It’s all fine and dandy to talk about seasonality in the peak of summer, when tomatoes and eggplant and such are bursting on the vine. It’s another thing entirely to talk about seasonality when your landscape has been white for over a month. What you do when foods you love are out of season?
It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that “seasonal” and “local” go hand in hand. Seasonal climates are dictated by local geography. If you’re striving to eat seasonally and are buying strawberries in January, for instance, then you’d better be living in Baja California. But there are more options to choose from than you might think, no matter where you live. Here’s how to stay seasonal even during the most challenging times of the year.
The first, most obvious step, of eating seasonally is knowing which fresh crops grow when where you live. Leeks, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, for instance, grow in cold weather around the country, along with root vegetables like parsnips, celery root and potatoes. In warmer climes, like California and Florida, citrus are in full force (our neighbor’s orange tree tempts me all day long!). And I just found out, surprise surprise, that kiwi grow abundantly well here where I live.
Long before there were refrigerators, there were root cellars; cool, dark subterranean rooms where families stored their late fall and early winter harvest to use throughout the winter. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, late-harvest apples, winter squash and onions store for months, as do root vegetables like carrots, rutabaga, beets and turnips.
Not sure what the heck do with those turnips? Here are 10 ways to cook with root vegetables>
Some crops, like tomatoes, need a lot of artificial heat and light to grow during the winter. Others, like lettuce, arugula, mustard and mushrooms, will thrive with a bit of protection and amplified sunlight (which the glass of a greenhouse provides). So a head of butter lettuce might well be locally grown in winter even in upstate New York.
You may not think of preserved crops as “seasonal,” but I would argue that they are. In the past, preserves played an important role of spreading the abundance of a bountiful season across a sparser one. Crops preserved in fall and summer are meant to be enjoyed during the cold winter months. Look for locally made sauerkraut, pickles and preserves, as well as dried peppers, beans and mushrooms.
The same principle that applies to preserved crops extends to your freezer, if you grow your own fruits and vegetables (or if you buy a boatload at the farmers market). We love using our No Work Slow Roasted Tomatoes (I just made a killer crostini topping with them the other night) clear up until there are fresh ones on the vine again. Corn, peas, cauliflower and berries (like blueberries, blackberries and cranberries) also freeze beautifully.
It’s worth noting that just because a fruit or vegetable is in season near you doesn’t mean that what’s on the grocery store shelves was actually grown nearby. Check labels or, better yet, join a winter CSA. Enterprising farms (yes, even in places like Vermont and Minnesota) combine a mix of all the above to offer an inspiring selection during even the coldest months.