I have long been an advocate for using seasonal produce in my kitchen. It’s a small way for me to support my local farmers and regional economy and, frankly, I like to use seasonal produce because it is more flavorful and higher quality. I’m a firm believer that if you can have less time between the field and the plate, everything ends up tasting better.
Focusing on seasonal produce makes cooking more exciting, too, because what’s available is always changing. I am always thinking about what’s coming up next and every year, I get really excited when asparagus and spring onions arrive. They’re the harbingers of spring around here, and when I see them coming off I breathe a sigh of relief that winter is finally over. Tomatoes, watermelon and peaches bring summertime with them in full force, while muscadines wave summer’s checkered flag. Turnips accompany falling leaves and cooler days, and the best collards ripen after the first frost. I guess in many ways, I make sense of the passing of time through what’s coming off the farm.
I often think there is a misconception that opportunities to use seasonal produce are limited to summer, perhaps because some of our most iconic and beloved ingredients like blueberries and sweet corn are at their best then. But fall and winter is produce season for a whole other host of things like butternut squash, rutabagas and collards. The planting of fall crops also extends the season of many things that are traditionally thought of as summer produce. Where I live in North Carolina, many plants just seem to kind of peter out when the temperature reaches 90 degrees. But after that brief spell fall crops start producing, which means you can have excellent produce that’s generally thought of a summer product, like tomatoes, well into October. I’m lucky that in my part of the world, there’s something coming off almost all year except February and March.
For a fun way to get in some extra produce into your diet, take The Produce Mom®’s #ProduceChallenge and follow the calendar below!
With the growing trend of produce available year round, it can be difficult to discern what’s in season and when. Depending on where you live, seasonal availability charts, often available through your local Department of Agriculture, can help you determine what locally seasonal whether you shop at the grocery store or at a farmer’s market or you’re part of a CSA.
Even if you don’t have an availability chart, there are other indicators that can point you in the direction of seasonal produce. I find the sheer number of varieties of a particular type of produce is usually a good sign that it’s in season. For instance, when my grocery store has six types of peaches on display, that’s something would be unlikely to find if they aren’t in season. Attached greens on root vegetables are another good sign. Beets, rutabagas and turnips can all be stored for long periods of time but the greens will die. So if I find them attached, that’s a good indicator of seasonality.
Beyond the fact that produce in season just simply tastes better, I believe buying as seasonally and locally as possible is a small way for me to support my community and the farmers bringing the produce to market. I’ve watched how the interest in local, seasonal foods has transformed my own town’s fledgling farmers market into a bustling place bringing together farmers and folks from all over the county on the search for the freshest produce they can find.
Want to learn more about the benefits of fresh produce?
Check out our recent podcast episode—Your Food, Your Farmer: Vivian Howard and The Produce Mom®—and hear about tips families can use to eat more produce and how we can continue to be smarter about our health.