food tends to be fresher and therefore more nutritious – the enzymes, vitamins and minerals are more intact, and soluble fibre will not be so broken down. It also helps your body reconnect with nature’s natural cycles as our ancestors’ once did before we had the global choice we have today.
Aside from the nutritional reasons, if you are buying in season you will find produce in your local markets, will be supporting your local economy and will help to reduce the CO2 emissions associated with shipping food from overseas. Produce from your local suppliers may also be a little cheaper than those freighted from the other side of the world.
Finally, eating foods in season also means that you look forward to them when they come into season. Here’s my top pick of what to eat and when.
We are just now at the start of summer, which for a gardener, traditionally runs from June until August. During summer there are so many wonderful things in season: asparagus, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, fennel, salad leaves, peas, radishes, rocket, samphire, spinach, spring onions, watercress, and wild nettles - to name but a few! One of my seasonal favourites, which ends in June (and is in fact at its peak in the spring), is asparagus – a vegetable that is definitely best eaten in season. Asparagus is being heralded as an anti-inflammatory food because it provides a truly unique combination of anti-inflammatory nutrients.
July is the start of beetroot season - a key ingredient in my summer salads. If you haven’t tried fresh (as opposed to vacuum-packed or pickled) beetroot, you’ll be amazed by just how sweet it is. It also has a slightly earthy flavour, which goes wonderfully with its smooth and velvety texture. It’s a great ingredient for fresh juices – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how subtle it is, particularly when offset with a sharper ingredient such as orange or apple.
Obviously, we can’t talk about the summer seasonal goodies without mentioning the amazing selection of summer fruits such as apricots, bilberries, blueberries, cherries, gooseberries, greengages, and strawberries. All of these are packed with vitamin c, anti-oxidants, and are high in soluble fibre. Whenever possible, eat them as freshly picked as you can; there’s nothing quite as sensuous as a warm strawberry popped into your mouth straight from the stalk!
August brings a bounty of plums, which are also high in anti-oxidants, as well containing unique phytonutrients (which help to give its wonderful rich purple colour), and are a great source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C.
The vegetable-grower’s autumn stretches from September to November. Although we may be saying goodbye to the bright evenings, this season brings with it a new crop of goodies including, butternut squash, carrots, celeriac, celery, chillies, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, and French beans. Root vegetables are abundant now, which absorb great amounts of nutrients from the soil. They are also filled with slow-burning carbohydrates and fibre, which make you feel full and help regulate your blood sugar and digestive system. This is particularly good for sustaining energy at this time of the year when we are exposed to less sunlight.
During the winter months from December through till February the focus is still on the root vegetables. They are great for making soups and stews – wholesome comfort food which our body craves when the weather is cold. A great recipe for this time of year, for a lunch or a side dish, is stuffed butternut squash (sometimes called winter squash). You can fill it with what you like: feta, pumpkin seeds, sundried tomatoes and perhaps kale. You can find my recipe here.
That brings us right back around to spring, from March to May. While I love cooking through the colder months and making big comforting meals for my large family, spring always excites me - not least because I can get outside and do my seeding! The weather may not be especially spring-like, but after a scarce choice of leafy green vegetables, purple-sprouting broccoli is a welcome addition to our palette come March. I love to use it in warm salads, which feels like the right way to welcome this season.
Seasons don’t just apply to fruits and vegetables but to other produce as well. April is the start of the long crab season, which ends in December. There are so many ways to enjoy crab – in salads, open sandwiches or whole-wheat pasta salads, a great option for lighter meals choices after the long winter. Containing the complex B vitamins, as well as iron and zinc, crab is also a good source of trace minerals.
The last month of spring, May, brings with it a great British favourite: rhubarb, which is versatile enough for ‘comfort food’ puddings as well as working extremely well with meat.
If all of the above seems a bit overwhelming, don’t despair! There are so many seasonal fruits and vegetables to choose from all year around, you don’t have to remember them all. Local markets will tend to stock what is in season as it’s cheaper and easier for them to get. Sometimes it’s worth just popping into your local grocer and seeing what’s on offer – leave the list at home, and be guided by the great produce. Alternatively if you prefer to know what’s in season before you go shopping, take a look at the BBC Good Food site, which is a great source of information on seasonal food shopping.
Finally - whatever you do, remember that in preparing your seasonal produce, less is more. Wherever possible, eat it raw – in a salad, or with a dip – otherwise just the lightest steaming or grilling to bring out its flavour, maybe with an added squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt - you’re now ready to eat the seasons!
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